Opinion

The Great Debate

Obama’s Ted talk

The president’s new populism comes from Teddy Roosevelt’s new nationalism.

By Michael A. Cohen

The views expressed are his own.


Has there ever been an American President more regularly compared to his predecessors than Barack Obama? Since arriving on the national stage Obama has been weighed against Washington, Lincoln, Roosevelt, Reagan, Kennedy, Truman, Carter and even George W. Bush. But after his remarkably full-throated populist speech yesterday in Osawatomie, Kansas we have to add another one to the list – Theodore Roosevelt.

The choice of Osawatomie for a speech that basically establishes the outlines of Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign was hardly accidental. It was the sight of Teddy Roosevelt’s famous “New Nationalism” speech, a set of remarks that laid the foundation for his 1912 run to recapture the White House and signaled his own ideological break with the conservative wing of his own Republican Party.

In evoking Roosevelt’s century-old rhetoric, his attacks on concentrated wealth, and his call for a more active and engaged federal government, Obama yesterday embraced a grand tradition in American politics — that of the anti-business populist standing with the ordinary American. In doing so, Obama has framed the 2012 election in terms that have been the focus of presidential campaigns since Roosevelt ran for a third term in 1912: what is the proper role of government in the lives of the American people?

In his speech yesterday, Obama evoked the political divides that existed in the United States at the dawn of the 20th century. He noted that Roosevelt was called a Marxian a century ago for making many of the same policy suggestions that Obama makes today (and gets called a socialist for proposing). In fact, it was the 1912 election that was witness to the first iteration of the big government vs. small government disagreement that still divides liberals and conservatives.

In 1910, Roosevelt’s New Nationalism speech plunged him back into the national spotlight and put him in direct conflict with his hand-picked successor, William Howard Taft. Though both men were Republicans, Roosevelt had become increasingly dismayed by Taft’s rightward turn as President – at the same time that Roosevelt was moving in an even more progressive direction. The speech was an effort to bring the GOP along with him.

Gingrich’s laborious plan to save the youth of America

By Eric Edmonds

The opinions expressed are his own.


Republican Presidential frontrunner Newt Gingrich continues to insist that child labor laws in the U.S. are “truly stupid,” that the poor lack good work habits, and that the former would solve the latter. He hasn’t mentioned any specific policy changes, yet it’s clear that he doesn’t like the way things are done now, and that that he thinks America would be better off if kids worked more. If only the economics agreed.

Gingrich hasn’t been clear about what exactly he wants, but he seems to be advocating two complementary policies. First, he would like to see a reduction in the minimum age of employment. While campaigning in Cambridge, he said, “You go out and talk to people who are really successful in one generation. They all started their first job between 9 and 14 years of age.” Second, he wants to put poor children to work in their schools, because “really poor children in really poor neighborhoods have no habits for working and have nobody around them who work.” Granted, if there really is no proclivity to work, it’s not clear how he will actually get these children to start working.

Nevertheless, let’s imagine Gingrich gets his wish. What would be the practical consequences of a reduction in the minimum age of employment in the U.S.? Most likely, nothing good.

Occupy Wall Street has already beaten the Tea Party

By David Callahan

The views expressed are his own.

Occupy Wall Street protestors are pondering their next steps after police raids this week dismantled more Occupy encampments in Los Angeles and Philadelphia. In some ways, though, the movement has already scored its most important victory: It has changed the “narrative” that frames public debate. Polls show that the Tea Party story – about an America being destroyed by big government – has been pushed aside by the Occupy Wall Street story, which stresses rising inequality and corporate greed.

This is good news for President Obama. While there is little that Obama can do between now and next November to jumpstart the economy, he may have a strong chance at reelection anyway if Americans keep gravitating to a progressive worldview.

In an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll taken earlier this month, 76 percent agreed that the “current economic structure of the country is out of balance and favors a very small proportion of the rich over the rest of the country.” In another recent poll, by The Washington Post/ABC News, respondents were asked: “Do you think the federal government should or should not pursue policies that try to reduce the gap between wealthy and less well-off Americans?” A majority – 60 percent – said the government should pursue such policies.

A new party won’t necessarily be more pure than our existing two

By David Callahan

All views expressed are his own.

One irritating thing about rich people nowadays is their boundless faith that they can solve society’s most daunting problems – whether it’s underperforming schools or the AIDS epidemic. Yet just because someone made a bundle trading stocks or developing software doesn’t mean they’re equally brilliant in other areas.

The latest example is Americans Elect, an ambitious effort by wealthy individuals to circumvent the two-party political system in order to give voters a “centrist” choice in next year’s presidential election. Never mind that we already have a centrist candidate –President Obama, who has repeatedly sold out progressives to cut deals with the GOP. The real problem with Americans Elect is that it exacerbates the biggest flaw in our political system: the dominance of money.

Americans Elect aims to get a nonpartisan candidate on the ballot in all 50 states and has already secured ballot access in 24 states, including Florida and Ohio, by gathering over 2 million signatures.

If only Congress were less ambitious

By David Gordon and Sean West
The opinions expressed are their own.

There’s a good reason that only paid staffers and blood relatives seem to approve of Congress, as Senator John McCain recently quipped. But it is not the simple reason that Congress continues to fail, as witnessed in the implosion of the supercommittee. Rather it’s that Congress continuously promises unachievable historic fixes when it should instead be focused on slow progress.

There’s nothing wrong with small-scale fixes when they are the best achievable outcome. Congress is hyperpolarized and both sides are fighting for a mandate to reform the entire economy in line with their competing visions. As underwhelming as the August debt limit deal was, in the current political environment, saving over $2 trillion one way or another was a positive result. The fact that Congress could agree to something this large this year is actually quite stunning.

Failure – and the ensuing loss of respect in the eyes of voters – is largely due to leaders on both sides pretending that massive overhauls are in reach when they clearly aren’t. The problem is that Congress isn’t content to just do its job — it can’t help itself but to overpromise and then underdeliver.

from David Cay Johnston:

GOP inaction means higher taxes

The author is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.

Thanks to Republicans who signed Grover Norquist's pledge never to raise taxes, your taxes are automatically scheduled to go up in January -- unless you are a plutocrat.

The law that created the congressional super committee set a target of this week for reducing budget deficits. The committee failed to meet the target.

Republican members were willing to cut programs that benefit millions, but they would not raise taxes on the hundreds of thousands of families whose annual income is in the millions and, in a few cases, billions of dollars.

George W. Bush: The GOP’s forgotten man

The former president has only been mentioned by GOP candidates 19 times in 10 debates. Why?

By Michael Cohen
The opinions expressed are his own.

There are a lot of words you can expect to hear at tonight’s Republican debate in Washington, D.C. – “apologist,” “exceptionalism,” maybe “Uz-beki-beki-stan.” But here are two words you are almost certainly not going to hear – “George Bush.”  Two years and ten months ago a two-term Republican President departed office. Today those seeking his former job are loath to mention him.

I reviewed the transcripts of the first 10 Republican presidential debates and could find only 19 references by a candidate to Bush – four offered tepid applause, five were downright negative and the rest were offered in passing or referenced Bush’s tenure as Governor of Texas and his positions as a candidate in 2000.  Criticisms ran the gamut, from Bush’s support for government bailouts; his hiring of Ben Bernanke to head the Federal Reserve; and his lack of ardor in isolating Iran.

Why Bloomberg evicted Occupy Wall Street

By Joyce Purnick

The views expressed are her own.

The Occupy Wall Street movement has been a headache for mayors around the country. For Michael Bloomberg of New York, the encampment-like protest in a privately-owned park in lower Manhattan was more like a chronic migraine.

It would not go away, and despite some false starts, Bloomberg could not, or would not, stop it for weeks on end. In the interim, his reputation suffered. Even the New York Post, otherwise devoted to Bloomberg, admonished him for his attack of indecision.

What was it about the increasingly annoying and messy protest that got to the normally impatient mayor, stopping him from clearing out Zuccotti Park until this week—two months after the demonstrators took it over? He didn’t want a street riot on his hands, for one. Nor did Bloomberg, who prides himself on protecting free-speech rights, want it to look as though he was cracking down on protesters in the communications capital of the country (especially since he did not agree with them). But the strongest factor behind the delay may well have been what wasn’t happening: Bloomberg was trying to negotiate an agreement, but the OWS protesters were having none of it. Bloomberg can be flexible—as brusque as he is—but you have to play by his rules. The occupants of Zuccotti Park weren’t even playing the same game.

What the Ohio vote means

By Gerald W. McEntee
The views expressed are his own.

The voters of Ohio sent a clear message on Tuesday.  They overwhelmingly defeated Gov. John Kasich’s radical attempt to end collective bargaining for public employees in Ohio and brought an end to one of the most flagrant “bait and switch” efforts seen in recent American history.

Last November, voters in states such as Florida, Ohio, Maine, Michigan and Wisconsin elected governors and legislators who campaigned on the issue of jobs.  Yet in state after state, and in the nation’s capitol as well, these newly elected politicians launched an unprecedented assault on the basic rights of working Americans.  Instead of creating jobs, they sought to eliminate public sector collective bargaining, restrict the rights of citizens to vote, provide unneeded tax cuts to the wealthy, privatize vital services and promote public employee layoffs.  All of these efforts were designed more to reward their Wall Street-backed campaign donors than to serve the public who had every reason to expect that the focus would be on jobs.

Ohio and Wisconsin were the breeding grounds of these anti-worker campaigns.  Newly elected governors Scott Walker and John Kasich both rejected federal high-speed rail funds that cost their states tens of thousands of new jobs.  Both put through unwise tax cuts for the wealthiest businesses and individuals in their states and then sought draconian cuts in services to make up the difference in lost revenue.  Both signed highly restrictive voting laws, designed to keep seniors, minorities and students from participating in the political process.  And both targeted public employees and the rights of workers to collectively bargain for wages, working conditions and safety on the job.  They claimed these changes were needed to promote economic growth, but voters rightly saw the proposals as small-minded efforts to silence workers and reward the Wall Street backers who bankroll political campaigns.

from Katharine Herrup:

Opportunity nation?

America’s biggest race is just beginning. It's the race to create equal opportunity in our nation once again and to restore the belief that the American Dream can still be achieved.

Disillusionment, despair and unemployment hold court these days in a country that was once thought of as a place where dreams could be turned into reality. But the reality right now, despite unemployment numbers dropping by a statistically insignificant .1% on Friday from 9.1% to 9%, is that job and life opportunities are dismal, even non-existent for many, in what once was thought of as the land of endless opportunity.

So what does opportunity look like these days in a country that’s barely recognizable anymore?

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