President Barack Obama

Weekly Kos Poll, GOP Still at 16 Percent, Messaging the Economy

The weekly Kos track has the landscape essentially unchanged this week - Obama strong,Congressional Dems in an improved position, the Congressional GOP at catastrophically low levels. 

The Congessional GOP is at 16 percent approval this week.   Recalling that John McCain received 46 percent of the vote last year, 30 percent of the country is now in a position to have voted for McCain in 2008 and be currently disapproving of the Congressional GOP.   At some point the national media is going to come to terms with how incredibly unpopular, ineffective and intellectually bankrupt the modern GOP is today.  Only a few times in this past century has a poltical party in the United States been so unpopular.  

So Obama has prevailed in this first round.  But a new and very important round of public engagement with Congress and the GOP begins now.  For the next month or so, even while the Administration starts to very publically engage with the rest of the world (G20, Summit of the Americas, Biden and Clinton trips), there will be a very consequential battle over the President's budget.  

The President begins this next round in very good shape.  But my sense is that the Administration will have to do a better job now at distilling down to the essence of what they are asking the country to do - is it recovery? To invest in the future? Get the budget under control? Tame Washington? I think the President's plan needs a name and single message.  Not sure it should be "recovery,"  Do we really believe the country wants to go back to where we were - 81 percent wrong track? No.  Increasingly I get the sense that these economic and fiscal terms - recovery, stimulus, deficits, investment, budget plan - are the wrong words for this next phase.  Feels like it should be more about adopting the President's plan for America; embracing the President's strategy for a strong America in the 21st century; etc.

In reviewing the budget blueprint, it is clear that the President has a far-sighted plan to ensure America prospers in the 21st century.  That is what we are going to debate over the next month - and all components of it are means to the end, and not the end in itself.  What the Obama team must do at all costs is to prevent the GOP from doing what is has done so effectively these past few years and reduce this big conversation on what our economic strategy for the future needs to be into a overly simplistic debate about numbers, deficits and taxes.  All of that is tactical, means to an end - and that end is broad based growth, a strong America, a successful America of the 21st century.  Remember that in the Clinton era we raised taxes on the wealthiest among us and saw extraordinary growth and broad-based prosperity.  In the Bush era we radically cut taxes for the wealthiest and saw the incomes of every day people decline.  Tax rates are only part of the overall strategy our nation uses to create growth, broadly shared, and this old canard that tax cuts automatically create growth has been disproven once and for all.  

Larry Summers began laying out the terms of this next debate in an important speech yesterday.  But I still feel what is missing in the emerging Obama argument is 1) old bad economy vs new better economy - a forward/backward main thrust vs the concept of recovery; 2) we still have not done nearly enough to account for and explain why incomes went down during the years of recovery before this recent recession.  There is a mountain of data that shows that for the American people this period of losing ground was traumatic, that it helped drive the wrong track number to 81 percent, the highest ever recorded, prior to the recession and financial crisis.  For many Americans what this means is that we don't need recovery - a return to a period of declining wages - or growth which excluded them - but we need a different and better type of growth that this time, now, raises all boats and helps them manage this more competitive economy of this new century.  What we need is a new and better economy; an economic strategy for the 21st century; a strong plan for a strong America; a plan to make globalization work for all Americans, etc.  

The idea that we had growth under the GOP that saw a declining standard of living for the typical American family is the strongest rationale for the plan the President is promoting.  In this much more competitive economy of the 21st century America will need to invest more be smarter and try harder to maintain our standard of living.  We will need to equip America to be successful in a very different 21st economy - one that must be more energy effecient, low-carbon at its base, is technology tense, and globally competitive and interconnected.  For America Inc. to propser in that economy we need a new and comprehensive strategy; one that invests in our infrastructure and people; that encourages accelerates innovation and new job creation; that cuts health care costs and encourages better health; that modernizes our electricity network, invests in renewable energy sources and makes a national crusade to make our homes and businesses more energy effecient.  

All of this will take time, years in fact.  But in his desire to be honest with the American people it is critical for the President to continue to emphasize the long term structural changes and investments we are making, and to not let short term metrics like "recovery," "stimulus" or the stock market be the way he defines success.  A tall order all this, but it is one I truly believe the President is up for.  The real question is - is Congress?

Kagan on the Bush Democracy Promotion Legacy

In his monthly column for the Post today, Robert Kagan raises a truly important foreign policy issue which requires greater discussion - the role of democracy promotion.   He makes an argument I agree with wholeheartedly - that Bush never seriously pursued a "freedom" agenda.   He writes:

Yet there is another area where the administration claims to depart from the Bush legacy but really hasn't, and I wish that it would. That is the issue of democracy and human rights. Ever since Clinton's confirmation hearing, where she talked about three D's -- defense, diplomacy and development -- but not a fourth -- democracy -- the press has made much of this allegedly sharp departure from the Bush administration's "freedom agenda." (Vice President Biden's prominent remarks about the fourth D in Munich last month have been ignored because they didn't fit the storyline.) Thus the Times's Peter Baker writes that "Obama appears poised to return to a more traditional American policy of dealing with the world as it is rather than as it might be." Set aside what a funny sentence that is to anyone with even scant knowledge of American history and its traditions -- remember Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, John Kennedy, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton? The more interesting question is whether the Bush administration ever seriously pursued a "freedom agenda."

As my Carnegie colleague and preeminent democracy expert Thomas Carothers points out, the idea that the Bush administration engaged in a massive effort to promote democracy around the world is mostly myth. While every U.S. president for the past three decades has engaged in some degree of democracy promotion, he writes, "the place of democracy in Bush foreign policy was no greater, and in some ways was less, than in the foreign policies of his predecessors." It did provide important support to struggling democracies in Ukraine, Georgia and Lebanon. But Bush ignored the systematic dismantling of democracy in Russia. Like Secretary Clinton, he did not let human rights get in the way of dealing with China. The Bush administration supported Pakistani strongman Pervez Musharraf until the bitter end. It backed away from challenging Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to hold freer and fairer elections in 2005, and whatever ardor it had about pushing for democracy in the Middle East cooled significantly after the 2006 election of Hamas. Meanwhile, it worked closely with dictators in Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states. Aside from Iraq and Afghanistan, where its stalwart support for democratic progress was undermined for many years by failed military strategy, it is hard to point to many places where the "freedom agenda" was ever seriously implemented.

The world would be a better and safer place if the Bush administration's policies had more closely matched its rhetoric. But in any case, as Carothers notes, the idea that "a major post-Bush realist corrective is needed represents a serious misreading of the past eight years." It would be ironic, to say the least, if in its desire to distinguish itself from Bush on this issue, the Obama administration wound up replicating Bush. Viva la revolución!

I couldn't agree with this sentiment more, and have written often about how what limited efforts the Bush team placed on "democracy promotion" was done in a way that grossly misinterpreted the formula America had tried to export since the days of FDR.   To me the American formula has had four components, all required for societies to succeed - democracy, open markets, personal liberty and the rule of law.  Somehow the Bush team simplisticly boiled that legacy down to just the magic elixar of "democracy" and free elections, as if just allowing people to vote would magically transform broken and conflicted societies.    Allowing Hamas to participate in the Palestinian elections was a break from our traditional formula, as they were allowed to stand for election while maintaining a strong and well funded militia, clearly ignoring any possible triumph of the rule of law.  

Kagan is perhaps too kind to Bush.  For by cloaking our anti-democratic methods in the Middle East -preemptive war, torture, coddling of dictatorships, rampant corruption in the rebuilding process in Iraq - in the language of democracy, i worry that Bush and the neocons did more than not adequately promote democracy around the world - and in fact did a great deal to profoundly undermine the very idea in the part of the world most in need of modernization and reform. 

Let the re-evaluation begin! 

The GOP's Early Response to Obama Has Been Catastrophic

The weekly Kos track is out, and the central dynamic of this new political year remains unchanged: Barack Obama has become a towering and popular figure, the Democratic Party retains its relatively strong position, and the already unpopular GOP had paid a heavy price for opposing the President in his efforts to lead America to recovery.  

I've been writing about how one of the central stories of the new Obama era would be how the GOP struggled with the new realities of this new political era. With the rise of Rush, the struggles of Steele, the disapointment of Jindal, the lack of any attractive savior on the horizon and the just plain irresponsibility and awfulness of their Congressional leaders in a time of national crisis the GOP truly appears to be a political party facing a long road back.  

Remember, in this Kos poll Obama is at 69, Boehner 15.  The Congressional Dems are at 45, the Congressional GOP is at 15.  There can be no other conclusion than this early engagement with the President has been catastrophic for the GOP, and that they will need to find a new way to work with the President.  

Rob Shapiro has a great new essay on the inanity of the GOP's emerging economic arguments, and I discussed all this with Norah O'Donnell on MSNBC earlier this week.

10am Update: From a new Newsweek poll getting a lot of attention this morning: 

Despite the tumbling economy, Barack Obama continues to enjoy a honeymoon with the American public in the face of the most trying crisis any newly inaugurated president has encountered since Franklin Delano Roosevelt. The GOP, meanwhile, is viewed by a majority of Americans as the party of "no," without a plan of its own to fix the economy, and even rank-and-file Republicans are concerned about the party's direction, according to the first NEWSWEEK Poll taken since Obama assumed office.

"People give Obama credit for reaching out to Republicans, but they don't see Republicans reciprocating," says pollster Larry Hugick, whose firm conducted the survey. "A surprising number said bipartisanship is more important than getting things done."

Overall, 58 percent of Americans surveyed approve of the job Obama is doing, while 26 percent disapprove and one in six (16 percent) has no opinion. Although his approval ratings are down from levels seen a few weeks ago in other polls, 72 percent of Americans still say they have a favorable opinion of Obama-a higher rating than he received in NEWSWEEK Polls during the presidential campaign last year. The president's rating in this poll is consistent with estimates provided by other national media polls in the last week.

GOP Economic Policy as an Exercise in Grief Management: Denial, Anger & Rush Limbaugh

The leaders of the Republican Party, reeling from their painful string of defeats, seem stuck in two of the classic stages of grief, denial and anger. This week, Rush Limbaugh replaced Bobby Jindal as the leading and most colorful example. Limbaugh may seem like too easy a target, since talk radio always tends toward hyperbole. Nonetheless, the essence of the message from the presumptively addled Mr. Limbaugh is that Americans would be better off if the President’s economy program failed. Even if their homes slip into foreclosure and their kids have to drop out of college, American families would at least escape the degradations of “socialism” or, as another popular conservative pundit put it, “left fascism” (that’s from the hard-right blogger and historian, Ron Radosh).

The rhetorical excesses of talk radio and the Web would hardly be noteworthy, if the same strain of non-thinking didn’t also dominate the Republican Party’s current economic positions. Let’s set the stage: of the three natural sources of demand in a market economy, consumers have stopped spending, businesses have stopped investing, and exports have fallen off the proverbial cliff. That leaves government stimulus as the only possible source of new demand to at least slow the accelerating downward momentum of the economy and most of the people in it. Perhaps the best explanation, then, for why every Republican in the House and all but three GOP senators voted “no!” on the President’s stimulus is, well, denial and anger.

To be sure, economic ideology almost certainly plays a role here, too, on top of their denial (about the consequences) and anger (about no longer calling the shots). This came through vividly at a conference I attended earlier this week for the National Chamber Foundation. My panel was asked to talk about whether the Administration’s plans foreshadowed a permanent change in the relationship between the public and private sectors. Set aside the fact that the leaders of the central private institutions in this drama, big finance, have begged Washington to amend that relationship long enough to preserve their jobs and the assets of their bond holders. 

At the panel, a well-turned-out executive from a major private equity company (and former Bush Treasury official) laid out what once could have been the reasonable conservative position -- stimulus weighted to tax cuts, a banking rescue that avoids taking over anybody (or dictating anybody’s compensation), and tax-based measures to reduce foreclosures. As a matter of economics, he got his targets right, even if his approaches are weaker than those favored by the Administration. But at least his response suggested that he wants the economy to recover, regardless of who gets the credit. 

Not so from the other member of the panel, Brian Westbury, who on top of being an economist with a Midwestern financial advisory is also the economics editor of the American Spectator and a frequent writer for the Wall Street Journal. He provided an economic-cum-ideological gloss for the denial and anger expressed by the flamboyantly-frustrated Mr. Limbaugh. Westbury’s prescription was no stimulus, no banking rescue and no program for foreclosures. The only constructive government action he could imagine was to jettison current “mark-to-market” rules. Those rules say that the balance sheets of banks and public companies have to reflect the actual market value of their assets and liabilities. So, for example, when a mortgage-backed security goes bust, you have to write down its value while preserving the liability of the money borrowed to purchase it and still owed. 

In this view, none of what seems so important to the rest of us -- collapsing demand, investment and trade, huge job losses, rising bankruptcies -- matters for government policy.  The only thing Washington should do here is to change how the financial losses from these events are reported. This isn’t economics; it’s a prescription that follows from a hard-edged ideological view that government can do nothing of value for an economy, regardless of conditions.   

Unhappily, this cramped understanding isn’t limited to the pages of the American Spectator and the Wall Street Journal op-ed page. Bobby Jindal put the Republican Party on record for much the same view in his awkward response to the President’s address to Congress. He even cited the colossal inadequacies of the Bush Administration’s response to Katrina as proof that the private sector is always the best answer to any problem or catastrophe -- even if it’s under water at the time.

I honestly can’t believe that they’re really so dull-witted. A better explanation for Jindal and Limbaugh, along with commentators like Westbury and Radosh, is that they’re still grappling with the grief of losing the support of the American people -- and the power that came with it. They’re stuck in denial and anger. And that’s a very bad position from which to consider the best policies for a nation and world economy in crisis.   

The Economic Logic in President Obama’s Speech to Congress

President Barack Obama's superb address Tuesday night had an underlying, unifying logic which some may have missed, but which hopefully those reading this will recognize.  

First, on the financial and economic crisis, he embraced the three basic steps we have urged since last September: on top of a stimulus aimed at long-term investments and helping the states – that’s now done – there will be new requirements that banks getting help from taxpayers use that assistance to expand their lending, and new steps to keep people in their homes and bring down foreclosure rates. It’s just economic common sense – but that’s precisely what most of official Washington casually casts aside in favor of scoring short-term, political points. (Take a look at Gov. Bobby Jindal’s empty and sneering response to the President’s speech. His repeated citing of Katrina as a model for government action, by itself, should be a career-ending act).

The President also laid out a domestic agenda for the rest of his first term, and it looks like the most sweeping since FDR and LBJ. I suppose that personal blogs, by definition, are no place for humility, so here it is straight. The three cornerstone Obama initiatives -- slow down our fast-rising health care costs, expand energy conservation and our use of alternative fuels, and give everybody new chances to upgrade their working skills -- are the exact prescription laid out more than a year ago in my book, Futurecast: How Superpowers, Populations and Globalization Will Change the Way You Live and Work. It’s also been a regular theme of this blog and a series of papers issued by NDN.  

Here, too, it’s just economic common sense, for a world being transformed by globalization.  The underlying logic of the President’s program springs from the fierce new challenges Americans face under globalization to their jobs and incomes. Globalization has made competition much stronger, and that competition leaves American businesses and their workers in a bind. Their costs have been rising very fast, especially for health care and energy, but intense global competition makes it harder for companies to raise their prices to cover these rising costs. The result is that the wages of most American stopped rising since about 2002, even as they became more productive. And most can’t find higher wages by getting new jobs, because before the current crisis began, the same forces had made this period the weakest for job creation since World War II.

The President understands that coming out of the current crisis isn’t enough, if we just return to another period of growth without wage gains or healthy job creation. He also understands another theme of Futurecast and NDN's work, namely that about half of Americans also need new skills if they aspire to jobs with a real future. That’s the basis for the third plank of the domestic agenda he laid out last night -- genuine, new access for young people to go to college or receive other, post-secondary training, and new opportunities for everyone else to upgrade their skills

President Obama’s first speech to Congress already ranks as the most serious and thoughtful presidential address on the economy in decades. Perhaps it took an historic crisis to break through the political cant and mental laziness that has gripped our economic agenda for so long. But the President is using this moment to put forward not only meaningful answers for the crisis, but serious, long-term remedies for much deeper economic problems which other politicians routinely ignore. That’s presidential leadership of the sort we haven’t seen since, well, FDR.

What is There to Say?

It is so clearly now a new day for our nation.

I don't have a lot to add to the President's own powerful words.  It was a sweeping vision for a new day.  It felt that it was something that he could pull off, and a set of priorities and a plan that fit this difficult time.  I have no doubt his poll numbers, already so strong, will rise, giving him even more capacity to move his ambitious agenda.  

Bobby Jindal tried hard tonight, but his language sounded so tired, so out of date now.  Though I kind of liked him, it was clear that the reinvention of the Republican has not yet begun.  They are still a big angry petulant no, a path that will only continue to drive their numbers down and drive them further from the American people. 

UPDATE: NDN, America's Voice, NCLR Reiterate the Need for Comprehensive Immigration Reform This Year, the Message Goes Abroad

In keeping with our "new tools" theme, reporters in Mexico made use of our new live webstreaming capability and were able to watch our conversation on "Making the Case for Passage of Comprehensive Immigration Reform This Year."  Our case is crossing borders, as a journalist from one of Mexico's most respected newspapers, El Financiero, writes in this piece.  The article elaborates on the two key points made by the speakers: 1) Immigration reform is vital in order to help revive our economy, and 2) legalizing those currently outside of the protection of American labor law will only help bring them into the system and generate greater revenue for the U.S. Treasury.

Obama, Ambitiously, Commits to Taming Deficits

From the Lori Montgomery and Ceci Connelly in tomorrow's Washington Post

President Obama is putting the finishing touches on an ambitious first budget that seeks to cut the federal deficit in half over the next four years, primarily by raising taxes on business and the wealthy and by slashing spending on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, administration officials said.

In addition to tackling a deficit swollen by the $787 billion stimulus package and other efforts to ease the nation's economic crisis, the budget blueprint will press aggressively for progress on the domestic agenda Obama outlined during the presidential campaign. This would include key changes to environmental policies and a major expansion of health coverage that Obama hopes to enact later this year.

A summary of Obama's budget request for the fiscal year that begins in October will be delivered to Congress on Thursday, with the complete, multi-hundred-page document to follow in April. But Obama plans to unveil his goals for scaling back record deficits and rebuilding the nation's costly and inefficient health care system Monday, when he addresses more than 100 lawmakers and budget experts at a White House summit on restoring "fiscal responsibility" to Washington.

A piece by Floyd Norris in the NY Times today reinforces why bringing our fiscal house in order matters - there is a serious question of whether global investors - all with less money in their pocket, and recently burned by their American investments - will continue to lend America the money it needs to finance its extraordinary levels of borrowing: 

JUST when the United States really, really needs the money, overseas investors seem to be less willing to buy long-term American securities.

The government said this week that net purchases of those securities fell to $412.5 billion in 2008, less than half the 2007 level and the lowest annual total since 1999, when the federal government was running a budget surplus.

Money did come in, but it was diverted into the safest investment around, albeit one with almost no expectation of profit, Treasury bills. Overseas investors increased their holdings of those securities by $456 billion, an unprecedented flow. 

The Choice: Recovery vs. Drift and Decline

Each day you can feel the media and the public grow slightly more aware of the gravity of the economic problems facing America and the world.   We are all still getting our arms around this economic moment, and like Paul Krugman's column today, the emerging conventional wisdom is the recovery is going to be long and hard - longer and harder than any other recession since the Great Depression.  I feel, each day, that it is more and more apparent that we are living in no ordinary time - that the decisions made by our leaders in the days ahead here and across the world will be ones of great consequence.  Ones that will lead to a prosperous and peaceful 21st century; ones reinforcing the drift of the moment, the inability of our politics to face our challenges forthrightly; ones that could indeed make matters much much worse. 

Tuesday night the President will address the nation from the Capitol.  Once again the nation, and the world, wlll be watching.  It will be a critical opportunity for our new President to lay out the challenges we face and the solutions he envisions.  I hope he takes the opportunity to more clearly define the choice we face.  For I don't think the choice is between forward and backward any more, or between progress and failed old ideas.  I think it is a graver choice, a starker choice, a much more serious choice - one of recovery, global stability and national greatness versus continued drift, global chaos and national decline.  

As the saying goes times of crisis are also times of great opportunity.  It is increasingly clear the task of the Obama Presidency will be a great one - to prevent the world and the US from sliding into economic and political chaos, to chart a domestic and global path for recovery, and to update the successful but aging geopolitical architecture forged by FDR and Truman for a new day and a new century.  No small tasks these.  But these are the tasks that are in front of us now.  To put it simply - it is time to remake and renew the world, to offer a "new politics" on a global scale.  

If history is any guide creating this new global architecture that allows us to better manage the collective challenges in front of us won't be easy, or without pain.  Mistakes will be made, years and nations lost.  But it is now the great challenge facing our nation, whose role in the world is different from the rest.  And it will now be at the very center of our politics for perhaps decades to come.  I am anxious to see how the President talks about all this on Tuesday night, the most important night yet of his already historic Presidency.  

NDN/NPI Event March 10th - A Conversation with Joe Rospars

I am excited to be announce that on Tuesday March 10 we will be holding a special event here at NDN - a luncheon conversation with Joe Rospars, the new media director of the Obama Presidential Campaign and founder of Blue State Digital, one of the nation's leading new media consulting firms.  

There is little argument now that the way the 2008 Obama campaign used new media and the internet has changed politics here, and around the world, forever.  Joe was the director of this historic effort, and I am very pleased he will be taking the time to reflect on their remarkable campaign, and offer some thoughts on what we might expect in this space in the years to come.

We will be making a more formal announcement on this in a few days, but in the meantime mark your calendar for this midday discussion with Joe Rospars.  For those not able to attend the event here in our offices be sure to watch it live on our new high-end webcasting system

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