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Sunday, November 16, 2008


Stephen Bliss / Bernstein and Andriulli for Newsweek

Noam Schieber questions the "no drama Obama" meme:

His taste in confidants runs toward the strong-willed and direct. Thanks to his writer's sensibility, Obama tends to view such specimens with anthropological fascination. Lest anyone forget, he chose as his pastor Jeremiah Wright, a man who rivals Laurence Olivier in his flair for the dramatic. These days, one of Obama's most trusted aides is a salty Southerner named Robert Gibbs, who first signed on as a communications strategist for the 2004 Senate race. Gibbs is known for his unyielding bluntness with the boss. One day at the outset of his Senate term, Obama sidled up to Gibbs and asked him to name the president of Tanzania. "Who the fuck cares?" was Gibbs's response, according to Obama biographer David Mendell. Obama began to laugh.

Obama, in fact, seems to crave such pushback. His years as a law professor have made Socratic dialogue his chief intellectual reflex. "The most awkward moment on a conference call is when he says, 'Okay, anybody disagree?' and there's just silence," says the aide. "He wants to make sure he's fully explored the issue before we move on." One of Obama's most valued economic advisers in recent months has been former Fed chairman Paul Volcker, partly because he opposed a stimulus package long after the rest of the economic team endorsed it. (Volcker eventually came around.)

All of which is to say that, for Obama, there may be such a thing as the wrong kind of drama and the right kind. Certainly it would have been hard to imagine him bringing on a notorious infighter like Clinton strategist Mark Penn (whom multiple Obamanauts cited as an example of the former). On the other hand, Emanuel and Biden both have reputations for being highly opinionated and unfailingly loyal. Biden embodies the blue-collar code of his Scranton upbringing. As for Emanuel, Rolling Stone once reported that, at a dinner after the 1992 campaign, he began stabbing the table with a steak knife as he pronounced Bill Clinton's enemies "dead."

The question is whether Obama can maintain this distinction between good and bad drama in the otherworldly vortex of the White House.

The day in 100 seconds:

a bit of good news: the Iraqis have approved a Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) with the U.S. Kevin Drum:

This is good for the Iraqis, who really do need the U.S. presence for a little while longer; good for George Bush, who's getting a slightly longer timetable than Barack Obama would have negotiated; and good for Obama, since this essentially makes his decision to withdraw into a bipartisan agreement. After all, conservatives can hardly complain about Obama following a timetable that was negotiated and approved by Bush. Obama has enough on his plate already, and taking this issue off the table ought to be a considerable relief to him.

A light at the end of the tunnel after all?

Now that the election is over I was really happy to see the script hasn't changed:

"America doesn't torture, and I'm going to make sure we don't torture."

(well, obviously we do torture, but the point is that it's un-American, and we're going to start acting like Americans again. And thank God for that.)

Three cheers for the Millennials:

The 2008 election not only marked the election of America's first African-American president, it also saw the strong and clear political emergence of a new, large and dynamic generation and the realignment of American politics for the next 40 years.

The first large wave of the Millennial Generation, about one third of the young Americans born from 1982-2003, entered the electorate to decisively support President-elect Barack Obama. Young voters preferred Obama over John McCain by a greater than 2:1 margin (66% vs. 32%). This is well above the margin given by young voters to any presidential candidate for at least three decades, if not at any time in U.S. history.

When it comes to policy, Millennials are liberal interventionists on economic issues, active multilateralists in foreign affairs and tolerant non-meddlers on social issues-a profile that most closely matches the Democratic Party's platform as well as the new President's agenda. Their propensity to vote straight Democratic was clearly evident in 2008 when young voters supported Democratic congressional candidates by about the same margin that they did Obama (63% vs. 34%).

What's more, as with previous civic generations, they are likely to vote a straight ticket for their preferred party for the rest of their lives. The Millennial Generation is ready to take its place as America's next great Democratic civic generation, just as their GI Generation great grandparents did nearly 80 years ago. Welcome to the Millennial Era.

Newsweek wonders if Obama might be the anti-Christ.

How "provocative!"

Josh Marshall on the possibility of an auto industry bailout:

the point is that we've got the hood up and maybe the engine out on the national economy. That's a bad situation on a lot of fronts. But it's also the opportunity to really change things. Not just fix things on the margins but make the big changes. As long as we're talking about sums of money in the tens and hundreds of billions of dollars, let's not restrict ourselves to considering whether we throw Detroit a lifeline that keeps them in motion and employing their workers through the current recession. Maybe we need to invest 50 billion dollars in having a mass market fully electric car in five years. I don't see anybody who doesn't agree that whatever the costs of letting GM go under, that it's management who drove this company into the ditch with a lot of terrible decisions and unwillingness to change. So maybe we take GM into some sort of managed restructuring, push out management, clean out the equity holders, and use the 'company' as the vehicle for leapfrogging the US into the 21st century, non-hydrocarbon auto industry.

As you can see, there are a lot of details I don't have a handle on. And I'm going to be trying to come up to speed. But one thing I'm confident about is that the real danger we face is being too timid, not too bold. We're going to spend a ton of money -- whether it's to bailout the auto industry, keep the Great Lakes states on life support for ten years or putting in place some top to bottom program to get us to where we actually need to be. The money, for those who have eyes to see it, are essentially sunk costs at this point. The danger is that we spend all the money and come out the other end still with a big region of the country tied to a dying industry, no true progress on the energy/climate crisis front and a lot more debt.

Two views on Larry Summers....

Pro (Jonathan Chait, writing for TNR):

Ever since Election Night, the specter of 1994 has loomed over the Democratic Party. Would the Democrats "overreach"? Would this bright new dawn of liberalism come crashing down as rapidly as the last one had?

The 1993-1994 period took place long enough ago that the feeling it engendered has been forgotten, and the causes of the Democrats' failure have mostly receded into myth. But the whole experience returned to me with a jolt when I read a Politico story reporting "intense backlash from women's groups may have pushed former Clinton Treasury Secretary Larry Summers off the short-list to lead Treasury." Ah, now I remember--that's what it feels like to watch the Democratic Party self-destruct.

Clinton promised to appoint a cabinet that "looked like America." In practice this manifested itself as an embrace of quotas and set-asides, with interest groups loudly complaining that they had not received their due. The quest to find an Attorney General was a particular embarrassment when it emerged that the position had been reserved for a woman. The appointment of Lani Guinier--who had written in praise of racial proportional representation--was another humiliation, and the squawking of her allies that followed her withdrawal another still.

By the summer of 1994, Clinton had turned to a crime bill, which would reestablish his standing as a cultural moderate. But the bill devolved into a fight over gun control--an issue whose lethality the Democrats had not yet recognized--and "midnight basketball," which Republicans deftly turned into a racial wedge issue. By Election Day 1994, every conservative social hot button issue had been pressed. Clinton had won the presidency by relating to the economic frustration of the white working- and middle-class. But the first two years of his presidency looked to those voters as the fulfillment of the post-materialist concerns of the 1960s generation.

Which brings us back to Obama, another Democratic president who won office by focusing on the economy and sidestepping the minefields of identity politics. His rumored leading candidate for Treasury, Summers, is opposed by numerous feminist groups and aggrieved former Hillary Clinton supporters. Most of them are too embarrassed to say outright that Summers' stray musing (which he quickly and abjectly retracted) that differences between male and female brains may play some role in the dearth of women at the very high end of the science field ought to by itself disqualify him from a job making economic policy. One member, Nancy Hopkins, told Politico, "We just want the best Treasury secretary at this moment in time," but, alas, Summers "couldn't run Harvard." How meritocratic!

Of course, even if you buy the notion that Summers couldn't run Harvard--and I think he was a successful innovator in areas like financial aid for middle-class students and forcing faculty members to concentrate on teaching--there's something in his background that's a bit more relevant to his ability to serve as Treasury Secretary than his Harvard tenure: He already was a well-regarded Treasury Secretary.

Another stated concern, according to Politico, is "a sense among some Clinton supporters that picking Summers would reopen wounds from the contentious presidential primaries." Well, sure, if you're the one who's reopening the wounds. Likewise, there's a sense among some racketeers that a failure to pay protection money could lead to a shop undergoing property damage.

What's especially egregious about the case against Summers is that there's probably no more vital appointment Obama can make. Summers is not the only good choice, but he is the most clearly qualified. He commands respect from across the political spectrum--even right-wing loon Lawrence Kudlow had praise for him. Even better, Summers is in accord with liberals on inequality, regulation, and Keynesian fiscal stimulus. If Obama is going to enact the transformative change liberals want, he has no better asset than a former Treasury Secretary who presided over a boom and commands bipartisan respect to sell that change for him.

To the identity politics left, diversity at the top is not just a bonus but the central point of politics. On Wednesday, U.S. News blogger Bonnie Erbe complained that Obama's appointments are not sufficiently diverse: "His first cabinet selection, White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, is, of course, a white man. I'm not liking what I'm seeing," she wrote. "Obama owes it to women and women of color, whose votes he secured in historic proportions, to put them in cabinet posts they've not yet held, such as Treasury and Defense." If Obama's bid to remake American government dies, that will be the voice of the murderer.

Con ():

The choice of a new treasury secretary presents an early test of President-elect Obama's commitment to change in the realm of economic policy, where the need for a new direction is most painfully evident. Will the new administration find a bold answer to decades of trickle-down economics? Or will Wall Street-affiliated party insiders summon the political muscle to remain relevant and deliver for their friends in finance? A battle for the soul of Obama's White House is underway.

Considering what is at stake, the emergence of Lawrence Summers as a leading candidate for treasury secretary is an alarming indicator that Wall Street Democrats with abysmal records are gaining an upper hand over the broad progressive coalition that lifted Obama to victory.

Summers' candidacy, pushed heavily by Democratic Party rainmaker and Citigroup executive Robert Rubin, is premised on the notion that Summers' expertise and experience is urgently needed in our time of crisis. Whatever his gaffes at Harvard, the argument goes, Summers has a proven capacity to lead the economy in the right direction.

But a sober look at history suggests the opposite; it is precisely Summers' record of service that is his biggest liability. On the critical economic issues he encountered as a Clinton administration official, Summers' expertise translated into consistent advocacy for policies that infected the financial system with deadly risk.

Recently, Summers has tilted toward progressive stances on several questions of economic policy. But when considered against the backdrop of his career, his pontifications are an unconvincing resumé point -- especially when many other economists got it right all along, without the benefits of hindsight.

On three major issues that have had special bearing on the recent crisis -- financial deregulation, asset bubbles, and government bailouts -- Summers flouted basic tenets of his profession, ignored warnings, and pursued a short-sighted strategy. A thorough review of this record undermines Summers' only serious claim to the Treasury: his much-hyped expertise.

Summers' ascendancy as a candidate for treasury secretary points to a fundamental problem underlying the recent financial crisis: top-tier leaders in the public and private sectors are rarely held accountable for their failures.

This is most obviously the case on Wall Street, where executives are reportedly preparing for a new round of multimillion-dollar bonuses. Many of their banks would no longer exist were it not for taxpayers' billions, yet these executives are rewarded for their efforts.

The appointment of Summers as treasury secretary would parallel these absurd Wall Street bonus payouts; President-elect Obama would be giving someone with a poor record of job performance the highest economic post in the land. It would be a grievous error to follow the lead of Wall Street and reward Summers' brand of incompetence.

Fortunately, alternatives can be found outside the Summers-Rubin school of expertise. Other prospective treasury secretary candidates with comparable establishment credentials -- such as economists Laura Tyson and Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz -- have demonstrated far greater acuity in analyzing the dynamics governing global capitalism over the past two decades.

Like many of Wall Street's recently disgraced leaders, Summers is currently riding a credibility bubble of his own. Its burst would be inevitable and would only bring swift disillusionment with Barack Obama's message of change.

meet Mona Stutphen, who was just tapped to be a Deputy Chief of Staff for BO (vid)

HRC is indeed being vetted for SoS, although vetting Mr. Hillary seems to be problematic.

Guardian is actually reporting that it's a done deal: that she's been offered the job and is going to take it. (Josh Marshall is skeptical)

Hilzoy has an abmirably non-cynical reason why Lieberman shouldn't be allowed to keep his Chairman post:

suppose Lieberman did decide to get serious about investigating the Obama administration. Given both his complete failure to exercise oversight over the Bush administration and his opposition to Obama's candidacy, it would be very hard to have confidence in his fairness, and very easy for liberals to dismiss anything he said against an Obama administration. And this matters: precisely because I want Obama to be held accountable for any mistakes he makes, I want to make sure that whoever runs this committee is actually fair and credible. I think that one lesson we can draw from the Republicans' time in control of the Congress is that you do your party, your President, and your country no favors at all by supporting them blindly. I therefore think that it would be a huge mistake to put someone whose impartiality is open to serious question in charge of this committee.

I appreciate the sentiment, although in all honesty this better captures my perspective:

Dems will have an anonymous vote on tomorrow to decide the issue. (Early indications don't look good)

Oh, and speaking of Droopy, here's a clip from Recount in which Holy Joe helps throw the election to Bush:

What a bastard.


Jimbo said...

Harry Reid should have thrown Lieberman out the nearest window the second he asserted that losing his chairmanship would be "unacceptable." How is this guy in a position to issue threats? I don't understand the hesitance. The Dems won't have 60 seats and he won't be the deciding vote. The man is a traitorous toad. Who cares if he caucuses with the Republicans? Take his gavel and excommunicate the scoundrel already!

Lee said...

Haha, I'm with you!