Saturday, June 30, 2012

Did President Obama Waste too Much Political Capital on Healthcare Reform

In 2004, after being re-elected by 51 percent, then-President George W. Bush remarked "I earned capital in the political campaign and I intend to spend it." If President Bush could say he earned capital in his re-election, it is fair to say President Obama had a great deal more capital in his first term than his predecessor. Though he only won 53 percent of the vote, his approval rating coming into office was in the high 70s. While his immediate concern was passing an economic stimulus project, his true priority was passing comprehensive healthcare reform, which was evident even in his 2007 announcement of his candidacy. As a result, the President's approval rating nosedived, gave impetus to the rise of the Tea Party, and became the subject of scorn for many in his political base.

Now in the wake of the Supreme Court's 5-4 decision to uphold the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, President Obama appears to be enjoying some political vindication. In a statement prepared after the decision, President Obama remarked "it should be pretty clear that I didn't do this because it was easy politics. I did it because it's good for the country." While this statement may allow the President to gain some sense of moral superiority, given his open disdain for playing beltway politics, it does raise the question of what he could have conducted the healthcare fight that would have been "good politics.

When he came into office, the United States Economy had just witnessed the collapse of the financial system, which led to the bailouts of Wall Street and the Auto industry. As a result there was a public outpouring of outrage against what many people felt was the reckless practices of bankers. Had the President's first major fight been for Wall Street reform, it is very possible he could have used the populist sentiment to bolster any kind of regulations he could have wished for. Moreover, when he was met with opposition from Republicans, he could have rebutted that it was they who were siding with the financial institutions that there was antipathy towards. With popular opinion on his side, it is very possible that the President could have gotten the rules for banks that he truly wanted with a robust Volcker Rule, as opposed to the anemic version that has been rejected by Sheila Bair and even its namesake.

With this victory in hand, the President would have had the wind at his back, giving him a boost that would allow him to come into the healthcare fight from a position of strength and would have possibly allowed him to keep the Public Option. Yet, by primarily focusing on healthcare reform and not on what many felt was the cause of the economic crisis, the populace was left scrambling to understand why he was not putting laser focus on the banking industry. In turn, with the Tea Party storming town halls and with Republicans in Congress obstinately refusing to negotiate, the President wound up squandering his entire first year in exchange for a piecemeal bill that wound up looking quite similar to the health reform bill passed in Massachusetts by his now-opponent, Governor Mitt Romney.

President Obama has always appeared to pride himself in not "stooping" to the levels of his political opponents and doing the politically convenient thing. However, it is fair to say that had the President gone with public opinion and done the expedient thing of focusing on Wall Street Reform, he could have also done the inconvenient fight for healthcare and in turn, gotten true strong reform, with true change the public could believe in.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

The Blog is Re-Open for Business

Ever since starting this blog, I have admittedly been quite negligent, and have usually taken to writing on my Facebook Notes Page. However, in light of my desire to show my original sources and the overall better structure of Blogger, I feel compelled to give this blog a proper re-starting. Hence I am proud to re-christen the old "Philosophical Bluesman" blog as "The EMG Blog: Amplified for Your Pleasure."

As a Modus Operandi, the EMG Blog will serve as a free-form blog, that will cover a wide array of topics, from domestic politics, to foreign policy, to the culture that politics exists in, as well as critiques of books, essays, music and movies. All of the opinions here will be mine and mine alone. The EMG Blog will strive for independence, and, despite inevitably carrying some of the biases of the blogger-as is the case with any blog-it will not serve as a mouthpiece for any one party, ideology, or platform. In addition, I will strive for honesty in the use of all resources and will be as honest as my understanding of the facts as I can possibly be.

In keeping with that spirit, if someone can, with primary sources and well-substantiated arguments correct me, I will be more than willing to admit I am wrong. In addition, any time I critique fellow bloggers or writers, I will post my sources so that you, the reader, can examine for yourself and see if I misunderstood the facts.

With all of this in mind, I am excited to re-start the EMG Blog and begin the conversation.

Shimon Peres: The Anti-Bibi

Last Week, President Barack Obama honored Israeli President Shimon Peres with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest honor a President can confer on a Civilian. The event was a heartening moment to display solidarity between the two countries, with President Obama praising Peres' longstanding efforts to achieve peace with Palestine, and his service to the state of Israel. Peres meanwhile, spoke highly of President Obama and stood in solidarity with the American leader in regards to his support for US policy towards Iran.

Since taking office, President Obama has enjoyed a less-than-friendly relationship with Israel's head of government, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, infamously having a "hot-mic" scandal when he agreed with then-French President Nikolas Sarkozy's dislike for Netanyahu. The Obama and Netanyahu Administrations has led to disagreements not only on Iran's nuclear program and the probability of a military strike by Israel, but as well as ever-looming question about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Early in his Administration, President Obama pushed for a settlement freeze by the Israeli government and worked to offer a peace solution as an alternative to Palestine having the UN vote to recognize them; in both instances, Netanyahu fiercely opposed the Administration. In turn, his 2012 re-election opponent Governor Romney has taken to saying he will do "the opposite" of President Obama in regards to Israel.

In turn, the ideological and policy disagreements give President Obama and President Peres a common bond. Peres and Netanyahu have a sordid past and hail from differing ideologies in regards to Zionism. Peres was a protege of David Ben-Gurion, the first Prime Minister of Israel and a proponent of left-wing Labor Zionism, and Netanyahu was the son of Benzion Netanyahu, a Revisionist Zionist who slammed Menachem Begin for conceding the Sinai in the Camp David Accords. Peres was also involved in the Oslo Accords, a deal that prompted then Opposition Leader Netanyahu to opine made the leader of Peres' Party Yitzhak Rabin "worse than Neville Chamberlain." Peres and Netanyahu have clashed not only ideologically, but at the polls as well, when in 1996, Netanyahu beat Peres by less than half a percent.

However, in the modern day, Peres has served as a sort of foil to the hard line policies of Netanyahu, taking almost the opposite position on virtually every issue. In light of fears of Iran obtaining a nuclear weapon, Netanyahu accused the United States and the other nations engaged in the P5+1 talks in regards to the Nuclear program of giving the Islamic Republic a "freebie," in the first round of negotiations, and Defense Minister Ehud Barak saying Israel still might attack Iran despite negotiations. Peres on the other hand has adamantly stated that his firm belief that "Only America Can Manage the Iran Situation," and has spoken in praise of President Obama's Sanctions.

On the issue of the Arab Spring, Netanyahu has criticized the uprisings in Arab Countries as being "Islamic, anti-Western, anti-Liberal, anti-Israeli and undemocratic wave. Meanwhile, in an interactive interview on his Facebook page, Peres took a much more measured tone, saying that "[Israel] has to handle it with great care and consideration, with great restraints in our remarks," almost clearly alluding to the inflammatory statements by the head of government. In addition, Peres has stated he believed the Islamic parties will fade if they do not address the pressing economic issues of the youth in their countries.

Of course, perhaps the greatest diversion between the two men comes in their views towards Peace. Netanyahu has shown opposition to almost any concession of land as part of a peace deal-famously resigning from Ariel Sharon's coalition after the disengagement from Gaza and calling President Obama's 2011 plan "indefensible." As one of the Architects of the Declarations of Principles, Peres has conversely been an indefatigable advocate for Peace, urging Israel not to delay the Peace Process. In light of these differences, it is possible that President Obama's accolades to Peres was  a clear sign of that he is an ardent supporter of the Israel of Ben-Gurion, Rabin and Peres and not the vision of Netanyahu, Barak and Lieberman.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Leftists must Avoid Hero Worship

This week, former President George Herbert Walker Bush celebrated his eighty-eighth birthday with much fanfare. In the past months, many journalists have pointed out that the Republican Party is the most conservative than any other incarnation in the past century. This has been a large sticking point for President Obama, who awarded the Elder Bush with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2011. As a result, George H.W Bush, whose conservative credentials were always seen as spurious to the point that he was primaried by Pat Buchanan,  is enjoying a revival, including among liberals mourn the fact that the GOP has seemingly purged anyone with an iota of centrist leanings.

Similarly, President Bill Clinton is enjoying a renaissance of his own for the past three years.  He famously went to North Korea to retrieve two journalists who were sentenced to labor by Kim Jong Il, and gave a notoriously awkward press conference with President Obama endorsing the extension of the George W. Bush Tax Cuts. In addition, Clinton with his 2011 book, Back to Work: Why We Need Smart Government for a Strong Economy, in which he lays out the need for government action in order to revive the economy, as well give some not-so-subtle nudges to President Obama about how to steer his policy and attack Republicans. In addition, Clinton has served as a campaign surrogate for the President, holding a fundraiser last month and sending him to Wisconsin for the recall election.

Yet, while both men did have significant accomplishments, it also important that they not be beatified to the point that either their supporters in their own party or those in the opposition who use their statements as fodder for their own agenda put their records beyond reproach. While President George H.W. Bush may have had a more civil tone to him than today's average Tea Party Patriot, liberals should also remember that he was far from being civil with his opponents. A client of Lee Atwater and Roger Ailes, he was more than willing to engage in smear tactics against Michael Dukakis and Roger Ailes to portray him as somehow less American, a charge often hurled by conservative pundits on Ailes' own Fox News. While not necessarily pandering to evangelicals in the same way as Senator Rick Santorum, he did say that he did not think atheists should be considered American Citizens. In addition, far from the gentlemanly image that H.W. portrays now about refraining from partisan bickering, he was an ardent critic of the Clinton Administration.

Similarly, the left must also take caution when praising a former President in their own party. Much of Clinton's resurgence is a result of President Obama's reservations about going on the offensive against Republicans in Congress. Indeed, when President Obama's at times naivete prevents him from achieving truly progressive goals and his attempts to bring Republicans into the fold lead him to passing piecemeal legislation, it is easy to want someone willing to be pugnacious against the GOP. However, what is important to realize with Clinton, is that while Clinton did indeed willing to publicly shame Republicans, his Presidency was not one of remarkable Progressive accomplishments. He failed to pass healthcare reform in 1993-1994, hired economic champions of deregulation and Wall Street knows-best mentality like Robert Rubin, Jack Lew, and Larry Summers as his closest advisers and in his 1996 State of the Union Address, remarked "The Era of Big Government is Over." At times, Clinton was more than willing to sacrifice a true policy win in order to secure a victory in the political realm, most infamously with adviser Susan Rice's wariness on using the word Genocide to describe the atrocities in Rwanda before an election.

None of this is to say that neither of these men deserve to be admired for their accomplishments. Indeed, President George H.W. Bush's even-handedness on the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict is something to be admired, as is his handling of the collapse of the Soviet Union and his management of the Persian Gulf War. Similarly, President Clinton's work towards balancing the budget, and make the Democratic Party viable again after twelve years in the wilderness are works of political brilliance. However, to hail either man as vanguards for the left to hold up as a standard to be admired is as ridiculous as completely disregarding their legacies.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Peter Beinart gets it Wrong

When it comes to the Middle East, and Israel Palestine, there are few writers who are more controversial right now than Peter Beinart. His new book, the Crisis of Zionism, has either elicted vitriol and praise among Israel/Palestine writers' circles. Even if one opposes Beinart's theses or approaches to make Israel a better liberal democracy, the book is still an important read. Yet, this week, Beinart published an article regarding the current crisis in Syria where President Bashar Al-Assad is killing his own people.

In an article forthe Daily Beast, Beinart claims "Let me be clear: I’m not proposing that we try to kill Assad," but rather asserts that "Given how far America has moved in that direction in recent years, trying to assassinate Bashar al-Assad doesn’t seem radical at all." However, throughout the article, Beinart displays a misunderstanding of America's history of assassinations.

 First, Beinart explains "the United States has made it pretty clear—especially under President Obama—that we are willing to kill in order to stop regimes from butchering their own people." To assert his point, Beinart points to Kosovo, Serbia, and Libya and the fact that all of those instances the United States was willing to intervene. However, Beinart misses a crucial point; while the US did intervene, in none of those cases, did the United States kill the actual leaders of these movements.

Slobodan Milosevic, who was an instigator in the Kosovo and Bosnian conflicts was put on trial for his actions and died whilst awaiting trial. Libyan strongman Moammar Qaddafi was not killed by the Americans but rather was executed by a group of rebels and even then there was controversy, with Archbishop Desmond Tutu, a vocal critic of Qaddafi, saying the action discredited the legitimate desires of the Libyan people. In those instances, the US took on a supporting role, and committing an assasination would be taking a front seat role because by killing the leader, one becomes directly responsible for ensuring there is future leadership.

He continues in claiming that because the United States is willing to kill terrorists, they should be willing to kill heads of state. Yet Beinart's analogy is flawed. Whether the drone strikes or targeted assassinations are justified or even constitutional is besides the point-at least for this blog post; they are not committed against foreign heads of state but rather a group of terrorist thugs. Other than dealing with the ire of Pakistani or Afghan heads of state and the civilian casualties, there is no need to prop up a new provisional temporary person to take the place of these leaders, like there would be with killing Assad.

This point is proven by Beinart's further misreading of history when he says that the United States has lead coups that caused the deaths of heads of state, such as Salvador Allende in Chile, Ngo Dinh Diem in Vietnam and Saddam Hussein in Iraq, as if these were all successful examples to point to. Yet what Beinart fails to mention is that all of these instances led to extreme difficulties for the civilian populations and Beinart shows a bit of intellectual carelessness by using the freshly-ended Iraq War as an example.

Furthermore, there is a great degree of hypocrisy in this claim. In it, he says "Fine, you say, but there’s an executive order against assassinating heads of state. That’s true, but we don’t exactly abide by it." Yet, with this Machiavellian statement, Beinart completely ruins any moral authority to preach the thesis behind the Crisis of Zionism, which urges Israel to live up to the democratic values as conceived by David Ben-Gurion, Theodor Herzl and Stephen Wise. In addition, in an interview with CBS' the Early Show, Beinart distinctly stated "Pro-American is what is in line with the principles of our constitution and declaration of independence not what our government does." If Beinart uses executives flouting laws to justify killing heads of state, how can he expect to hold Israel accountable to its own democratic ideals?