"If Mr. Paul wants to be taken seriously he needs to do more than pull political stunts that fire up impressionable libertarian kids in their college dorms."-- Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., speaking on the Senate floor, quoting a Wall Street Journal editorial attacking Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky.After four foul months, Republicans finally had a couple of good weeks.President Obama and his team botched the effort to prevent automatic decreases to automatic increases in spending. Voters rejected his doom saying and the president swiftly reversed course to -- for now at least -- get to work on...
President Obama’s advisers have telegraphed their goal to win control of the House in 2014, which would give the president unfettered control to advance his favored policies. But the bigger concern for the White House should be the more realistic possibility that they could lose the Senate in 2014 – an outcome that’s only enhanced by the president’s second-term strategy focusing on rallying the base over centrist governance.It’s no coincidence that on Wednesday, in a welcome about-face, Obama belatedly engaged a charm offensive with...
President Obama is reaching out to Republicans. He had dinner with GOP senators Wednesday night and he had lunch with his former rival House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan Thursday afternoon. For the moment, Friday breakfast is open, but perhaps Dick Cheney is free. Next week he will visit Republicans in the House and Senate.How a president works with Congress and persuades lawmakers to do his will is key to the office. With President Obama it is a particularly fascinating topic because he came to office promising a special magic in forging new arrangements with his opponents and he set high...
Second Honeymoon Ending
Before we begin, we have a caveat for our data this month. The data for this column series comes from RealClearPolitics.com, specifically their page of rolling daily "poll of polls" averages of President Obama's job approval ratings from major pollsters. On this page is a handy chart of all polling all the way back to Obama's first days in office, with every day's numbers visible, if you roll the mouse over the chart.
For some reason, their chart has developed a problem in the past few weeks. It refuses to update beyond February 24. Data for February 25-28 is not available at this time, so this month's analysis will be somewhat incomplete (14.3 percent incomplete, for those of you who love precision). I've tried the page on multiple computers and multiple platforms, but the chart's problem exists in all of them, so I strongly suspect it isn't a problem with my browser (although I could be wrong about that, I'll admit).
In any case, all of these numbers will be updated as soon as data becomes available for the missing four days. Oh, and one more thing -- there's a "housecleaning" note at the end of the column, above the raw data section. Next month we'll be sweeping out all of the first-term raw data to reduce the clutter at the end of these columns, and placing it all on a static page for those still interested.
But enough program notes, let's get on with checking out how Obama did last month. As expected, his "second honeymoon" in the polls is starting to fade. The election is long over, the inauguration is fading from memory, and now the real legislative struggles of Obama's second term have begun. Here is this month's chart:
[Click on graph to see larger-scale version.]
Obama's approval ratings saw a sharp drop last month. The sharpest drop, in fact, since the summer of 2011, right before the campaign started getting underway. His average monthly approval fell from 52.7 percent down to 51.1 percent, a total drop of 1.6 percentage points. This followed a 0.4 percent drop in January, for a full two-point drop in the past two months.
Obama started the month with his State Of The Union speech to Congress, but since that point his numbers have been falling. The sequester fight for the second half of the month took its toll, as Obama and the newly-seated Congress actually got down to work. There was a huge hissy fit in the Senate over the nomination of Chuck Hagel to run the Pentagon, but in the end it turned out to be nothing more than a political stunt by a few crotchety Republicans, and Hagel was confirmed. There was big news at the end of the month, as the Senate's version of the Violence Against Women Act passed the House after a meaningless year-and-a-half delay, but the news kind of got swallowed up in the sequester fight.
While a 1.6 drop in job approval certainly isn't good news for Obama fans, it's also not as bad as it could be. Obama's average monthly disapproval number stayed remarkably steady, and only rose 0.4 percent, from 42.6 to 43.0. Over the past two months, Obama's job disapproval has only risen 0.2 percent overall, in fact (it fell 0.2 percent in January). That's pretty steady in the same time period as his monthly approval rate falling two whole points.
What this means is that 1.2 percent of Obama's February loss in job approval moved to "undecided" -- people who may still be inclined to give Obama the benefit of the doubt, for now. The overall undecided number has risen (from its all-time low for the election) from 2.7 percent back up to a much-more-normal 5.9 percent in February. I'd be surprised to see this trend continue, though, because the undecided number is back up to its normal range now. If it hasn't topped out this month, it will likely do so next month, and then hold fairly stable.
Overall, Obama is still a healthy 8.1 percent "above water" when comparing approval and disapproval -- about where he was after the death of Osama Bin Laden was announced. This puts things into a little more perspective.
But it's also worth pointing out that Obama's numbers were falling at the end of February, so when the last four days of data is added in, these numbers could slightly change, and probably for the worse. It's a minor point -- the overall monthly averages likely won't change more than 0.1 or perhaps 0.2 percent, but the missing data is worth noting.
Unfortunately for Obama, the overall trendline isn't good, at least for the next few months. Part of this is the end of his second post-election "honeymoon" period with the public, as hopes meet realities once again.
March is shaping up to be a tough month for the president. The sequester has now happened -- something nobody thought ever would come to pass, just a few months ago. Obama has been sounding the alarm over the sequester, which is likely going to help him in the long-term budget debate for the rest of the year, as it has forced the media to focus on what, exactly "budget cutting" means. This is a necessary component to the budget discussions, and it's one that Republicans have been dodging for a long time now.
Obama was charged with overhyping the dire effects of budget cuts, but it remains to be seen how the public will eventually view the sequester. But because Obama's been ringing the "bad news" alarm, some of the public's negative reaction is already eating away at his job approval rating. Again, it remains to be seen how this is all going to play out, and it'll likely be the summer (unless the magic Grand Bargain budget agreement manifests itself in the meantime) before we'll truly know how the public views this latest round of austerity. March may be consumed with budget bargaining as well. There are two more landmines in the budgetary path to be navigated, one of which falls at the end of the month.
None of this really bodes well for Obama's job approval. The public is largely sick and tired of the budget brinksmanship, but the people in Washington quite obviously are not. Obama's best chance for a "bounce" in approval may come if the Senate actually takes up an immigration reform bill with a path to citizenship, but this is likely not going to come until at least April, in my humble estimation. Until then (or until some outside event intervenes in an unpredictable manner), Obama's second honeymoon will likely continue to wear off.
[Obama Poll Watch Data:]
This will be the final month we will be providing full data lists here, as it makes more sense to divide them into first- and second-term data. So, for this month only, we've got both first- and second-term data listed below (but separated). Next month, and going forward, we will provide all of the second-term data, with a link to a static list of all the data from Obama's first term. This will clean up the end of these columns a bit, as well as still provide all the monthly data for those interested.
We will be providing, for context, the "all-time highs and lows" from both Obama's first and second terms, but separately. The lists of raw data and the archive of this column series will only have second-term data, with a link to the first-term data page.
Sources And Methodology
ObamaPollWatch.com is an admittedly amateur effort, but we do try to stay professional when it comes to revealing our sources and methodology. All our source data comes from RealClearPolitics.com; specifically from their daily presidential approval ratings "poll of polls" graphic page. We take their daily numbers, log them, and then average each month's data into a single number -- which is then shown on our monthly charts here (a "poll of polls of polls," if you will...). You can read a much-more detailed explanation of our source data and methodology on our "About Obama Poll Watch" page, if you're interested.
Questions or comments? Use the Email Chris page to drop me a private note.
Obama's First-Term Statistical Records
Highest Monthly Approval -- 2/09 -- 63.4%
Lowest Monthly Approval -- 10/11 -- 43.4%
Highest Monthly Disapproval -- 9/11, 10/11 -- 51.2%
Lowest Monthly Disapproval -- 1/09 -- 19.6%
Highest Daily Approval -- 2/15/09 -- 65.5%
Lowest Daily Approval -- 10/9/11 -- 42.0%
Highest Daily Disapproval -- 8/30/11 -- 53.2%
Lowest Daily Disapproval -- 1/29/09 -- 19.3%
Obama's Second-Term Statistical Records
Highest Monthly Approval -- 1/13 -- 52.7%
Lowest Monthly Approval -- 2/13 -- 51.1%
Highest Monthly Disapproval -- 2/13 -- 43.0%
Lowest Monthly Disapproval -- 1/13 -- 42.6%
Highest Daily Approval -- 1/31/13 -- 52.5%
Lowest Daily Approval -- 2/16/13 -- 50.2%
Highest Daily Disapproval -- 2/7/13, 2/9/13 -- 43.8%
Lowest Daily Disapproval -- 2/24/13 -- 42.3%
Obama's Second-Term Raw Monthly Data
[All-time high in bold, all-time low underlined.]
Month -- (Approval / Disapproval / Undecided)
02/13 -- 51.1 / 43.0 / 5.9
01/13 -- 52.7 / 42.6 / 4.7
Obama's First-Term Raw Monthly Data
[All-time high in bold, all-time low underlined.]
Month -- (Approval / Disapproval / Undecided)
01/13 -- 52.7 / 42.6 / 4.7
12/12 -- 53.1 / 42.8 / 4.1
11/12 -- 50.6 / 46.7 / 2.7
10/12 -- 49.4 / 47.8 / 2.8
09/12 -- 49.1 / 47.6 / 3.3
08/12 -- 47.8 / 48.3 / 3.9
07/12 -- 47.2 / 48.1 / 4.7
06/12 -- 47.8 / 47.8 / 4.4
05/12 -- 48.1 / 47.8 / 4.1
04/12 -- 47.8 / 47.1 / 5.1
03/12 -- 47.7 / 47.2 / 5.1
02/12 -- 48.2 / 47.2 / 4.6
01/12 -- 46.3 / 48.3 / 5.4
12/11 -- 45.1 / 49.5 / 5.4
11/11 -- 44.4 / 50.2 / 5.4
10/11 -- 43.4 / 51.2 / 5.4
09/11 -- 43.5 / 51.2 / 5.3
08/11 -- 43.8 / 50.7 / 5.5
07/11 -- 46.2 / 47.8 / 6.0
06/11 -- 48.5 / 46.0 / 5.5
05/11 -- 51.4 / 43.1 / 5.5
04/11 -- 46.4 / 48.2 / 5.4
03/11 -- 48.1 / 46.4 / 5.5
02/11 -- 49.4 / 44.5 / 6.1
01/11 -- 48.5 / 45.7 / 5.8
12/10 -- 45.5 / 48.1 / 6.4
11/10 -- 45.5 / 49.0 / 5.5
10/10 -- 45.5 / 49.1 / 5.4
09/10 -- 45.7 / 49.7 / 4.6
08/10 -- 45.3 / 49.5 / 5.2
07/10 -- 46.6 / 47.4 / 6.0
06/10 -- 47.6 / 46.7 / 5.7
05/10 -- 48.1 / 45.5 / 6.4
04/10 -- 47.8 / 46.5 / 5.7
03/10 -- 48.1 / 46.4 / 5.5
02/10 -- 47.9 / 46.1 / 6.0
01/10 -- 49.2 / 45.3 / 5.5
12/09 -- 49.4 / 44.9 / 5.7
11/09 -- 51.1 / 43.5 / 5.4
10/09 -- 52.2 / 41.9 / 5.9
09/09 -- 52.7 / 42.0 / 5.3
08/09 -- 52.8 / 40.8 / 6.4
07/09 -- 56.4 / 38.1 / 5.5
06/09 -- 59.8 / 33.6 / 6.6
05/09 -- 61.4 / 31.6 / 7.0
04/09 -- 61.0 / 30.8 / 8.2
03/09 -- 60.9 / 29.9 / 9.2
02/09 -- 63.4 / 24.4 / 12.2
01/09 -- 63.1 / 19.6 / 17.3
Column Archives (Second Term)
Column Archives (First Term)
[Jan 13], [Dec 12], [Nov 12], [Oct 12], [Sep 12], [Aug 12], [Jul 12], [Jun 12], [May 12], [Apr 12], [Mar 12], [Feb 12], [Jan 12], [Dec 11], [Nov 11], [Oct 11], [Sep 11], [Aug 11], [Jul 11], [Jun 11], [May 11], [Apr 11], [Mar 11], [Feb 11], [Jan 11], [Dec 10], [Nov 10], [Oct 10], [Sep 10], [Aug 10], [Jul 10], [Jun 10], [May 10], [Apr 10], [Mar 10], [Feb 10], [Jan 10], [Dec 09], [Nov 09], [Oct 09], [Sep 09], [Aug 09], [Jul 09], [Jun 09], [May 09], [Apr 09], [Mar 09]
Thanks to Bradley Manning, the world learned important information about the U.S. government's misconduct abroad. He pled guilty February 28 to leaking 700,000 documents to WikiLeaks, the international source that has exposed the malfeasance of institutions the world over. He leaked these documents to reveal the government's obsession "with killing and capturing people" and "to make the world a better place." The documents shined light on mistreated detainees at Guantánamo and such atrocities as the now notorious 2007 civilian killings in Iraq that were publicized in the "Collateral Murder" video three years ago. Some have argued that some of the tens of thousands of diplomatic cables helped incite the Arab Spring.
Manning is expected to serve up to 20 years in prison. This, after he already languished for over a thousand days in detention. The Obama administration held him in a particularly sadistic form of solitary confinement for nine months, which over 250 lawyers protested in an open letter to the government.
Such solitary confinement was, of course, a form of torture, as most of the civilized world recognizes, despite Obama's campaign promises to abolish the gruesome practice. Manning's treatment also calls into question another one of Obama's political vows: He had pledged in 2008 to rigorously protect whistle-blowers, whose "acts of courage and patriotism, which can sometimes save lives and often save taxpayer dollars, should be encouraged rather than stifled."
Instead, Obama has undertaken a war on whistle-blowers that makes George W. Bush look like a civil libertarian. The politician who promised and continues to boast unprecedented transparency arguably presides over its least transparent administration in history, which classified 92 million documents in 2011, and which, according to the Bloomberg News, has "prosecuted more government officials for alleged leaks under the World War I-era Espionage Act than all [of Obama's] predecessors combined, including law-and-order Republicans John Mitchell, Edwin Meese and John Ashcroft." Manning is among those so far targeted by this draconian legislation. This crackdown on whistle-blowers almost surely has a profound chill effect, discouraging people from coming forward with information about government wrongdoing.
The legal process Manning has faced has been even more a sham than usual. In addition to questions of illegal search and seizure, the Military Rules of Evidence under the United States Uniform Code of Military Justice provide for far more effective due process protections than Manning enjoyed at his own Article 32 hearing, particularly as it concerned the discovery process, the government's withholding of exculpatory evidence, and Manning's access to witnesses who could have undermined the government's case that his actions actually compromised American security. Late last year, Manning's attorney finally worked out an arrangement for a guilty plea. Despite this plea, the prosecution plans to call its full witness list -- more evidence suggesting that the whole affair is a show trial.
Manning is more than a little reminiscent of Daniel Ellsberg, the military analyst whose leaked documents, the Pentagon Papers, appeared in the New York Times, discredited the Vietnam War, and increased the pressure on politicians to end the conflict. Officials in the Nixon administration went after Ellsberg as the enemy, breaking into his psychiatrist's office, a move that culminated in the Watergate scandal and Nixon's resignation. The Supreme Court upheld the Times's right to print the material, and eventually Ellsberg's persecution ended when the Espionage Act charges against him were dismissed. According to G. Gordon Liddy, Nixon officials had plans to "neutralize" him, but whether that meant injure or kill, we might never know.
Manning, in sharp contrast, has not been freed, but was railroaded into confessing and now faces years or decades in prison. Obama in a sense has succeeded in neutralizing his own Ellsberg. Nixon has gone down in the history books as a villain over the Watergate scandal, and many look upon Ellsberg as a true American hero. Yet as of now, it's hard to see if such perceptions will prevail as it concerns Obama and Manning.
The word "hero" is thrown a lot quite a bit, but Manning surely fits the bill. He put his life and liberty at risk to expose what he viewed as very wrong. He exposed the mistreatment of prisoners and murderous strikes conducted by the Bush administration in Iraq and the Obama administration in Afghanistan. He has already paid a price most of us will never know, and the rest of his life he might very well be destroyed. He sacrificed everything for his country, for innocent victims of the U.S. government, and for the cause of truth.
His best hope might be that some day a president pardons him. Such indemnifications have occurred in the past. President Andrew Johnson pardoned thousands of Confederate soldiers, most of them poor souls forced into a war they didn't want. President Warren Harding pardoned socialist presidential candidate Eugene Debs, whom President Woodrow Wilson had imprisoned merely for speaking publicly against military conscription, as well as hundreds of other political prisoners. President Franklin Roosevelt pardoned thousands, most conspicuously those imprisoned for prohibition violations. President Jimmy Carter granted amnesty to those who had dodged the Vietnam draft.
If a president were to come to power having promised more protections for civil liberties, a new dedication to the rule of law for detainees in the war on terror, and humane treatment for whistle-blowers, perhaps such a person could be expected to release Bradley Manning. Unfortunately, such a person who made such promises is president now, and he's the one who put Manning behind bars. Moreover, Obama has been much stingier with his pardons than past presidents including George W. Bush, just as he has released far fewer people from Guantánamo than his predecessor. A lot of things can happen, but Manning will most likely suffer for at least the remainder of Obama's second term.
Many struggle to reconcile their genuine commitments to human rights with their admiration for the president. But here no reconciliation is possible. Manning is the good guy in this whole ordeal, and his persecution at the hands of the Obama administration should be condemned as loudly as anything that happened on Bush's watch.
If the Republican "tent" isn't large enough for Chris Christie, then it will resemble a pup tent for some time to come.Not the folks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), which decided not to invite one of the party's superstars to its annual gathering in Washington. Apparently, the reason had to do with Christie upsetting conservative orthodoxy by saying something nice about President Obama for approving emergency aid to distressed New Jerseyans affected by Super Storm Sandy.Â
Back in my teaching days, many years ago, one of the things I liked to ask the class to consider was this: Imagine a government agency with only two tasks: (1) building statues of Benedict Arnold and (2) providing life-saving medications to children. If this agency's budget were cut, what would it do?The answer, of course, is that it would cut back on the medications for children. Why? Because that would be what was most likely to get the budget cuts restored. If they cut back on building statues of Benedict Arnold, people might ask why they were building statues of Benedict Arnold in...
Now that we are counting up the days of the sequester instead of counting down, it would be a good time to cast blame. And my candidate is President Obama.
I'm not blaming Obama for the reasons that Bob Woodward came up with in his fantasyland. I am blaming President Obama and his administration for trying to be cute and clever rather than telling the public the truth about the economic crisis. The result is that the vast majority of the public, and virtually all of the reporters and pundits who deal with budget issues, does not have any clue about where the deficit came from and why it is a virtue rather than a problem.
The basic story is incredibly simple. Demand from the private sector collapsed when the housing bubble burst. We lost $600 billion in annual demand due to residential construction falling through the floor. We will not return to normal levels of construction until the vacancy rates return to normal levels. Vacancy rates are still near post-bubble record highs.
We also lost close to $500 billion in annual consumption spending due to the loss of the $8 trillion in housing-bubble-generated equity that was driving this consumption. This demand will also not come back.
This creates a gap in annual demand of more than $1 trillion. The stimulus, which boosted demand by roughly $300 billion a year in 2009 and 2010, helped to fill part of this gap, but was nowhere near big enough. Furthermore, stimulus spending fell off quickly in 2011 and the stimulus is now pretty much gone altogether. This means that we are still faced with a huge hole in private sector spending.
We know the Republicans love the Job Creators and President Obama has gone out of his way to show his love also. But in the real world, investment in equipment and software has never been much above its current share of GDP except in the days of the dot.com bubble. This means that unless we drug investors so that they are willing to throw hundreds of billions of dollars into the stock of worthless companies, we are unlikely to see any substantial rise in investment.
As a result we are stuck with an economy that is mired well below full employment. President Obama's top economic advisers from his first term all claim that they understood this point. But they said that they could not get a bigger stimulus package through Congress.
That assessment may well be true, but the real issue is what President Obama did after the stimulus package passed. He could have told the country the truth. He could have said what all his advisers claim they told him at the time: the stimulus was not large enough and we would likely need more. He could have used his presidency to explain basic economics to the public and the reporters who cover budget issues.
He could have told them that we need large deficits to fill the hole in demand that was created by the collapse in private sector spending. He could have shown them colorful graphs that beat them over the head with the point that there was very little room for investment to expand even under the best of circumstances.
He could have also explained that consumers would not go back to their bubble levels of consumption since the wealth that had supported this consumption had disappeared with the collapse of the bubble. The public would likely understand this point since most homeowners had themselves lost large amounts of equity and understood that they were much poorer as a result of the collapse of the bubble.
In this context the only choice in the near term is between larger budget deficits and higher unemployment. The people who clamored for cuts in government spending and lower deficits are in fact clamoring to throw people out of work and slow growth.
We will never know if President Obama could have garnered support for more stimulus and larger deficits if he had used his office to pound home basic principles of economics to the public and the media. But we do know the route he chose failed.
He apparently thought the best route to get more stimulus was to convince the deficit hawks that he was one of them. He proudly announced the need to pivot to deficit reduction after the passage of the stimulus and then appointed two deficit hawks, Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson, to head a deficit commission.
This set the ball rolling for the obsession with deficit reduction that has dominated the nation's politics for the last three years. Instead of talking about the 9 million jobs deficit the economy faces, we have the leadership of both parties in Congress arguing over the debt-to-GDP ratios that we will face in 2023.
This would be comical if lives were not being ruined by the charade. The unemployed workers and their families did not do anything wrong, the people running the economy did.
Now the sequester comes along, throwing more people out of work, worsening the quality of a wide range of government services and denying hundreds of thousands of people benefits they need. Yes, this is really stupid policy and the Republicans deserve a huge amount of blame in this picture.
But it was President Obama who decided to play deficit reduction games rather than being truthful about the state of the economy. There was no reason to expect better from the Republicans in Congress, we had reason to hope that President Obama would act responsibly.
One hundred seventeen days later, Mitt Romney still isn’t over it. Making his first public comments since losing last November’s presidential election, Romney appeared mystified still that the country didn’t see things his way. He went on the attack against President Obama during a wide-ranging interview on “Fox News Sunday,” as if the Republican hadn’t lost a beat since giving his last stump speech.
The 'arbitrary and dumb' budget cuts brought about by the sequester is a shameful exercise of government mismanagement most especially and precariously in these difficult economic times.
No matter the obdurate positions of Republicans and Democrats alike, the resulting indiscriminate across the board reduction in government spending without thought to national priorities is an exercise in shameful government mismanagement.
That being said, ultimately the blame needs be tempered with the wisdom of Harry S. Truman's adage "The buck stops here."
The office of the Presidency imparts responsibility and leadership, and no matter how difficult it is, the President's responsibility is to lead in the best interests of the nation as a whole. What we have witnessed is the abdication of that leadership by a President who has turned himself from President of the United States to the President of the Middle Class.
Certainly the Middle Class has vast importance to the nation and is the bedrock of much of its economic cohesion. Yet its concerns, its needs, its nurturing, no matter how very significant, do not trump national priorities as a whole.
For President Obama to wrap himself in the mantle of Middle Class priorities is important and well, but not to the detriment of great swaths of the nation's interest as has materialized by the across the board and indiscriminate sequester of Government funding of national programs from education to defense and on, as the President himself has pointed out (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/03/01/obama-sequester-cuts_n_2790040.html
The President is meant to lead and the responsibility of the collapse of the sequester negotiations rests squarely with him no matter how difficult the issue. Harry Truman would have understood that clearly.
WASHINGTON — Speaker John A. Boehner, the man who spent significant portions of the last Congress shuttling to and from the White House for fiscal talks with President Obama that ultimately failed twice to produce a grand bargain, has come around to the idea that the best negotiations are no negotiations. As the president and Congressional Democrats have tried to force Mr. Boehner back to the table for talks to head off the automatic budget cuts set to take effect on Friday, Mr. Boehner has instead dug in deeper, refusing to even discuss an increase in revenue and insisting...
Everyone has been wondering how the public will react when the sequester kicks in. The American people are in the position of hostages who'll have to decide who the hostage-taker is. People will get mad at either the president or the Republicans in Congress. That anger will force one side to rethink or back down. Or maybe the public will get mad at both.
The Obama administration is moving toward a major policy shift on Syria that could provide rebels there with equipment such as body armor and armored vehicles, and possibly military training, and could send humanitarian assistance directly to Syria’s opposition political coalition, according to U.S. and European officials.The administration has not provided direct aid to the military or political side of the opposition throughout the two-year-old conflict, and U.S. officials remain opposed to providing weapons to the rebels.
Earlier this month, I wrote about research by social scientists at Brown and the University of Michigan who reported that despite the fact that President Obama won a higher percentage of the white vote than any Democratic presidential nominee since 1976, racial resentment had increased during Obama's first term.Over the past three weeks, a number of experts in race relations have brought contrary findings to my attention.Seth K. Goldman and Diana Mutz of the University of Pennsylvania find that the Obama 2008 campaign, in and of itself, had a strong, positive impact on racial attitudes....
President Obama's message could not be clearer: Life as we know it in America will change dramatically on March 1, when automatic cuts are imposed to achieve $85 billion in government-spending reductions. Furloughed government employees, flight delays and criminals set free are among the dire consequences the president has predicted. If the Washington Monument weren't already closed for repairs, no doubt it too would be shut down.Scare tactics such as these are similar to the ones that were made when I co-authored the first sequester legislation in 1985, the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings...
Turn autoplay offTurn autoplay onPlease activate cookies in order to turn autoplay offIn 2012, millennials broke strongly for Obama. But Democrats cannot assume they've got the youth vote locked up indefinitelyRepublican operatives all over the country are scrambling to figure out what's wrong with the Republican party. Most have centered on analyzing the political leanings of millennials because they are a growing bloc, and because, for the past two elections, President Obama has won 60% or more of voters between the ages of 18 and 29.The most common diagnosis is that Republicans...
WASHINGTON -- A not-so-small miracle is unfolding before our eyes. After nearly two decades in which established opinion insisted that it would never again be possible to pass sensible regulations of firearms, the unthinkable is on the verge of happening.This week, Sen. Patrick Leahy, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, is expected to announce plans to start marking up gun bills to send to the Senate floor, proposals that will include ideas put before the country by President Obama and Vice President Biden. The president's agenda, in turn, was inspired by advocates and...
By Mark Green
An issue that literally defines Democracy is again roiling America -- voting. After the tragedy of a Civil War -- and the expensive lessons of the suffragette and civil rights movements -- the arc of history seemed to be bending toward universal voting. Yet now a debate has broken out between those who fear voter fraud and those who see voter suppression. President Obama is creating a bi-partisan commission to study these issues. And the Supreme Court will hear arguments this week whether it should gut the '65 Voting Rights Act since racial discrimination in the South is no worse than elsewhere. (Factoid: 40 percent of white Americans voted for Obama; 10 percent of white Southerners.)
Then, in scenes seemingly ripped out of House of Cards, scandals envelope Messers Jackson, Jr. and Menendez. The former displayed jaw-dropping greed but did the latter just lose his balance on the slippery slope of pols helping pals?
On ID Laws & Obama's Commission. Ron Reagan says that we can view the current wrangling either through the lens of whose ox is gored -- do D's or R's benefit from a particular change in laws? -- or through the lens of whether it advances or retards democracy. He's troubled by a GOP pushing Voter ID laws since "there's just no evidence that voter impersonation really exists," perhaps because it's nuts to risk a felony for one vote. Also, he liked the, well, Reaganesque touch of Obama pointing to Desiline Victor at the SOTU, the 102 year-old made to wait three hours to vote in Florida.
Mary chastises Obama's proposed bi-partisan commission to study the long lines of 2012. "It's a typical liberal exaggeration to imply there were six-hour lines when the average was 15 minutes," she also objects to a centralized, federal response to some anecdotal complaints about state election law procedures and to implications the problem is racial. The problem is not race or suppression -- "people aren't voting because they see candidates fail to keep their promises which creates cynicism."
No and yes, responds Ron. He points to Republican leaders in Pennsylvania and Florida admitting they had the racial motive of keeping down the "urban" vote and challenges Mary to support a law simply requiring states to automatically send all eligible voters valid ID documentation. She doesn't object but worries that wouldn't solve the problems of absentee and provisional ballots. Ron, however, does agree that Obama's commission seems largely a way to do nothing about voter reform now.
Host: On a 'both sides' perspective: it's true that Obama could have just backed one of the existing "voter empowerment" bills of Rep. John Lewis or Senator Gillibrand -- for early voting, more machines in populated areas, a computerized system registering and tracking everyone over 18. But since unregistered voters poll 3-1 Democratic, Republicans aren't very enthusiastic about these proposals. Rather than jam a calendar busy with sequester, gun violence and immigration, a bi-partisan commission can both educate the public and build up some GOP support for the long haul. It took 72 years from Seneca Falls to the 19th Amendment.
On GOP motives. J. P. Morgan once said that "a man always has two reasons for what he does -- a good one and the real one." In the same vein, a local California law against hanging cloths on backyard laundry lines was ruled unconstitutional in 1896 (Yick Wo) because, though purportedly race-neutral, it targeted Chinese immigrants. Since currently a) more black and young voters lack drivers license photo IDs, b) only GOP states pushed for voter ID laws, c) studies of 2012 document that urban Black and Democratic voters waited twice as long in line, and d) 200,000 Florida voters largely in urban areas left long lines without voting - or 400,000 times the 537 vote margin that Bush won the state and the presidency -- the GOP appears to be hanging some targeted voters out to dry.
On Altering the Electoral College. The panelists debate two serious proposals to significantly change the Electoral College without resorting to a constitutional amendment.
Several Republican governors and legislators (in Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Virginia...) are pushing for state laws to allocate electors not by popular vote but by congressional district. In Michigan, for one example, while Obama won 54 percent of the vote and captured all 16 electors under the traditional winner-takes-all rule, a one-acre/one-vote rule would have given nine electors to Romney and only seven to Obama. If these states had such a rule in 2012, Mitt Romney, who lost by 5 million votes nationally, would have been elected president!
Neither panelist supports such a version of "presidential gerrymandering," or what even the New York Post has called "rigging the vote." Mary worries that focusing on safe congressional districts produces "no ideas" candidates and winners because there's no competition. (And if there are now contentious fights over district lines to elect one more congressperson, imagine if at stake was also electing the president.) Ron blasts those who complain about cities having too much influence nationally since what they mean is population centers -- and it's odd that this proposal has arisen after Obama got elected twice and Republicans had lost five of six national presidential votes.
Both then express sympathy for a National Popular Vote that would effectively elect presidents based on the national vote (via an interstate compact among states with at least 270 electoral votes). Mary though argues that the Framers rejected this approach because of their views of state sovereignty (actually because of the Connecticut Compromise to get smaller states to ratify the Constitution).
On Supreme Court consideration of the '65 VRA. Although the Court three years ago upheld the Voting Rights Act 8-1, it this week is hearing arguments about the famous Section Five that requires nine Old South states (and a few Northern counties) to pre-clear any election law changes because of a history of discrimination against minority voters. So instead of putting the burden on alleged individual victims case-by-case to prove discrimination, it puts the burden on the state to argue that the law is not discriminatory. Mary thinks that it's wrong to now pick on the South since its race relations have been fine -- or, as Chief Justice Roberts concluded in 2009, "the South has changed." Since black and white turnout is nearly even, is it time to declare mission accomplished? She also advocates for one standard nationally since the problem of non-voting, again, is not race but cynicism toward all politicians.
Ron, hopes they'll uphold the law given the anti-minority schemes of 2012 even if they're less blatant than poll taxes or quizzes of only African-Americans; he worries, however, that the five conservative justices, who overturned a century of campaign finance limits, will also end this core voting rights law.
Host: elected Republicans have a well-known problem with minority voters. If they keep pushing for laws that make it harder for urban populations to vote in order to deter the unicorn of voter fraud - and if the five Republican-appointed justices also overturn Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act -- their political problem with Black and Latino voters will only worsen.
On Quick Takes. Rep. Jackson, Sen. Menendez, Oscars. If Congress was unpopular before this week, the trial and tribulation, respectively of Jackson Jackson Jr. and Bob Menendez, didn't help.
Everyone is repulsed by Rep. Jackson's obvious criminal conduct and agree that it's more aberrational than typical. Senator Menendez is different. He's neither been charged nor convicted of anything, though the Senate Ethics Committee is investigating his repeated interventions in federal agencies on behalf of large donors, whose private planes he would then ride. But since most electeds go to bat for friends and donors, how can the Senate or courts determine that only Menendez was engaged in illegal quid pro quos? Mary agrees that the slippery slope is a problem but concludes that the "magnitude" of his interventions were unusually sleazy and suspect.
As for the Oscars, the panelist who is the son of the former president... of the Screen Actors Guild... confidently opines that early frontrunners can lose out to cinematic underdogs. So though Mary loves and would vote for Argo, Ron basically thinks that film had mediocre character development but that, in effect, Lincoln peaked in 1865, too soon for its Oscar prospects.
Mark Green is the creator and host of Both Sides Now.
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Gas prices have just gone up for the 33rd day in a row. This would be terrible news for the recovery, but luckily in last week's State of the Union address, President Obama discovered the power to bend time with words, and used it to increase everyone's mileage.
In case you missed it, he announced:
"We have doubled the distance our cars will go on a gallon of gas." (applause)
So problem solved, right?
Well, it is and it isn't, depending on what your definition of "will" is. It hinges on whether you thought the President was using "will" to express capacity - as in "She'll do 0-60 in five seconds flat"; you know, the way most humans use "will" when talking about a car - or whether you figured out that he was using "will" as an expression of expectation. As in "someday my prince will come."
Don't beat yourself up. He didn't want to be understood.
A perfectly valid and grammatically accurate reading of Obama's announcement could be:
"In general, American cars now go twice as far on a gallon of gas as they used to."
...like Obama invented a miracle fuel additive, or as a nation we've cut down on jackrabbity stops and starts.
You could even read it as:
"The car in your driveway now gets twice the mileage it did under Bush."
...like Bush borrowed it and forgot to release the parking break, which sounds like the kind of thing he'd do.
But neither of those are what Obama meant at all. What he meant was:
"We have doubled the distance that new cars will someday go on a gallon of gas."
And that someday is 2025.
As of today, we haven't actually changed anything except the rules - the Corporate Average Fuel Economy minimums -- and those rules won't even start to take effect for another four years. So not only is Obama taking credit for something that won't happen until after he leaves office, but he's also comparing two things that only exist in theory: the cars we used to see ourselves driving in the future (when we're older and we need them to impress chicks) and the cars we now imagine ourselves driving in the future. When we're using them to elude drones.
And I suppose that's still something, but it's not really something.
The other big thing Obama did in the State of Union was say he'd like Congress to slowly raise the minimum wage to $9.00 an hour by 2015. Of course, if the minimum wage kept pace with inflation it would already be $10.56. So this goal fits pretty neatly with the President's multiverse mileage achievement, and the sacred creed of the Obama apologist:
Glacial change that won't begin for years is better than nothing.
Which brings me to something Obama didn't address: the single most accurate measure of American liberty: S/W FI. The Springsteen/Wilson Freedom Index.
(As any classic rock song can tell you, freedom is measured by how far you can drive on the wages from a shitty job. I think George Steiner said that, and if he didn't, he said the American dimension was space, not time, and that's sort of the same thing. Freedom equals tooling around. This is also the truth behind that On the Road movie that was in all the magazines, and then no one saw it because it looked like such a god-awful snooze.)
We calculate S/W FI by taking the hourly minimum wage, divided by the consumer-cost of a gallon of gasoline, multiplied by the fuel efficiency of the average car, which has been 20 MPG, more or less, since the Beach Boys recorded Little Deuce Coupe.
The President talked about mileage and the minimum wage, but he didn't connect the two, probably because his current S/W FI score is lousy. Almost as bad as Bush. Who had the worst S/W FI score of all time. Look:
The Springsteen/Wilson Freedom Index
Minimum Wage (in miles)
1964 83.2 miles
1968 94 miles
1972 88.8 miles
1976 77.8 miles
1980 50.8 miles
1984 51.6 miles
1988 69.6 miles
1992 71.4 miles
1996 69.2 miles
2000 66 miles
2004 53.6 miles
2007 33.6 miles
How does Obama compare? Right now, the minimum wage is $7.25. Gas costs $3.73 a gallon. Cars still get 20 MPG, more or less, so the S/W FI is 38.8 miles.
That's not as bad as it was the year before Obama was elected, but it's pretty miserable.
It's lower than it was when Carter left office.
On the other hand, if the minimum wage goes up to $9.00, and CAFE standards go up to 54.5 MPG, and gas prices just stay the same, by 2025 the S/W FI will be 131.5!
So, when you think about it, if Obama can take credit for things he only hopes will happen, he can already say he's quadrupled the amount of fun, fun, fun we'll have.
And, like Brian Wilson says, if you own a little deuce coupe, she'll walk a Thunderbird like it's standing still and she'll do a hundred and forty with the top end floored.
But it'll depend on what "she'll" means.