Opinion

David Rohde

Obama’s ‘war on inequality’

David Rohde
Feb 14, 2013 00:03 UTC

He quoted Jack Kennedy but sounded more like Lyndon Johnson.

In an audacious State of the Union address Tuesday, President Barack Obama made sweeping proposals to reduce poverty, revive the middle class and increase taxes on the “well off.” While careful to not declare it outright, an emboldened second-term president laid out an agenda that could be called a “war on inequality.”

“There are communities in this country where no matter how hard you work, it is virtually impossible to get ahead,” Obama declared in a blunt attack one a core conservative credo. “And that’s why we need to build new ladders of opportunity into the middle class for all who are willing to climb them.”

In his 1964 State of the Union address, Johnson introduced the legislation that became known as the “War on Poverty.” Those laws – along with many others he shepherded – stand today as perhaps the greatest legislative achievement of any modern president. Whether or not one agrees with him, Johnson’s laws – from the Civil Rights Act, to Medicaid, Medicare and Head Start, to sweeping federal urban renewal and education programs – changed the face of American society.

Obama, of course, is very different from LBJ and governing in a vastly different time. While Johnson excelled at cajoling legislators, Obama reportedly finds it distasteful. Where Johnson could offer new federal programs, Obama must maneuver in an age where the federal government is distrusted. And while Johnson had full government coffers, Obama lives in an era of crushing fiscal constraint.

Those differences, though, make Obama’s second inaugural address and Tuesday’s State of the Union all the more remarkable. As Richard W. Stevenson noted in the New York Times, “he continued trying to define a 21st-century version of liberalism that could outlast his time in office and do for Democrats what Reagan did for Republicans.”

Will the fiscal cliff raise taxes on the middle class?

David Rohde
Nov 29, 2012 21:46 UTC

With rising Democratic opposition to cuts in social spending and Republican leaders reiterating their opposition to raising taxes on the wealthy, talks on avoiding the fiscal cliff were at a standstill Thursday.

Officials on both sides of the debate say the political jockeying is likely to continue this week. But they warn that the details of a compromise must emerge next week if an agreement is to be reached in time.

Erskine Bowles, the co-chair of the bipartisan Simpson-Bowles deficit reduction task force, said on Wednesday that he was skeptical that a deal would be reached. Bowles put the chances of an agreement before the end of the year at roughly one in three.

On housing, disappointing silence from Obama & Romney

David Rohde
Oct 25, 2012 22:10 UTC

For the last six months, Barack Obama and Mitt Romney have battled ferociously to be seen as the true champion of the middle class. Yet neither candidate has offered concrete solutions for — indeed they have rarely raised — a central economic issue: the housing crisis.

How can the collapsing home prices that pummeled the middle class hardest — accounting for three-quarters of the  loss of wealth since 2007 — not be a campaign issue? Why is a principal cause of the economic downturn the focus of so little debate?

One explanation is simple. Across the country, the housing market is picking up. In September, new home construction increased by fifteen percent, its fastest rate in four years. And after seeing home mortgages become economic yokes that prevented their parents from moving out of depressed areas, many young Americans are less interested in buying homes.

The jobs answer that Jeremy Epstein – and the middle class – deserved

David Rohde
Oct 18, 2012 21:36 UTC

Since asking the candidates at Tuesday’s presidential debate how they would improve his job prospects, college junior Jeremy Epstein has been lionized on Twitter, repeatedly interviewed on television and declared a nerdy sex symbol.

Unfortunately, as they have throughout the campaign, Romney and Obama avoided details when answering Epstein’s thoughtful question. Instead, they lampooned each others’ records and policies. Such answers are to be expected, arguably, in the waning weeks of an extraordinarily tight presidential campaign.

But an analysis of Obama’s and Romney’s specific proposals and the positions of their key advisers – particularly when it comes to creating manufacturing jobs – shows that voters do face a critical choice. This is, in fact, an election that will send the federal government in one of two very different directions when it comes to long-term job creation.

Parsing Romney’s and Obama’s middle-class pablum

David Rohde
Sep 7, 2012 12:30 UTC

Throughout the last two weeks of political conventions, Barack Obama, Mitt Romney and a vast array of surrogates accused their opponents of gutting the American middle class.

Paul Ryan and Bill Clinton did it blatantly. Michelle Obama and Ann Romney did it subtly. And all speakers tried to portray themselves as in touch with the middle class, from the Romneys eating “lots of pasta and tuna fish” to Barack Obama’s proudest possession being “a coffee table he’d found in a dumpster.”

In the process, though, both parties gave politically skewed definitions of the middle class, simplistically blamed each other for its struggles and presented pat solutions for the complex problems it faces.

Make immigration a campaign issue

David Rohde
Sep 4, 2012 15:58 UTC

John Weston, Eric Buckland and Mike Bloomberg don’t have much in common.

Weston is a farmer struggling to keep in business the 1,000-acre farm his family has operated in Western Maine for seven generations.

Buckland is an entrepreneur who runs a small high-tech manufacturing company in North Carolina’s famed Research Triangle Park that makes handheld retinal scanners.

And Mike Bloomberg is the billionaire mayor of New York who doesn’t have many struggles at all.

How Obama and Romney can up their middle-class game

David Rohde
Apr 13, 2012 01:13 UTC

Barack Obama is going to save America’s middle class by taxing the rich and fostering an American manufacturing renaissance. Mitt Romney is going to revive it by creating more jobs for women and rewarding successful people instead of punishing them.

Welcome to the so-far deeply disappointing 2012 general election. This week’s middle-class-related broadsides from both campaigns bordered on the comic.

Obama’s promoting of the Buffett Rule in Florida on Tuesday was smart politics, but the measure is unlikely to create jobs or significantly reduce the deficit. Even liberal pundits assailed it as an election-year “gimmick.”

The Arab world’s Silicon Valley?

David Rohde
Mar 30, 2012 01:20 UTC

Update: At Leila Charfi’s request, I added a paragraph below and shortened her quote to give it more context. She was concerned that the original version highlighted the role of the Internet in Tunisia’s revolution but did not credit street protesters. At least 219 protesters died during the uprising, according to the UN.

TUNIS — Last November, dozens of young Arabs lined up for the chance to meet him. When he spoke of his struggles and triumphs, they hung on his every word. And when only one of the 50 attendees was chosen for training, some of the young Arabs grew frustrated and complained of being excluded.

A jihadist back from battling Americans in Afghanistan? A recruiter for al Qaeda’s North African affiliate? A Hamas member looking for volunteers to attack Israel?

Inside Islam’s culture war

David Rohde
Mar 8, 2012 22:38 UTC

ISTANBUL – In a state-of-the-art television studio here, the Islamic world’s version of America’s culture war is playing out in a lavishly re-created 16th century palace.

A dashing Turkish actor plays Suleiman the Magnificent, the Ottoman ruler who conquered vast swaths of the Middle East and Europe, granted basic rights to Christians and Jews, and promoted education, science and art.

To Turkish conservatives, the series maligns a revered ruler known as “the lawgiver” whose military prowess and legal reforms placed the Ottomans at the zenith of their power. Set in the palace harem, early episodes featured a young Suleiman cavorting with scantily clad women and drinking wine. The sex was frequent.

Mitt and the middle class

David Rohde
Feb 3, 2012 02:32 UTC

Mitt Romney’s declaration that he wasn’t concerned about “the very poor” was lampooned by Republicans and Democrats alike this week. But his next statement in a CNN interview is the one that could determine the fate of his candidacy.

“I’m concerned about the very heart of America,” Romney said, adding later: “My focus is on middle-income Americans.”

With astonishing speed, the 2012 presidential election is becoming a referendum on how best to help the American middle class. So far, Romney’s solutions are likely to be far more pleasing to the Republican base than the general electorate.

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