Is it somehow unseemly for aspiring candidates to tout themselves?
I’m not accustomed to having a single tweet deconstructed and psychoanalyzed, but I guess that’s the world we live in.
After Donald Trump phoned me—twice—to answer questions about his real estate empire and university venture, I was struck by his accessibility on subjects he knew would be contentious. So I declared on Twitter: “You've gotta say this for Trump: He takes reporters' calls, doesn't hide behind flacks. He relishes the combat and never tires of promotion.”
This prompted the Atlantic’s Conor Friedersdorf to write: “I never understand why so many of my colleagues in the press celebrate the embrace of politics as war, or treat relentless self-promotion as if it's a boon. Isn't it actually a character defect, even if it does cause someone to talk to journalists a bit more often?”
Now he might have half a point on the “combat” metaphor , but the word isn’t that far off the mark—they are long struggles in which candidates set up war rooms and do oppo research and try to rout their rivals. It may not be pretty, and it goes on way too long and gets way too nasty, but that’s the process in American politics. What’s more, I’ve dealt with way too many candidates whose idea of combat is to have lawyers and spinners deal with the press while they give speeches and grant interviews to friendly talk show hosts. Why not credit a (potential) candidate who’s willing to take the heat?
But it’s the objection to “promotion” that I find puzzling (I wanted to write self-promotion but I only had 140 characters). Was Barack Obama’s election in 2008 not a triumph of self-promotion? In every election, from city hall to the White House, a candidate has to define himself or herself, through speeches, advertising and imagery, and win the trust of voters. It’s a proxy for demonstrating that they can withstand the pressures of office. Self-effacing politicians tend not to be terribly successful.
Friedersdorf said he recently profiled former New Mexico governor Gary Johnson and liked his “aversion to self-promotion.” I’m sure Johnson is a fine fellow, but he has no chance of being elected president. Maybe Trump doesn’t either, but it won’t be for lack of self-aggrandizement.
Not that self-promotion plays any role in journalists tweeting, of course.
The developer defends his business record as his media blitz continues.
During a conversation the other day, Donald Trump asked if I was surprised that he was doing so well in the presidential polls.
I was, I told him.
“I’ve had a lot of victories over the years,” he said.
“But you’ve never really played in this arena.”
He had certainly flirted before. Back in 1987, when I first met him in Trump Tower--“the hottest building in the world,” he assured me—The Donald was crowing about a visit to New Hampshire. “I got the best crowd, the best of everything in terms of reception,” he said. “People don’t want to be ripped off, and this country is being ripped off. I think if I ran, I’d win.” Pretty much the same refrain, and that was during the Reagan administration. A decade later, he made noises about running for the Reform Party nomination in 2000.
These days the right, led by Karl Rove, is counterattacking, and GOP strategists are openly skeptical. “Other than Trump himself, I doubt anyone is waking up every morning thinking, ‘If only Donald Trump were president,’” says Republican consultant strategist Todd Harris.
In this week’s NEWSWEEK, I take a look at Trump’s business and political record; he has liabilities that would sink most candidates, but somehow the force of his personality has managed to keep him at the top of the GOP polls. I've got to give him credit for answering the questions rather than retreating behind lawyers and terse statements. Of course, the media scrutiny hasn’t really begun in earnest, and we’re not really sure he’s running. But if you’re Donald Trump right now, it must be tempting.
All right, America, what do you really want?
You’re so hard to figure out sometimes.
We in the punditry business pore over the polls so we can go on TV and intone with great authority, “The American people have clearly indicated…”
But sometimes you seem so…what’s the word, distant? Confused? Utterly convinced of your right to have contradictory things?
How can the politicians pander to you if you can’t make up your mind?
The latest CBS/New York Times poll is filled with more conflicting signals than a downtown with broken traffic lights. People want that big bad deficit cut, right? Well, sure, but only 29 percent said that would create more jobs. Another 29 percent said it would cost jobs, and 27 percent said it would have no effect. What’s a budget-cutter to do?
But they obviously want to cut Big Government down to size. Fifty-five percent say they’d rather have fewer services from a smaller federal bureaucracy than more services from a bigger one.
Except…60 percent say they believe Medicare is worth the cost. And they’d rather pay higher taxes if it meant keeping Medicare services. And a majority don’t like the Paul Ryan plan of turning it into a voucher program. Got that?
Ah, but there is consensus on one point. Seventy-two percent are just fine with the Obama plan to end tax cuts for families earning more than $250,000.
Why is that? Most people aren’t rich. Fine to tax those other folks.
America, you drive me crazy.
New figures contain decidedly mixed news for high-profile media outlets.
Sometimes in the media business, it all comes down to numbers.
The New York Times announced Thursday that more than 100,000 people have signed up for digital subscriptions since it imposed a somewhat porous paywall last month. That’s not a bad start, given the inherent difficulty of getting folks to pay for news online. The cheapest plan, to go beyond 20 free online articles a month, is $15 every four weeks.
It’s not clear how many of these readers will stick around, how many were attracted by an initial discount, or how many more may sign up in the coming months. If the figure triples this year, the company may have a viable business plan. As the Times put it in corporate-speak: “So soon after the launch, the company does not yet have visibility into conversion and retention rates for these paying customers after the initial promotional period, although early indicators are encouraging.” Thanks for clearing that up.
A less encouraging figure: the Times Co.’s net income dropped 58 percent in the first quarter, to $5.4 million, compared with last year. Digital ad revenue was up, but a decline in print advertising indicates that newspapers are still struggling in this lousy economy.
Gawker is facing its own set of depressing figures. Traffic tanked for the set of gossipy Web sites after a redesign in February; it was so unpopular, in fact, that Gawker added a button for readers to switch back to the old format.
If this chart in the Atlantic has it right, unique monthly visitors to the flagship Gawker site plunged from roughly 100,000 to 50,000; the drop was more dramatic at the tech blog Gizmodo:
“Turns out, according to Gawker's public statistics, things are much, much worse than was originally reported. Yes, the redesign cut traffic in half almost instantly, but instead of coming back, even more readers left the site behind.” Gawker boss Nick Denton disputes the chart, saying his monthly traffic dropped from 100,000 to 50,000 but is now back up to 93,000.
Closer to home, Adweek reports that newsstand sales for Newsweek are up 19 percent, 7 percent and 21 percent for the first three issues since Tina Brown’s redesign, compared with the average for 2010. The piece also examines why advertising revenue hasn’t followed suit.
Most of Newsweek’s sales come from subscriptions, but newsstand sales are a much-watched barometer of how magazines are faring.
A cable host who doesn’t mind sticking it to NBC.
Lawrence O’Donnell has a long history with NBC, as a producer and writer for The West Wing and now as host of an MSNBC talk show.
That hasn’t stopped him from biting the corporate hand that feeds him. Twice in recent weeks he has unloaded on the network and its owner in rather strong terms.
When the New York Times reported that General Electric, part owner of NBC, had paid no income tax for 2010, the Last Word host devoted a segment to what he called a “shocking tax return.” After all, he said, the corporate giant had earned $5.1 billion in the United States. The onetime staffer for the Senate Finance Committee blamed the proliferation of tax loopholes secured by corporate lobbyists: “Perhaps GE’s outrageous legal tax return will once again provoke a move for real tax reform in Washington.”
This week, O’Donnell ripped into Donald Trump—he’s got some company there—but laid the blame on his network (which of course carries Celebrity Apprentice). “He is now NBC’s Charlie Sheen,” O’Donnell declared, “the greatest individual embarrassment in the history of the network.” He went on to assail Trump’s “venomous, poisonous, hateful attacks” on President Obama.
It’s inevitable, in this era of corporate mega-ownership, that journalists come face to face with stories in which their employers are involved. Fox News, for instance, talks about the possible presidential candidacies of Sarah Palin and Mike Huckabee while they remain on the payroll (although the network did boot Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum when they took concrete steps toward a White House run). NBC Nightly News failed the test by failing to report the GE tax shocker, picking up the story days later after substantial criticism.
O’Donnell, for one, has now served notice that he doesn’t consider NBC off-limits.
Obama, Trump push back against aggressive questioners.
There’s a rhythm to these Donald Trump interviews by now.
Since he’s made the birther conspiracy a centerpiece of his campaign, each anchor feels compelled to challenge him, and that’s generally the first or second thing that airs. Trump pushes back hard and complains that President Obama’s birth certificate is not his main issue, even as he keeps pounding away at it.
Take the George Stephanopoulos sitdown for Good Morning America. When the ABC anchor asks why he keeps raising the matter, Trump insists there are questions about Obama’s place of birth. “There is no question,” Stephanopoulos declares. He is just describing “the facts.”
“George, they’ve coopted you,” Trump says.
“Obviously Obama and his minions,” The Donald insists. A moment later he adds: “And by the way, this is not a big focus of my campaign.”
Stephanopoulos pressed on: What have Trump’s investigators in Hawaii found?
“It’s none of your business right now.”
The “cooption” charge was an unfair shot; maybe Trump believed it would sting because Stephanopoulos worked in the Clinton White House. But Stephanopoulos was simply saying what just about every journalist, independent analyst and even some Republicans have said: There is ample evidence that the president was born in Hawaii in 1961. Trump had a similar exchange with Savannah Guthrie on the Today show.
In a sense, both parties get what they want. The anchors land the guy who the media have turned into the hottest presidential aspirant right now, presumably yielding a bump in the ratings, and the New York developer gets the kind of exposure that has enabled him to utterly overshadow his potential GOP rivals.
The public, meanwhile, keeps hearing the birther conspiracy talk as if it’s a legitimate debate.
Meanawhile, there are headlines about Obama getting “testy” with reporter Brad Watson of WFAA in Dallas. This is one of a number of local TV interviews the White House has been granting, a favorite tactic because they are short (usually 5 minutes) and get huge play in markets where it’s a big deal for one of the locals to be admitted to the Oval Office.
Watson pressed Obama on his unpopularity in Texas, correcting the president when he said he had lost the 2008 election there by just a few percentage points. “If what you’re telling me is Texas is a conservative state, you’re absolutely right,” Obama says. The reporter also asked about local suspicions that the administration skipped Houston in awarding shuttle orbiters to swing states that would be more helpful politically. Obama flatly denied that the White House had any role in the contracts.
Watson was professional and respectful, and his interruptions were subtle. So it was surprising that the president, while unclipping his mike, said: “Let me finish my answers the next time we do an interview, all right?”
It wasn’t exactly Trump-like combat, but Obama seemed as annoyed as if he’d been asked whether he had really born in Kenya. And that brief display of pique drew attention to what otherwise would have been a routine local interview.
The White House responds to criticism that the president is a lousy poker player
The liberal indictment against Barack Obama is well-known by now: He is too passive as the Republicans set the terms of debate, and when he weighs in, he cuts a deal that is much too close to the conservative side of the spectrum.
In short, many of the left think their president is getting rolled.
But the view at the White House is very different, as a conversation with communications director Dan Pfeiffer made clear.
He described the period leading up to the budget deal—the one that saved $38 billion, or 38 cents, according to the CBO—this way: “One option is to go out there and score political points against Republicans every single day. Certainly that would have made the pundits on cable TV feel better about themselves and better about us. But it would have reduced the chances of getting a deal.”
This is very much in keeping with the president’s view of himself as a reasonable man who is willing to lead by consensus, if only the other side will abandon the extremism and engage in good-faith discussion. Pfeiffer goes a step further:
“When people in Washington say the president's not engaged, what they mean is he's not out there beating up Republicans. He will not give in to partisan blood lust for blood lust's sake.”
Not that Obama is completely opposed to beating up Republicans, of course; he just likes to do it in a high-minded way, as when he said Paul Ryan’s budget (now adopted by the House GOP) was horribly unfair to people with no political clout while lavishing tax breaks on millionaires and billionaires.
The administration’s split with some of the lefty pundits reminds me of the campaign, when Obama was trailing Hillary for many months and liberals kept insisting that he whack her, or at least bloody her nose. He doggedly refused, and his discipline eventually paid off.
But you can overlearn the lessons of a campaign. There is something to the argument that Obama watches from the sidelines as the game develops, coming off the bench in the final two minutes. Pfeiffer insists that his aides are fully engaged, adding: “For some there's an expectation I've never seen put on a president before, that his role is to be legislator-in-chief. It's not what the American people expect of him.”
I spoke to Pfeiffer for this Newsweek story on the president’s negotiating style. He offered a final point in the wake of the deal that avoided a government shutdown. Such criticism of Obama's style, he said, is “a 4th-inning analysis of a 9-inning game. People say 'he screwed up the negotiations,' but the deal ends up being a very good deal given the political reality we're living with.”
Not everyone thinks it’s a very good deal, of course, including many Hill Democrats who are fuming (and that would have to include Nancy Pelosi, who voted against the compromise). But it’s a window on how the White House views the political landscape heading into 2012.
Why the book business can't seem to guard against authors who deceive
Also on The Daily Beast, Mortenson’s hosts in Pakistan say his stories are lies, and Lloyd Grove and Mike Giglio cover the media fallout from the 60 Minutes revelations.
The publishing industry’s motto seems to be like the old joke in newsrooms when a particularly juicy rumor surfaces: “Too good to check.”
Time and again, when authors of big blockbusters are found to have conjured up facts to embellish their tales, the publisher’s response, almost invariably, is don’t blame us.
Greg Mortenson, author of the best-selling Three Cups of Tea, is the latest case study. In the wake of Sunday’s 60 Minutes expose that poked serious holes in his uplifting and inspirational tale, Viking said it relied on its authors “to tell the truth, and they are contractually obligated to do so.”
Let’s examine that for a second. The publisher signs an author and pays an advance. The company purports to edit the book. Then the promotional department kicks into high gear, sending the author on tour, booking the author on talk shows, taking out ads, and generally telling the world that this is a fine piece of work.
All without conducting even rudimentary fact-checking, it seems.
It’s no accident that such scams occur most often with little-known authors spinning first-person accounts that are difficult to verify. The classic example is James Frey, who made a huge splash on Oprah with his 2006 memoir A Million Little Pieces, only to later admit he had made up whole parts of it. Little details like his claim to have been jailed for three months, when it had actually been just a few hours.
How did Doubleday respond? First, denial: “We stand in support of our author, James Frey, and his book which has touched the lives of millions of readers.'”
Then, backtracking: “We decided A Million Little Pieces was his story, told in his own way, and he represented to us that his version of events was true to his recollections.”
Then, rationalization, from the publisher, Nan Talese: “Memoir is personal recollection. It is not absolute fact. It's how one remembers what happened.”
Except some of those memories turned out to be lies.
The problems can go beyond fabrication. A Harvard sophomore named Kaavya Viswanathan got a reported $500,000, two-book deal after publishing a critically acclaimed novel, How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life. It turned out she had plagiarized dozens of passages from another author. In that case, at least, Little, Brown responded by pulling Opal from the bookshelves.
And how much more deceptive can you get than JT Leroy, the novelist whose fictional accounts of struggling young people were said to be inspired by his own escape from a life of drug abuse as the son of a West Virginia prostitute? It turned out he was a she, Laura Albert. Viking’s response? “We stand by our authors.” Whoever they turn out to be.
Mortenson is quite real, but parts of his story are questionable. At the heart of his book is the account of how Pakistani villagers nursed him back to health in 1993 after he was dehydrated and exhausted from a failed attempt to climb the world’s second highest mountain. But 60 Minutes reported that he actually visited the village of Korphe a year after the mountain-climbing excursion. He promised to return and build a school.
Mortenson admitted to Montana’s Bozeman Daily Chronicle that the story of his time in the village is “a compressed version of events” that was done “to simplify the sequence of events for the purposes of telling what was, at times, a complicated story.”
In other words, he took substantial liberties with the facts to improve the yarn.
Oh, and Mortenson’s tale of being kidnapped for eight days by the Taliban? CBS’s Steve Kroft talked to members of the Taliban who said it wasn’t true. If I were the publisher, I'd want to conduct my own investigation. But that rarely happens.
Whatever the precise facts surrounding Three Cups of Tea, it’s clear that verifying what it puts between hard covers isn’t the publishing industry’s cup of tea. Every other media outlet—newspapers, magazines, networks, Web sites—are expected to stand behind what they publish. This one, too often, passes the buck.
The new battleground for taking on journalists is online.
Update: Since this blog post was published Monday, a spokeswoman for Koch emailed this afternoon to let us know that Kochfacts.com had been updated with both its original ad against the Center for Integrity as well as a lengthy rebuttal of the center's piece about the company. You can see it here.
It’s not unusual for aggrieved companies to challenge news organizations with a swift rebuttal.
When Koch Industries was angered by a Center for Public Integrity story that called its lobbying practices into question, the corporation launched an online ad campaign to discredit the piece. And it posted links on Facebook and Google.
But the ad was apparently taken down, with no explanation from the billionaire Koch brothers who have become lightning rods for supporting conservative causes.
The story by the Center for Public Integrity (which has a cooperative relationship with Newsweek and The Daily Beast) details how Koch Industries has ramped up its lobbying efforts over the last seven years. Koch did not comment for the article, but author John Aloysius Farrell used federal filings to report that the company’s spending in this area rose from $857,000 in 2004 to $20 million in 2008. The story examined several of the company’s business dealings, including how it came to buy up ethanol plants in Iowa and lobby for looser regulations on dioxin, asbestos, formaldehyde and benzene.
The ad, titled “Responding to Slanted Journalism at the Center for Public Integrity,” criticizes the center for being biased and having ties to George Soros, the liberal financier whom the company accuses of bankrolling a smear campaign against them.
In a cached version, the ad also slams the writer, John Aloysius Farrell, stating, “It soon became clear that Mr. Farrell is not an objective reporter as he had presented himself. … We still have received no answer from CPI on Farrell’s apparent bias and how CPI justifies assigning him in light of that.”
Here’s a bit more from the ad: “Our concerns about objectivity and fairness were met with indignation. An obvious problem raised about CPI’s backers was ignored. Our request to review and react to assertions about us was also disregarded. If that’s how CPI treats basic journalism standards, readers should be skeptical of anything they publish – and not just about Koch Industries.”
The ad also led readers back to a Web site called kochfacts.com, which bills itself as a “repository for media responses and factual information presented by Koch Industries, Inc.” The site warehouses Koch’s complaints about how the company is portrayed in media accounts.
A Koch spokeswoman didn’t respond to questions about why the ad had been taken down from the Web site, but said in an email it was “entirely proper and more than appropriate.” She added that Koch Industries had “good-faith concerns we broached with CPI” that remained unanswered.
William Buzenberg, the center’s executive director, says Koch hasn’t requested any corrections or a retraction of the story.
“The story is based on Koch’s own lobbying disclosure reports, hardly controversial material that would warrant the ad hominem attack on a reporter who was objectively doing his job,” Buzenberg said. “Rather than answer our repeated efforts to get their side of the story or to address issues that are irrefutably factual, it seems as though Koch simply wants to use advertising to bully and chill a free press.”
Power is fleeting in Washington—and so is the perception of power.
Barack Obama is still suspect, John Boehner has hit a stumbling block, and Nancy Pelosi is so far off the radar that even if some of the sleeping air traffic controllers were woken up, they couldn’t find her.
The president’s stock ticked up after Wednesday’s speech because liberals loved his defense of the welfare state (stripped down, to be sure) and his line-in-the-sand approach to slashing the safety net or turning Medicare into a voucher plan. But Obama has let the political waves wash over his lines in the sand before. He is again vowing to end the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, as he did in the campaign, but he caved on that in the lame-duck budget deal. Given that Obama stuck to broad themes, his supporters may be wary that he’ll dig in and fight rather than cede too much to the Republicans in the name of bipartisanship.
Still, given where Obama was after November’s shellacking, he’s certainly climbed back into the ring.
Boehner’s had a pretty good run, holding his caucus together, avoiding overreach and getting most of what he wanted in the shutdown negotiations—in fact, more in spending cuts than the GOP originally proposed. But it turns out the $38 billion in reductions include plenty of gimmicks, such as counting money in various reserve funds and bonus programs that wasn’t going to be spent anyway. Now some of his most conservative members are threatening to vote against it (though it should pass easily with Democratic votes).
“What we didn’t assume,” says National Review, “was that the agreement would be shot through with gimmicks and one-time savings. What had looked in its broad outlines like a modest success now looks like a sodden disappointment… It’s one thing for Tea Party Republicans to vote for a cut that falls short of what they’d get if the controlled all of Washington; it’s another thing for them, after making so much of bringing transparency and honesty to the Beltway, to vote for a deal sold partly on false pretenses.”
But at least Boehner had a seat at an exclusive table. Pelosi couldn’t even get near the table, Politico reports. “None of the power brokers wanted her in the room. They feared that her presence and her defense of liberal values would have made it impossible for Obama to cut a deal with Boehner. The sources say Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky also was excluded so the White House could justify keeping Pelosi out.”
Metaphor alert: The minority leader was off in Massachusetts, giving a speech at Tufts University, while Obama and Boehner cobbled together the deal.
It’s never easy being in the minority, where the other side controls the committees and the calendar. Lots of people thought Pelosi would quit after losing the speakership. But after being on magazine covers as the first woman to hold the post, after pushing through health care and being likened to Sam Rayburn, this has to be a big comedown for the San Francisco Democrat.
Of course, the time may come when Boehner slips or Obama stumbles and Pelosi is crucial to putting together some deal. As I say, power is fleeting inside the Beltway, and the next comeback story is always just around the corner.
Three decades after Ronald Reagan’s election, Mort Kondracke has a confession to make.
“I admit I was seduced,” Mort Kondracke said. “Then Iran-contra came along and I realized I was in the tank and I climbed out.”
The seduction began with Reagan’s “evil empire” rhetoric about the Soviet Union. “I was kind of a hawk,” says Kondracke, and of all the presidents he covered, Kondracke thinks Reagan did the best job of restoring the country.
Kondracke is stepping down as executive editor of Roll Call to hold the first Jack Kemp chair at the Library of Congress. Kemp was one of his political heroes for his willingness to work across party lines and to buck GOP orthodoxy on immigration and some civil-rights issues.
He reflected on his career at a “Retirement from Deadlines” party Monday at Washington’s Newseum, where the CEO, Charles Overby, conducted an interview. He began by asking Kondracke to describe his own political evolution from liberal to neo-liberal to moderate.
Kondracke traced it back to when he was covering the Ford White House and congressional Democrats would not appropriate money to boost South Vietnam. “I was angry and I said I’m not a liberal anymore. Since then I’ve been pleading with people to get along, to solve the problem, to strike the grand bargain.”
He started out with the Chicago Sun-Times and recalled one of his early forays into Washington. It was after the Goldwater debacle in 1964, and he was interviewing then-congressman Donald Rumsfeld about the state of the GOP. “Let me see your press card,” Rumsfeld demanded. Then he picked up the phone and called the newspaper to make sure the 20-something Kondracke was worth his time. Worse than that humiliation in Kondracke’s memory is that he allowed Rumsfeld to convince him Illinois Senator Charles Percy would be the Republican nominee.
“I was gullible,” Kondracke says. “I got less gullible as time went on.”
The relationship between journalists and politicians during much of Kondracke’s career was more forgiving than it is today. He recalls interviewing President Ford who spoke bluntly about his negative view of then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. Ford’s press secretary Ron Nessen asked Kondracke if he could put that off the record because it would create an international incident. “This was the 70’s, I said okay.” Then Ford proceeded to repeat on the record all his critical comments. “He was incapable of guile."
The Clintons never won over Kondracke; he couldn't get over Clinton's personal flaws despite the fact he was a centrist and a New Democrat, the political arena that Kondracke champions. He backed the Iraq war, but now thinks it wasn't a good idea--and he doesn't think George W. Bush's economics worked either. "Nice man though," he says.
Kondracke wrote enough critical stories about the Nixon White House and all the money sloshing around from people with an interest before the government that he was among the journalists who made Nixon’s enemies list. “What a joy!” he exulted, savoring the moment these many years later.
The president shared his plan to reduce the federal deficit by some $4 trillion over the next 12 years during a major speech today. Howard Kurtz on what was missing.
In his eat-your-peas speech Wednesday, President Obama excelled at eviscerating the GOP budget plan as slashing away at worthy programs and leading to “a fundamentally different America”--one that would screw everyone from college students to Medicare patients who would get cheapo vouchers.
He also slammed Paul Ryan’s proposed tax breaks for the wealthy that would reduce his own bill by $200,000 on the backs of seniors—neither he nor Warren Buffett needs the money.
But when it came to his blueprint for slashing the deficit by $4 trillion over 12 years, Obama painted in the broadest strokes. He would cut Pentagon spending (he didn’t say how), while protecting medical research, clean energy, new airports, job training and on and on. He would cut spending on prescription drugs through negotiations and slow Medicare spending through an independent commission. Good luck with that.
The one place he was specific was in taking on the wealthy—not just by killing their Bush-era tax cuts, but by limiting itemized deductions for the richest 2 percent on home ownership and charitable deductions. (Lobbyists are mobilizing as we speak.) And there was some sort of mandatory meeting for more cuts in 2014 if they fall short of targets, a sort of Balanced Budget Lite.
The president closed with an appeal for Reagan/O’Neill bipartisanship and a paean to messy democracy. But by limiting his pitch to general themes, by failing to fill in the blanks, he ensured that it will get even messier. Once again, Obama is taking the high rhetorical ground while largely leaving the details to others.
The liberal grumbling about Barack Obama is turning into a full-throated groan.
From the left’s perspective, the president has disappointed on issue after issue: No public option. No Gitmo shutdown. No end to the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy.
And, of course, last week’s down-to-the-wire budget deal included $38 billion in cutbacks for education, labor and health that Republicans demanded as the price of keeping the government open.
But now comes word that Obama “will throw his support behind the bipartisan effort in the Senate to turn the Simpson-Bowles plan into legislation,” says the WP’s Ezra Klein—based on the deficit commission he has largely ignored until now. And the WSJ reports that administration officials handling the debt-ceiling dilemma “now say they won't rule out linking an increase of the borrowing cap with cuts aimed at reducing the deficit—even though they'd prefer to keep the issues separate.”
Paul Krugman is appalled on the deficit-panel front: “By endorsing an already right-leaning document, Obama will of course define the center as being somewhere between the right and the far right.”
The Arizona senator is pushing hard for aggressive action in Libya--and forging an unlikely alliance with Obama
During several conversations with John McCain about when to go to war, he told me a story not about Libya, but about Bosnia.
During the 1990s, he and Bob Dole were bucking elements in their own party to support Bill Clinton’s push for military intervention in Bosnia. Dole spoke last during the Senate debate, and he described how he had worn a bracelet during the Vietnam War inscribed with the name of a POW named McCain. The onetime Navy pilot was flabbergasted; Dole had never told him.
McCain is a man who both bears the scars of war and has thought seriously about warfare, as I write in this week’s NEWSWEEK. He is supporting another Democratic president, this time for the bombing of Libya, but with important caveats. Barack Obama waited too long and, because “I don’t think he feels strongly about American exceptionalism.
The same applies to McCain’s support for the Obama surge in Afghanistan. The Arizona Republican says the president also set a withdrawal date for purely political reasons: “to give some kind of comfort to the left wing.” Still, the White House has a strikingly positive view of the senator, given the bitter campaign of 2008.
I was struck by McCain’s description of how he bounced back from that defeat, and his view of why the press, so enamored of the Straight Talk Express guy back in 2000, has since fallen out of love with him:
When I go after a president of my own party, ‘he’s a maverick.’ When I was going against a president of the other party, arrhh.
The president’s stance on the debt ceiling? That was then, this is now.
It isn't often that the White House press secretary begins a briefing by saying his boss was wrong.
But that's what Jay Carney did Monday in saying that Barack Obama should not have voted against raising the debt ceiling when he was a senator.
The president "regrets that vote and thinks it was a mistake," Carney said.
How convenient. The difference, of course, is that Obama cast his protest vote during the Bush administration, and now he needs Republican votes in the coming weeks to avoid having the U.S. government default on its debts.
That, said Carney, would be a "catastrophic folly," "devastating" to jobs and growth, with "Armageddon-like" consequences for the economy.
The periodic jousting over the debt ceiling--which will, in the end, be raised--gives the out party a chance to make mischief and pressure the White House. There's no question that Obama wouldn't have taken the approach he did under Bush if his had been the deciding vote.
Carney said the administration wants a "clean piece of legislation" with no amendments--but John Boehner and the Republicans, having wrested $38 billion in spending cuts in the Friday night deal that averted a government shutdown, aren't likely to let that happen.
The tenor of the briefing room made clear just how fundamentally the GOP has altered the terms of political debate. Carney used the phrase “deficit reduction” again and again, and promised there would be more in the economic proposals the president will unveil in a speech Wedesnday at George Washington University. The spokesman fielded just one question (from April Ryan of National Urban Radio) about the human toll of the spending cuts contained in the eleventh-hour deal, which has infuriated the left. (“What have they done with President Obama? What happened to the inspirational figure his supporters thought they elected?” Paul Krugman asks in the New York Times.)
Instead, Carney insisted that Obama would show his “seriousness” about shrinking the deficit—underscoring how the president is now playing on Republican turf, in which cutting spending (and taxes) is the holy grail.
In a live talk with Chris Matthews, the president pushed young people to get insured, showed optimism about immigration reform, but refused to weigh in on a Clinton-Biden face-off.