Blue State Views

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Government Spending Falls Under Obama

The right-wing claim that government spending under President Obama is "out of control" is, of course, sheer nonsense. Now, we have Forbes magazine and the Wall Street Journal, two bastions of conservative journalism, confirming that, in fact, spending by the federal government is growing at a slower rate than at any time in 60 years — since Eisenhower!  Two compelling charts:




Cowardice in the White House

Yesterday, the White House announced that it had ordered the Environmental Protection Agency to abandon a proposed rule that would have significantly reduced emissions of smog-causing chemicals.  See here. The story here is that President Obama once again caved in to Republicans and the business community, who together were crying about having to restrict pollution to protect public health.  Why would Obama give in to them?  They won't give him any credit for doing so, and he simply alienates environmentalists and liberals who helped put him in office.  Why the cowardice?  Why the constant capitulation?  What happened to this presidency? 

What a gross disappointment. 

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Obama’s Upswing

According to a recent Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll, President Obama is enjoying an upsurge of popular support — his approval rating is up 8 percentage points since December.  This follows his highly successful speech in Tucson last week and sets him up nicely, going into his State of the Union address next week. Peggy Noonan’s column in this morning’s Wall Street Journal provides interesting commentary on what, in her view, he should try to accomplish in that speech. Although I don’t agree with her on every point, I certainly agree that his address comes at a crucial moment in his presidency and provides him with a real breakthrough opportunity. 

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Obama’s White House Botches Response to Oil Spill

A White House increasingly known for annoying the press by ruthlessly controlling its message had better start paying more attention to the message itself.  We now have the worst oil spill in the history of the nation, but Obama is sitting in Washington, preparing for the White House Correspondents Dinner tonight. He's going to show up at the Washington elite's annual exercise in frivolity — its very own prom — and make humorous remarks while seabirds and fishing grounds are coated with oil. 

In this morning's New York Times, Martha Kumar, a Towson University political scientist who is an expert on the relationship between the presidency and the press, makes the following observation about the mistake the White House makes by allowing the president to be seen yucking-it-up in Washington while the oil slick spreads:

There you are in Washington with celebrities and the media while
wildlife and fishermen are doused in oil? That’s not going to do much
for the White House or for the press, for that matter.

Shades of Katrina?  I thought Obama, Axelrod, and Emanuel were supposed to be smart enough to avoid pitfalls of this sort.  Guess not.  It's not enough that EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson is on the scene.  Obama should be, too.   As this catastrophe worsens, the White House will wish it had put the president out there, demonstrating some concern.

Meanwhile, this environmental disaster should push the Obama Administration to turn away from its recent embrace of offshore drilling, not just pause new leases.  But there's no reason to expect our politicians to do the right thing when it comes to the environment.  They're all cowards.  Mother Nature doesn't vote or make PAC contributions the way corporate America does.

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Volcker Over Summers and Geithner

Is it just an eclipse or a more enduring realignment of celestial objects?  Hard to know, but I took heart from the news late last week that President Obama had finally paid more heed to former Fed chair Paul Volcker’s advice than to that of the Two Wall-Street Toadies, Larry Summers and Tim Geithner.  Shoving aside Summers and Geithner, who from the get-go have been overly protective of the big banks, Obama agreed to follow Volcker’s advice to limit the size of the biggest banks, curtail their risk-taking activities, and prohibit commercial banks from proprietary trading of financial securities.  It’s about time. 

Whether it was Scott Brown’s victory on Tuesday or some other set of prods, Obama finally moved off the dime on this measure that’s been under consideration for a while and threw his weight in with Volcker, Vice-President Biden, David Axelrod, and others who had long been pushing for tougher crackdowns on the banks.  This is very good.  I would have liked to see more here, such as tight limits on compensation.  But when it comes to taking on the big banks, possibly the worst entities in our sordid economy, Obama will never be populist enough for me.

And a delightful little sidelight of this story is that Larry Summers has finally had his arrogant sails trimmed again. (When I say “again,” I’m thinking of Harvard having fired his smug, imperious ass.)  In the future, let’s see a lot more of Christina Romer, chair of the Council of Economic Advisers, and a lot less of Summers. 

(One of the problems with being too busy at times to blog is that the big news stories just keep piling up and one keeps falling behind more.  I’ve decided that mini-reactions are better than none.)

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Another Passionless Presidency?

Thirty years ago, Jim Fallows wrote a cover article for The Atlantic that became famous for its take on Jimmy Carter's presidency. The article was entitled "The Passionless Presidency."  It's perhaps the best perspective available on the Carter presidency, as worthy of a close reading now as it was then.

I thought of the Fallows piece this weekend when I read Neal Gabler's op-ed piece in The Boston Globe, which laid out this argument about the Obama presidency:

But there is one big thing that the administration lacks: passion. It is hard to remember a presidency that was as passionless as this one is – a presidency that puts down no markers, draws no lines in the sand, makes no stand. That, even more than the compromises themselves, may be what really riles Obama’s old supporters. It is that he doesn’t seem tortured by the compromise. Simply put, Obama seems to be missing the passion gene.

I agree with Gabler's take on Obama. There's something about Obama's devotion to "cool reason" that leaves me cold. Is there anything that really stirs him? Is he willing to go to the mat on anything?
By noting the Fallows piece here, I don't mean to conflate the two arguments about these two passionless presidencies. And I certainly don't mean to imply that Fallows would sign on to Gabler's view of Obama. Finally, I don't mean to suggest that Carter and Obama are alike in all the particulars. But there is something disturbingly similar about the demeanor and manner of the two presidents: the "I'm the smartest person in the room" affect; and the sense that policymaking is a matter of getting the technical matters right, after which, other political actors, seeing the obvious merits of the positions, will fall in line. 

There are differences, of course. Unlike Carter, Obama had the sense to hire a chief of staff with intimate knowledge of Washington's (especially Congress's) inner workings. And the president himself is not, as Carter was, a total stranger to the Washington political culture.  And so far there is no evidence that Obama, though having his hands in lots of pots as Carter did, similarly wastes his time with micromanagement and with devoting his attention to trivial matters. 

But almost a full year into his presidency, Obama's performance in office raises disturbing questions about whether his, too, will ultimately be deemed a passionless presidency, with all the failings that entails.