Today POLITICO Arena asks:
Angry Left Obama’s bête noir?
Would the president help himself by making a clearer ideological declaration -- as many on the "professional left" are asking him to do? Hardly. POLITICO tells us this morning that those "professionals" lament "the president’s reluctance to be a Democratic version of Ronald Reagan, who spoke without apology about his vaulting ideological ambitions." One of those professionals, Robert Reich, urges Obama to present "a clear and convincing narrative into which all the various initiatives neatly fit, so that the public can make sense of everything that’s done."
The public is quite capable of making sense of everything that's been done. It's doing it, and it doesn't like what it sees. Reagan spoke boldly about his vision because it arose directly from fundamental American principles -- individual liberty, free markets, and limited constitutional government. Obama avoids presenting "a clear and convincing narrative" because if he stated his vision more clearly it would be even less convincing than it already is.
Thus, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs was right to complain about the criticism's coming from members of the professional left, who spend their lives cloistered in academia, the mainstream media, and other such redoubts, talking to each other. But Gibbs's problem is deeper: It's the product, not the pitch.
As a former conservative (and a former leftist; I got around), I have noticed that the mainstream media often use the term "ultra-conservative" but rarely apply any equivalent term to extremists on the Left. (I use Left/leftist because I mean to reclaim the term "liberal" for libertarians.) Evidently, there are no left-wing extremists, only right-wing extremists.
But maybe President Obama's press secretary Robert Gibbs gave the mainstream media a term they can use: "the professional left." Venting about these left-wing extremists in his own party, Gibbs said:
They will be satisfied when we have Canadian health care and we’ve eliminated the Pentagon.
President Obama has repeatedly stated his preference for a single-payer health care system, such as they have in Canada. Does that make him a semi-professional leftist?
Today, the Venezuelan government arrested Guillermo Zuloaga, president of Globovision Television, the only remaining television on public airwaves critical of Hugo Chavez. According to the government, Zuloaga made offensive comments about Chavez (which is against the law in Venezuela) while speaking at a conference of the Inter-American Press Association (IAPA) in Aruba, where media representatives criticized the Venezuelan regime’s crackdown on freedom of speech.
Globovision and Zuloaga have been under constant harassment from the government, and Chavez has promised to close the station. Last July, Cato held a forum in Washington on “Venezuela’s Assault on Freedom of the Press and Other Liberties,” which was to feature Zuloaga. After the event was announced, however, a politically directed court prohibited him from leaving the country. So Zuloaga taped this 3 minute video address to the Cato audience and sent his son and vice president of Globovision, Carlos, to take his place.
Robert Rivard of the IAPA also spoke at the forum. You may also see various short videos prepared by Globovision for the forum starting here.
“It is becoming a crime to have an opinion.” That’s how Carlos Zuloaga summed it up this afternoon when he referred to this incident and the recent arrest of former Venezuelan state governor Oswaldo Alvarez Paz for having said during a Globovision interview that Venezuela has become a drug-trafficking haven.
How will hemispheric leaders and the Organization of American States react to this renewed attack on free speech in Venezuela?
The House leadership plans to hold a vote, more or less, on the Senate health care bill this week. President Obama says he wants to "ge[t] rid of many of the provisions that had no place in health care reform -- provisions that were more about winning individual votes…than improving health care." White House spokesman Robert Gibbs says Democrats will “take the pot-sweetening out of the process.” Yet Democrats have decided to retain the Senate bill's $300 million subsidy for the state of Louisiana, commonly known as the "Louisiana Purchase," and other state-specific bribes pot-sweeteners.
On ABC News's This Week yesterday, Obama advisor David Axelrod argued that the "Louisiana Purchase" is not targeted solely at Louisiana:
The president does believe that state-only carve-outs should not be in the bill. There are things in the bill that apply to groupings of states...for example...what has been portrayed as a provision relating to Louisiana says that if a state, if every county in a state is declared a disaster area, they get some extra Medicaid funds. Well, that would apply to any state...
Sure, in theory. But as ABC News reported in November, the bill speaks of "certain states recovering from a major disaster" and "spends two pages describing what could be written with a single world: Louisiana."
Axelrod would have us believe that after Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) wrote the best darned bill he could, he slapped his head and said, "Omigosh! The way I worded this one subsidy provision, it would only apply to Louisiana -- the home state of a senator whose vote I need! Gee whiz, what are the odds??" Using Axelrod's rationale, if Reid had included a $10 billion pension for "all African-American former presidents," that would not be an Obama-only pot-sweetener because it would apply to any African-American former president.
The White House is hinting that its fiscal year 2011 budget due out in February will be “austere.” White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs didn’t provide any specifics but recently said that “it will not look as it has in the past." Well that’s a relief because the FY2010 appropriations process finally wrapped up and spending continues to be anything but austere.
The “minibus” appropriations bill signed by the President last week jacked up funding by a combined 8 percent for programs ranging from education to housing to transportation. And that’s at a time when inflation is low. Further, funding hasn’t been passed yet for the president’s recently announced troop surge in Afghanistan, which will cost around $40 billion per year.
President Obama will be probably be announcing in his new budget a FY2010 deficit that’s even larger than FY2009’s massive $1.4 trillion deficit. He's blowing the bank on his stimulus bill, giant health care bill, and large increase in FY2010 appropriations. He’s also looking at the polls, which show his plunging popularity and rising concerns over federal spending and debt.
He’s got to pretend to introduce an “austere” budget for his political survival and the political survival of Democrats up for election next year. That’s why I’m wondering whether the Democrats are purposely jacking up FY2010 spending so high so that they can show a freeze or even “cuts” for FY2011.
Taxpayers need to consider any such austerity budget in the context of the massive increase in discretionary spending over the past decade. In FY2000, total discretionary spending was $615 billion. So if FY2011 discretionary spending is just half of the decade’s average annual increase of 8.7%, total discretionary spending will be $1.474 trillion. If Obama imposes a hard freeze for FY2011, discretionary spending will still be about $1.412 trillion, still far more than double the level a decade ago.
Anger about Obama's many "czars" is rising, reports the Washington Post:
On paper, they are special advisers, chairmen of White House boards, special envoys and Cabinet agency deputies, asked by the president to guide high-priority initiatives. But critics call them "czars" whose powers are not subject to congressional oversight, and their increasing numbers have become a flash point for conservative anger at President Obama.
Critics of the proliferation of czars say the White House uses the appointments to circumvent the normal vetting process required for Senate confirmation and to avoid congressional oversight.
I have tended not to take concern over "czars" very seriously. After all, advisers to the president can't exercise any power that the president doesn't have (or assume without response from Congress or the courts). And I figured the White House doesn't call people "czars," that's just a media term, so it's not really fair to blame the White House for what reporters say.
But then, thanks to crack Cato intern Miles Pope, I discovered that the White House does call its czars czars, at least informally. A few examples:
In an interview on April 15, 2009 Obama said, "The goal of the border czar is to help coordinate all the various agencies that fall under the Department of Homeland Security..."
In a March 11, 2009, briefing, press secretary Robert Gibbs turned to "address the czar question for a minute, because I think I've been asked in this room any number of times if the czars in our White House to deal with energy and health care had too much power."
On March 11, 2009 Vice President Biden said, "Today I'm pleased to announce that President Obama has nominated as Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy -- our nation's drug czar -- Gil Kerlikowske..."
More examples here.
So they do like czar imagery. So have at them, critics.
And while I said that the advisers have no real power, there's at least one who does -- a real czar -- the "pay czar," Kenneth Feinberg. He "has sole discretion to set compensation for the top 25 employees" of large companies receiving bailouts, and his "decisions won’t be subject to appeal.” Now that's a czar.
A news story from today in a slightly alternate universe:
Jobless Rate at 26-Year High
Employers kept slashing jobs at a furious pace in June as the unemployment rate edged ever closer to double-digit levels, undermining signs of progress in the economy, and making clear that the job market remains in terrible shape.
The number of jobs on employers' payrolls fell by 467,000, the Labor Department said. That is many more jobs than were shed in May and far worse than the 350,000 job losses that economists were forecasting.
Job losses peaked in January and had declined every month until June. The steep losses show that even as there are signs that total economic activity may level off or begin growing later this year, the nation's employers are still pulling back.
White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said, "President Obama proposed a $787 billion stimulus program to get this country moving again. He tried to save the jobs at GM and Chrysler. But the do-nothing Republicans filibustered and blocked that progressive legislation, and these are the results."
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said at a press conference, "We begged President Bush to save Fannie Mae, Merrill Lynch, Bank of America, AIG, the rest of Wall Street, the banks, and the automobile industry. We begged him to spend $700 billion of taxpayers' money to bail out America's great companies. We begged him to ignore the deficit and spend more money we don't have. But did he listen? No, he just sat there wearing his Adam Smith tie and refused to spend even a single trillion to save jobs. And now unemployment is at 9.5 percent. I hope he's happy."
Democrats on Capitol Hill agreed that the "do-nothing" response to the financial crisis had led to rising unemployment and a sluggish economy. If the Bush and Obama administrations had been willing to invest in American companies, run the deficit up to $1.8 trillion, and talk about all sorts of new taxes, regulations, and spending programs, then certainly the economy would be recovering by now, they said.