Archive for the ‘National Politics’ Category

Auto Bailout Fails; Where Do We Go From Here?

December 12, 2008

America has entered treacherous waters with the failure of the auto industry bailout deal in the Senate last night. Think about how far we’ve sunk since September. Back then, we were experiencing a credit crunch, the effects of which were felt by only a small number of Americans at the time. Since then the $700 billion Treasury rescue plan seems to not have made much of a difference — although it is likely the situation would be worse if that legislation wasn’t passed. Also, since the crisis started the plight of ordinary people has gotten worse. New claims for unemployment are at the highest point in 26 years. That 1982 recession was ferocious, particularly in the industrial Midwest, and most experts say we’re in for 6 months or more of this.

In other recessions, such as the Bush Recession in 1992, observers failed to recognize things getting better early enough. I don’t get the sense that’s happening now.

President-Elect Obama’s opportunity is that he will take office at a real low point, from which things can only get better. Much of economic behavior involves psychology. If Obama the Orator can make Americans feel better, maybe things we’ll improve. So we can hope.

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Gitell on Barack Obama’s National Security Team

December 3, 2008

Watch me on NewsNight analyzing President-Elect Obama’s new national security team by clicking here.

The Obama Announcement

December 1, 2008

I watched in awe as President-Elect Barack Obama announced his national security team. There, as has been leaked, stood Senator Clinton aside the incoming president. It is remarkable in our political lifetime for a president to make such an ambitious pick — and for that pick to accept.

The Obama team faced a considerable challenge during today’s media availability. They had to manage the announcement — and the egos of the personalities involved –in such a way to highlight each member of the team without having it look unruly. It came across, more or less, as smooth. The journalists’ questions were all easily anticipated and mostly focused on challenging Obama on what statements he made about Clinton during the campaign. Other thoughts:

 

  • Permanent Representative to the United Nations is a good spot for the underwhelming Susan Rice. At the U.N. she can be an outspoken advocate for American values and diplomacy without having much to do with substance — although the elevation of this post to cabinet-level could alter the equation.
  • I could not miss Obama’s reference to the Middle East peace process. I wonder exactly how ambitious his plans are for this area.
  • A interesting spot of the event was Vice President-Elect Joseph Biden. He seemed to be chafing at the confines of his talking points. 
  • Expect some conflict between the presumptive national security adviser, James Jones, who has been critical of Israel, and Clinton. Writes Eli Lake: “When Obama makes that move [on the issues], the Jones-Clinton tensions may reprise the great Powell-Cheney fights of yore.”

Barack Obama Eats and Schmoozes at Manny’s

November 21, 2008

The Happy Place

I’ve been very impressed with Barack Obama’s moves since becoming the President-elect. But this afternoon Obama did something to make me swoon: He had lunch at Manny’s Delicatessen in Chicago. All I can say is that this lean arugla-lover has found some soul — or at least soul food.

Back when Gitell.com started, I included Manny’s on my list of approved delis: “Cantors in Los Angeles, Nate & Al’s in Beverly Hills (catch Larry King at breakfast), Manny’s in Chicago, Zingerman’s in Ann Arbor, Katz’s Deli on Houston Street, Harold’s in Edison, New Jersey (home to the pickle bar), Smallman Street Deli in Pittsburgh. I cannot neglect to mention Schwartz’s Smoked Meat in Montreal, worth a trip to Quebec.”

In retrospect, I don’t think I provided enough detail on Manny’s, about which I had not heard until I ate there with my sister-in-law and her husband, a native Chicagoan. Located near the historic Hull House, Manny’s is most remniscent of Katz’s on the Lower East Side in Manhattan. We walked in on a frigid January day to find a food oasis. It’s the kind of of pleasantly ungentrified place where the odor of corned beef, pickles and pastrami is embedded into the walls. I had a hot corned beef sandwich with a potato pancake and matzo ball soup. It was one of the first restaurants that disavowed me of the notion that good, authentic deli had to come from New York.

My brother-in-law Mitch, my guide to culinary Chicago, Super Dawg, Italian beefs, deep dish pizza, etc., filled me in. Manny’s, he said, was a place where I was just as likely to find a local alderman, judge or political columnist as I was a hungry Bears fan. Or the president-elect and his top adviser.

President-Elect Obama at Manny's

Welcome Back Joe!

November 19, 2008

Back in July I met with derision when I made a proposal in my then-New York Sun column.

One prominent Democrat, however, can save Mr. Lieberman — Barack Obama. Since emerging onto the national scene four years ago, Senator Obama has emphasized his ability to unite Americans across the political spectrum.

If Mr. Obama wants to demonstrate his willingness to change the way Washington does business and to overcome “the politics of division and distraction” — both of which he has vowed repeatedly — he should offer Mr. Lieberman a political pardon and ask Mr. Reid to allow Mr. Lieberman to keep his chairmanship, if Mr. Obama is elected president. While a new president lacks the power to interfere in an internal senate matter, Mr. Obama’s voice would carry weight with the senate leadership.

With the approach of the Republican parley in Minnesota in early September, the issue will ripen. Instead of speaking in favor of purging Mr. Lieberman, Mr. Obama could offer to reserve a decision on the matter until after the election. Then, if elected, he could urge Mr. Reid to keep Mr. Lieberman within the ranks.

Such magnanimity would not reflect the usual political rules of either Washington or Chicago, Mr. Obama’s hometown, where the typical approach to fallen foes is to cut their legs off and bury them so far under that they are silenced permanently. Mr. Lieberman is, after all, campaigning on behalf of Mr. McCain, often at the candidate’s side. And, according to published reports, Mr. Obama, confronted Mr. Lieberman on the floor of the senate after the Connecticut senator participated in a conference call criticizing Mr. Obama’s foreign policy positions. Among Mr. Obama’s concerns, according to Newsweek, was Mr. Lieberman’s failure to successfully rebut the false allegation that he is a Muslim.

As unlikely as an act of forgiveness might seem now, it would be in keeping with the spirit of Mr. Obama’s rhetoric. “There are patriots who opposed the war in Iraq, and there are patriots who supported the war in Iraq,” Mr. Obama said during his keynote speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention. “We are one people, all of us pledging allegiance to the stars and stripes, all of us defending the United States of America.”

Permitting Mr. Lieberman, the party’s 2000 vice presidential candidate, to remain within the Democratic caucus would display Mr. Obama’s commitment to those very words. Mr. Lieberman’s issues with his fellow Democrats, after all, began when his strong support of the Iraq War prompted a primary challenge from an anti-war candidate, Ned Lamont.

Few readers liked this column. Progressive Democrats, furious at Lieberman for his position on the Iraq War and support of McCain, frothed at the idea of welcoming Lieberman back. Conservatives, noting that Lieberman was backing McCain, dismissed the thought that Lieberman would need a post-McCain strategy.

Well, now, at Barack Obama’s urging, the Senate Democrats have done exactly what I suggested. John Kerry was particularly magnanimous on the issue. “”President-elect Obama asked for forgiveness for Sen. Lieberman, the caucus has made a decision to censure his comments and strip of his membership on the EPW Committee, and it’s time to move on,” Kerry’s spokesperson, Brigid O’Rourke, told PolitickerMa.

The comments of both Kerry and Lieberman suggest the leniency came, exactly as I suggested, from President-Elect Obama himself. Here’s what the Globe reports about it: “Lieberman partly credited Obama, who has preached unity and bipartisanship since the election, for the lighter penalty. Lieberman also publicly thanked a handful of senators for their support, including Chris Dodd of Connecticut, who said later that John F. Kerry of Massachusetts also spoke on Lieberman’s behalf.”

Yes We Can…Copy Barack Obama

November 15, 2008

The Gold Standard

Netanyahu Website

My friend Noam Cohen writes a great story in The New York Times today about Benjamin Netanyahu’s campaign website (see above) in Israel. While there’s humor in the idea of Israel’s conservative candidate emulating Obama — not his ideological counterpart John McCain, the story reinforces the idea of how revolutionary Obama’s campaign was. It is, for the purposes of political campaigns around the world, the state of the art.

Click on the Russian-language version of the campaign Web site of Benjamin Netanyahu, the conservative Likud leader running for prime minister of Israel, and up pops a picture of the candidate with Barack Obama. On the Hebrew version, Obama is not pictured. But he is, in fact, everywhere.

The colors, the fonts, the icons for donating and volunteering, the use of embedded video, and the social networking Facebook-type options — including Twitter, which hardly exists in Israel — all reflect a conscious effort by the Netanyahu campaign to learn from the Obama success.

“Imitation is the greatest form of flattery,” noted Ron Dermer, one of Netanyahu’s top campaign advisers. “We’re all in the same business, so we took a close look at a guy who has been the most successful and tried to learn from him. And while we will not use the word ‘change’ in the same way in our campaign, we believe Netanyahu is the real candidate of change for Israel.”

Those who created the Obama Web site, including Thomas Gensemer, managing partner of Blue State Digital, say the Netanyahu site is closer than any others they have seen.

“Nothing has been so direct as the Netanyahu though we have seen others with shades of it,” he said, adding that when you are successful, “people are going to knock things off, both in terms of functionality and aesthetic.”

Web sites aside, for liberals in both countries, the idea of Netanyahu as the Obama candidate of Israel seems mystifying. Of the three main contenders for prime minister in February’s election, including Tzipi Livni of Kadima and Ehud Barak of Labor, Netanyahu is the most hawkish and the least interested in the focus on dialogue with adversaries that Obama made a centerpiece of his foreign policy platform. Netanyahu has said he would shut down the current negotiations with the Palestinian leadership.

But it is precisely the break with the current policy that Netanyahu, known by his nickname Bibi, believes will help him take the largest share of votes. The most recent polls show him slightly ahead of his rivals.

Sani Sanilevich, who is managing Netanyahu’s Internet campaign, said the Web is one of the biggest focuses of the campaign, and with good reason.

“The main advantage of the Internet is the ability to communicate with citizens and people directly,” he said. “You can actually hear them and get them involved in this campaign. The whole idea is, together we can succeed.”

Mitt Romney Not Likely To Run In 2012

November 8, 2008

Charley Manning, a longtime friend and advisor of Mitt Romney, had some very interesting things to say about the political future of the former Massachusetts governor today. Manning served as a consultant on Romney’s 1994 campaign for senate, his 2002 campaign for governor as well as the presidential campaign and remains close to him. For the last several weeks, I’ve been appearing with Manning on the Hank Morse Show on 96.9 FM-talk, WTKK.

Today’s show began with a discussion of The Boston Herald’s story implicating pro-Romney forces in the distribution of leaks unfavorable to Sarah Palin. After saying he would never hire the type of people who would leak negative information about a campaign they had just worked on, Manning gave his opinion on what Romney might do.

“I’d be surprised if Mitt ever ran again for president…I sure don’t think it was the best experience of his life,” Manning said. Manning cited the disappointment Romney experienced in hearing the level of anti-Mormon bias in the Republican primaries. “There are other things he can do,” Manning asserted.

President-Elect Obama’s Press Conference: So Far So Good

November 7, 2008

I caught most of President-Elect Obama’s press conference and liked what I heard. I’m very enthused about his gathering the top economic experts together and addressing the public so soon.

My sense is that Team Obama knows it has a very hard road ahead. The secret for them will be appearing to manage a tough problem — not actually being able to solve a systemic global financial collapse with any alacrity.

That’s what was so good about today. Obama did what any thoughtful, engaged leader would do. It’s amazing, but I can’t recall George W. Bush doing anything like this. When policy analysts, for example, pushed for a conference to plan for the aftermath of the War in Iraq, Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and company nixed it.

While Obama will be saddled with cleaning up Bush’s legacy, politically he has much to gain from his juxtaposition with 43. Everytime Obama appears to show energy and interest in a problem and communicates to the American people — one of his core skills — he will be judged to be doing a good job.

Now, for the substance. Today’s lineup suggests some real problems for the administration. Included were fiscal hawks, such as Lawrence Summers and Robert Rubin as well as economic progressives, such as Robert Reich. I see a policy battle shaping up between these two factions as was chronicled in Bob Woodward’s book on Bill Clinton’s first term, “The Agenda.”  That conflict ended with Robert Reich’s resignation from the cabinet. The potential for disparate ideas being raised probably guided the Obama’s approach to the media today. They invited t.v. cameras in to spray the meeting but asked reporters to wait for the press conference for “sound” — the exact thing I would have advised for a meeting like this.

That’s not, however, today’s story. It’s enough that Obama showed action and interest. After 8 years of President Bush, that’s good enough for me.

Samuel Adams, The Founders and Barack Obama

November 7, 2008

Ira Stoll riffs on Barack Obama’s reference to America’s Founders in the New York Daily News.

Barack Obama began his Election Night victory speech with a phrase that may have stopped short anyone educated with history textbooks written anytime in the past 30 years. “If there is anyone out there who still . . . wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time . . . tonight is your answer,” he said.

“The dream of the founders”? Which founders could Obama have been talking about? Thomas Jefferson, the drafter of the Declaration of Independence, was a slaveholder. George Washington, our first President, was a slaveholder, though his will dictated that his slaves would be freed upon his death. James Madison, the drafter of the Constitution, was a third slaveholding founder. He believed that freed slaves should be sent back to Africa.

The Constitution with which these founders created America counted slaves as three-fifths of a person and included a 20-year prohibition on Congress banning the slave trade. The only dream these founders would have had of a black President would have been a nightmare.

There’s no record of Samuel Adams dreaming of a black President, either. But of all our founding fathers, he is the one perhaps most likely to have done so. In researching my biography of Adams, I discovered that Adams refused to accept a slave he had been offered as a gift – and never himself held a slave.

Stoll is emerging as the nation’s expert on the least well known of America’s revolutionary leaders. He has written a new book, Samuel Adams: A Life, which has already received a favorable review in the Wall Street Journal.

Personal Memories of Campaign 2008

November 6, 2008
I first met Barack Obama at a sparsely attended press conference for Deval Patrick in October 2006. I saw him electrify an audience at the JFK Library and witnessed his first big appearance in New Hampshire in early December. I was there in Concord when Obama stood by his vow to meet the president of Iran during his first year in office. “We don’t need Bush-Cheney Lite,” he said as the crowd erupted in cheers. Even when this became an issue in the debates with McCain, nobody told McCain Obama ever said that.
I heard him implore Massachusetts to vote for him with Caroline Kennedy and Ted Kennedy at his side the night before the primary. He lost but he did not lose his cool.
I saw his last appearance with foreign policy aide Samantha Power. Obama seemed to love her energy but his staffers kept reeling her in.
I was one of the few writers to spend an extended period of time with Joe Biden, who gave me time after a book talk at Borders in downtown Boston. In an odd juxtaposition from four years earlier, I waited for Biden with the BPPA’s leadership team.
I attended scores of Hillary Clinton speeches and watched her campaign of inevitability devolve into desperation. I saw her fight back as the NH primary approached. I was in the room when two goons got up during one of her speeches shouting “Iron My Shirt! Iron My Shirt!”
I covered the Pennsylvania primary before Obama had figured out how to capture the votes of blue collar whites (or before the economy entirely went south.) I saw a Bill Clinton, reduced to giving 25 minute speeches in out-of-the-way venues, rev up the crowd in Millvale, PA. I interviewed Senator Casey of Pennsylvania who assured me Obama would win over enough Catholic voters to become president.
On the Republican side, I began by following Mitt Romney around New Hampshire. I saw Rudy Giuliani take brief interest and lose it in the Granite State. While he started to resonate in July, his big tour across Southern New Hampshire was a bust. The lasting image is of his gaggle of stilettoed press aides shoeing away the media, including David Broder who subsequently slammed Giuliani in the Washington Post.
McCain began his presidential campaign in Portsmouth at a highly orchestrated event right on the river with just one problem. The t.v. cameras could not shoot over the big speakers McCain’s people had set up. I called around NH when McCain hit his low point. McCain would win NH on his own, his supporters said. And they were right. I was with McCain the night he won NH and killed the campaign of Mitt Romney. The campaign blared Chuck Berry’s “Go Johnny Go!” How is this guy going to compete with Obama and his U2 “City of Blinding Light?” I thought.
I was there in Denver when Obama made everything in his campaign bigger and pulled it off.