Sep 092010
 

Article first published as Obama Comes Out Swinging in Cleveland on Technorati.

Yesterday in Cleveland, President Obama came out of his corner swinging. Pundits have been counting the President out of late, but if he was beaten and bruised when he entered the ring today, he shook it off like Rocky Balboa.

Speaking at the Cuyahoga Community College West Campus in Parma, Ohio, he had barely finished his opening remarks when he lit into the GOP. Immediately on offense, Obama tore into the opposition by blasting their 8-year reign with a political philosophy that clearly was and still is — government for the elite few.

According to Obama, he ran for president in order to correct what the Republican philosophy has wrought. The President started with a four punch combination: first were their tax cuts — “especially for millionaires and billionaires,” which he immediately followed with their deregulation — “for special interests.” Then a body blow on their trade deals — “even if they didn’t benefit our workers,” and another punch to the gut on cutting back investment — “in our people and in our future – in education and clean energy, in research and technology.” He followed the combo with an overhand smash, that demanded acknowledgement from anyone listening, “The idea was that if we just had blind faith in the market, if we let corporations play by their own rules, if we left everyone else to fend for themselves that America would grow and America would prosper.” And thus the tempo of the fight was set, and the contrast in philosophy defined.

What did America get with all those “sound” Republican policies? As the President termed it, the people got “the illusion of prosperity.” Obama briefly commiserated with the Buckeye audience who has been hurt so badly through job loss, stating that job growth during the Bush years was slower than in any economic expansion since WW2 — and he added — “slower than it’s been over the last year.” The President finished the picture by recalling how income for the middle class stagnated while costs climbed, especially for tuition and healthcare. He also linked this dynamic of lower wages and higher costs to the reactive increase in personal debt that paid for the “illusion.” And with the Republicans on the ropes, the President added that their failure to pay for two wars and two tax cuts for the wealthy had turned a record budget surplus into a record deficit.

Thus began the final 8-week countdown to Election 2010. President Obama was in fighting trim, or campaign form as the case may be. He started by drawing the contrast between left and right and then punctuated his entire speech with references to the America he believes in, “An America that took pride in the goods that we made, not just the things we consumed. An America where a rising tide really did lift all boats, from the company CEO to the guy on the assembly line.” That America demands patriotism, but the President left no doubt that the America that had lost 4 million jobs in the 6 months prior to his taking office no longer upheld those values, and he didn’t pull any punches in assigning responsibility.

Not only did the President attack Republican policies for creating the recession, an assertion that conservatives may be tired of hearing but one that is undeniable nonetheless, but he also drove the point home that they have deliberately delayed the recovery. He cited the success of the Stimulus in that it has created “roughly 3 million” jobs, but also spoke of how the Republicans had fought its passing and chose instead to ride the “fear and anger all the way to Election Day.” And once again, Obama called upon the name of John Boehner, the new face of the Republican Party, and the plan that he recently shared for America — “the same philosophy that we had already tried during the decade that they were in power — the same philosophy that led to this mess in the first place: Cut more taxes for millionaires and cut more rules for corporations.”

President Obama made crystal clear that the distinction between Democrats and Republicans is really about the strengthening or demise of the middle class, and he hammered the case over and again throughout his speech: the Republicans fight for insurance companies to be able to refuse coverage for preexisting conditions, for corporations to be able to move jobs overseas, for banks to be able to raise interest rates at will, and for tax cuts for the richest 2% of Americans. They fight for higher corporate profits and the lower wages that help create them, and they believe in the market over democracy.

In the President’s eyes, Democrats essentially take the opposing position on each of these issues and believe instead in “a vibrant free market, but one that works for everybody.” They contend that government should support the middle class so that, in Obama words, “if they work hard and meet their responsibilities, they can afford to raise their children, and send them to college, see a doctor when they get sick, retire with dignity and respect.” Obama called upon the words of the first Republican President, Abraham Lincoln, to summarize the Democrat’s position, “I also believe that government should do for the people what they cannot do better for themselves.” Democrats don’t want “big government” — they want effective government.

This is exactly the message the Democrats need to carry to America for the next two months. The lines are now clearly drawn. The Republicans say they’re for small business but fight against legislation that sends them aid in the form of tax cuts and improved access to financing. They say that the main issue for America is jobs, yet they fight spending to create them in order to protect loopholes that send them overseas. They contend that they support the middle class, yet in the President’s words, they “hold middle-class tax cuts hostage” in order to protect cuts for the top 2%. They feign concern for the deficit while refusing to cut defense and simultaneously adding the $700 billion cost for their “wealth-fare” tax cuts.

The President did take time to plug his 6-year infrastructure investment plan and to introduce a proposal to extend tax credits to businesses for 100% of their 2011 capital investments. Also on the table is an expansion of the research and development tax credit from 14% to 17%. All of these proposals would typically be acceptable to Republicans, but as the President suggested in reference to their opposition to the small business tax cuts supported by the Chamber of Commerce, “the only reason they’re holding this up is politics, pure and simple.” Should Americans really place their trust in a party that would deliberately sacrifice the wellbeing of the country for their own personal gain?

The choice couldn’t be more clear, once the thick overburden of misinformation is pulled back and the facts revealed. But the Democrats now find themselves in an uphill climb to set the record straight. They will be well served to follow the President’s lead and draw upon the distinct differences between party philosophies. They can do no better than to frame the conversation as did President Obama — what we now need is to return to “the time-honored values that built this country: hard work and self-reliance; responsibility for ourselves, but also responsibility for one another. It’s about moving from an attitude that said ‘What’s in it for me?’ to one that asks, What’s best for America? What’s best for all our workers? What’s best for all of our businesses? What’s best for all of our children?”

The text of the speech is available at the New York Times. You can also watch the entire speech at C-SPAN.org.


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Sep 082010
 
Looking south above Interstate 80, the Eastsho...
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Article first published as Obama Takes a $50 Billion Infrastructure Punch at the GOP on Technorati.

Speaking at a Labor Day rally in Wisconsin yesterday, President Obama announced a new $50 billion infrastructure spending plan. Of the new initiative, the President told the crowd of union workers that, “This will not only create jobs immediately, but will make our economy run better over the long haul.” He also warned that, “If we are going to get anything done, Republican cooperation, which has been all but non-existent recently, will be necessary.” Can it be that the President actually believes he can get Republican support? The pragmatic answer would have to be, not unless he’s lost his mind. So, assuming that President Obama is still in control of his mental faculties, why present this new initiative?

The obvious answer is “politics.” The President’s speech was not confined to the new infrastructure spending plan. He also used the opportunity to fire a salvo at the Republicans in Congress and set the stage for the Democratic argument for the final two months of campaign 2010. Not only did the President contrast the need for Republican support against their consistent record of obstructionism, but he also made the case that should the Republicans be returned to power, they will attempt to revive the very same agenda that created the crisis in the first place.

“They’re betting that between now and November, you’ll come down with amnesia,” said the President. “They think you’re going to forget what their agenda did to this country,” he continued. He’s right, of course, but then the odds appear to be firmly in the Republican’s favor, and their bet anything but a long shot. The people have already forgotten — haven’t they? Why else would they support the Republicans?

It’s good that President Obama is finally taking some initiative to help frame the debate, but he’s come to the party so late that most people have already made up their minds. Where was the President while the Republicans thoroughly polluted the well with their fact-free propaganda? The best that can be hoped for at this juncture is that a newly invigorated debate that contrasts Democratic substance with nauseating Republican hypocrisy will motivate Democrats to get out and vote. But with little else left in their bag of tactics, this is likely a good choice, although as stark as the contrast may be, one must question whether or not anyone’s still listening.

Democrats have been too silent for too long, allowing Republicans to spin some whoppers into commonly accepted truisms. Distorted perceptions are so keenly ingrained at this point that the Obama administration doesn’t even want to associate their infrastructure initiative with the word “stimulus” — this in spite of the fact that, according to all objective measures, the Stimulus has been extremely effective. It’s created as many as 3.3 million jobs and added as much as 4.5% to the GDP, yet President Obama continues to avoid singing its praise, thereby opening his flank to further GOP sniping. But regardless, the non-stimulus infrastructure initiative should provide an excellent opportunity for Democrats to bring core party differences to the forefront.

No sooner had the President announced the infrastructure plan when congressional Republicans started their predictable rhetoric. Senate Minority Leader, Mitch McConnell was quick to color the proposed bill as having “more than $50 billion in new tax hikes.” Of course, he was referring to the fact that the infrastructure spending that would rebuild or restore 150,000 miles of roads, add 4,000 miles of railway, target improvements to the U.S. air traffic control system and create an “Infrastructure Bank” to coordinate funding and planning of projects would all be fully funded, without impact on the deficit, by ending various tax breaks for oil and gas companies. Like the Democrat’s plan to fund aid for teachers and firefighters by ending tax loopholes that encouraged corporations to ship jobs overseas, McConnell and his cronies are against anything that might reduce corporate profits.

Never wanting to be left out, the man who wants to be Speaker of the House, John Boehner, was also quick in his criticism of the plan. “As the American people, facing near double-digit unemployment, mark Labor Day by asking, where are the jobs, the White House has chosen to double-down on more of the same failed ‘stimulus’ spending,” said Boehner in a prepared statement. Long a champion of the wealthy, Boehner failed to mention how his ongoing commitment to self-interest has consistently driven his obstruction of anything and everything that could help jobs. Yet, the man who called the healthcare legislation “Armageddon,” who feigns concern over the deficit yet supports tax cuts for the rich, who supports small business but fights against small business aid, who ignores every statistic on the Stimulus and paints public employees as “special interests,” wants everyone to believe that he has a plan to, “create jobs by eliminating the job-killing uncertainty that is hampering our small businesses.”

The fact of the matter is that Congressman Boehner is the creator-in-chief of the “job-killing uncertainty” he so often calls to mind. He and his Senate counterpart, Mitch McConnell are stuffed so deep into the pockets of Big-Business that they’ve lost sight of their moral compasses. Together, they are the wingmen of a Republican party whose plan to create jobs consists of a “Roadmap for America’s Future” that promises to cut into Social Security and Medicare in order to fund more tax cuts for the rich. Just how a tax cut that would provide 117% of its relief to the top 1%, while increasing taxes on the bottom 95%, will help create jobs has yet to be explained. But this is just SOP for the GOP — the fiction and friction party.

Obama started a new conversation yesterday. He took off the kid gloves and put on the boxing gloves. He fired a few combinations, mixed it up with some body blows, and showed the Republicans for whom they truly are. The Republicans responded with some blind flailing and cover up. Round 1 goes to Obama, but the fight has just begun. Fortunately for Democrats, if called on the facts, the Republican’s defense is wafer thin. If the President continues to press, he will easily reveal their complete lack of substance. Let’s hope that President Obama fights to the finish. America needs a champion for all Americans.


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Sep 032010
 
Boxer speaking at an ACLU event.

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Did Barbara Boxer do any homework before her senatorial debate with Carly Fiorina on Wednesday? Boxer did hold her own and responded fairly well to most of Fiorina’s truth stretching assertions. But when her opponent is running on her record as a business leader, and that record earned her a place as one of the “20 Worst CEOs of all time,” the door was wide open for Boxer to clearly show what an abysmal leader Fiorina was.

Senator Boxer did take every opportunity to point out Fiorina’s woeful record on jobs, the one where she actually shipped 30,000 overseas. She even mentioned Fiorina’s very personal contribution to the American vernacular, coining the term “right-shoring,” a euphemism for firing Americans in order to send their jobs to a foreign land. Of course, Fiorina was laser focused on the “shoring” part but never really got it “right,” since as also pointed out by Boxer — Hewlett Packard lost more than 50% of its stock price under Fiorina’s control.

But Boxer missed the opportunity to elucidate how well aligned Ms. Fiorina is with the conservative extreme. She has spoken at Tea Party rallies and stated that she agrees with their views. She’s even a member of the tax-cuts-pay-for-themselves voodoo contingent of the Republican Party. Fiorina stated in a CBS interview that, “you don’t need to pay for tax cuts. They pay for themselves, if they are targeted, because they create jobs.” Never mind that even conservative economists no longer support such nonsense.

For whatever reason, Boxer also failed to support her own record for voting in favor of the Stimulus, and allowed Fiorina’s statement that it had, “manifestly failed,” to stand. Without doubt one of the easiest assertions to refute, being that the Stimulus has been a huge success by every objective measure, nevertheless Fiorina’s fact-free spin went unchallenged.

Part of the problem was the format for the debate. It allowed for response and rebuttal but provided no means for redress of erroneous claims made during a rebuttal. Fiorina used this to her advantage by using rebuttal time to introduce new points when she had no real argument for the topic at hand.

Fiorina was allowed to characterize her support of extending the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy as good for the middle class. Boxer would have been well served to illuminate the fact that it’s Democrats who have drawn the line in the sand and support the extension for all but the top 2%. Fiorina used a similar tactic when speaking about the estate tax. Of course, she referenced it as the “death tax,” and drew alarm to the 55% rate. But where she really left the truth behind was in associating the tax with the 88,000 family farms in California. Boxer should have made sure that the facts of the matter were voiced, that the experts all agree that there’s not been a single “family farm” hit by the estate tax. She should also have added that the Democratic plan to deal with the expiring cut would lower the top rate to 45% and only apply to estates over $7 million, which would apply to .25 percent of estates.

Boxer also allowed Fiorina to demonize federal employees by associating the increase in their number with the loss of jobs in California. It would have been nice if Boxer had mentioned that the increase is almost entirely related to temporary census positions, which hit its 564,000 job high in May. Although Boxer did take advantage of the opening to hammer on Fiorina’s offshoring record one more time: she introduced Fiorina’s characterization of the recent aid bill to save teacher’s jobs as a “disgrace,” and added that Fiorina was likely opposed because, “we paid for it by stopping some tax breaks for companies who ship jobs overseas.”

Another well delivered blow by Boxer occurred in her rebuttal to Fiorina’s response to a question regarding the apparent conflict between her accepting a $21 million severance package and yet taking a strong position that teacher jobs should be tied to performance. Fiorina attempted to dodge the question by offering several statistics regarding HP’s growth under her tenure, failing to mention that the growth was the result of a failed merger. But Boxer responded with a body blow, stating that, “I think we are entitled to our opinion but we’re not entitled to our own facts. The facts are there was a $21 million severance check, and my understanding is that it was taken after my opponent was fired.”

But Fiorina scored points on Boxer’s legislative record. Citing the fact that only 4 bills bearing Boxer’s name have been signed into law, she asserted that Boxer was an ineffective legislator. Boxer did rebut by stating that the objective is not to get your name on legislation, and offered Senator Russ Feingold as an example, stating that the campaign finance legislation commonly known as McCain-Feingold does not bear his name. She didn’t mention that Feingold too only passed 4 bills during his tenure, or that the reason his name was missing was that it was the House version that was signed into law. The fact is that Boxer has a well-deserved reputation for carrying liberal causes as well as for working across the aisle. She needs to build a case that she can recite in a succinct manner.

As Boxer stated, Fiorina is the candidate of Big-Oil and Big-Coal. She danced around the topic of global warming, offering possibly the evening’s most twisted stretch of double-talk. According to Fiorina, the solution to global warming, “lies not with a single state taking action on its own, but rather with global action.” So, evidently there’s really no reason for any entity to take a first step until we get everyone in line to make a change. Sounds like a good capitalist position — after all we can’t address the environment and be competitive with polluters like China at the same time.

In the end, it was likely more Fiorina’s exposing herself as a died-in-the-wool capitalist Republican that will sway more votes toward Boxer than anything else. It’s difficult to understand how a politician could think it advantageous to use China as an example of how to create jobs. But of course, it’s all a part of her one-trick-pony approach to all thing economic: cut taxes and regulations and all will be well — it’s the same prescription offered by all of her Republican cronies — a race to the bottom for American workers and the environment be damned.


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