Posts Tagged ‘Barack Obama’

Larry Summers Previews Barack Obama’s Economic Policy

October 31, 2008

Former Treasury secretary and Harvard president, Lawrence Summers is advising Barack Obama on matters of economic policy. He spoke this morning at the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce.

Summers presentation was well-organized and strongly delivered (without notes.) He said the new president will face five major challenges:

1. Mitigating the Financial Crisis — the new president will have to find a way to keep credit flowing. He cited a program he started at Harvard where banks covered tuition and living expenses for graduate students, killed by the bank during the last month.

2. Reforming the Economic System — America tends to have economic crises every three years. The new president will have to figure out a way to balance risk better. He hinted at a “clearing house” or “exchange for derivatives.”

3. Addressing Income Inequality — He said there had been a 700% transfer of wealth to the top 1% in recent years. He urged returning to tax levels of the 1990s.

4. Confronting the Health Challenge — He said he didn’t see a single-payer system in the cards unless another Clinton-style health care reform effort failed.

5. Meeting Globe Energy and Environmental Needs– More clean tech, less reliance of Middle Eastern oil.

Here’s what he had to say about Obama’s campaign: “I have enormous admiration for Senator Obama and the campaign he’s run…I’ve never seen one that is as calm, methodical…as lacking as leaks as the 1 McCain has run…It speaks enormously to his managerial and leadership capacity.”

He concluded his remarks with a curious remark: “Rationalizing our approach to the Middle East has the benefit of freeing up resources to other parts of the world.”

I assume he was referring to the war in Iraq, but he could have been very easily referring to foreign aid to Israel and Egypt. Given Joseph Biden’s recent comments about a looming self-generated foreign policy crisis in the future, who knows?

The Obama Infomercial

October 30, 2008

I am watching the pre-taped portion of the Obama Infomercial and am finding it very, very effective. Unlike Barack Obama’s high-profile speeches in Berlin and in Denver, he is putting the focus on where it needs to be in the closing days of the election — on ordinary people. Obama’s somber narration gives him gravitas. And he is aided by the film’s tremendous production values, such as the moment the camera panned onto the site of an Ohio retiree donning a Walmart i.d. tag and cap to pay for his wife’s prescription bills.

Edit…I think it would have been better without the set-piece speech, a half-warmed over rehash of his convention speech and the 32 other Obama speeches I’ve covered.

Powell’s Endorsement of Obama: Foreign Policy, Not Race

October 20, 2008

Colin Powell, appearing on Meet the Press yesterday, made all the arguments designed to appeal to independent and swing voters likely to be swayed by a moderate Republican with national security credentials. While praising John McCain as a person, he cited McCain’s bumbling of the economic issue and appearing to grapple erratically for a solution to the economic troubles. Then, he criticized the selection of Governor Palin and the tone of the McCain campaign in recent weeks.

In the case of Mr. McCain, I found that he was a little unsure as to deal with the economic problems that we were having and almost every day there was a different approach to the problem. And that concerned me, sensing that he didn’t have a complete grasp of the economic problems that we had. And I was also concerned at the selection of Governor Palin. She’s a very distinguished woman, and she’s to be admired; but at the same time, now that we have had a chance to watch her for some seven weeks, I don’t believe she’s ready to be president of the United States, which is the job of the vice president. And so that raised some question in my mind as to the judgment that Senator McCain made.

I reject the suggestion that Powell’s decision was based on race. As a long-time watcher of Powell’s career, I suspect that the motivating factor in his decision was foreign policy. Powell’s foreign policy views have always been closer to the consensus-oriented, coalition-building approach espoused by Barack Obama. He even warned, remember, the first President Bush about going to war over Kuwait, which was then occupied by Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. When Powell knew war was inevitable, he pushed for a broad coalition, which included even Syria, and as large of a troop force as possible.

Anyone who has watched the Frontline specials of the last several years about the lead-up to the war in Iraq, knows the extent to which Powell was marginalized and then used by Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney and company. Even though McCain himself — although you wouldn’t know it from his comments — waged war with this same faction of the administration, it’s my sense that Powell believes the McCain view represents a continuation of a hawkish foreign policy. So, like much that happens in politics, it’s pay-back. We can attribute retribution, not race, to this decision, which may help Obama in the margins with swing voters.

Final Presidential Debate

October 16, 2008

The debate’s not yet over, but unless something absolutely wild happens in the waning minutes, Barack Obama won it — as Dick Cheney would say — big time.

John McCain finally levied his attacks against Obama to his face. He pushed the William Ayers issue and criticized Obama’s links to Acorn. Yet even in finally making these points, his style was off. He spent a lot of time on expressing hurt over John Lewis’s comments┬ábefore deciding to stand by his campaign’s attacks on Obama. His response to Bob Schiefer’s question reflected a certain ambivalence on McCain’s part. If McCain truly made a conscious decision to go after Obama on these issues prior to the debate, it would be expected that McCain could raise and prosecute the attack in a comprehensible way. If he didn’t want to do it, he should have renounced it. Twenty days to an election is too late for a candidate to demonstrate ambivalence.

As a matter of rhetorical style, I’m a big believer in candidates and public figures knowing what they want to say prior to a big speech or event. They have to know — not just intellectually, but emotionally– what they believe and what they stand for. Handlers and aides are great for helping their principals sharpen their arguments and make their points more clear. But the candidates need to buy into it. If I had been advising McCain, I would have pressed him as far as possible behind-the-scenes. And if McCain really couldn’t do it, I would have recommended that McCain jetison that line of attack.

Half-hearted, backwards criticisms don’t work. For that reason, McCain lost this final debate.

Sacrifice: Why McCain Is Losing

October 8, 2008

A good example of why John McCain is losing this race came tonight when a “child of the Depression” asked both candidates about what Americans needed to sacrifice. McCain spoke first and gave a dry answer about cutting spending and programs. Barack Obama gave a deeper answer referencing the way President Bush squandered America’s spirit of unity after September 11th. He then talked about the need for National Service and its appeal to young people — an answer that drew positive responses from CNN’s group of undecided voters. When the question came back to McCain, he returned to the subject of Obama and taxes.

This was more than a missed opportunity for McCain, one of the leading Republican proponents of national service. Obama’s answer was exactly what McCain was saying about Americans and sacrifice in 2001. Back then, McCain gave a major speech on national service to the national gathering of City Year. That same year he sponsored national service legislation and promoted it again in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. It’s unbelievable that McCain, who is now in the part of the campaign when the candidate is supposed to be capturing the center, ceded this ground to Obama, when he backed national service at a time it faced threat from the Bush Administration.

Here’s what McCain wrote about the issue in the Washington Monthly that year (notice, by the way, McCain’s specific reference to sacrifice.)

America is witnessing a welcome blooming of popular culture chronicling the contributions of the generation that lived through the Depression and vanquished fascism. From Saving Private Ryan to Tom Brokaw’s The Greatest Generation to Stephen Ambrose’s Band of Brothers, Americans are hungry to learn about the heroic service of our parents and grandparents. Some of the commentary surrounding this positive trend, however, has been wistful, even pessimistic. While rightly celebrating the feats of the World War II generation, many pundits bemoan the lack of great causes in our day and doubt whether today’s young people would be willing to make the sacrifices necessary to meet such challenges, even if they existed.
I believe these commentators have it wrong. During the last presidential race, I had the privilege of traveling the country and meeting vast numbers of young people. I cannot express how impressed I was. With energy and passion as contagious as it was inspiring, these young Americans confided their dreams and shared their aspirations, not for themselves alone, but for their country. Their attitude should come as no surprise. Though today’s young people, according to polls, have little faith in politics, they are great believers in service. Indeed, they are doing volunteer work in their communities in record numbers—proof that the urge to serve runs especially deep in them. Indeed, most Americans share this impulse, as witnessed after last month’s terrorist attacks, when thousands of Americans lined up to give blood and assist in rescue efforts. It is time we tapped that urge for great national ends.

And it is not true, as the cynics suggest, that our era lacks great causes. Such causes are all around us. Thousands of schools in our poorest neighborhoods are failing their students and cry out for talented teachers. Millions of elderly Americans desperately want to stay in their homes and out of nursing facilities, but cannot do so without help with the small tasks of daily life. More and more of our communities are being devastated by natural disasters. And our men and women in uniform are stretched thin meeting the vital task of keeping the peace in places like Bosnia and Kosovo.

Beyond such concrete needs lies a deeper spiritual crisis within our national culture. Since Watergate, we have witnessed an increased cynicism about our governmental institutions. We see its impact in declining voter participation and apathy about our public life—symptoms of a system that demands reform. But it’s a mistake, I think, to believe that this apathy means Americans do not love their country and aren’t motivated to fix what is wrong. The growth of local volunteerism and the outpouring of sentiment for “the greatest generation” suggest a different explanation: that Americans hunger for patriotic service to the nation, but do not see ways to personally make a difference.

What is lacking today is not a need for patriotic service, nor a willingness to serve, but the opportunity. Indeed, one of the curious truths of our era is that while opportunities to serve ourselves have exploded—with ever-expanding choices of what to buy, where to eat, what to read, watch, or listen to—opportunities to spend some time serving our country have narrowed. The high cost of campaigning keeps many idealistic people from running for public office. Teacher-certification requirements keep talented people out of the classroom. The all-volunteer military is looking for lifers, not those who might want to serve for shorter tours of duty.

The one big exception to this trend is AmeriCorps, the program of national service begun by President Bill Clinton. Since 1994, more than 200,000 Americans have served one-to-two-year stints in AmeriCorps, tutoring school children, building low-income housing, or helping flood-ravaged communities. AmeriCorps members receive a small stipend and $4,725 in college aid for their service. But the real draw is the chance to have an adventure and accomplish something important. And AmeriCorps’ achievements are indeed impressive: thousands of homes constructed; hundreds of thousands of senior citizens assisted to live independently in their own homes; millions of children taught, tutored, or mentored.

The Bailout Plan: Points For Obama

October 8, 2008

I give a lot of credit to Barack Obama for explaining the rationale for the financial rescue plan in a straight forward way.

McCain’s Economic Answer

October 8, 2008

Two parts of John McCain’s answer on the economy failed to resonate. He spoke of the needs to make America energy independent and to curb Washington spending, neither of which address the scope of the current financial crisis. I did like his suggestion of addressing the basic home prices for ordinary Americans. This seemed to be an attempt to come up with a proposal relevant to voters. While I’m not sure I understand the substance of his vague proposal, he deserves points for devising an appeal to the average American.

Palin v. Biden: Betcha Darn Right Maverick Wink Hockey Six Packs!

October 3, 2008

The big points here are as I expected: nothing game changing took place. Joseph Biden wisely restrained himself from falling into the Rick Lazio trap. He stated and repeated the theme that I believe will win the election for Obama: George Bush’s economic policies have lead to near ruin for America.

As for Sarah Palin, she survived. She had no major blunders — a word she repeated a number of times. I found her language almost hypnotic — gerunds modifying gerunds, archaic phrases interlaced with colloquialisms, such as “like”, an E.E. Cummings-like string of talking points.

Her lack of substance really hurt in points she did not even know how to make against Biden. A good example came when Biden launched a furious attack on the Iraq War attempting to link John McCain to Dick Cheney. When her rebuttal time came, she missed a tremendous opportunity. A candidate with some semblance of knowledge of Washington would have sensed the opening and taken the time to repeat for the public the story of McCain’s war with a major figure of the Iraq War, Donald Rumsfeld.

Rumsfeld was the primary administration figure responsible for the low number of troops at the start of the Iraq War. McCain took Rumsfeld on at a time when he still wielded considerable power in Washington and had the full support of Dick Cheney. (“I blame Rumsfeld. It’s his failure that we didn’t have enough troops in Iraq, because he ignored the advice of the military. We never had enough troops over there from the beginning, and that’s where most of our problems come from,” McCain told Esquire.)

That saga is an extremely helpful detail to McCain in distinguishing himself from both Cheney and Bush. Yet the Maverick from Alaska never said anything about it. I doubt she even knows the story.

The Palin-Biden Debate

October 2, 2008

Undoubtedly tonight’s debate between Joe Biden and Sarah Palin will be among the most watched political events on television this year. Interest in Palin is huge, and voters will be watching to see if they will encounter the sassy, charismatic Palin of the Republican National Convention, or the stammering, unsure Palin of the Katie Couric interview.

I don’t think it matters. With the unraveling of the American economy during the last two weeks, the presidential race has fundamentally changed. While previously the campaign existed on the level of personality and atmospherics, now it is down to one very simple issue — the economy. The Republican, John McCain, comes from the same party as President Bush and owns the poor economy. Obama, the Democrat, represents something different — to use a phrase that has been worked to death, change.

Before Obama’s personal style — not race, mind you — served as an impediment to attracting votes in the Rust Belt; now, the economic upheaval has crowded out both the positive and negative aspects of his political persona. Obama’s grandiose speeches, his sweeping rhetoric, the slight mood of revolution surrounding his campaign — none of that matters any more. Obama may have needed those qualities to challenge Hillary Clinton, but now they just get in the way. For Obama to win, he needs merely to be a steady Democratic hand, a Hubert Humphrey.

That might be a tough sell for Obama, but, to his good fortune, he’s got Hubert Humphrey on the ticket. Well, Joe Biden, a reliable Democrat who can deliver a solid Democratic message at a time when American voters are fed up with Wall Street and a Repubilcan president. A restrained — but not robotic — Biden will do the job tonight. No dazzling displays of foreign policy are necessary. He shouldn’t overreach, which will risk turning some voters off. Merely show up.

The best Palin can do is make an emotional play to the Joe Six Pack audience. It won’t likely advance the cause of the McCain-Palin ticket, but it’s the best hand she has to play tonight.

Post Debate Movement

September 29, 2008

I didn’t write-up a grandiose conclusion to Friday’s debate because I didn’t see anything game-changing taking place. Barack Obama held his own on what is supposed to be his weakest subject and John McCain’s strongest. Given the overall trend of voters toward Obama on the economy, that dynamic helps Obama.

Still, at this point, everything — and I mean everything — will hinge on external events. If the economic free fall, the election goes to Obama.