Archive | Obama

Stop Criticizing President Obama for Playing Golf

In this polarized period of American politics, many people on the Right have been taking cheap shots at President Obama because he plays golf so much.

These golf-related criticisms are at least factually accurate, in contrast to the lies that Michael Moore told about George Bush supposedly vacationing much of the time. However, the criticisms of President Obama are misguided.

Of American Presidents since World War II, the one President who is now almost universally regarded as highly successful and constructive, by persons of all political persuasions, is President Dwight D. Eisenhower. While serving eight years as President of the United States, Eisenhower may have played over eight hundred rounds of golf. In other words, about twice a week.

Like President Obama, President Eisenhower was criticized by partisan opponents for his avid interest in golf.

Obviously there are many differences between President Eisenhower and President Obama. To begin with, the former came into office with demonstrated success in a very difficult executive job, Supreme Allied Commander Europe, defeating Hitler and Mussolini. By contrast, Obama was apparently successful as President of the Harvard Law Review, but was a failure at his only latter significant executive position, Chairman of the Board of the Chicago Annenberg Challenge, which attempted unsuccessfully to improve education in selected Chicago schools.

However, President Eisenhower demonstrated beyond any doubt that there is no inherent contradiction between being a good President and being an avid golfer. Indeed, golf helps clear the mind, and hardly any sport is better at fostering humility in participants.  So unless President Obama’s critics are willing to state that President Eisenhower golfed too much, they should stop carping about President Obama’s golfing. [...]

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Human Events’ ridiculous “Obama the Muslim” article

Ronald Reagan once said that the conservative D.C. weekly Human Events was his favorite newspaper. And with good reason. Back in the 1970s and 1980s, there were few significant alternatives to the then-hegemonic MSM. Along with National Review, which was Reagan’s favorite magazine, Human Events was an essential source for stories that the MSM refused to cover, and for perspectives that the MSM shut out or marginalized. Unfortunately, a recent article in Human Events falls very far below the solid journalism standards which helped Human Events earn the respect of Reagan and so many others.

Obama The Muslim,” by  Major Gen. Jerry Curry is an article not worthy of a fifth-rate blog, let alone a serious newspaper. The latter two-thirds of the article consists of criticisms of Obama’s policies on Israel and on Arizona border security. I generally agree with those criticisms, but they provide not a shred of evidence that Obama is a Muslim. Former President Jimmy Carter is extremely hostile to Israel, and he is obviously not a Muslim. U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) is extremely hostile to border security, and he is not a Muslim. 

So let’s consider the evidence that Curry deploys in the first third of the article:

“President Obama says there is nothing more beautiful than the Muslim call to prayer in the evening.” “Obama’s father and step-father were Muslims and he spent his childhood living in a Muslim country where his school enrollment records say his religion is Islam.”

–All approximately but not precisely true. Four years of his childhood in Indonesia, plus a school record there. The actual prayer call quote is “one of the prettiest sounds on Earth at sunset,” not “nothing more beautiful.” This is a starting point for Curry’s case, but in itself, not even close [...]

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Another Issue Where Barack Obama and I Agree – Repealing the Mortgage Interest Deduction

So far, I haven’t found much to agree on with President Obama other than gays in the military and the need for a playoff system for college football. However, I do support the administration’s proposal to repeal the tax deduction for mortgage interest for high-income taxpayers:

The popular tax break for mortgage interest, once considered untouchable, is falling under the scrutiny of policymakers and economic experts seeking ways to close huge deficits.

Although Congress last year rejected the White House’s proposed cut to the amount wealthier taxpayers can deduct for home mortgage interest payments, the administration included it again in its 2010 budget — saying it could save $208 billion over the next decade.

I’m no fan of tax increases. But I also think that government should be neutral between homeownership and renting. Economist Edward Glaeser summarizes the case against the mortgage interest deduction here.

Unfortunately, I doubt that the administration’s proposal will get any more traction in Congress this year than it did last year, when it failed miserably despite the fact that Obama had more clout then than he does now, when his popularity has dropped. Homeownership is popular, and higher-income homeowners and real estate developers have considerable political influence. Moreover, repealing the deduction may conflict with the administration’s (in my view misguided) efforts to prop up housing prices and encourage more lending to home-buyers.

Somehow, I doubt that my backing of Obama’s proposal is going to be enough to overcome the political odds against it. Then again, my endorsement was surely a crucial element in helping the Democrats gain control of the House of Representatives in 2006. I hope the president is more generous in rewarding me for my support than Nancy Pelosi was. Advertising revenue remains low, and we at [...]

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Racism and The Tea Partiers

Cathy Young has an interesting column digging deeper into the data. Here’s how it starts:

Ever since the “Tea Parties” gained national attention, the debate has raged on whether they are a grass-roots protest movement in the proud tradition of American dissent, or a hysterical mob driven by fear, intolerance and selfishness. Recently, two much-discussed surveys — a CBS/New York Times poll and a multi-state University of Washington poll — have been bandied about as proof that the leftist caricatures of the Tea Partiers as mean-spirited rich white bigots are accurate. Yet a look at the data suggests that this interpretation is highly skewed by political bias.

UPDATE: Relatedly, I haven’t heard any prominent “tea partier” make anything remotely resembling this blatant appeal to racial demography, courtesy of President Obama, in which he told activists that “it will be up to you to make sure that the young people, African-Americans, Latinos, and women who powered our victory in 2008 stand together once again.” [...]

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Legal Action and Political Action as a Two-Track Strategy for Opposing Obamacare

In a recent post, I suggested that Obamacare will be almost impossible to repeal through political action. History shows that it is extremely difficult to eliminate entitlements. In addition, repeal would require Republican congressional majorities and a Republican president; I doubt we will get both simultaneously for years to come. Although various state governments and conservative and libertarian activists are planning to file legal challenges to the bill, I also doubt that lawsuits alone can achieve that goal. The Supreme Court is reluctant to take on the political branches of government on major issues that are a high priority for Congress and the president. When it has done so in the past (as in the 1930s), it has usually lost.

But while neither legal nor political action is likely succeed by itself, a two-track strategy combining the two stands a better chance. Unlike most high-profile policy initiatives enacted with strong presidential and congressional support, Obamacare is generally unpopular. Polls show substantial opposition to it, with opponents outnumbering supporters by 10 to 20 points (see here and here). If majority opinion continues to oppose the bill and Republicans make big gains in November as a result, the courts might be less hesitant to strike it down. They will not face any political retribution if they strike down a bill that most of the public and a new congressional majority actually opposes. Indeed, their public standing might even increase if they did so. As co-blogger Randy Barnett puts it:

[I]f this legislation is popular, they are unlikely to strike it down. But if it is deeply unpopular, and one or both houses of Congress flip parties as a result, then the legislation is much more vulnerable. Assuming the Supreme Court follows the election returns, as “realists” claim.

We [...]

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Crisis, the Health Care Bill, and the Growth of Government

The passage of the health care demonstrates the ways in which economic crises create opportunities to expand the power of government, often in ways that have little connection to any effort to alleviate the crisis itself. Back in the fall of 2008, I expressed my fear that the combination of an economic crisis, political ignorance by voters, and unified Democratic control of the federal government would lead to a vast expansion of government if Obama were elected. White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel famously said that the Democrats shouldn’t let “a serious crisis go to waste” because a crisis represents “an opportunity to do things you could not do before.”

I. Once Again, a Crisis Facilitates the Growth of Government.

Obama and the Democrats began to realize my expectations by passing a gargantuan “stimulus” bill and pushing a massive expansion of government control over health care, as well as promoting other major increases in the size and scope of government. But recent Republican political victories, especially Scott Brown’s win in Massachusetts, led many people to think that the health care bill would fail and the expansion of government might come to a halt. I had to admit that I had underestimated the political constraints inhibiting the administration. But I still thought that Democrats might be able to pass the bill by getting the House to adopt the proposal previously passed by the Senate – which has indeed happened.

The health care bill will now take its place with numerous Depression and wartime policies that expanded government in ways that would never have been possible absent the crisis, but which had no real connection to alleviating it. Absent the economic crisis, the Democrats would not have won such a sweeping victory in 2008, nor would Obama have had such an [...]

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Obama’s Speech at the Patriot Center

If the Washington Post’s report is correct, and 8,000 people turned out, the real news is that two days before the big health care vote, Obama couldn’t fill a 10,000 seat arena at a university with 30,000 students (albeit many part-time), in a state and county Obama won, with many of the seats undoubtedly taken up by Democratic activists from the D.C. area.

It’s not like Obama is inherently incapable of drawing big crowds, including at less portentous moments. Compare this, for example, with a February 2008 rally in Seattle that drew 18,000 attendees plus another 3,000 “overflow.” Or a rally of 14,000 in Boise (!) the same week.

Apparently, the Obama folks themselves expected a bigger crowd, because the first rule of political theater is that you always want the audience to look “packed.” The thrill, apparently is gone.

UPDATE: Student reporters at Mason also count about 2,000 empty seats (despite the headline that Obama “fills” the Patriot Center).

FURTHER UPDATE: Obama drew over 100,000 people at October 2008 campaign rallies in St. Louis and Denver. Not directly analogous events, of course, but it still must be something of a shock to the Obama administration that they can’t fill a relatively dinky indoor stadium on a large university campus a stone’s throw from D.C. two days before what is likely to be the most important vote of his presidency. Wavering Democrats in the House beware…

One more update: A conservative blogger who attended claims that the Patriot Center was half empty, and that the eight thousand figure is exaggerated. [...]

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Bloggers: Both side critical of party chairs. Disagree somewhat, but not entirely, on health care chances, and Obama as a one-term President

This week, the National Journal poll of political bloggers moves to a new spot on the NJ website, “The Hotline Blogometer.” Besides the weekly poll, the Blogometer contains a daily report on what leading liberal and conservative political bloggers are writing about the controversies of the moment. In this week’s poll, bloggers were asked “On a scale of 0 to 10, what’s the likelihood that Congress will pass health care reform?” Based on the information that was available in the earlier part of this week, the Left answered 7.8, while the Right said 5.6. Which is not terribly far apart.

I voted for 5, and wrote “In May 1994, President Clinton used the full force of his office to convince House Democrats to drive their majority off a cliff, by enacting a ban on so-called ‘assault weapons’ (ordinary firearms with cosmetically incorrect features). President Obama and House leadership seem determined to repeat a similar mistake, except on a much greater scale.”

Question 2 asked the Left “Is Tim Kaine an asset or a liability as DNC chairman?” The Right was asked about Michael Steele and the RNC. On both sides, only 31% voted for “asset.” The only writer who had anything good to say about Michael Steele was me: “Probably some of each. Still having trouble understanding that his job is to help the team, not to be the star.”

Finally, the bloggers were asked if Obama would be a one-term President. Thirty-one percent on the Left, and 71 percent on the Right thought so. Of course it’s far too early to predict with any confidence, but perhaps it would be accurate to say that his current chances for re-election are in the 30-70% range. He’s far from doomed, but not looking particularly solid right now either. I guessed the [...]

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“Obama Effect” Spurs Record Number of Nobel Peace Prize Nominations

The award of the Nobel Peace Prize to Barack Obama last year, despite the very modest nature of his success in actually achieving peace so far, has stimulated a record number of nominations for the prize this year:

A record 237 people and organizations have been nominated for the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize, with interest boosted by last year’s award to President Barack Obama, organizers said on Wednesday.

The world’s media focused on the Peace Prize after Obama was the unexpected choice for what some see as the world’s highest accolade, although he had been in office for just nine months and critics said he had only spelt out visions of peace.

“This is the highest number of nominations … last year’s prize to Barack Obama has further enhanced interest in the prize,” Geir Lundestad, head of the Norwegian Nobel Institute, told Reuters.

In fairness, Obama is far from the worst-qualified winner of the Prize. His candidacy was much more impressive than that of the assorted terrorists (e.g. Yasir Arafat and Sean MacBride) and totalitarian oppressors (Le Duc Tho) who have won the award previously. Looking at the full list of past winners, my tentative view is that Obama was better qualified than roughly the bottom 20-30% of his predecessors. In most cases, however, I reach that judgment based on a far less favorable view of some of the previous winners than the Nobel committee probably had. Still, one could argue that Obama was a worthy winner based on the implicit standards established by prior awards. Obama also deserves credit for making an excellent speech when he accepted the prize (see here and here for favorable assessments by my co-bloggers).

As a law professor, I’m one of the many people who have the right to enter nominations [...]

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Bloggers foresee big political benefits in health bill. Split Ax vs. Rahm

This week’s National Journal poll of political bloggers asked left-leaning political bloggers “If Congress enacts something close to President Obama’s latest health care reform plan, how would that affect the Democratic Party in the midterm elections?” The right-leaning bloggers were asked the same question about the effect on Republicans. On the Left, 40% said that enactment would help Democrats a lot, and 27% said it would help a little. On the Right, 77% said it would help Republicans a lot, and 18% thought it would help a little. I thought it would help Republicans a lot, and wrote, “This is yet another example in which the best thing that Democrats can do to harm the Republicans in the next election is also the best thing that they can do for the country: namely, defeat Obamacare.”

The second question asked: “Would the Obama administration be better off if these individuals [David Axelrod and Rahm Emmanuel]  had more influence, or less influence?” On the Left, 64% favored more influence for Axelrod, and 100% wanted less influence for Emmanuel. On the Right, 93% wanted less influence for Axelrod, and 50% wanted more influence for Emmanuel. I wrote: “Rahm is politically brilliant, and has a sense of the possible. Imagine how much stronger Obama might be right now if he had followed Rahm’s advice to pass a variety of discrete fixes for health care rather than investing his entire presidency in a huge omnibus bill.” In contrast, “Axelrod’s recent interview in the N.Y. Times indicates that he is among the Obama devotees who have wrongly convinced themselves that the only problem with Obamacare is messaging, rather than substance. [...]

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“Poll Finds Edge for Obama Over G.O.P. Among the Public”

That’s the headline on the N.Y. Times’s home page.

Of course, headlines don’t always reflect the actual article, but here’s how the article starts:

WASHINGTON — At a time of deepening political disaffection and intensified distress about the economy, President Obama enjoys an edge over Republicans in the battle for public support, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll.

This seemed like an interesting and somewhat contrarian conclusion, so I decided to look at the polling questions.  It turns out that  if you look at the actual poll, the results say no such thing.  What the poll does tell you is that Obama is more popular than Congressional Republicans.  On the other hand, Obama is more popular than Congressional Democrats, too.  Obama is not going to be running against Congressional Republicans.  Congressional Republicans are going to be running against Congressional Democrats, and Obama is going to be running in 2.5 years against a Republican who almost certainly won’t come from the ranks of Congressional Republicans.

The poll also shows that the public blames the Bush Administration more than it blames the Obama Administration for the nation’s economic troubles.  But the poll also shows that nearly as many Americans identify as Republicans than as Democrats, and that the percentage of people who prefer a smaller government with fewer services has increased substantially since Obama took office, to a 56-34 majority.  That’s hardly good news for Obama and his agenda, especially given that the poll surveyed everyone, not just likely voters, and likely voters lean Republican compared to the general public.

The poll, more generally, neither shows that Obama is doomed to political oblivion, nor that he has a clear “edge over [the] GOP.”  It would have been interesting if the poll had asked voters whether they preferred [...]

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“Birther” claim about Obama and the Bush National Guard hoax: Fruit of the same poisonous tree?

So suggests John Avalon, in a Daily Beast column “The Secret History of the Birthers.” He traces birtherism to a Texas woman named Linda Starr, who was a Hillary Clinton delegate to the 2008 Texas state Democratic Convention. Avalon writes that Starr “was also cited as a key source for CBS’ discredited election year investigation into George W. Bush’s National Guard records that led to Dan Rather’s replacement after 24 years as the evening news anchor.” Avalon links to the Thornburgh/Boccardi report, which was conducted at the request of CBS News to examine CBS’s conduct in producing the infamous 60 Minutes story about Bush supposedly evading National Guard service and then having the records scrubbed. As the report details, Starr made the claim about Bush in an article on her website, three days before the 2000 presidential election. She also played a key role in serving as an intermediary for CBS to obtain the document which purported to be National Guard memo regarding the removal of NG records about Bush. The Thornburgh/Boccardi report does not claim that Ms. Starr knew that the document  was a clumsy fabrication.

At the very least, however, the fiasco of the Bush National Guard story shows that Ms. Starr did not provide her Internet readers, or CBS, with a story which could withstand factual scrutiny. Accordingly, if Avalon’s reporting is correct, he has provided yet another reason for people to disbelieve the (already-implausible) assertion that President Obama was not born in the United States. In contrast to the way the mainstream media initially handled the 2004 Bush National Guard story, the mainstream media did a better job in 2008 by not embracing a story about a presidential candidate which could not be supported by solid, verifiable facts. [...]

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