Posts tagged ‘Obama’

General Kelly and Seeing the Real Problem

After the FF (Fat F*ck, aka President Trump) turned the killed servicemen into a political issue, and then totally botched  the call after the Press had asked if he had made any calls (where he lied about other presidents), Generally Kelly came out and made an impassioned plea to depoliticize the whole issue, explaining what happened.  Now this should have both been pointed at his boss and ended the issue, but then he turned around and made a partisan political attack on the Congresswoman in the car where call was made (at the request of the grieving parents).  Trump of course lied about all this instead of saying, I botched and I am truly sorry, to which Kelly did not deny the conversation, but attack the Congresswoman for making a “private” call public.

Well, bull shit.  First she was asked to be there and it was put on speakerphone.  Was the President alone when the call (No)?  Secondly he offended them with his lack of empathy, which is just another instance of why he should not be president.  But then Kelly made a partisan attack on the Congresswoman, racial in undertones, showing he is not the steady hand that some were hoping for.  Kelly even made references to “other” gold star families who have spoken out and he had no right to tell them they cannot use their First Amendment rights. Then there was what was sacred discussion that let you know this man is so far removed from reality that he too is dangerous. I think Lawrence O’Donnell took his attack apart better than anyone because he had the guts to.

I want you to note one other thing.  What General Kelly heard and told the FF to say is not the same thing he said.  It is a classic example of how little understand the FF has of the human condition.

Meanwhile the Republicans passed a budget bill on all Republican votes that most of them do not know what is in it.  It was to get a win.  So far the reasonable experts tell us a couple of things.  It busts the budget and like Kansas, may create a fiscal disaster. Tax cuts don’t necessarily equal growth.  Meanwhile Wall Street is doing great and the FF is taking credit when what is really driving the economy right now is low interest rates, set up in the Obama Administration.  If as most of us think, giant deficit spending that the budget bill and the follow on tax cut will create become a reality, the interest rate will go up, and kiss the economy goodbye.

The other part of this is that less than 52% of Americans own stocks, and the majority of the FF’s supporters do not.  How Wall Street does has little with working Americans, and let’s just review, Bank of America just downgraded Chipotle stocks because they think they pay their employees too much.  Bring back slavery!  That is the mentality we are dealing with.

Meanwhile, ex-Presidents Bush and Obam took on the FF finally.  Of course there is some real hypocrisy here, but at least major figures are starting to stand up.  I am off to Oakland for a Van Morrison concert and will try to ignore the madness that is our government these days.  Happy Friday.

Reinventing Reality

Here is the Village Idiot in Chief (VIIC) last night on Twitter:

“With all of the illegal acts that took place in the Clinton campaign & Obama Administration, there was never a special councel appointed!”

“This is the single greatest witch hunt of a politician in American history!”

Clinton, he is talking about Hillary, was investigated by the FBI and 7 times by Congress.  They found nothing. Comey’s investigation is famous and again the finding was what she did, did not arise to a crime. So what the hell is he talking about? On Obama, it was one of the most scandal free administrations in history.  There were no major scandals as compared to previous administrations and they set extremely high ethical standards.

So he is delusional, but what do you expect from a village idiot.  What these Tweets suggest is that there is lots more to come as he recognizes he has lost control of the investigation and it will go where the facts take them.  Republicans have a real decision to make shortly.  If there is fire, and I think there is, where there is smoke, how long before they start separating themselves from this administration.  If there are real indications of collusion and obstruction of justice, the odds he will be impeached just went way up.

Here is one thing you might want to think about.  If it is just Trump, then the Republicans get Pious Pence (the homophobe), which would suit them fine because they could get back to their agenda.  But what if there was collusion and a real question of how the Russians impact the election? That raises real questions about the legitimacy of the entire election.  Then do we have a do-over?  I don’t think there is any known path forward.

Finally Republicans are taking the line that this is fine, we will get to the bottom of the matter, and we can get back to our agenda.  Actually, we have been distracted from their agenda, starting with the failure to find a fix for Obamacare (there is no marketplace/Republican fix unless you consider just trashing Obamacare a fix).  Next up is tax reform and when America sees their approach here, massive tax cuts for the wealthy, this will also go nowhere,  But wait, what about infrastructure repair which every pundit says is low fruit.  Not happening.  These guys will argue over a real program to invest in our tomorrow and one to turn our infrastructure over to corporations to find profits in charging the rest of us for infrastructure.

That in a nutshell is the Republican agenda.  Or as I said a few days ago, the Republicans are involved in Ideological Necrophilia: passionate love for the dead, ineffective political ideas. Maybe this time America will wake up.

They Still Don’t Get It

Jimmy Kimmel, the late night TV host, was given great kudos for giving an impassioned plea for a health care plan that covers pre-existing conditions since he is now the father of a new son that has them.

But in this, he said this:

“This isn’t football,” Mr. Kimmel added. “There are no teams. We are the team, it’s the United States. Don’t let their partisan squabbles divide us on something every decent person wants.”

WTF is he talking about?  This isn’t about a partisan squabble unless you consider Republicans feuding with each other partisan.  Democrats gave you coverage of pre-conditions, and Republicans are trying to take it away.  This is not some partisan both sides do it and they just need to get along thing.  It is a basic dividing line between Democrats and Republicans.  Mr. Kimmel just played into the hands of Republicans by being politically correct and not pinning the blame on the Party that deserves it.  The Press does the same thing which is why Americans see the problem as “Washington” instead of doing the brave thing and naming names.

And now they are taking this to a whole new level as we see the reality of President Cheeto-Head as an ignorant, dangerous man and press continues to not label it and tries to pretend things are normal, just different. He is  not and we need to understand that while he has a base that thinks he is doing fine, they are a small minority and he is a true danger to democracy as we know it.  Congress can be as dysfunctional as they want (Republicans actually), but when the man who leads the nation has to lead and not backwards.  He cares less about human rights or America being a beacon of democracy in the world and he is doing his best to destroy it.

As I write this Comey is explaining why he had no choice which is total nonsense and he and the Russians changed the direction of the country.  Now the Russian investigation is being stymied by the Administration and Republican leaders in Congress.  As I wrote yesterday, Cheeto-Head keeps making statements that show he is either delusional or an idiot.  Stephen Colbert did a number on Cheeto-Head on Monday, speaking truth to the nation and people are just shocked, shocked, shocked.

This is the reality.  And up next is his executive order on “Religious Freedom” which will actually be a license to use religion to discriminate in the public square.  It is rolling back history and the Enlightenment to bring religious discrimination back into government.  Add in to that and this Administration’s willingness to lie and deny science and we are really going back to the 17th century. And you want me to be tolerant of the misguided and ignorant people who voted for this moron?  I don’t think so if you really understand what is at stake here.

And I will leave you with caution to President Obama who very much tone-deaf, signed up to cash in with Wall Street.  This what middle America is turning away from along with young people.  They get that the present economic system does not work for most of them and this raises all kinds of flagsas to whether establishment Democrats get this.  Wall Street is not the answer.  It is the reason Hillary never rang true on understanding Progressivism.  But now we are faced with a very damaged and dangerous man in the White House being enabled by Republicans.  They are the enemy.  If Obama doesn’t stand up and take him on he is a fool.  These are not normal times and treating them as such will be our demise.  Resist.


More Obama

I stayed up late last night watching the PBS Frontline special (both parts) on the Obama Administration.  It was a trip back through time to remember what happened.  As always Frontline gave a balanced view and we even heard from Eric Cantor and John Boehner.  But what it really traced was the radicalization of the Republican Party and the rise of Trump.  Clearly we saw a man, Obama, who came into office believing consensus and compromise between men who love their country could be achieved if you just lowered the volume and worked diligently.  He was rebuked every step of the way.  Also what we saw was a politically naive man quickly schooled on the ways of Washington.  We also saw a man who had no idea how to partake in deal making like LBJ, but in the end you had to draw the conclusion, it would not have mattered.  I am going to save a lot of words and just list my impressions here of the points the series was making and maybe missing:

  • Barack really thoroughly believed he could bring the country together and did not even begin to comprehend the animus about him and his race.  Sadly in the end he learned we are not Americans first as partisanship (mainly Republican) trumped everything else
  • The Republican Party was fragmenting and we had the birth of the Tea Party over the Financial Crisis and Obamacare
  • The nation was radicalized by talk radio and the Right’s noise machine spewing fake news
  • The fight for Obamacare and the Democrats reluctance to explain it or stand behind it led to the debacle in 2010
  • Obama in Eric Cantor’s words was not about to compromise with Republicans seeing his proposals that already tried to triangulate Republican positions as a slap in the face. Interesting that the Republicans saw Democrats as intransigent
  • Barack fighting the financial crisis  with the world economy on the brink and deciding to side with Wall Street when he could have extracted reforms but feared crashing the economy
  • The massive loss in 2010 for Democrats that should have been a wakeup call that we were at the end of any bipartisanship
  • Race being avoided unless it was thrust upon him trying to not be the black President, but America’s President and how race however innocuous spun out of control in Right Wing media
  • Trump seizing on the birther issue recognizing that there was a whole segment of the Republican Party that was becoming fragmented and angry
  • Romney accepting Trump’s endorsement essentially legitimizing Trump in the Republican Party
  • Democrats failing to learn the lesson of Romney’s defeat in that he represented the establishment Republicans who were losing their base
  • Eric Cantor being undone by the very forces he awakened in his own Party after trying to shut down the government and taking the political heat
  • Winning re-election in 2012, thinking he had an opportunity to get immigration reform done and being undone by their majority in the Senate when in a special election to replace the deceased Ted Kennedy, Massachusetts gave us a Republican in Scott Brown
  • Obama losing the Senate and recognizing that they were done, that anything to get done was by executive order
  • The horrible massacre at Sandy Hook and his absolute anger and disgust at not being able to move even tepid legislation around gun control
  • Race being thrust at him with police killings and he trying to walk the line of Commander-in-Chief, law and order, support our institutions, and a black man who knew the black experience
  • Finally the fragmentation of the Republican Party, the resignation of Boehner, and the rise of Trump, and his election being the anti-Obama as the final slap in the face
  • Note what was absent of this narrative was anything about Afghanistan, Iraq, Osama Bin Laden, or the idea that Democrats had become Republican Lite leaving a void in what they really stood for

When you look at what happened as a whole, things start to really make sense.  Sure he made mistakes, he made big mistakes, but he was always trying to do the right thing.  Sadly the right thing did not matter. What mattered was the hate the Right could muster that was neither rational or focused except on the man himself.  And they lost control of that mob with the election of Donald Trump.

I will fault the film on several issues.  First he did not lose the election.  The majority of Americans still supported his ideas, but he lost the ignorant part of America and they have more say than the rest of us.  Second, while they focused on his attempt to do what so many Americans said they wanted, find middle ground, it was that attempt that undid him.  Had he focused on our differences as he did to win re-election in 2012, he and the Democrats might have done much better.  But for the Democratic Party trying to be Republican Lite, maybe that was not possible.

But finally in the end, when he got the ultimate slap in the face, when Trump will try to undo everything he stood for, as I noted yesterday, he maintained his grace and civility in the transition and in his last press conference advised us not to panic, the world did not end, that we just need to fight another.  It is the wrong advice as I noted yesterday.  But now I understand it.  It is the advice of a black man who has always lived in a society that judged him by the color of his skin and they had all the cards.  It is about hope and moving on when the odds against you are insurmountable and you suffered humbling defeat after humbling defeat.  He did not suffer these defeat because he is a fool, but because he is truly a good man which makes it so much harder to survive. But it is how you survive and protect yourself and live for another day as a black person in America.  But it is not how we as a society must accept what has happened and what this election has legitimized.  We must fight it every single second with every fiber of our body.

There is one other thing to think about that was quite interesting in this narrative.  The radicals in Congress don’t like Trump.  Before the election, although I cautioned that there is a real divide in the Democratic Party, I assumed Hillary would win and the Republican civil war would break out.  Just the opposite happened.  But the Democrats seem to be finding their footing as a minority party and maybe finding their roots again. The Republican civil war may just be a few months away.  What happens when Congress defies Trump or Trump defies Congress?  We still have the nut jobs who want to tear down government and hated Wall Street and now Trump has brought them Wall Street on steroids.  Paul Ryan was their only hope for unity after the chucked John Boehner.  What happens when they turn on Ryan as they will when compromise is required?

Tomorrow we are going to get the Kansas experiment at the federal level and it did not work out so well for Kansas.  The Right has lived off fake news and attacks.  Now they have to govern and I would argue they have no idea what that entails because they live in an alternate reality.  Already they are starting to see the glimmer of reality as a brick wall in trying to replace Obamacare.  Congress wants to roll back Medicare and Social Security yet Trump said he would protect it.  The Tea Party hates Wall Street and Trump is Wall Street on steroids. And as Joe Bidden told us, “Nobody has any fricken idea what Trump is going to do.” I think we are in for massive chaos beginning at day one when they actually have to lead and govern, and not attack.  The devil is in the details and they have never been about the details, because in details is reality.  And we must resist with every fiber in our body.  We cannot normalize what has happened to America.  It is shameful.

Best of Times, Worst of Times

I remember 2008 when we thought the nightmare of Republican stupidity was finally over.  We had a young President-Elect who told us about hope.  Yes We Can!  Now it is 2016 and the nightmare of Republican in 2008 looks benign compared to what we are seeing displayed before us with the election of Donald Trump and his selection of people to head up government.  People are not being put in charge of major parts of our government to make them run better, but to destroy them.  So what happened?  How did we come to this?

Well I have clearly pointed out the failure of Democrats to present a coherent way forward, Republican obstruction, the failure of our news media to cover real news and be consumed by infotainment.  But what really happened is that people gave up on government because it was not addressing any of their problems.  An establishment candidate running in 2016 was making the same old arguments we have heard forever, and nothing changed.  So again what happened?  In 2008 we had the House, the Senate, and the Presidency and nothing changed, that is really what happened.  Here is a chart from the Washington Post demonstrating the devastation of the Democratic Party over the last 8 years:

And now the Democrats re-elect the same leaders in Congress?  But they are fighting the good fight right?  Maybe not.  While as I noted above the Republicans have obstructed most things Democrats want to do, why don’t the people see that? The rubes as I like to call them, just put an idiot in charge of the government.  And he/they seem to be bent on destroying the very foundations of our government.  How did the people get so angry and disenchanted that they would do such a thing?

Well I think I got my answer. I was watching Fareed Zakaria (recorded) and he had a guest on, Thomas Frank, and he got my attention.  He describe  how the Democrats really changed nothing.  His basic thesis, and mine, is the underlying economic inequality that is built into our system of government and economy is the problem.  So I got really interested and picked up his book, Listen, Liberal: or Whatever Happened to the Party of the People?  I could not put it down.  Usually non-fiction holds my interest for about the first 50 pages or so then I wonder if they are beating a dead horse.  But this one held my interest.  I think he nailed it.  So I am going to give you some of his insights and hope you read it.

First the symptom of the problem:

In the summer of 2014, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average hitting all-time highs, a poll showed that nearly three-quarters of the American public thought the economy was still in recession—because for them, it was.  There was a time when average Americans knew whether we were going up or going down—because when the country prospered, its people prospered, too. But these days, things are different. From the middle of the Great Depression up to 1980, the lower 90 percent of the population, a group we might call “the American people,” took home some 70 percent of the growth in the country’s income. Look at the same numbers beginning in 1997—from the beginning of the New Economy boom to the present—and you find that this same group, the American people, pocketed none of America’s income growth at all. Their share of the good times was zero. The gains they harvested after all their hard work were nil. The upper 10 percent of the population—the country’s  financiers, managers, and professionals—ate the whole thing. The privileged are doing better than at any time since economic records began. 

…At the other end of the social ladder, meanwhile, it is all upside all the time. In 2012, corporate profits (measured as a share of gross domestic product) hit their highest level on record. In 2014, according to a much-discussed think tank report, the total of all the bonuses handed out on Wall Street was more than twice as much as the total earned by every person in the country who worked full-time for the minimum wage. 

…And that’s where we are, eight years post-hope (Obama). Growth that doesn’t grow; prosperity that doesn’t prosper. The country, we now understand, is simply no longer arranged in such a way as to make its citizens economically secure.

Next, the response of the Democratic Party.  While the Republicans certainly are responsible for the plutocracy we see that is accelerating this economic inequality, the Democrats really facilitated it:

But it is time we understood that our current situation represents a failure of the Democratic Party as well…When it comes to tackling the “defining challenge of our time,” however, many of our modern Democratic leaders falter. They acknowledge that inequality is rampant and awful, but they cannot find the conviction or imagination to do what is necessary to reverse it. Instead they offer the same high-minded demurrals and policy platitudes they’ve been offering since the 1980s. They remind us that there’s nothing anyone can do about globalization or technology. They promise charter schools, and job training, and student loans, but other than that—well, they’ve got nothing.

…This is not because they are incompetent or because sinister Republicans keep thwarting the righteous liberal will. It is Democratic failure, straight up and nothing else. The agent of change isn’t interested in the job at hand. Inequality just doesn’t spark their imagination. It is the point at which their famous compassion peters out.

What I am suggesting is that their inability to address the social question is not accidental. The current leaders of the Democratic Party know their form of liberalism is somehow related to the good fortune of the top 10 percent. Inequality, in other words, is a reflection of who they are. It goes to the very heart of their self-understanding.

In other words, the Democratic Party is part of the problem.  The system needs fundamental change and the Democrats are not offering it, just trying to smooth out the edges as the ship of inequality sails further into the inequality sea.  And here is where he really got me.  How was Obama, our hope, such a disappointment?  Oh, I know, he did x, y, and z, which is going to be all undone by the Republicans, and as Mr. Frank points out, it really did not change the system at all. So where did we go from hope to malaise? Mr. Frank is talking about when he knew nothing would change and he paralleled my experience:

I clung to the “hope” for a little while longer than that. I can remember the exact moment when I finally gave it up—it was the first time I heard the phrase “grand bargain,” Barack Obama’s pet term for his proposed deficit and tax deal with the Republicans. In a split second I understood the whole thing: that big compromises like this were real to the president, but “change” was not. I had known that Obama had a passion for centrist talk; everyone did. Bipartisan conciliation was the theme of Obama’s famous keynote speech at the 2004 Democratic convention. It was one of the themes of his 2008 stump speech, when he talked so inspiringly about “the politics of addition, not the politics of division.”

What was shocking about all this was to realize that Obama believed these clichés. Consensus, bipartisanship, the “center”: those were the things this admirable and intelligent man was serious about—the kind of stale, empty verbiage favored by Beltway charlatans on the Sunday talk shows…What I realized in the instant when I heard that phrase was that this man, in whom I and so many others had placed such faith, was in fact another ordinary consensus Democrat with ordinary consensus ideas. He believed the same tired partisanship-deploring platitudes as everyone else. 

Nothing could budge our leadership class from this illusion. Unemployment could hit 50 percent, foreclosures could sweep through entire states, there could be riots in every city in the land, and the TV hosts would still be moaning about how dreadful it is that Democrats and Republicans don’t agree on things. Which brings us face-to-face with our mystery: how is it that, in our moment of utmost need, a fake crisis like the problem of “extreme partisanship” was able to trump the real deal? These are not Obama’s shortcomings alone. They are failings of the party he leads. They are, in a word, ours. It’s time to own up.

And that is just from his introduction.  And he hit a nerve with me.  While the Press goes on and on talking about partisan fights, as though that somehow degrades them, they are really about the soul of our country.  The Republicans are leading us off a cliff, and Democrats and the Press think that the solution is somewhere in the middle (if they would just quit fighting and compromise!) when it is not.  Bernie got it and he was the only one on the Democratic stage that did.  He came from nowhere and got overrun by the Democratic establishment.  Well go look at the graph at the beginning of this blog.  They are killing us and Democrats have to represent the working class again.  This is not bringing back jobs that will not come back, but change the whole system so that the benefits are shared more justly.  Until the Democrats wake up to this, they are a dying party.

The Wrath of She

When it comes to the Bernie-Hillary thing, be aware you are entering a minefield.  Here in my tranquil little castle, we just don’t talk about it.  I am accused of being an arrogant man and if Hillary were a man I would not criticize her.  Just about everything I see as a fault in Hillary is a man-thing and I don’t judge Bernie with the same scale.  Oh, and the things I do criticize are either just as bad in Bernie or we just don’t see Hillary as who she is.

Okay, I am as prejudiced as anyone, and usually we are the last to see it.  But if Elizabeth Warren were the candidate, I would take her in an instant over Bernie.  Do I just dislike Hillary or do some of the things I see give me a reason not to support her?  President Obama even put a couple of good ones out there last night at the Correspondent’s Dinner comparing “Feel the Bern”, with Trudging Up the Hill with Hillary,” and describing her attempt to connect with young people as your Aunt who is trying to connect on Facebook for the first time.

Now I think I have raised some substantial issues with the Hillary candidacy and her incrementalism which if not taken seriously by the candidate or her supporters, could be her Achilles Heel.  But what I get in return is rebuttal which is the first line of defense demonstrating denial.  So why is that.  You point out all of Bernie’s short comings and I agree.  So what is it that makes a certain age group of American women not want to hear it? Why do younger women not have that strong affinity with Hillary?

Well, I think I know and it is a minefield for men.  Women of a certain age came up in a man’s world and they are angry about.  In one way or another it probably still is a man’s world, but younger women are more assertive and aggressive.  It is not that older women weren’t, but in their day it was not possible or was possible, but the kiss of death.  In Hillary they see a woman who has suffered much more publicly the slings and arrows of a man’s world they so resent.  Bill is the epitome of how a man gets away with things that are really unforgivable.  And now electing Hillary is a chance to rub it in the face of every man that ever slighted them.  And they are not going to let some man and a bunch of angry ungrateful kids stop justice.

That is what it is really all about.  It is why they miss all the signs that Hillary’s time may have passed her by, that the politics of tomorrow, the things to bring about real change are no longer in her wheelhouse.  So beware when you try to point out Hillary’s shortcomings.  You are just one more man trying to put a woman back in her place, not trying to point out that maybe she is not the person to really change things.   Or maybe she is, but she needs to see the world in the eyes of a Bernie supporter and understand it is not just anger or ungratefulness, but maybe a real insight into what is wrong with the whole system.

More on Obama

If you read my last blog you get a sense of what President Obama has accomplished in eight years even with total obstructionism of the Republicans.  So why among young Democrats is that not more appreciated and acknowledged?  Why is there a sense of failure and a yearning for real change.  Focus here, I am not talking about Republicans who live in an alternate reality of facts.  I am talking about young people who are highly dissatisfied with the way things are.

The answer to that came from the Bill Clinton campaign and it is the economy stupid.  Oh you can argue that we have come a long way, but young people see debt, reduced job opportunities, and maybe less income than their parents made.  In a word, economic inequality.  As the economy recovered, almost all the gains went to the wealthy.  And that trend increased during the Obama presidency.  Granted, inequality did not become a focus issue until the last few years and it has been going on for the last 50, but now its effects are being felt by young people.

The Middle East is a mess, world affairs get more complicated, and we live in a more and more dangerous world.  But the real issue this election is the economy stupid and what are we going to do about a system that ignores the majority of its voters.  That in a nut shell explains Trump and Bernie.  Hillary has proposed plans to help working people, but to young people it looks like moving the chairs around on the Titanic.  As the Huffington Post tells us this morning:

Clinton has moved to adopt a bolder reform position this year than in 2008 or before. She’s basically at one with President Obama’s policies. Yes, she’s come out against the president’s Transpacific Partnership deal, but everyone believes that is just campaign positioning. She claims to be tough on Wall Street, but even her Wall Street donors don’t believe her. She’s assiduously avoided embracing the Warren-Sanders reform agenda. She’s put forth a good agenda on global warming, but opposes putting a price on carbon, opposes banning fracking, and hasn’t made climate change a centerpiece of her campaign. She’s scorned Sanders call for national health care or for tuition free college. She’s been a supporter of the regime change follies from Iraq, to Honduras to Libya to Syria to the Ukraine.

Is that accurate?  In young people’s minds it is.  That is why they fail to recognize what President Obama has accomplished and do not support Hillary in great numbers.  All I can say is this election is about the economy stupid and whoever wins the nominations better focus on that or they are going to let the Republicans back in.  Many of us think we can no longer do “compromise” politics when we are about to go off the cliff.  That is really what this election is about.


I quite frankly admire the man. I have also criticized him on many issues including his almost capitulation to Republican economics in the Grand Compromise that did not happen because Republicans pulled the plug, drones, secrecy, surveillance, prosecution of whistle blowers, his failure to go after Wall Street or Bush torturers, deportation of illegal immigrants, and his pivot from jobs to the debt. But there is another argument to be made and that was the one made by Fareed Zakaria in his column last week.  I have posted his entire piece because it shows that we should see the man in his entirety, not just through the windows we pick:

In an interview during the 2008 campaign, Barack Obama said that Ronald Reagan changed the trajectory of the United States in a way that Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton did not. Clearly, Obama aspired to be a transformational president, like Reagan. At this point, it’s fair to say that he has succeeded. Look at what’s happened during his tenure to the country, his party and, most tellingly, his opposition.

The first line in Obama’s biography will have to do with who he is, the first African American president. But what he has done is also significant. In the wake of the financial collapse in 2008, Obama worked with the outgoing George W. Bush administration, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke and members of both parties in Congress to respond forcefully on all fronts — fiscal, monetary, regulatory. The result is that the United States came out of the Great Recession in better shape than any other major economy.

Obama’s signal accomplishment is health care, where he was able to enact a law that has resulted in 90 percent of Americans having health insurance. Although the law has its problems, it achieves a goal first articulated by Theodore Roosevelt 100 years ago.

Then, there is the transformation of U.S. energy policy. The administration has made investments and given incentives to place the United States at the forefront of the emerging energy revolution. Just one example: Over Obama’s terms , solar costs have plummeted by 70 percent and solar generation is up 3,000 percent.

Finally, Obama has pursued a new foreign policy, informed by the lessons of the past two decades, that limits U.S. involvement in establishing political order in the Middle East, focusing instead on counterterrorism. This has freed the administration to pursue new approaches with countries such as Iran and Cuba and to direct attention and resources to the Asia-Pacific region, which in just a few years will be home to four of the world’s five largest economies.

Just as Reagan solidified the ideological position of the Republican Party — around free markets, free trade, an expansive foreign policy and an optimistic outlook — Obama has helped push the Democratic Party to be more willing to use government to achieve public purposes. And his party has responded.

In that 2008 campaign interview, Obama pointed out that Reagan had not changed the country single-handedly; he took advantage of a shift in the national mood. The same could be said about the United States today. Years of stagnant wages, rising inequality and the financial crisis have created a new political atmosphere, one that Obama has helped shape.

The biggest impact of his presidency, however, can be seen in his opposition, the Republican Party, which is in the midst of an ideological breakdown. Surveying this scene, conservative columnist Daniel Henninger writes in the Wall Street Journal that Obama “is now close to destroying his political enemies — the Republican Party, the American conservative movement, and the public-policy legacy of Ronald Reagan.” Obama’s success in this regard, if it can be called that, is a passive one. He has let his opponents self-destruct and never overplayed his hand.

From the first month of Obama’s presidency, the GOP decided that he was a socialist radical who had to be opposed, no matter what. Obama did not take the bait, governing from the center-left. Consider his first administration, staffed by ultra-centrists Timothy Geithner and Lawrence Summers on economic policy; a former general, James Jones, as national security adviser; Hillary Clinton as secretary of state; and a stalwart Republican, Robert Gates, as his defense secretary.

It wasn’t just gestures. During budget negotiations, Obama made a concession on the reform of Social Security larger than any Democrat ever has, agreeing to reduce the automatic yearly increase of benefits, enraging the Democratic base. The Republicans turned him down, something they will surely regret, since it will likely never be offered again by Democrats (nor by Republicans, if Donald Trump wins).

Perhaps unable to paint him as a socialist, perhaps for other reasons, many Republicans’ rhetoric about Obama quickly became personal — with insinuations about his origins, race, religion, faith and loyalty to the country. Again, Obama never lashed out — demonstrating discipline even as his opposition grew wilder.

As Obama kept his cool, the Republican Party descended deeper into the politics of identity, flirting with racial, religious and ethnic grievances — and moving away from its core tenets of limited government, free markets and free trade. The result has been an ideological implosion, and it’s unclear what will emerge from the debris.

Obama has repeatedly maintained that one of his principles in foreign policy is, “Don’t do stupid [stuff].” It looks like it works in domestic politics as well.

So it is a mixed bag as is all of our lives and it is a tough job with almost impossible choices every day.  It is amazing that people can hate him, although I am sure a lot of it is racial.  When he had to make impossible choices or was put into impossible situations, he provided us a steady calm and respectful countenance that we should all aspire to.  Warts and all, we should be very grateful he was willing to take the job and do it as well as he did.

The ISIS Strategy

We hear a lot about how President Obama does not have a clear strategy for defeating ISIS.  I would agree, but I understand the problem.  I will put it this way:  Say we defeat ISIS in Iraq and Syria, then what?  It is the ‘then what’ that is so hard.  If you don’t fill the vacuum and put something in place that removes the hopelessness that creates ISIS recruits, you are just clearing the decks for round 2.  

Now I have opined that they only real way to deal with Islamic terrorists is for the Islamic community to soundly reject them as part of their religion.  By soundly I mean root them out, throw them out, turn them in, cut off their support structures.  That would be the most effective way, working with Western governments, to stem the tide of terrorism.  Of course Western governments would also have to find a better way to integrate these Muslims into their societies.  Their will always be outliers, like the San Bernadino attack, but if their were an active and loud repudiation of these acts from most of Islam, it might just have made them stop and think.

But back to the war in the Middle East.  Republicans are telling us they will be much tougher offering war crimes as a solution.  Bernie wants to avoid entanglement, and Hillary, if her past tells us anything, wants a more aggressive approach. All, except the Republican War crimes (bomb them till the glow, torture everyone) might have short term benefits, but that is not the question.  The question is what then?  What comes after?

In Iraq there was no al Qaeda, we created them by putting in a Shiite government and exiling all the Sunnis.  When we recognized our mistake, the damage was done.  The issue is whether Shiites and Sunnis can work together.  So far the question has been answered as a firm no.  And as long as their are warring parties vying for control, the opening for the next al Qaeda, ISIS, or whatever is there.  The real question is how do you bring a 5th century theocracy into the 21st century, with a basic understanding of humane rights, tolerance, and Justice not defined as retribution?

If I had the answer to that one, I would not be sitting on top of a hill in the middle of a vineyard in Apple Hill.  I would be beating down doors to get someone to listen to me.  There must be an answer because the blow back from the on-going strife in Europe and the spread of ISIS to other countries is simply not acceptable.  One thing is for sure, continuing to arm them is a major mistake.  I frankly don’t have much hope for the Middle East for many years to come as you see riots in Pakistan protesting the death by hanging of a murderer who killed a government official who criticized blasphemy laws.

In America, well most of America, we take religious tolerance for granted.  But even here we have a tendency to backslide if we are not careful.  See states trying to pass anti-gay laws or refusing to follow the law giving them equal rights.  We evolved during the Elightenment to take religion our of government.  It may be another three or four hundred years before East Asia gets there or they simply kill each other off.  So if our end game is to be involved over there for another three or four hundred years while they learn the lessons of the West, good luck with that.  Now you see why an ISIS strategy is so hard.  

Obama’s Legacy and the Democrats

A friend of mine and I have been debating whether President Obama has been a transforming and significant President or not.  This is an active debate out there as some would argue he has done amazing things given what he had to deal with while others have opined that he has been a disappointment.  An excellent discussion of Obama’s legacy may be found in this article written for The Guardian (Yes, he tried: what will Barack Obama’s legacy be?) where the author, Gary Younge, did an amazing job of presenting a very balanced view.

From my perspective the question is who really changed the direction of the country and made a lasting impact on America.  Near term presidents who we would not really argue about would be Abe Lincoln, FDR, JFK, Ronald Reagan, and maybe Barack Obama.  My friend raised the issue that Jimmy Carter has been an admirable man and his impact on us should include his contributions after the Presidency.  The following is my response to that and the judgment about Bill Clinton’s affairs in light of other Presidents (including JFK) that had many more:

For Jimmy Carter, life after his term does not count because we are looking, or at least I am, at how their presidency shaped the direction of America while in office.  In that light we see why Lincoln, with no after presidency life, change our country’s direction forever.  If President Carter did shape anything, it was the extreme malaise felt about the direction of the country (probably of no fault of his) that brought us Ronald Reagan who did start moving the country rightward and created the mass distain for government now seen as ideology in the Republican Party.  It began the fantasy world still with us today of trickle down.

For Clinton, he is celebrated by winning back the White House from Republican’s by moving the Democratic Party rightward, and reigning over a great economy.  The great economy was due to the Dot Com boom where he proved raising taxes in a booming economy will not crash it.  Some analysts say that this was when the Democratic Party basically abandoned the white working class for the professional class.   We went with trade agreements that helped corporations and lower the price of goods in exchange for loosing good paying jobs.

So looking back on him in history, one might say he had a negative impact on our country because he did move it, but in the wrong direction, further exacerbating economic inequality that has come back to haunt us.  And while his philandering was not to the level of many other Presidents, it was in a time when it could do great damage to his party, basically a King Lear, and he did do great damage while he was President that may have gotten George Bush elected.

So that brings us to Obama.  Do not misunderstand me.  I think he is a great man and very admirable.  I don’t think I or anyone else could have keep the country on a stable course through all the turbulence we have seen, and that he did that is amazing.  But he did not change the course of the country.  There was, some of us will argue, a window where progressive policies could have taken hold and we lost it.  We lost it misjudging the political times and being too timid.  If you look at both our State Houses and our Congress, the country has moved significantly rightward while he has been in office.

The real underlying issue is, has economic inequality been increased?  Sadly, yes and growing larger every day. The white working class feel abandoned (and so should blacks quite frankly) by both parties and are gravitating to Trump.  Some of that is because Democrats too have abandon them in favor of the professional class, but a lot of it also has to do with 8 years of propaganda put out by the conservative noise machine that government is bad and Obama is ruining the country, lies about the impact of immigrants, and fear of external threats, most of which is fact challenged at best.

So did President Obama change the course of the country?  In my estimation no, just a holding action in which we have slowly moved right, but a holding action no less critical to those of us living through it. That, we should be grateful for.  But the real question is how do we get the country moving in the direction of caring about everyone’s well being by applying economic inequality as the metric to judge policies and results*.  Well that would be putting economic inequality front and center, along with money in politics in our policies and positions.

Trump in many ways is doing just that although his solutions are all smoke and mirrors with nationalism and racism thrown in. It frightens establishment Republicans, not because it is racist, they have been doing that for years, but because it makes the Republican Party a populist party with nationalistic tendencies.  The last thing establishment Republicans want is a Populist party. It flies in the face of everything they worship.

Egads, they would have to worry about a living wage, protecting Social Security and Medicare, and recognize the role of big government. The holy trinity of Republican ideology then gets thrown out (small government, lower taxes (for the wealthy), and less regulation).  If they do that, they no longer are who they say they are.

One of two things is going to happen. Either the Republican Party is going to fracture into open warfare or they are going to capitulate to the populist Trump.  If the latter happens, Republicans will be exposed for who they are and we are entering very dangerous waters.  The rise of fascism is no longer just a fantasy, but is a real possibility as Party becomes more important than principles.  Kind of reminds me of the Catholic Church and molesting their flock.

The Democrats have a massive opportunity here, but it can not be politics of old and that is where young Americans distrust Hillary.  She was part of the Clinton Years and what I call the Democratic establishment that headed us in the wrong direction. She has been on the wrong side of many issues, although later changing her politics to follow the crowd.  In many ways she has been a moderate Republican who is progressive on social issues, but wedded to monied politics.

That does not mean she could not be the best leader to lead us forward, it just means she has a lot of liabilities with these voters who may just be the deciding factor in the next election. The fact that she is still connected to the wealthy through super pacts and corporate donors raises additional doubts about her real commitment to Progressive values.  If she wins and is unsuccessful at attacking and drawing clear lines as opposed to incremental change, an Obama 3.0 administration, the Democratic Party may also become marginalized. People don’t vote because they don’t believe it makes a difference.  The stakes could never be higher or the opportunities greater, but it could all be lost to incrementalism if that is seen as more of the same.

What Bernie has done is make being a Progressive respectable again. Regardless of what happens next, he has opened the door to getting back to what Democrats used to stand for.  He has drawn clear lines about what we believe as a Party.  Democrats have tried to accommodate the obstructionist Republicans and carve out compromises where they tried to get something good done in a barren world of obstructionism  But in doing so, they erased the lines about what we stand for.  And the right made giant gains by not compromising at all.  I think this is the giant disconnect the Democratic establishment has with young people. They are not sure what Democrats stand for and if they will really fight for them.

The next President, more than likely Hillary, will either learn from this lesson, that drawing clear and distinct lines that are not negotiable is critical to our future even if we lose the near term battles, or we will continue on the road we are on and become irrelevant as a party just as the Republican establishment has done.

*I should note that establishment Republicans will argue that they do care and their policies of low taxes, small government, and few regulations would do just that, make economic inequality go away.  Except we have 50 years of data that says just the opposite.  Doing more of what we have been doing will simply accelerate the transfer of wealth to the few.  So I should probably have clarified my statement by saying, “by applying economic inequality as the metric to judge policies and results” using real data and rational analysis.”