President Barack Obama

President Obama's Weekly Address

In his newest weekly address this morning, President Obama congratulates the Senate for reaching a compromise on the stimulus bill, and stresses the urgency of passing a stimulus package. Clocking in at over 4 minutes, it's one of the longer addresses the President has released. Check it out below:

It's No Time for Politics as Usual

The U.S. Senate’s “Dr. No,” Republican Judd Gregg of New Hampshire, best captured the need for political leadership in this time of crisis in accepting his nomination by President Barack Obama to be U.S. Secretary of Commerce: "Now is not the time for partisanship. Now is not the time to stand in our ideological corners and shout at each other. Now is the time to govern and govern well."

Unfortunately, many in Congress, including much of the leadership of both parties, still don't understand that the United States has entered a new civic political era, demanding new rules of behavior in response to our dire economic circumstances. Even as President Obama expresses the "fierce urgency of now," pointing out that if government does not act soon and vigorously it "will turn a crisis into a catastrophe," Congress still seems unable to put aside the ideological arguments and constant efforts to win partisan advantage that characterized American politics in the era the country has just left.

Congressional Republicans seem to believe that the economy can only be revitalized by tax cuts while Democrats say that only vast federal spending, some of it on the pet projects of Members, will produce economic recovery. As demonstrated by the recent House vote on final passage of the economic recovery bill, in which virtually all Democrats voted against all Republicans, working across party lines remains an elusive dream. Republican Members of Congress seem intent on following the strategy from their ideological battles with President Bill Clinton a decade ago in which the goal was to enforce party discipline in the hope that the President and his party would fail and Republicans could blame the Democrats in the next election. But with the stakes as high as they are now, the GOP should instead be listening to the author of that earlier strategy, Newt Gingrich, who has publicly made it clear that the country cannot afford for Obama’s economic recovery plan to fail.

Meanwhile, Democrats need to learn some new rules of behavior as well. While NDN's Globalization Initiative Chair Dr. Rob Shapiro has correctly noted that the recovery package now before the Senate contains only the "normal quotient of special interest subsidies on both the spending and tax sides -- think of it as a 'congressional tax,'" -- these clearly aren’t normal times. It may be true that, as Rob says, "they really can’t help themselves." But like others recovering from an addiction, Democrats will have to at least try to change their approach to building legislative consensus in this new era, one step at a time. 

The American public clearly sees the distinction between Congress' approach and that of President Obama. A compendium of national surveys indicates that 70 percent of Americans have a favorable opinion of President Obama and 63 percent approve of his performance. By contrast, only 17 percent approve of the job Congress is doing, while 78 percent disapprove. More to the point, in a recent Rasmussen Reports survey, a plurality (42 percent) perceives Obama to be governing in a bipartisan manner. By contrast, only half that number believes the same of both congressional Democrats and Republicans (22 percent each).

Of course, there is a way out. Unlike the social issues that dominated American politics during much of the last four decades, the economic and fiscal issues that are the current focus can be bridged with a non-ideological, post-partisan, and pragmatic approach recognizing that each side may have something to offer. If properly targeted, the tax cuts advocated by Republicans should be useful. If aimed at the right mix of projects, the Democratic spending proposals should help the economy in the short run and provide the conditions for growth in the long run. Keeping people in their homes, as both parties seem to advocate, will help families, neighborhoods, and society.

In short, as Rob Shapiro points out the recovery package can be "a useful first step, and one for which NDN has long argued."

Unlike their legislative representatives, the public has moved on from the cultural wars of the last decade. In a late January Pew survey, more than eight in 10 named the economy (85 percent and jobs (82 percent) as top policy priorities for the federal government, significantly above the numbers saying this about any other issue. In a January Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll, only seven percent cited “social issues” as an area on which government should focus compared to 21 percent who cited such cultural issues a decade ago. Paul Helmke, The Republican former mayor of Fort Wayne, Indiana, summed up the historical nature of the shift, telling Naftali Bendavid of the Wall Street Journal, that in a time of war and financial crisis, "people tend to focus on pragmatic issues rather than what the framers meant in 1789."

Throughout our history, major transformations or civic realignments have occurred at a time of intense national crisis that threatens the viability or even existence of the Republic. One such crisis occurred in the mid-19th century when the nation, led by Abraham Lincoln, overcame secession and a civil war to preserve the Union and end the moral blight of slavery. Another took place in the 1930s as America, spurred by Franklin D. Roosevelt, created the governmental institutions that allowed it to overcome the greatest economic downturn in its history and later to overcome the threats of fascism and communism.

The makeovers stemming from these crises change almost everything about U.S. government and politics -- voting alignments, public policy, and the rules by which politicians are expected to act and are judged by the American people (as we recently wrote in our essay, New Rules for a New Era). In the idealist periods before these civic realignments political figures more often than not act as moralists bent on the uncompromising advancement of ideological positions across virtually every policy concern--economic, international, and cultural -- and, more often than not, the public applauds and rewards this behavior. But, after civic realignments, faced with overwhelming and severely threatening crisis, the behavioral expectations and evaluative standards of politicians are altered. The public wants politicians to work across party and institutional lines on a non-ideological basis to produce pragmatic policies that deal with the crisis facing the nation. It's time for the House and Senate to follow the lead of President Obama and the American people and adopt new rules for a new era.

Rush-Watch, Part II

Yesterday, I wrote about how Rush Limbaugh's anachronistic racial views could be his ticket to irrelevance. Today, I came across three radio ads put out by Americans United for Change, a grassroots progressive organization, that set Limbaugh up as a foil to Barack Obama.

The ads urge voters to call their Senators and tell them to vote for the stimulus bill-- "to reject the partisanship and failed economic policies of the past"-- vote against Rush Limbaugh, and side with President Obama. It's a tough position for Rush-- I wouldn't want to be pitted against Obama in any battle right now.

The ads will run starting tomorrow in Pennsylvania, Nevada, and Ohio. Jonathan Martin at Politico has an article on the ads.

I have no doubt Limbaugh will continue to discredit himself with racist and otherwise insane remarks. Sooner or later, a leading Republican will have the courage to to denounce him, and then the dominos will begin to fall for Rush.

Rush Limbaugh, Black Presidents, and the Grabbing of Ankles

While Chip Saltsman is torn limb from bloody limb for the racist songs he distributed, another right-wing figure is poised for a hard fall for his own insane racial remarks.

Rush Limbaugh has an unpretty history when it comes to race.  Here is a guy who was pulled off ESPN in 2003 for typically asinine comments about black quarterbacks. And now he's on record hoping that Barack Obama will fail as President, and following that with this quote: 

"We are being told that we have to hope he succeeds, that we have to bend over, grab the ankles... because his father was black"

Watch the full interview here.

Where it gets really mind-blowing, however, is in the GOP's defense of Limbaugh.  Here's Republican congressman Mike Pence defending Limbaugh's remarks on MSNBC:

Norah O'Donnell asks the congressman: Are you so beholden to someone like Rush Limbaugh? Evidently, the answer is yes. As Simon has argued, the Republican Party knows no way to win that doesn't involve the exploitation of racial fear.  

But with a president whose father was black-- an overwhelmingly popular president, take note-- this kind of pathetic, race-based politicking just isn't going to play anymore. Limbaugh, who has a file with our friends at Media Matters that's as deep as anybody's, has undoubtedly been one of the foremost purveyors of intolerance in our society. But his racism is quickly becoming anachronistic. This could be the beginning of the end for Rush.

More on Magic Negros and the GOP

Huff Post has a neat clip of Chip Saltsman getting beaten around on MSNBC about his sending out of the now infamous song.  When confronted with it on the air, watch his defense - it's the media's fault. 

For more on the GOP. magic negros and race check out this recent post.   

Taking A Closer Look at FDR's Legacy

Steve Lohr has a very worthwhile story in the NYTimes today taking a hard look at the true economic legacy of FDR.  Titled "F.D.R's Example Offers Obama Cautionary Lessons, " it begins:

In 1933, as today, a new president stepped into the White House,
vowing change and decisive action at a time when a banking crisis posed
a grave threat to the nation’s economy.

The economic morass that confronted Franklin D. Roosevelt 76 years ago was undeniably deeper and more ominous than the trouble President Obama
is facing. Yet, according to economists and historians, there are also
some telling similarities and cautionary lessons to be drawn from the
experience of the Roosevelt years in the 1930s.

Roosevelt had his triumphs. He stemmed panic and stabilized the
banking system with a combination of deposit insurance, government
investment in banks, restrictions on banking practices and his
“fireside chat” radio addresses, which repeatedly steadied the national
mood and bought Roosevelt time to make changes.

Still, even after the government assistance, the surviving banks
were shaken and lending remained anemic — much as the nation’s banks
today are reluctant to make loans again, despite receiving more than
$300 billion of taxpayers’ money in Round 1 of the federal banking

So, throughout the 1930s, economic recovery remained frustratingly
elusive and arrived only with the buildup for World War II in the 1940s.

The shorthand verdict on Roosevelt, economists and historians say,
is that he was an eloquent and skillful politician, and an innovator in
jobs programs like the Civilian Conservation Corps and in regulatory
steps like the creation of the Securities and Exchange Commission to
police Wall Street. But Roosevelt, they say, while brilliant in many
ways, did not have a sure grasp of how to guide the economy as a whole.

“Roosevelt had some successes, but we hope that Obama is going to do
better,” said Kenneth S. Rogoff, a professor of economics at Harvard. “Otherwise, we’re in trouble.” 

I've been a little suprised that so much of the discussion in recent months on FDR's legacy has focused on his first 100 days, or some of the jobs programs which had marginal impact on the economy at the time.  A truer read of his legacy would show that America remained in an economic slow down until we went to war; that perhaps his most lasting legacy was not domestic but international, in defeating fascism and in fashioning a new liberal international order that has kept the world peaceful and prosperous for 60 years; and that of all of this was done over time, a long time - the FDR-Truman Administrations were in power for 20 years. 

As I wrote in a recent essay, Progress Not Motion, those in power now have to start coming to terms with the most challenging part of the FDR legacy - the unpleasant reality that solving the great challenges in front of us will certainly take more than the 2 years before the next election and the 4 years before the President's reelection.   There is a very real chance that the economy will still be in recession in 2010, and even 2012.  To me what this means is that our leaders need to stop raising expectations that things will get better quickly; to stop suggesting that there is no time to waste; to resist short term fixes that will not hasten the transition of America into the new economy of the 21st century.   As our new President said in his Inaugural speech last week this is a time for us to act responsibly, which means many things but certainly it means that we cannot confuse motion and progress in these vital days ahead.  It is more important at this critical time for our leaders to be right than fast - and to make it clear to the American people that the messes left behind by our recent era of terrible leadership will take many years, a lot of money, a great deal of effort and a lot of patience to fix. 

Inauguration Preparation

With inauguration quickly closing in, we're right in the thick of it here at NDN. Just eight blocks from the National Mall, one block from the White House, and half a block from the parade route, the preparations are going on all around us. For those readers wise enough to steer clear of this city throughout the festivities, here's a glimpse of some of the changes going on around DC:

The presidential viewing platform, being erected just in front of the White House. As the parade parades by, Barack will sit there behind bulletproof glass, and smilingly observe.

This city is mad for bunting-- mad for it, I tell you.

The Presidential Inaugural Committee takes the bodily functions of inaugural spectators very seriously, as you can see.

Rachel Maddow made off with the other three letters, and she won't give them back.

Here's the block of Pennsylvania Avenue that passes in front of the White House, just half a block from the NDN offices! The stands are built, the trees are boxed.

Our hallowed Capitol, from where Obama will address the nation on Tuesday morning.

The PEBO's motorcade, screeching around the corner just outside the NDN offices.

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