Last week was a bad week for America because it was a bad week for President Obama.
West Wing politicos may not share that opinion. They seem to think any week during which the president makes a speech or holds a news conference is a good week: Americans get to see the amazing, inspiring Mr. Obama. But three images of Mr. Obama from last week are hardly uplifting.
First, there was the president on Libya -- dithering, indecisive, unreliable, and weak. As Qaddafi’s mercenaries and bombers brutally grabbed back momentum from the democratic opposition, all Mr. Obama could say was, “My national security team has been working…to monitor the situation…to prepare the full range of options…”
If America’s failure to lead allows Qaddafi to snuff out the popular uprising against his dictatorship and regain power, the consequences for the U.S. will be severe. Dictators will know the U.S. president is a pushover. Our allies around the world will be dispirited and our adversaries emboldened.
Then there was the on-going budget battle. The failure of Mr. Obama, Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to pass a budget before the start of the fiscal year last October 1 is an astonishing act of incompetence. They controlled the entire process with wide margins in both houses. Now we are reduced to funding the government of the world’s most powerful nation with continuing resolutions that cover two or three-week periods. And Congressional Democrats are whining it is impossible to cut $60 billion out of a budget that consists of $3.8 trillion dollars.
At a Friday morning press conference Mr. Obama called the failure to pass a budget “irresponsible” and said “the notion that we can’t get resolved last year’s budget in a sensible way…defies common sense.” But he was not passive observer. He’s the president who failed to get his own budget approved by his own party last year.
Then Mr. Obama went on to say of the budget that “it shouldn’t be that complicated…to get this completed.” This came after weeks during which Democratic Congressional leaders criticized the president for providing no leadership, then the appointment by Mr. Obama of Vice President Joe Biden as his personal negotiator on the budget, and Mr. Biden’s almost immediate departure for a weeklong foreign trip. Mr. Obama still refused to get his hands dirty by offering a possible solution.
Then there were the president’s remarks to members of the National Governors Association on Wisconsin, last month, where he cautioned, “I don’t think it does anybody any good when public employees are denigrated or vilified.”
This was a classic Obama straw man. Who exactly is “vilifying” or “denigrating” whom? The president’s intimation was that it was Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, but Mr. Walker’s tone has been mild, even-tempered, restrained and entirely appropriate.
If there are people who needed a presidential admonishment about civility and respect, they are the protestors who broke into the Wisconsin capital building in a vain attempt to keep the legislature from voting, the protestors who compared Mr. Walker to Adolf Hitler, and the Democratic legislators who fled the state rather than do their duty. But those would be the president’s allies and admonition is only required of his opponents.
When Mr. Obama was in the Illinois State Senate, he had the annoying habit of voting “present” on controversial issues he felt might damage his future political ambitions. But at least Mr. Obama showed up then. The president’s refusal now to provide leadership on Libya or the budget and his readiness to score cheap political points with straw man attacks makes his days in the State Senate look like an era of true statesmanship.
This article originally appeared on FoxNews.com on Monday, March 14, 2011.
In his Saturday radio address, titled "Both Parties Must Come Together on a Budget that Cuts Wasteful Spending Without Sacrificing Investments in the Future," President Obama said, “My administration has already put forward specific cuts that meet congressional Republicans halfway.” Other administration figures echoed Mr. Obama’s “halfway” line here and here and here.
The Continuing Resolution passed by the then-Democratically controlled Congress in December set a spending target for the balance of Fiscal Year 2011 of $1.083 trillion.
The spending bill passed by the Republican House of Representatives last month set a spending target for the balance of the Fiscal Year of $1.026 trillion. These difference between these two measures is $57 billion.
You’d think when the president said he would “meet Congressional Republicans halfway,” he was proposing a cut of $28.5 billion from December’s Continuing Resolution, leaving spending at $1.055 trillion for the balance of the fiscal year.
No, Mr. Obama proposed spending $1.077 trillion for the slightly less than seven months left in Fiscal Year 2011. That’s only $6.5 billion less than the Continuing Resolution passed last December.
Once again the Obama administration is playing fast and loose with numbers, hoping to sneak one by the media and the American people. It adds to the sense Mr. Obama is neither serious about cutting spending nor about negotiating with Congressional Republicans. How can the GOP have meaningful discussions with an administration so ready to engage in such financial flim-flam?
This article originally appeared on FoxNews.com on Monday, March 7, 2011.
President Barack Obama set up another straw man last week in his speech to the National Governors Association when he said "I don't think anybody does any good when public employees are denigrated or vilified or their rights are infringed upon."
Who is denigrating or vilifying public employees? Clearly Mr. Obama was slyly suggesting that Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker was. But clearly he is not. The mild-mannered Wisconsin chief executive has been, well, mild-mannered and polite, restrained in tone and rhetoric. Rather than have the courage to accuse Mr. Walker by name of denigrating or vilifying the public unions as they have denigrated and vilified Mr. Walker, Mr. Obama preferred a cheap political hit-and-run.
Then there was the last part of Mr. Obama's sentence. Mr. Walker was not sitting in front of the president when he uttered the sentence, but Colorado Gov. Hickenlooper and Missouri Gov. Nixon were. And unlike Wisconsin, which allows and will continue to allow state employees to bargain collectively (albeit for less than before Mr. Walker's reforms), neither Colorado nor Missouri allow state employees to bargain collectively. That's their existing state law.
If Mr. Obama were truly concerned about the rights of state employees, then he should have chastised those two governors and the chief executives of other states that statutorily prohibit collective bargaining for state employees. Mr. Obama's failure to do so shows his political sensitivity (keep quiet when the battleground states in question - Colorado and Missouri - have Democratic governors) and the president's expediency (attack a Republican governor of another battleground state). Both show the importance of self-interest to Mr. Obama's thinking. Neither are attractive when they dominate the thinking of any president of any party.
This article originally appeared on FoxNews.com on Saturday, March 5, 2011.
This morning, Gov. Mike Huckabee told ABC's George Stephanopoulos that President Obama “is going to be tough to beat. I think all this talk that ‘oh, he’s going to be a one term president’ -- people tend to forget that only one time since 1868 has an incumbent president been taken out who ran for re-election.”
I agree with Gov. Huckabee's sentiment about President Obama: 2012 will be a tough contest. But the governor's history needs a little polishing. Since 1868, six presidents were defeated for re-election (the number rises to seven if 1868 is included in the series) and at least two presidents faced such long odds for re-election they gave up the contest.
Grover Cleveland was defeated for re-election in 1888 after one term. His successor, Benjamin Harrison, was similarly defeated for re-election. William Howard Taft went down after one term in 1908. Herbert Hoover was booted after one term in 1932. Jimmy Carter (thankfully) made it only one term before being bested by Ronald Reagan. George H.W. Bush lost to Bill Clinton after one term, opening the way for the rise of Huckabee to the vacant Arkansas lieutenant governor's office in a 1993 special election, following the elevation of Lt. Gov. Jim Guy Tucker to the governor's office. Lyndon Johnson and Harry Truman both decided against running for re-election after serving their first complete terms, because their defeats were so likely. Rutherford Hayes was so unpopular that he was also a likely loser in 1880, but had pledged to serve only one term. And Gov. Huckabee's analogy starts in 1868, when President Andrew Johnson was so reviled that he couldn't be re-nominated.
If the transcript is mistaken and Gov. Huckabee said "1968" rather than "1868," then two presidents -- Carter and Bush 41 -- have been defeated for re-election since 1968.
A better way to look at it is that since WWII, five presidents have sought re-election and won (Eisenhower, Nixon, Reagan, Clinton and Bush 43) and four had either been defeated for re-election (Carter and Bush 41) or withdrawn from the contest because the odds were so long (Truman and LBJ). While President Obama is a slight favorite and a tough campaigner, the outcome of the 2012 contest very much depends on the quality of the GOP nominee and their campaign over the next 20 months.
This article originally appeared on FoxNews.com on Monday, February 21, 2011.
Senator Majority Leader Harry Reid has recently attacked Republicans over the upcoming vote on raising the debt ceiling, saying, “We can’t back out on the money we owe the rest of the world. We can’t do as the Gingrich crowd did a few years ago, close the government.”
Senator Reid joined Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, who on behalf of the Obama administration warned Republicans that, “Failure to increase the limit would be deeply irresponsible.”
The problem is neither Senator Reid nor President Obama has any moral standing to lecture Republicans about the irresponsibility of voting against the debt ceiling, because unfortunately for them, they voted against raising the debt ceiling in 2006.
At the time, Reid said:
“If my Republican friends believe that increasing our debt by almost $800 billion today and more than $3 trillion over the last five years is the right thing to do, they should be upfront about it. They should explain why they think more debt is good for the economy.
“How can the Republican majority in this Congress explain to their constituents that trillions of dollars in new debt is good for our economy? How can they explain that they think it’s fair to force our children, our grandchildren, our great grandchildren to finance this debt through higher taxes. That’s what it will have to be. Why is it right to increase our nation’s dependence on foreign creditors?
“They should explain this. Maybe they can convince the public they’re right. I doubt it. Because most Americans know that increasing debt is the last thing we should be doing. After all, I repeat, the Baby Boomers are about to retire. Under the circumstances, any credible economist would tell you we should be reducing debt, not increasing it. Democrats won’t be making argument to supper this legalization, which will weaken our country. Weaken our county.”
When Senator Reid was recently asked by NBC’s David Gregory about the conflict between his 2006 and 2011 statements, Reid replied, “I don’t really know what vote you’re talking about.”
Let’s see if we can assist the Senate Majority Leader. In 2006, he said and voted one way; in 2011, he said and intends to vote the opposite way. That is known as (take your pick) hypocrisy, a double standard, or a head-snapping example of intellectual dishonesty.
Then there is Senator Obama’s March 16, 2006 speech on the Senator floor, in which he described raising the debt limit in terms I suspect he wishes he’d never said:
"The fact that we are here today to debate raising America’s debt limit is a sign of leadership failure. It is a sign that the U.S. Government can’t pay its own bills. It is a sign that we now depend on ongoing financial assistance from foreign countries to finance our Government’s reckless fiscal policies. … Increasing America’s debt weakens us domestically and internationally. Leadership means that 'the buck stops here.' Instead, Washington is shifting the burden of bad choices today onto the backs of our children and grandchildren. America has a debt problem and a failure of leadership. Americans deserve better."
White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said Mr. Obama’s vote against raising the debt ceiling isn’t comparable to voting against it today because in 2006 there was every expectation the debt ceiling increase would be approved. So being “irresponsible” and intending to “close the government” is fine as long as you’re expected not to prevail?
Actually, there are two differences between the 2011 vote and the 2006 vote. The first is that neither Senators Reid nor Obama was really against raising the debt ceiling because they favored less government spending. Both were on record as opposing the Bush budgets as too stingy. They wanted more spending – except on Iraq. And because they couldn’t muster the votes to cut off war funding, they fulminated and pranced and preened on the Senate floor to burnish their deficit-fighting credentials without actually having to cut anything.
The second difference is this: Reid and Obama voted against raising the debt ceiling with no plan or higher purpose in mind. They simply wanted to score rhetorical points against President Bush.
Unlike Reid and Obama, Republicans are trying to use their votes on the debt ceiling to win important concessions on cutting government spending. In return for raising the debt ceiling – perhaps temporarily and for less an amount than the administration wants – House Republicans will extract cuts in spending. The GOP is not grandstanding, as Reid and Obama were in 2006, but instead seeking concrete changes.
For those interested, here are other Democrats who voted ‘No’ on raising the debt ceiling in 2006, 2007 and 2008, and who consequently have no grounds to criticize their Republican colleagues for doing likewise in 2011:
September 29, 2007 vote to increase debt limit by $850 billion:
Not Voting - 5
October 3, 2008: Emergency Economic Stabilization Act, $700 billion increase in debt limit
This article originally appeared on FoxNews.com on Tuesday, February 8, 2011.
Contrary to what I said in a posting on Fox News Opinion Tuesday that Atlantic Media Company hosted a going-away party for retiring White House senior adviser David Axelrod, Atlantic Media President Justin Smith e-mailed me to say the company “did not host the party and had nothing to do with it in any way.”
Mr. Smith is accurate in the first instance and deserves a correction: it turns out the company itself did not host the party but rather Atlantic Media Vice President Linda Douglass.
But while Ms. Douglass was a White House colleague of Mr. Axelrod’s, doesn’t the question of appropriateness remain? Should a news organization be comfortable with one of its top management hosting a semi-official going-away party for a retiring White House advisor, attended by the president, cabinet secretaries and the elite of the administration?
There will always be social interactions between Washington journalists and Washington political figures. It’s partly how the town operates, gets to know itself, cultivates sources, and collects gossip. Occasionally, even friendship intrudes.
But is it even conceivable that a news organization would be unconcerned if one of its senior executives threw a similar party for a retiring aide from a conservative White House?
And for that matter, for every Linda Douglass, who goes from working for CBS News to covering the 2008 campaign for ABC News to working in the Obama White House and then back to the world of journalism as a vice president for a news organization that prides itself as being one of “the most influential media outlets in America,” how many conservatives can make a similar professional journey in and out of the mainstream media as a journalist?
This article originally appeared on FoxNews.com on Wednesday, February 2, 2011.
A federal judge ruled Monday that President Obama's "Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act" aka "ObamaCare" is unconstitutional and in violation of the Commerce Clause. I'm posting Judge Roger Vinson's opinion here. (PDF Download)
Two small episodes Saturday night and Monday morning were deeply revealing about the culture of official Washington now.
Keith Koffler wrote about the first Sunday for “White House Dossier.” Atlantic Media — publisher of The Atlantic, National Journal, and Government Executive and which describes itself as “among the most influential media outlets in America” — hosted a going-away party for presidential senior adviser David Axelrod. It was held at the home of his former White House colleague, Linda Douglass, a reporter for ABC News before joining the administration.
The party drew President Barack Obama, Cabinet officials, White House aides and a passel of first-tier journalists, including (according to Koffler): Major Garrett of National Journal, John Harwood of the New York Times, Jake Tapper of ABC News and Chuck Todd of NBC News.
Could anyone imagine what would have been said about the inappropriateness of a similar event hosted by a news organization like Congressional Quarterly as a going-away party for a senior aide from a Republican White House?
But no, when it’s the Obama White House, it’s apparently just another cozy evening for the White House press corps and its subject.
Then there was story by Glenn Thrush in Politico based on an exit interview with Axelrod, colleagues and friends. In it, Axelrod (or his allies) say he “initially opposed Obama’s plan to push full-speed ahead with health care reform,” intimating it was a mistake to do so.
Axelrod also felt Obama rejected his advice to stay on the high road during the 2010 campaign, “fretting to friends that the midterms were putting too much ‘torque’ on Obama’s core image.”
After being beaten at the polls, the president returned back to listening to Axelrod and is “increasingly turning back to [a] vision of an elevated politics as 2012 approaches.” If he keeps that tone, “Axelrod thinks Obama’s recent rebound is sustainable,” Politico went on.
Fortunately for President Obama who would otherwise have forgotten his campaign promises, Axelrod “ensured, at every step of the way in the White House, that the president stayed true to what he talked about” in 2008, though Politico reports,“ Axelrod’s political advice was often brushed aside in the name of legislative sausage-making, much to his frustration.”
For example, Politico reveals it was Axelrod who wanted to ban all earmarks at the administration’s start, “but was quickly overridden.” It took until this year’s State of the Union for the president to finally wake to the proper course of action and say he “would veto any spending bill that contained earmarks.”
Axelrod also “counseled Obama to crack down on bonuses given to executives at TARP-recipient banks” in early 2009. Not listening to his advisor resulted in “a political disaster” for the president that could have been avoided.
And so on.
Did Mr. Axelrod or the others who participated in the Politico story think they were doing President Obama any favors? It weakens the president to say that if only he had listened more to a departing adviser on issues and politics that he’d be in better shape. It’s self-serving and disloyal and apparently not unheard of. After all, similar stories also abound surrounding the departures of other aides like Office of Management and Budget Director Peter Orzag and Chief of Staff Rahm Emmanuel, a standard practice for Team Obama.
This article originally appeared on FoxNews.com on Tuesday, February 1, 2011.
President Obama gave more of a campaign speech than a governing address Tuesday night when he delivered his State of the Union message.
Rather than offer any concrete prescriptions for the big issues the country faces, Mr. Obama offered soothing rhetoric and well-tested phrases (mentioning "jobs" 31 times compared to last year's 29 mentions) and a five year freeze on non-security discretionary spending, two years longer than the three year freeze he called for in last year's State of the Union but never implemented.
Today's visit to the critical battleground state of Wisconsin to herald "green energy" jobs carries possible benefits and dangers. While it helps show the president is engaged with job creators, it's unclear how enthusiastic Americans are for spending more borrowed money to subsidize an industry favored by the White House that makes up a infinitesimal part of the country's economy.
Tuesday's speech was filled with rhetorical flourishes that raise questions about the president's seriousness and his slipperiness. Witness his offer to back the GOP on medical liability reform. He's made that offer before: in his July 2009 address on health care to the Joint Session of Congress.
His declaration of support for legal reform during that address brought Republican Senators and Congressmen to their feet cheering. A couple of weeks later, the White House sent forward its proposal: a small pot of money for states to run demonstration projects on increasing patient safety. There was one hitch: if a state had passed medical liability reform, it couldn't apply for the funds.
If Mr. Obama fails to send a serious liability reform measure to Congress soon, Americans will have good cause to assume once again the president didn't mean what he said.
This article originally appeared on FoxNews.com on Wednesday, January 26, 2011.
President Barack Obama should get in and out of Friday's meeting with Congressional Democrats quickly --before they start asking how THEY figure in Mr. Obama’s future political plans.
This week, the White House abolished its Political Affairs Office, transferring its director to the Democratic National Committee. No one should think this means the administration has given up on politics. After all, the managerof the president’s 2000 campaign, David Plouffe, has just taken up residence in the West Wing as Mr. Obama’s senior advisor. He’s there to coordinate the president’s re-election campaign.
But even when a president runs for a second term, members of his Party – especially incumbent senators and congressmen – expect help for fundraisers and appearances by the president and his team. So who will coordinate those efforts for 2012? Mr. Plouffe will have his hands full with keeping the White House and the campaign apparatus knitted up (trust me on this one). So the responsibility of helping Democratic candidates either falls to a Plouffe deputy or simply ceases being a significant White House political priority.
Congressional Democrats desperate for administration support might not want to let Mr. Obama get out of their weekend meeting without first getting reassurances that he and his people will help them in 2011 and 2012.
This article originally appeared on FoxNews.com on Friday, January 21, 2011.