Opinion

The Great Debate

Why Obama needs a primary challenge

By Nicholas Wapshott
The opinions expressed are his own.

There is talk in the air of a Democratic challenge to Obama. Since the Tea Party won the battle of the debt ceiling, it has been solid bad news for the president, and his party is wondering whether he is capable – or even genuinely wants – a second term. It is all very well being the world’s coolest guy, but, when you are leader of a party losing rock solid safe seats and alienating the very independent voters who decide who lives in the White House, you may be  leaving it a bit late to turn the tide. In the latest teasing McClatchy-Maris poll, Obama is both facing defeat — Americans say they will vote against him by 49 percent to 36, with 52 percent to 38 predicting he will lose — but he would beat every GOP candidate currently on offer.

No sooner had James Carville shouted “Panic!” about the state of drift in the West Wing, and demanded that “a lot” of heads roll, than Al Gore’s nemesis, Ralph Nader, announced he was championing a Democratic primary challenge to Obama from half a dozen candidates, though Nader is not even a registered Democrat. According to the Washington Times, an unlikely bellwether of liberal thinking, “More than 45 Democrats are supporting the move, and the candidates will be experts in fields ranging from poverty to the military.”

Among the mavericks named to lead this progressive revolt are the Princeton professor who starred in The Matrix Reloaded movie, Cornel West, the Zen Buddhist priest and actor Peter Coyote, the singer of Anchorage, Michelle Shocked, and the Democrats’ answer to William F. Buckley Jr., Gore Vidal. Asked whether he would be a stalking horse, the usually immodest kamikaze presidential wannabe Dennis Kucinich said he would decline the chance to stand himself, but said, “I think he should [face a Democratic challenger]. It would make him a better president.”

It may be tricky to find a suitable candidate, let alone a raft of them, to take on Obama. Those who challenge incumbents, such as Ted Kennedy against Jimmy Carter and Pat Buchanan against George H. W. Bush, end up as popular as a ringing cell phone in a Renée Fleming aria at the Met. No one with serious ambitions to succeed Obama, in victory or defeat, would risk the opprobrium that daring to strike the first blow brings, even when, as Bloomberg reports, one in three Democrats say they would welcome a contest.

But would a Democratic primary race, as Kucinich suggests, make Obama a better president? Quite likely. To regain his lost popularity, Obama must first shore up his base. Primaries would shift the national conversation from Republican debate territory, where each candidate takes it in turn to out-Hayek the others, to Obama’s home terrain: jobs and the economy; the economy and jobs.

Tea Party has morphed culture wars into economic combat

By Nicholas Wapshott
The opinions expressed are his own.

As Margot Channing put it in All About Eve, “Fasten your seat belts. It’s going to be a bumpy night.” The battle over Obama’s jobs bill marks the opening of the Keynes Hayek election, which, if the poisonous duel between the two giants of economics is anything to go by, will be a down and dirty clash of opposites. Obama will champion intervening in the economy to get Americans back to work, while his rival will demand a shrunken government and the speedy repayment of the national debt.

The first shots in this snarky contest have already been fired. Take Obama’s dismissal, in his speech to both houses of Congress, of the Hayekian notion that government is too costly and largely unnecessary: “This larger notion – that the only thing we can do to restore prosperity is just dismantle government, refund everybody’s money, and let everyone write their own rules, and tell everyone they’re on their own — that’s not who we are. That’s not the story of America.” Obama finds himself defending the whole of the Democrats’ progressive record, from Roosevelt’s New Deal to Johnson’s Big Society.

Most aggressive in his assault upon Keynesianism is Rick Perry, who declared in the Reagan Library last week that Obama “has proven for once and for all that government spending will not create one job. Keynesian policy and Keynesian theory is now done. We’ll never have to have that experiment on America again.” Gingrich, too, thinks “the American people create jobs, not government.” Most Hayekian is Ron Paul, who said his first act in the White House would be to “bring a course in Austrian economics to teach the people the business cycle and why the Fed creates inflation and depressions and all our unemployment problems.”

Obama at the electoral tipping point

By Cliff Young and Chris Jackson
The opinions expressed are their own.

The Obama administration finds itself between a rock and a hard place.  On one side, an emboldened Republican Party smells blood, with their largely successful (politically speaking) full court press on the debt issue and dominance of the news cycle.  On the other, the economic news—both domestically and internationally—has been depressing at best, and downright scary at worst.

Given this dreary backdrop, the common wisdom among pundits and politicos is that Obama has been winged and is beatable in 2012.  Pundits offer varied reasons for this new found pessimism in Obama.

Some cite the dangers of a weakening economy on voters’ mood for “more of the same.”  Indeed, history suggests that no post-WWII president has won reelection when the unemployment rate was above 7.2 percent—bad news for Obama since unemployment looks to remain above 8.5 percent over the next year. Others stress Obama moving too far to the left with a “big government” agenda, while others say Obama has alienated his base by giving in too readily to Republican demands.  Underlining all these critiques are warnings of a Carter-esque “crisis of confidence” scenario where voters lose faith in Obama’s leadership.

Tea Party cools as Keynes makes a comeback

By Nicholas Wapshott
The opinions expressed are his own.

Is the Tea Party running out of steam? I ask because there appears to be growing evidence that the Mad Hatters’ wild ride, culminating in Obama’s defeat last month over the debt ceiling at the hands of the Tea Party in Congress, has slowed to a trot. Exhibit one, the entrails of the most recent Pew poll where there is a startling finding. Just two months ago, those who believed trimming the deficit was the nation’s top priority outnumbered those who wanted more spending “to help the economy recover” by ten percent. Today, the number who advocate more government spending to fix the lackluster economy are neck and neck with those who wish to cut the budget deficit without delay.

Why the shift? Well, it seems that some Americans have changed their minds over the issue that lies at the heart of our politics. Today’s great political debate divides along the lines established eighty years ago by John Maynard Keynes and Friedrich Hayek. In 1932, when one in four Americans was out of work, Keynes suggested a mixture of policies to pump money into the economy to increase demand and get people back into jobs: keep the cost of borrowing cheap so that businesses could expand; invest in public works that directly employs the jobless; and cut taxes to put cash into people’s pockets. Hayek countered that such expansionist policies were unlikely to work and would have unintended consequences. At the very least they would in the long run fuel inflation and, when the government took its foot off the gas, cause businesses artificially boosted by the measures to go bust.

When Obama was elected in November 2008 he faced an economy that was teetering on disaster. His answer was a Keynesian stimulus package that meant plunging the nation even deeper into debt than George W. Bush had left it after bailing out the banks, enacting a huge tax cut and funding two overseas wars. No sooner had Obama adopted a Keynesian remedy than some of his opponents demanded a Hayekian antidote: paying down the debt as soon as possible. This outbreak of electors’ remorse gave rise to the Tea Party whose argument appeared to be that if a family has to pay off its overdrafts and credit card borrowings when it is going bankrupt, surely a nation should do the same. The 2010 midterms saw the election of a wave of Tea Party candidates, most of whom had pledged not to agree to anything that would either raise taxes or fail to address the national deficit. The raising of the debt ceiling, which had always been a routine matter between the two parties, became a pitched battle, with the president having to bow to the Tea Party’s principles or allow America to default on its debts.

Of the Tea Party, by the Tea Party, for the Tea Party

By Maureen Tkacik
The opinions expressed are her own.

There is one thing more nauseating than watching our elected officials weasel their way through another Sunday morning rationalization of our ruinous economic policies: Watching the sole beneficiaries of those policies publicly distance themselves from those politicians on CNBC.

I am talking, generally, about rich people, although to be fair some rich people are more dishonest than others, as a tense Wednesday morning exchange between celebrity analyst Meredith Whitney and the network’s veteran correspondent Rick Santelli demonstrated. Delivering a meandering monologue assailing “children on both sides” of the aisle for…insufficiently gutting what remains of the social safety net, Whitney laid the blame for this failure on an unlikely constituency:

“Call it Tea Party, whatever you will, the fringe element is — I characterize (as) — freaked-out white men who are unemployed and have been unemployed for three years and they’re scared to death.”

Ground Zero mosque: how will it affect midterms?

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By Jerry Kremer
The opinions expressed are his own.

Thomas P. “Tip” O’Neill, the late Speaker of the House, once stated that “all politics is local.” This will certainly be the case for the races this November, which will be decided by local issues. This fact only adds fuel to the fire for Republican strategists who are injecting the mosque debate into their campaigns in the hope of swaying ambivalent voters on this highly emotional issue.

Now that the mosque controversy has ballooned into an international issue, it’s worth taking a look to see whether the Republicans were correct in attempting to turn the fight into GOP talking points for November. For it may just be a double-edged sword.

In its early stages, the mosque debate focused on local zoning issues and the question of whether the proposed location was an insult to the families of 9/11 victims. It festered, but remained a local topic until President Barack Obama jumped in and offered his views on religious freedom. Even though he did not give an opinion on whether he condoned the mosque’s potential location, his remarks evoked a knee-jerk reaction from several key Republicans.

Two Independents could be the key to the next Congress

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The following is a guest post by Joshua Spivak, a lawyer and a research fellow at the Hugh L. Carey Center for Government Reform at Wagner College.

With Republicans making a serious push to take over the Senate in November, a rare but important development may prove to be the key to the post-2010 Congressional landscape: the Senate may feature two elected members not beholden to the major parties — Independent s Joseph Lieberman and Charlie Crist.

In a closely divided Senate, having two Independents could play an outsized role as powerbrokers and creators of a moderate bloc. It would also be only the second time since World War II that two Independents occupied the Senate.

from The Great Debate UK:

Brown must create Afghanistan war cabinet

richard-kemp2- Col. Richard Kemp is a former commander of British Forces in Afghanistan and the author of Attack State Red, an account of British military operations in Afghanistan published by Penguin. The opinions expressed are his own. -

Disillusionment with the inability of the Kabul administration to govern fairly or to significantly reduce violence played a role in the reportedly low turnout at the polls in Helmand.

It is critical that this changes if we are to avoid another Vietnam. The South Vietnamese Army, well trained and equipped, lost heart once the U.S. withdrew, collapsing at the first push, partly because their corrupt and ineffective administration was not worth fighting for.

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