Topic: Government and Politics

Our Inescapable President

I’m late to the pile-on because I’m a bad American, and I don’t watch enough football, but not quite two weeks ago, President Obama managed to politicize what for many is a hallowed Monday night ritual.

In the New York Post, the paper of record for those of us who grew up in one of the only red counties on the Jersey Shore, Kyle Smith notes that Obama’s ostensible purpose for inserting himself into Monday Night Football was to proclaim Hispanic Heritage Month, but the president put this in as well:

Our nation faces extraordinary challenges right now, and our ability to tackle them will depend on our willingness to recognize that we’re all in this together, that we each have an obligation to give back to our communities, and we all have a stake in the future of this country.

Generic enough, perhaps, unless you’re oblivious to the political backdrop of the president and his party pushing desperately to pass national health care.

Smith is rightfully exasperated by the perpetual campaign mode and Obama’s omnipresence in every broadcast medium. But–not that it’s a competition–I’d had more than my fill of this sort of thing eight months ago, a month into Obama’s presidency:

When there’s no escape from our national talk-show host-when he appears constantly above every gym treadmill-is it any wonder that we typically want his show cancelled just a few seasons in? Is it any wonder we get sick of him?

You can make too much of the notion of presidential “dignity.” It’s good when the federal chief executive officer fights against the royal aura that inevitably surrounds the office by, for example, walking his inaugural parade route (Jefferson) or buttering his own english muffins (Jerry Ford).

But it seems to me that doing a commercial for George Lopez’s lousy sit-com takes it a bit too far:

(When I saw this on TV recently, I was sure it was some kind of Forrest Gump cinemagic. Not so.)

More to the point, can the president give us an occasional break from his relentless omnipresence? Apparently not.

Six months into his presidency, the Politico reported, Obama had already “uttered more than half a million words in public.” In one whirlwind week last month, the president made his third appearance on “60 Minutes,” gave a major speech on the financial crisis the next day, and made a record five talk-show appearances the following Sunday. And on the eighth day, He did Letterman.

My suspicion is that as his popularity continues to drop, Obama is going to discover that there are diminishing returns to presidential media appearances, and that he might do better by letting the country forget about him for a while. But will he be able to restrain himself?

Nice Insurance Company. Shame If Anything Were to Happen to It.

Just days after the health-insurance lobby released a report criticizing the Senate Finance Committee’s health care overhaul (for not expanding government enough!), Democrats and President Barack Obama lashed out at health insurers, threatening to revoke what the Government Accountability Office calls the insurers’ “very limited exemption from the federal antitrust laws.”

Democrats say they’re motivated by the need to increase competition in health insurance markets.  Right.

According to Business Week:

David Hyman, a professor of law and medicine at the University of Illinois College of Law and adjunct scholar at the Cato Institute…considers it unlikely that repeal would fundamentally change the nature of the market. While it might increase competition in some markets, he says, it could actually decrease it in others, such as those where small insurers survive because they have access to larger providers’ data. Changes to the act could therefore hurt smaller companies more than larger ones, he says.

Because the act doesn’t outlaw the existence of a dominant provider but simply prohibits collusion, says Hyman, a repeal would fall short of breaking up existing market monopolies that are blamed for artificially inflating prices. The current move against [the] McCarran-Ferguson [Act], he says, “has more to do with the politics of pushing back against the insurance industry’s opposition to health reform than it does with increasing competition in health-insurance markets.”

Combined with what The New York Times described as the Obama administration’s “ham-handed” attempt to censor insurers who communicated with seniors about the effects of the president’s health plan – the Times editorialized: “the government’s Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services had to stretch facts to the breaking point to make a weak case that the insurers were doing anything improper” – it’s hard to argue that this is anything but Democrats threatening to use the power of the state to punish dissidents.

When Republicans were in power, dissent was the highest form of patriotism.  Now that Democrats are in power, obedience is the highest form of patriotism.

Department of Bias

The Department of Justice just invalidated a move by the residents of Kinston, North Carolina, to have non-partisan local elections. Rationale?

The Justice Department’s ruling, which affects races for City Council and mayor, went so far as to say partisan elections are needed so that black voters can elect their “candidates of choice” - identified by the department as those who are Democrats and almost exclusively black.

The department ruled that white voters in Kinston will vote for blacks only if they are Democrats and that therefore the city cannot get rid of party affiliations for local elections because that would violate black voters’ right to elect the candidates they want.

This, coming from the same Department of Justice officials that wouldn’t know a civil rights violation if it picked up a club and barred them access to a polling place.

Next Move: Suing the Sun for Unseasonably Cool Weather

The New Orleans-based Fifth Circuit, the federal court of appeals where I once clerked, has allowed a class action lawsuit by Hurricane Katrina victims to proceed against a motley crew of energy, oil, and chemical companies.  Their claim: that the defendants’ greenhouse gas emissions raised air and water temperatures on the Gulf Coast, contributing to Katrina’s strength and causing property damage.  Mass tort litigation specialist Russell Jackson calls the plaintiffs’ claims “the litigator’s equivalent to the game ‘Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon.’”

In Comer v. Murphy Oil USA, the plaintiffs assert a variety of theories under Mississippi common law, but the main issue at this stage was whether the plaintiffs had standing, or whether they could demonstrate that their injuries were “fairly traceable” to the defendant’s actions.  The court dismissed several claims but held that plaintiffs indeed could allege public and private nuisance, trespass and negligence.  The court also held that these latter claims do not present a so-called “political question” that the court doesn’t have the authority to resolve.  You can read about the Court’s ruling in more detail at the WSJ Law Blog and Jackson’s Consumer Class Actions and Mass Torts Blog.

This is actually the second federal appeals court to rule this way; last month, the Second Circuit (based in New York) held that states, municipalities and certain private organizations had standing to bring federal common law nuisance claims to impose caps on certain companies’ greenhouse gas emissions.  Here’s the opinion in that case, Connecticut v. American Electric Power Company, and you can read a pretty good summary and analysis here.

Both of these cases, which herald a flood of global warming-related litigation, so to speak, owe their continuing vitality to the Supreme Court’s misbegotten 2007 decision in Massachusetts v. EPA.  The 2006-2007 Cato Supreme Court Review covered that case in an insightful article by Andrew Morriss of the University of Illinois.  (To get your copy of the latest (2008-2009) Review, go here.)

I should note from my own experience at the Fifth Circuit that the panel here consisted of the two worst judges on the court – Clinton appointees Carl Stewart and James Dennis – and one of Reagan’s weakest federal appellate appointments, Eugene Davis.  Even Davis, however, wrote separately to note that while he agreed on the standing issue, he would have affirmed the district court’s dismissal of the suit on a different ground (that pesky proximate cause issue).

I predict that the full (16-judge) Fifth Circuit will review this case en banc –and if not that the Supreme Court will eventually take it up (if the district court on remand doesn’t again dispose of the case on causation grounds).

Obama: ‘All Part of the Job’

Via the Spectator’s Alex Massie, comes this ABC News report on last Thursday’s Obama town hall in New Orleans:

“Why do people hate you?”, a fourth-grade boy asked Obama …. “They’re supposed to love you. And God is love.”

Massie comments,

Obama’s answer is actually pretty reasonable. But this is what happens when you make a mere elected politician assume the status of Priest-King. It is, in its own way, a corrupting influence. I don’t blame the kid asking the question since, heck, there are plenty of professional journalists in DC who basically think along the same lines. This isn’t Obama’s fault, but it’s a problem nonetheless.

True enough, Americans had an irrational conception of presidential responsibility long before 44 took office. Still, Obama’s far from blameless. At the same town hall, Obama commented :

“You know, I listen to, sometimes, these reporters on the news: Well, why haven’t you solved world hunger yet?” he joked.

Ha: silly reporters! They should ask the president about something he’s actually promised to do, like provide “a cure for cancer in our time,” or stop the oceans’ rise, or “create a Kingdom right here on Earth.”

Obama’s right that it’s “part of the job” that the president gets an outsized share of credit or blame for the direction of the country. It’s been that way for a long time. As Thomas Cronin put it in his classic 1970 essay “Superman: Our Textbook President”:

on both sides of the presidential popularity equation [the president’s] importance is inflated beyond reasonable bounds. On one side, there is a nearly blind faith that the president embodies national virtue and that any detractor must be an effete snob or a nervous Nellie. On the other side, the president becomes the cause of all personal maladies, the originator of poverty and racism, inventor of the establishment, and the party responsible for a choleric national disposition.

Barack Obama didn’t create this view of presidential responsibility; he inherited it. But, other than the occasional “change is hard” caveat, it’s not as though Obama’s sought to dispel the irrational expectations people invest in the office. To the contrary, he’s done more than any president in living memory to encourage the view that the president is a benevolent father protector endowed with magical powers – a living American talisman against hurricanes, terrorism, economic downturns, and spiritual malaise. It’s the sort of view that people ought to – but often don’t – grow out of by, say, fifth grade. And a good deal of the burgeoning public dissatisfaction with Obama stems from his aggressive attempts to secure powers to match the boundless responsibilities he embraces.

Should the White House Be Taking on Fox?

Today’s  Arena question over at Politico asks:

Is Fox News a “legitimate news organization?” Is the White House smart, or not so smart, to take on Fox?

Is Fox News a “legitimate news organization?” As compared to what? The New York Times? NPR? MSNBC? Please.

The Obama team, Democrats like my good friend Walter Dellinger, and the so-called Mainstream Media (MSM) howl about Fox News for two main reasons. First, Fox is covering news the MSM ignores because it doesn’t “fit.” And second, in part because of that, the Fox audience continues to grow while the MSM audience is shrinking, raising a serious question about whether the MSM is any longer “mainstream.”

Let’s not pretend that the MSM doesn’t “manage” the news. It does it mainly by deciding daily what is and is not “news” and then by deciding how to report that news. Do we need any better example than the current ACORN story? As Fox was bringing the facts to light, nowhere were those facts to be found in the MSM – until they could be ignored no longer. Or take the huge 9/12 anti-big-government rally here in Washington. Fox covered it for the event that it was. Where was it covered in The New York Times? On page A37. And more revealing still, in the NYT electronic edition, the second of three stories posted under “Politics” was headlined “Thousands Rally in Minnesota Behind Obama’s Call for Health Care Overhaul,” the third was headlined “Thousands Rally in Capital to Protest Big Government” – the implication being that the two rallies were equivalent in size when in fact the protest rally dwarfed the Obama rally by many multiples.

But why pretend it’s otherwise? The president himself admits the MSM bias. Speaking at the May 9 White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner, “I am Barack Obama. Most of you covered me. All of you voted for me. (Laughter and applause.) Apologies to the Fox table.” A good laugh line in that setting, to be sure, but only because he’s said at last what we all know to be true.

Walter Dellinger may write, citing no evidence, that the Tax Day Tea Party protests were “conceived and executed by Fox News,” but he surely knows that’s not true. He hails from North Carolina, albeit now from Duke. He knows that outside that cloister there’s protest in the land. Fox News isn’t generating that opposition to the Obama juggernaut. It’s real, but it’s so much easier for the MSM to blame the bearer of that news than to face the reasons for their own falling numbers: Their “news” doesn’t fit with what so many people see with their own eyes. I’m reminded of the great Groucho Marx line: “Who are you going to believe, me or your own eyes?”

C/P Politico’s Arena

I’m From the Government, and I’m Here to Give You a Golf Cart

How would we be managing if Congress hadn’t voted to subsidize virtually everyone everywhere in the name of stimulating the economy?  Well, taxpayers wouldn’t be buying people golf carts.  It turns out that golf carts meet the federal criteria for high-mileage cars in the stimulus legislation.

Editorializes the Wall Street Journal:

We thought cash for clunkers was the ultimate waste of taxpayer money, but as usual we were too optimistic. Thanks to the federal tax credit to buy high-mileage cars that was part of President Obama’s stimulus plan, Uncle Sam is now paying Americans to buy that great necessity of modern life, the golf cart.

The federal credit provides from $4,200 to $5,500 for the purchase of an electric vehicle, and when it is combined with similar incentive plans in many states the tax credits can pay for nearly the entire cost of a golf cart. Even in states that don’t have their own tax rebate plans, the federal credit is generous enough to pay for half or even two-thirds of the average sticker price of a cart, which is typically in the range of $8,000 to $10,000. “The purchase of some models could be absolutely free,” Roger Gaddis of Ada Electric Cars in Oklahoma said earlier this year. “Is that about the coolest thing you’ve ever heard?”

The golf-cart boom has followed an IRS ruling that golf carts qualify for the electric-car credit as long as they are also road worthy. These qualifying golf carts are essentially the same as normal golf carts save for adding some safety features, such as side and rearview mirrors and three-point seat belts. They typically can go 15 to 25 miles per hour.

In South Carolina, sales of these carts have been soaring as dealerships alert customers to Uncle Sam’s giveaway. “The Golf Cart Man” in the Villages of Lady Lake, Florida is running a banner online ad that declares: “GET A FREE GOLF CART. Or make $2,000 doing absolutely nothing!”

In a normal world this would be shocking, even scandalous news.  Taxpayer money wasted buying carts for golfers.  Uncle Sam as reverse Robin Hood, stealing from the needy to enrich well-heeled golfers.  Legislators would be scrambling to change the law.

But the issue has earned barely a peep in Washington.  No surprise, those benefiting from Washington’s largesse aren’t complaining.  After all, they consider it to be just about “the coolest thing” around.

And with legislators now used to wasting not just billions but trillions of dollars, what are a few thousand wasted dollars on a golf cart or two?  This nonsensical tax write-off is barely a rounding error in the federal budget today.  The 2009 deficit was $1.4 trillion.  The federal government is likely to run up another $10 trillion in red ink over the next decade – assuming away a deluge of new bail-outs of Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, the Federal Housing Administration, and the host of other money-losing federal subsidy operations.  What of golf cart subsidies?  Not worth a second look.

The golf cart subsidy gives new meaning to the old line:  I’m from the government, and I’m here to help you.  The only people not on Uncle Sam’s “to help” list are taxpayers.