Opinion

The Great Debate

Obama’s Two Choices: Good and Better

President Barack Obama must like the view from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue right now. Politically speaking, the sky is clear, and the few clouds on the horizon have silver linings.

Because where things now stand with Congress, if he wins – he wins. And if he loses – he wins.

Getting Republicans to bend to his will on any of the banner issues this year – whether immigration reform, gun control or deficit reduction – will help enshrine him as a president of real achievement. If he fails, however, these same issues can be used as bludgeons to pound Republicans as heartless, even racist, knuckle-draggers who only want to service their rich masters.

It’s also unclear whether the disunited Republicans are in a position, or frame of mind, to do much about this.

In many respects, Obama has, in fact, failed. The economy remains a basket case, with unemployment still near 8 percent. In foreign policy, Iran is getting closer every day to the bomb; China is spreading its wings over U.S. allies, and the Middle East is in chaos.

Rubio rewrites GOP media playbook

Comprehensive immigration reform still looks uncertain on Capitol Hill as the principles laid out by Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and the other members of the bipartisan “Gang of Eight” slowly evolve into legislative text. But Rubio’s lead role in this has been crucial. Equally important, was the template Rubio provided by engaging with media of all stripes – conservative, mainstream and online – to sell the idea, and his party, to audiences outside the usual Republican comfort zone.

Diagnosing what ails the Republican Party has become a favorite Beltway pastime. But it’s clear that rebuilding the brand among Latino voters tops the “to-do” list. President Barack Obama defeated GOP nominee Mitt Romney by more than 20 points among Latino voters, according to many exit polls. The GOP has a small amount of time until this trend is set in stone.

Enter Rubio, who tackled an historically difficult issue – particularly for the GOP’s conservative wing, with whom he is identified. His immigration principles had to withstand scrutiny on the right and address the White House’s moving goalposts on the left. The first-term senator faced the challenge of dealing with both ends of the political spectrum without losing his balance.

The future of free-market healthcare

Over nearly a century, progressives have pressed for a national, single-payer healthcare system. When it comes to health reform, what have conservatives stood for?

For far too long, conservatives have failed to coalesce around a long-term vision of what a free-market healthcare system should look like. Republican attention to healthcare, in turn, has only arisen sporadically, in response to Democratic initiatives.

Obamacare is the logical byproduct of this conservative policy neglect. President Barack Obama’s re-election was a strategic victory for his signature healthcare law. Once the bulk of the program begins to be implemented in 2014 — especially its trillions of dollars in new health-insurance subsidies — it will become politically impossible to repeal. And as the baby boomers retire and Obamacare is fully operational, government health spending will reach unsustainable levels.

Can GOP blame Obama for the sequester?

More than 25 years ago, Representative Jack Kemp told me, “In the past, the left had a thesis: spending, redistribution of wealth and deficits. Republicans were the antithesis: spending is bad.”

He went on to explain, “Ronald Reagan represented a breakthrough for our party. We could talk about lower taxes and more growth. We didn’t have to spend all our time preaching austerity and spending cuts. The question now is: Do we take our thesis and move it further, or do we revert to an anti-spending party?”

We now have the answer. Republicans have reverted to an anti-spending party. Their latest cause? Austerity. Their argument? A shrinking economy is better than big government.

Populists, plutocrats and the GOP sales tax

February 1913 marked a turning point in U.S. history. One hundred years ago this month, the states ratified the 16th Amendment, clearing the way for adoption of a federal income tax. Two decades before, in 1892, the Populist Party had first put a progressive income tax on the national agenda.

The income tax faced steep conservative opposition. Since it was enacted, in fact, the political wars over income tax have never stopped. Conservatives battled against it when it was first proposed and have continued the struggle ever since. Now, Tea Party conservativism has given that fight new force.

The economist Joseph Schumpeter called tax systems the “thunder of world history.” Because if you dig beneath the rhetoric, tax systems reveal the underlying direction in which societies move. The saga of the income tax says a great deal about changes in America.

Obama must surprise in State of the Union

President Barack Obama stirred with an unexpectedly powerful inaugural address – a second effort that far surpassed his first. He summoned great themes of American history to argue cogently for his second-term agenda. Now he has a chance to deliver a State of the Union address that improves on those of his first term, too.

The key to success? Presidents still have the power of surprise. Franklin D. Roosevelt once said, “I am like a cat. I make a quick stroke, and then I relax.” As in his inaugural, Obama should surprise us – this time with new policies and sharp specificity. On the budget, democracy reform and immigration, the president stands well positioned.

Forget the Super Bowl, or even the Oscars. For us policy wonks and ex-speechwriters, this is the biggest event – the time to crack open a beer, microwave the Buffalo chicken wings and settle down in front of the TV for a siege of viewing.

Rebuilding our economic backbone

We’re getting beat by Estonia.

Not that there’s anything wrong with the tiny state on the Baltic Sea. But the nation that built the Hoover Dam, pioneered the Interstate Highway System and created the best aviation system in the world, is rapidly sliding toward the bottom of the list when it comes to infrastructure.

Infrastructure is the economic backbone of any modern society. Without a reliable, functioning system, things we take for granted would fall apart: roads and bridges, schools, public and private transportation, the energy grid that powers our lives, the water we drink. But today the United States no longer leads the world in infrastructure competitiveness. Countries like the Netherlands, South Korea and Singapore now rank in the top 10, according to the World Economic Forum, while the United States, once No. 1, has fallen to 14.

If this does not concern you, it should.

Building America’s Future, a national and bipartisan coalition of state and local elected officials that I co-chair with New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, recently updated Falling Apart and Falling Behind, a comprehensive report on the state of America’s infrastructure.

Time for a serious deficit plan

 President Barack Obama pledged to cut the deficit in half by the end of his first term. But because he focused on political gimmicks, rather than real reform, we’ve seen trillion-dollar deficits and nearly $6 trillion added to the debt instead. Based on what we heard from the president at a news conference Tuesday, his unserious attitude is likely to continue.

That’s worrying. Unless we can get a handle on Washington’s overspending, and quickly, it will continue to undermine our economy and jeopardize our children’s futures.

Sadly, the White House is not yet serious about doing that. Instead, it has predictably suggested politically driven tax hikes as appropriate offsets for the sequester, including a tax on corporate jets. If that sounds like a poll-tested P.R. gimmick rather than a serious solution, that’s because it is. A permanent tax increase like that would take 10 years just to raise enough money to replace one week’s worth of the sequester.

Seeking consensus on immigration, guns

Two tough issues — immigration reform and gun control. “It won’t be easy,” President Barack Obama said about gun control in December, “but that’s no excuse not to try.”   Tuesday, he said about immigration reform: “The closer we get, the more emotional this debate is going to become.”

Which does he stand a better chance of winning?  Answer: immigration. On immigration, Obama has Democrats strongly behind him. Republicans are divided — and freaked out by the issue. On guns, he’s got Republicans strongly against him. Democrats are divided — and freaked out by the issue.

On both issues, the president has the public solidly behind him. That’s his biggest asset. “There’s already a growing consensus for us to build from,” he said on Dec. 19, five days after the Newtown, Connecticut, massacre. “A majority of Americans support banning the sale of military-style assault weapons.’’ On Jan. 29, when he went to Las Vegas to speak about immigration reform, he said, “A broad consensus is emerging and … a call for action can be heard coming from all across America.”

Dems shouldn’t mess with Texas

 

There has been much ado lately about the Democratic Party’s new project to turn Texas blue. What’s lost on the liberals in D.C., California and Manhattan who will throw money at this futile effort, however, is that the Texas Republican Party is different and far stronger than its counterparts in other states. And it’s not just because the Lone Star State under Republican control has become the envy of the nation in terms of job creation and economic growth.

One reason Democrats think the GOP’s hold over Texas is so precarious is demographics. Latinos make up 38 percent of the state population, a portion that is projected to rise to more than 50 percent by 2030. Since GOP nominee Mitt Romney got a dismal 27 percent of the Latino vote in November, it seems intuitive that a growing Latino population would spell trouble for Republicans. Yet Texas Republicans have done far better with Latinos than Republicans nationally because their approach to immigration has not been the antagonistic sort offered by Republicans in California, Arizona and other states.

In 2001, Governor Rick Perry signed a bill that allows children brought to Texas by immigrant parents to receive in-state tuition if they have lived in Texas for three years, graduated high school and been admitted to a state public university. Romney’s vicious and shortsighted attacks on this law during the GOP primaries are widely credited with hurting him with Latino voters in the general election.

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