Transactional Presidency

Marshall Ganz in the LA Times has maybe the smartest summation I’ve read on the Obama Presidency, in the wake of last night’s election results:

In his transactional leadership mode, the president chose compromise rather than advocacy. Instead of speaking on behalf of a deeply distressed public, articulating clear positions to lead opinion and inspire public support, Obama seemed to think that by acting as a mediator, he could translate Washington dysfunction into legislative accomplishment. Confusing bipartisanship in the electorate with bipartisanship in Congress, he lost the former by his feckless pursuit of the latter, empowering the very people most committed to bringing down his presidency.

Seeking reform from inside a system structured to resist change, Obama turned aside some of the most well-organized reform coalitions ever assembled — on the environment, workers’ rights, immigration and healthcare. He ignored the leverage that a radical flank robustly pursuing its goals could give a reform president — as organized labor empowered FDR’s New Deal or the civil rights movement empowered LBJ’s Voting Rights Act. His base was told that aggressive action targeting, for example, Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), chairman of the Senate Finance Committee — where healthcare reform languished for many months — would reflect poorly on the president and make his job harder. Threatened with losing access, and confusing access with power, the coalitions for the most part went along.

Finally, the president demobilized the widest, deepest and most effective grass-roots organization ever built to support a Democratic president. With the help of new media and a core of some 3,000 well-trained and highly motivated organizers, 13.5 million volunteers set the Obama campaign apart. They were not the “usual suspects” — party loyalists, union staff and paid canvassers — but a broad array of first-time citizen activists. Nor were they merely an e-mail list. At least 1.5 million people, according to the campaign’s calculations, played active roles in local leadership teams across the nation.

But the Obama team put the whole thing to sleep, except for a late-breaking attempt to rally support for healthcare reform. Volunteers were exiled to the confines of the Democratic National Committee. “Fighting for the president’s agenda” meant doing as you were told, sending redundant e-mails to legislators and responding to ubiquitous pleas for money. Even the touted call for citizen “input” into governance consisted mainly of e-mails, mass conference calls and the occasional summoning of “real people” to legitimize White House events.

Disappointing, but we unfortunately saw some of this coming.

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Times Catches Letdown Fever

From this upcoming weekend’s NYT magazine, a look at the, ahem, letdown that’s been the Obama Administration:

But what is striking about Obama’s self-diagnosis is that by his own rendering, the figure of inspiration from 2008 neglected the inspiration after his election. He didn’t stay connected to the people who put him in office in the first place. Instead, he simultaneously disappointed those who considered him the embodiment of a new progressive movement and those who expected him to reach across the aisle to usher in a postpartisan age. On the campaign trail lately, Obama has been confronted by disillusionment — the woman who was “exhausted” defending him, the mother whose son campaigned for him but was now looking for work. Even Shepard Fairey, the artist who made the iconic multihued “Hope” poster, says he’s losing hope.

The article is up, but, just on principle, I’m waiting until Sunday to read it.

Old school.

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Obama argues that his assassination program is a state secret

The tireless Glenn Greenwald:

I didn’t believe it was possible, but the Obama administration has just reached an all-new low in its abysmal civil liberties record. In response to the lawsuit filed by Anwar Awlaki’s father asking a court to enjoin the President from assassinating his son, a U.S. citizen, without any due process, the administration last late night, according to The Washington Post, filed a brief asking the court to dismiss the lawsuit without hearing the merits of the claims. That’s not surprising: both the Bush and Obama administrations have repeatedly insisted that their secret conduct is legal but nonetheless urge courts not to even rule on its legality. But what’s most notable here is that one of the arguments the Obama DOJ raises to demand dismissal of this lawsuit is “state secrets”: in other words, not only does the President have the right to sentence Americans to death with no due process or charges of any kind, but his decisions as to who will be killed and why he wants them dead are “state secrets,” and thus no court may adjudicate its legality.

I genuinely didn’t think it was possible for any President to concoct an assertion of executive power and secrecy that would be excessive and alarming to David Rivkin, but Barack Obama managed to do that, too. Obama’s now asserting a power so radical — the right to kill American citizens and do so in total secrecy, beyond even the reach of the courts — that it’s “too harsh even for” one of the most far-right War on Terror cheerleading-lawyers in the nation. But that power is certainly not “too harsh” for the kind-hearted Constitutional scholar we elected as President, nor for his hordes of all-justifying supporters soon to place themselves to the right of David Rivkin as they explain why this is all perfectly justified. One other thing, as always: vote Democrat, because the Republicans are scary!

Read the whole post here

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Obama Happinesses

I today coin ‘happiness’ the noun as the opposite of ‘letdown’. See other recent happinesses here.

FCC to Call for Government Data Overhaul

FCC official details broadband plan recommendations to drive civic engagement, including free online access to government documents such as court records, and a concerted push toward social media.

WRONG QUESTION, RIGHT ANSWER

STEPHANOPOULOS:I want to get to some of those broader issues [of nuclear proliferation]. Because you’re also facing criticism on that. Sarah Palin, taking aim at your decision to restrict the use of nuclear weapons. Your pledge not to strike nations, non-nuclear nations, who abide by the nonproliferation treaty. Here’s what she said. She said, “It’s unbelievable, no other administration would do it.” And then she likened it to kids on the playground. She said you’re like a kid who says, “Punch me in the face, and I’m not going to retaliate.” Your response?

OBAMA: I really have no response. Because last I checked, Sarah Palin’s not much of an expert on nuclear issues.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But the string of criticism has been out there among other Republicans as well. They think you’re restricting use of nuclear weapons too much.

OBAMA: And what I would say to them is that if the secretary of defense and the chairman of the Joints Chiefs of Staff are comfortable with it, I’m probably going to take my advice from them and not from Sarah Palin.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But not concerned about her criticisms?

OBAMA: No.

Evolution, Big Bang Polls Omitted From NSF Report

Board members say the decision to drop the text was driven by a desire for scientific accuracy. The survey questions that NSF has used for 25 years to measure knowledge of evolution and the big bang were “flawed indicators of scientific knowledge because responses conflated knowledge and beliefs,” says Louis Lanzerotti, an astrophysicist at the New Jersey Institute of Technology who chairs NSB’s Science and Engineering Indicators Committee.

The explanation doesn’t appear to have soothed White House officials, who say that the edit—made after the White House had reviewed a draft—left them surprised and dismayed. “The Administration counts on the National Science Board to provide the fairest and most complete reporting of the facts they track,” says Rick Weiss, a spokesperson and analyst at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

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Obama Letdowns — February through September, 2010

It’s time once again to clear out my queue of Obama Letdowns. For all your hater-haters our there, fear not, I’ve got a pro-Obama post coming up next.

I haven’t done this since January(!), so it’s quite a list. Let’s get started.

Justice Dept. defends warrantless cell phone tracking

The FBI and other police agencies don’t need to obtain a search warrant to learn the locations of Americans’ cell phones, the U.S. Department of Justice told a federal appeals court in Philadelphia.

A Justice Department attorney told the Third Circuit Court of Appeals that there is no constitutional problem with obtaining records from cellular providers that can reveal the approximate locations of handheld and mobile devices.

Obama Quietly Continues Bush’s Disdain for UN

The Democratic Party’s deceitful game

Rockefeller was willing to be a righteous champion for the public option as long as it had no chance of passing (sadly, we just can’t do it, because although it has 50 votes in favor, it doesn’t have 60). But now that Democrats are strongly considering the reconciliation process — which will allow passage with only 50 rather than 60 votes and thus enable them to enact a public option — Rockefeller is suddenly “inclined to oppose it” because he doesn’t “think the timing of it is very good” and it’s “too partisan.”

FDL Statement on the Passage of the Health Care Bill

this is not health care reform, and the task of providing health care that Americans can afford is still before us. Too much was sacrificed to corporate interests in the sausage-making process. Rather than address the fundamental flaws in our health care system, we applied a giant band-aid. This health care bill does not come close to doing all that needs to be done to meet the needs of our citizens and our businesses as we retool our economy for the 21st century.

Obama Hosts Anti-Abortion Signing Ceremony

After reporter’s subpoena, critics call Obama’s leak-plugging efforts Bush-like

The Justice Department’s decision to subpoena a New York Times reporter this week has convinced some press advocates that President Obama’s team is pursuing leaks with the same fervor as the Bush administration.

Obama’s natural choice of Kagan

It’s anything but surprising that President Obama has chosen Elena Kagan to replace John Paul Stevens on the Supreme Court. Nothing is a better fit for this White House than a blank slate, institution-loyal, seemingly principle-free careerist who spent the last 15 months as the Obama administration’s lawyer vigorously defending every one of his assertions of extremely broad executive authority.

Obama’s Drug Strategy All Talk, No Walk

New target of rights erosions: U.S. citizens

A primary reason Bush and Cheney succeeded in their radical erosion of core liberties is because they focused their assault on non-citizens with foreign-sounding names, casting the appearance that none of what they were doing would ever affect the average American. There were several exceptions to that tactic — the due-process-free imprisonment of Americans Yaser Hamdi and Jose Padilla, the abuse of the “material witness” statute to detain American Muslims, the eavesdropping on Americans’ communications without warrants — but the vast bulk of the abuses were aimed at non-citizens. That is now clearly changing.

Hudson Institute Fellow Applauds Obama Administration’s Whistleblower Prosecutions

Yesterday, the conservative Hudson Institute held an event in which former Bush CIA Director (and National Security Agency (NSA) head during the implementation of the NSA’s illegal spying program) Gen. Michael Hayden called the Obama administration’s recent dedication to ferreting out and locking up truthtellers a “positive step” that has “begun to chip away at the notion that there are no sanctions” for revealing classified information.

Goldilocks Triangulation

Lawrence Lessig: On the Rage of Gibbs

Lefties (like me) who criticize Obama are not criticizing him for failing our Lefty test. Our criticism is that Obama is failing the Obama test: that he is not delivering the presidency that he promised.

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Extreme

Aren’t liberals so angry and extreme???

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Credit Where Credit Is Due

Healthcare reform becomes a law today.

The liberal in me thinks this falls short of where we need to be, that it’s a giveaway to the insurance industry (whose stocks led the rally on wall street yesterday), that without single-payer it won’t change the fundamentals of the health insurance business, that it’s essentially the same plan the Republican party offered up in the early 1990s, or the same plan Mitt Romney signed into law in MA.

The pragmatist in me, though, knows this is a big win for President Obama, and the Democrats. The optics on this are huge — it’s a win, and in American politics, winning is what matters.

More importantly, after eight years of an administration whose “accomplishments” were bombing a country that did nothing to us, and torturing people, we finally have a government whose first major accomplishment is providing a safety net for our fellow Americans. Not perfect, but a start.

Credit where credit is due: This is a big win for President Obama.

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