Now Can We Discuss Climate Change?

I hope everyone is safe and dry after Hurricane Sandy ravaged the East Coast. I’m still astounded at the damage it did, especially to New York City and the Jersey Shore. The pictures of the gutted boardwalk and destroyed rides are haunting and mesmerizing.  I hope everyone’s power returns as quickly as possible. It’s reassuring to see the president and governors of both political parties do their jobs to secure funding for the clean-up as soon as possible.

Because of Sandy’s destruction, I hope there is more conversation regarding climate change and greater action to address it. I remember a cover story  Newsweek ran a little over a year ago which stated because of climate change extreme weather is the new norm.  Yet, despite articles like Newsweek’s and countless research that has addressed climate change, the issue has been totally absent from the 2012 election. It wasn’t that way in 2008, however. Then candidate Barack Obama mentioned it several times in his 08 campaign, and even his opponent, John McCain, addressed it. Since then, when the Democrats had majorities in the House and Senate, they tried to pass a cap and trade bill that addressed the issue, but it was torpedoed by countless GOP filibusters. After that, there’s been little to no talk of the issue. The president, to his credit, has used stimulus money and tax credits to develop new, cleaner energy, but it’s not enough.

Now, however, there is an opening to bring back the issue, especially if the president is re-elected. Since the hurricane, reporters have started discussing the issue again. NY Gov. Andrew Cuomo and NJ Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican, have also mentioned it when addressing the hurricane destruction. This should allow the Democrats to address the issue again and the GOP to move more to the middle and accept science, even though Mitt Romney denounced climate change during all of those primaries last year. Sandy has proved that this country needs to get serious about the issue and start preparing, before the next catastrophe.

Sandy also raises one other important issue, and that is the role of the federal government. Reporters have brought up the point that in 2011, during a primary debate, Romney said states should handle emergencies on their own and there is no need for FEMA, due to its cost. Yet, we’ve seen with Sandy, that in times of crisis, the federal government is needed. The states can not handle the costs and clean-up on their own.  Not only has Sandy rekindled the debate over climate change, but also the issue of the role of government. Both are serious issues worth discussion, especially with a major election only a few days away.

Romney Gambles His Political Future on Paul Ryan

Late Friday night, word broke that Mitt Romney was going to pick Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan for join him on the ticket as VP. The decision was formally announced Saturday morning in Virgina, aboard the USS Wisconsin, which is a bit ironic since neither men have military experience.

Ryan should galvanize progressives to get out and vote for a number of reasons. The Congressman believes in a total Ayn Rand philosophy of the individual versus the collective and extreme limited government. Several articles about him point out that he used to make his staff read Rand.  He wants to turn Social Security and Medicare into a voucher system, basically privatizing it and ending it as we know it.His budget plan was even called “too radical” by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who said it would lead to  “right-wing social engineering.” However, later Gingrich walked back those comments.  Ryan also draws the ire of the left because he’s had the support of the Koch-brothers for years in WI, and they helped him make his name by pumping money into his campaigns.

On the other side, Ryan will galvanize the fringe Tea Party wing of the GOP, though perhaps they’re not the fringe anymore, if Ryan is now sitting on the Romney ticket. The right has won, but in the end, it may sink the GOP’s chances to win the White House. Democrats and their SuperPACS have salavated at the chance to go after the Ryan budget in attack ads. Now they’ll have the chance, and the country will have a serious debate about the Ryan budget that nearly every Republican voted for in the House earlier this year.

For more about Ryan, I suggest reading this article that appeared recently in the New Yorker. To paraphrase the article’s author, Ryan Lizza, putting Ryan on the ticket is the riskiest move Romney could have made.

And the Affordable Care Act Lives On

A few months ago, when the solicitor general was arguing in favor of the Affordable Care Health in front of the nine Supreme Court Justice, I felt, as did many others, that Obama’s signature health-care law was doomed. The justices, other than the four usually liberal ones, had stern questions regarding the bill, including Chief Justice John Roberts, who continually questioned whether or not the federal government has the power to make people buy health insurance.By 2014, the bill will require that 30 million uninsured people buy insurance, and if they can’t afford it, they will be a given a tax credit/government subsidies to do so.

When I learned of the ruling today, I was shocked, especially since Roberts was the one who joined four liberal justices in voting to uphold all of the law. My hunch is that Roberts does not want to be on the wrong side of history. Another health-care bill is not going to be discussed, not with the government as divided and partisan as it is. I think Roberts and the other four justices that voted to uphold the law realized this could be the only shot in a long, long time at revamping and improving our health-care system and granting health-care coverage to millions of more Americans.

Shortly after the court’s ruling, Mitt Romney got on TV and vowed to repeal the bill if elected president. However, that likely won’t happen. He would need at least 60 votes in the Senate to get that, and it won’t happen, especially if the Dems maintain control of the Senate. Romney also doesn’t have much room to rail against the law, since he passed the same exact thing in MA when he was governor, and said  in 2006 that the mandate should be the model for the rest of the country.

President Obama still has a lot of work to do explaining to the American people what is in the bill and how it impacts them. Here are some positives of the law:

Young people can stay on their parents’ insurance until they are 26.

Insurance companies will not be able to deny people coverage based on pre-existing conditions.

Women will no longer pay higher premiums than men.

Seniors will get discounts on their prescription drugs.

About 30 million uninsured people will have to buy insurance by 2014, when the mandate kicks in, and if they can’t afford it, they will be given a tax credit/government subsidies to do so.

I was not a fan of the mandate back in 2010, and I wanted the Democrats to push for a public option, but I understand that this is a first step, and by 2014, millions of American will be insured. I am also optimistic that a lot of states will go to single-payer, nearly universal healthcare coverage. I say this because the law states that by 2016, states can set up whatever healthcare systems they want, and they don’t have to create a pool of just private insurance companies. Vermont and Montana are nearing creating a single-payer system, and it is predicted to save the states a lot of money. If it succeeds there, it will most likely spread to other states.

The Enthusiasm Gap

After working for the Obama campaign a few months over the spring, before and after the April primary, I took a little break from politics to undertake other things going on in my life. However, once I finished teaching for the spring semester, I was eager to get involved with the campaign again, so last night, Jenna and I took part in a voter registration drive around Wilkes-Barre’s Public Square. I’ve worked on different presidential campaigns since 2004, and I’ve always liked the voter registration drives the best, certainly a lot more than making phone calls and knocking on doors. Voter registration draws less combative people.

As we circled the square several times yesterday with clipboards in hand, I noticed a major attitude shift compared to the 2008 campaign. Several people we encountered simply did not want to register to vote for either party or either candidate. A few people just threw their hands in the air and walked away. I assume that some of them are fed up with the gridlock between the White House and GOP-controlled House that they don’t want any part of the system. Maybe others feel like their voice doesn’t count. In 2008, though, we always had people eager to sign up to vote.

It’s quite probable that a lot of people are disappointed in the president, though none of them said so to our faces. In 2008 a lot folks, especially young people, were eager to register and vote for him. But three years later, the economy is still shaky and the president’s agenda is stalled, due to the gridlock. Maybe the enthusasm gap is partially the president’s fault for running on the lofty taglines of hope and change in 2008, but it is also naive to think that any single politician can fix anything in one term, considering how close this country came in 2008 to a total financial meltdown, before the president took the oath of office. When I watched people walk away or listened to them say they aren’t at all interested in politics, I had to keep my thoughts to myself. I wanted to shake some of these people and ask them, how can you not pay attention to anything? I’ve always had friends deeply interested in current events, and I come from a family where everyone votes in elections. Our politicians and community organizers need to do a far better job making people believe that they still do have a say, even in the age of Citizens United where corporations can donate unlimited money to candidates. I’m also a firm believer that if you are fed up, get up and do something. Run for office or get involved in your community in other ways.

Regardless of which party people vote for, I hope they get out and vote. The difference between both parties and their vision for this country hasn’t been so stark in a few decades, and this is probably going to be a razor-thin election, so yes, every vote does count, especially in swing states, which includes PA.

Yes, Obama Could Lose

In the most recent episode of “Real Time with Bill Maher,” Maher offered an apt metaphor for the possibility that yes, Obama can lose the election. He admitted that the GOP has been ruining its brand as of late, due to the long primary battle and the fight over birth control and women’s reproductive rights, but Maher compared the GOP to a horror movie slasher that won’t die. First, the hand starts moving, and then the whole corpse  comes back to life. As Maher pointed out, the GOP will eventually ends its primary season, probably quite soon if Romney wins a majority of the states this Tuesday (a Super Tuesday race). Then, the party will coalesce around the nominee and work on defeating Obama. The Koch Brothers and other right-wing billionaires will pour millions into Super PACS to unseat the president.

Maher’s comments reminded me of friends who believe Obama will definitely win re-election.  As an Obama supporter and someone currently working with his campaign in Luzerene County, I have told friends time and time again that the president can indeed lose re-election. The GOP may be in disarray now, but they will unite to defeat him.

Even Paul Begala, a major Democratic strategist, wrote in his column in the new issue of Newsweek that this election may very well be a toss up. Begala points out that there are a few foreign policy factors that can upend the election. He cites the Iran nuclear issue and skyrocketing oil prices as two major factors, as well as uncertainty and possible conflict in Pakistan. He also envisions the GOP uniting once the primary season is over. He writes, “The GOP will unify. Where once their central organizing principle was opposing communism, now it is opposing Barack Obama. As long as he is on the ballot, the Republicans will be able to reunite. There is not much the White House can do about that. The reality is the GOP demolition derby will end soon enough, and the president will be in a neck-and-neck race all year.”

The Election is still about 8 months away, and in a lot of ways, it feels much more important than it did in 2008, due to all of the problems facing this country, including growing income inequality, high unemployment, and impending foreign policy issues. Months ago, Obama started laying the groundwork for his campaign. Even here in NEPA, an office has already opened in Scranton and one is set to open soon in Wilkes-Barre. The White House must know that the landscape this time will be different than it was in 2008 and nothing is certain, especially since the economy is still fragile and serious foreign policy challenges loom.

It makes the canvassing and voter registration drives all that more important.


Obama’s Long Game

Newsweek has drawn the ire of conservatives yet again for a headline on its cover that reads, “Why Are Obama’s Critics So Dumb?” Inside of the current issue is an article by Andrew Sullivan that looks at Obama’s first term in office and pushes back against his critics on the left and right. Sullivan makes Obama out to be a rather centrist president with legislative victories that should please both the left and right. You can check out the article here.

Regarding critics of the right, who Sullivan says have sometimes made Obama out to be some left-wing, radical socialist, Sullivan points out that Obama has not yet ended the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy, and he has cut taxes several times, including the payroll tax. Furthermore, Sullivan points out that the stimulus package passed during Obama’s first few months in office included tax breaks for 95 percent of taxpayers.

Sullivan also addresses the claim by Mitt Romney and others that Obama’s policies have deepened the recession. According to the article, when Obama took office, the U.S. was losing 750,000 jobs a month, and since 2010, the U.S. has added about 2.4 million jobs, and unemployment has dropped about 2 percent.

Regarding the critics on the left, Sullivan says Obama did have legislative victories they should be happy about, including healthcare legislation that, when it fully takes effect, will require everyone to have healthcare coverage, and those that can’t afford it will be given government subsidies. Sullivan does point out, though, that the healthcare bill did not include a public option, which many progressives wanted, but he said in an era where anything in the Senate needs 60 votes to pass, this may be the closest to universal healthcare we  get. Obama’s other main accomplishment Sullivan addresses is a full withdrawal from Iraq, which was one of Obama’s key campaign promises when he announced he was running for president in early 2007.

Sullivan does admit that he is an Obama supporter, but I think the article does give a fair assessment of the president’s first term and addresses criticism of the president from the left and the right. The piece concludes with the idea that Obama thinks in the long term, that he runs a long game, and that he envisions himself accomplishing more if re-elected. But what Sullivan doesn’t point out is that Obama is going to have a harder re-election in 2012 than he did in 2008. His base is starting to wake up and get fired up, but the economy is still in a slump, and that will mar him  heading into re-election. Anyways, the piece is a good read that cuts through the stereotypes and criticism that surround the president and presents him not as a left-wing radical or a leader too timid and weak to stand up to opposition, but rather as  a centrist and pragmatist.

The President’s New Tone

I’m taking a break from blogging about poetry/writing to address politics again. A few weeks ago, after a Republican won  a House seat in a deep blue NY district during a special election, I said here that Obama is going to have a tough time seeking re-election in 2012. As someone who worked on his campaign in 2008,  I have been disappointed in his lack of willingness to stand up to Republicans and fight for key Democratic principles. I wondered what direction the president would take heading into 2012 and whose re-election campaigns he would try to emulate. Over the last few weeks, we have started to see how he plans to run for re-election. His new tone just may rally his alienated base.

Despite being surrounded by a bunch of former Clinton advisors, Obama doesn’t seem to be following Clinton’s path to re-election from 1996. Clinton moved to the center, as opposed to the left, and pushed bills that reformed Welfare and won over more independents and even some conservatives.  Recently, Obama has channeled two other Democratic presidents more so than Bill Clinton- Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman.

I say Obama is channeling FDR because of his newly released jobs bill, which calls for higher taxes on the wealthy and a lot of infrastructure programs, including the creation of a high-speed rail system and the rebuilding of America’s crumbling schools.   Like FDR, Obama has been arguing lately that in times of high unemployment, the government should act and pass a jobs bill to put people back to work. FDR did this successfully through the New Deal programs. This idea is the total opposite of the current GOP platform. The Republican leadership does not believe in a comprehensive jobs bill or further stimulus spending to put people back to work. They have been pushing greater austerity measures.

It has yet to be seen if Obama’s job bill will pass the GOP-controlled House. Republicans don’t seem likely to hand Obama a victory,even if parts of his job bill are popular with the public.  Still, though, the president has been pushing the jobs bill day in and day out, and while doing so, he’s been channeling another Democratic president– Harry Truman. When Truman was re-elected, he ran against a very unpopular Congress. As I said in a previous post, Obama’s job performance numbers are low,  in the 40s, but Congress’ overall approval number is even lower, historic lows. Some polls have Congress at 19 percent approval; other polls have Congress at 22 or 23 percent approval.  Obama knows this, and he’s taken the gloves off to go on the offensive against GOP leadership in the House and Senate. He’ s also been pushing the plan in the districts of his opposition. He did a speech last week at a bridge in Ohio that links the Congressional district of House speaker John Boehner with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s state of Kentucky. The president slammed both leaders for the gridlock in Washington.

The president has also been quicker to counter GOP attacks. When he stated recently he wants a higher tax rate for millionaires, GOP leadership cried class warfare. Obama countered that it’s not class warfare, just simple math.

Obama’s new populist tone should rally his base. This is the president  a lot of supporters thought they voted for in 2008, someone willing to stand up for the middle class and jumpstart the economy.  Still, though, Obama is going to face daunting unemployment numbers heading into 2012 and skepticism by some voters that he can fix the economy. It’s not likely the unemployment  number of 9.1 percent will come down much between now and next November, and even if parts of the jobs bill pass Congress, their effects on unemployment may take time.  But if Obama runs against the unpopular Congress, continues his populist tone, and points out how  far to the right the current GOP presidential candidates are, he does have a better chance of winning a second term.