Tag Archives: President Obama

That’s A Clown Question, Bro

I spent the better part of 20 years being the primary spokesman for a large company, BFGoodrich. During that time, I had the opportunity to work with some exceptional journalists who were knowledgeable, ethical and fair. And I had the misfortune to work with some who couldn’t find their asses with both hands in the dark.

Every time I received a call from someone in that latter group I had to strap on the blood pressure cuff and bite my tongue. Nothing to be gained by stating the obvious: You’re an asshat. But it did cross my mind.

So I read with interest the retort of Washington Nationals outfield Bryce Harper to a question posed by a scribbler in Toronto. Here’s the backstory, from Yahoo sports:

Bryce Harper‘s comebacks look ready for the big leagues, too.

The 19-year-old Washington Nationals outfielder quipped ”That’s a clown question, bro” to a Toronto TV reporter who asked if he planned to take advantage of Canada’s lower drinking age after belting a long home run in a win over the Blue Jays.

For a brief time, the highest trending topic on Twitter was Harper’s response: ”That’s a clown question, bro.” The outfielder’s name was also among the site’s most popular subjects.

Sweet. Wonder if Harper has ever taken any formal training courses in news media relations? Probably no need.

Anyway, what got me thinking about this was a story that made its way out of the Rose Garden last week when Prez O was essentially heckled by a reporter as he was announcing a change in immigration policy. Here’s from the NYT:

As Mr. Obama was making a statement from the Rose Garden about a new immigration policy on Friday afternoon, a reporter from The Daily Caller, a conservative news Web site, repeatedly raised his voice and tried to interrupt. The reporter, Neil Munro, tried to ask whether the policy — intended to help young illegal immigrants get work — was good for legal American workers.

“Excuse me, sir,” Mr. Obama said when Mr. Munro initially spoke up. He put his hand in the air and raised a finger, as if to say “wait.”

“It’s not time for questions, sir,” Mr. Obama continued. “Not while I’m speaking.”

A few minutes later, Mr. Obama referenced the incident by saying, “And the answer to your question, sir, and the next time I’d prefer you let me finish my statements before you ask that question, is this is the right thing to do for the American people.”

Mr. Munro then apparently interrupted again.

“I didn’t ask for an argument, I’m answering your question,” Mr. Obama said.

OK. One of the failings of journalism these days is that the mainstream media — especially those reporters based inside the power alleys of DC and New York — are more lapdogs for those in power than watchdogs for the public. So by all means, ask some tough questions.

But hey. Let’s have a little civility. The President reading a statement in the Rose Garden is not the same as when the British Prime Minister stands in the well at the House of Commons. Sheesh.

But the Prez could have shut Munro up and won the 24/7 news cycle just by replying:

“That’s a clown question, bro.”


Santorum Out, Economy and Jobs In?

Gee, the GOP presidential primary debacle race kidda ended with a whimper yesterday as Rick Santorum said he was ending his campaign. And I guess that finale comes with a considerable sigh among conservatives, who now have to decide whether to enter the election booth in November and vote against Obama, or stay home and watch Fox News.

I expect many will sit this one out. I just don’t see them turning out enthusiastically for Romney. Here’s from the NYT:

Rick Santorum, with an abrupt decision to end his campaign Tuesday, cleared the way for Mitt Romney to claim the Republican nomination while dashing the hopes of social conservatives who had propelled Mr. Santorum’s surprisingly successful challenge to the Republican establishment.


Conservative leaders praised Mr. Santorum’s decision and his campaign that brought their issues to the fore. But they raised doubts that Mr. Romney could convert their flock.

“I just think it’s going to be a much harder lift to take someone who seems like a moderate and try to get conservatives excited about it,” said Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council.

Richard Viguerie, a veteran conservative activist who became a close supporter of Mr. Santorum, said Mr. Romney would have to work hard at winning many others over, especially after such a hard-fought campaign. “After having destroyed every conservative that came on the scene,” he said, “you can’t say ‘You have to line up behind me.’ No, no, no. Conservatives are not going to jump until they hear where Governor Romney wants to take everybody.”

And Santorum in exiting didn’t jump on the Romney bandwagon — at least not yet. Also from the NYT:

If history is any guide, Rick Santorum will probably hold a news conference in the near future and solemnly proclaim his support for Mitt Romney, and praise him as the right man to lead a post-Obama renaissance in America.

It will be a jarring moment.

For more than four months, Mr. Santorum has been the public face of the most searing assessments of Mr. Romney’s character and record. And despite Mr. Santorum’s decision to suspend his campaign Tuesday, it will take time for that acerbic commentary to fade.

According to the pre-April 10 Rick Santorum, Mr. Romney is guilty of “lying to the American people,” being the “ultimate flip-flopper” and “the worst Republican in the country” to oppose President Obama on health care.

“We can’t nominate such a weak candidate,” Mr. Santorum said on ABC’s “This Week” three weeks ago. “I’d love to be able to get one-on-one with Governor Romney and expose the record that would be the weakest record we could possibly put up against Barack Obama.”

Oh well.

I don’t agree with Santorum on most issues. But I give him credit for believing in something — and then staying true to his convictions while in the spotlight of the campaign and debates and under the microscope of what really is (with Fox News being the exception) an Obama-supporting, liberal mainstream media, especially network TV news broadcasts and the quasi-entertainment programs like Today.

But unfortunately for Santorum, and the other GOP candidates, they managed to get sidetracked from the issues that matter most: the economy and jobs. Obama’s record here is pathetic; we’re at best in the midst of a jobless economic recovery (yeah, I know, it’s Bush’s fault — LOL) and those jobs that are being created and filled are at the lower end of the economic totem poll.

Here’s from WaPo, ” An economic recovery that leaves workers further behind“:

Why is this recovery different from all other recoveries?

Many of the reasons are widely known: Rebounding from a financial crisis takes an excruciatingly long time; the huge decline in housing values has reduced Americans’ purchasing power; large corporations are making do with fewer employees — at least, in this country.

But what really sets the current recovery apart from all its predecessors is this: Almost three years after economic growth resumed, the real value of Americans’ paychecks is stubbornly still shrinking. According to Friday’s Bloomberg Briefing, “the pace of income gains is well below that of the past two jobless recoveries and real average hourly earnings continue to decline.”

The Bloomberg report cites one reason for this anomaly: Most of the jobs being created are in low-wage sectors. According to Bloomberg, fully 70 percent of all job gains in the past six months were concentrated in restaurants and hotels, health care and home health care, retail trade, and temporary employment agencies. These four sectors employ just 29 percent of the country’s workforce but account for the vast majority of the jobs being created.

Among the economy’s better-paying sectors, construction still has an unemployment rate of 17 percent. Given the persistence of mass foreclosures, the continuing decline of housing values and Republicans officeholders’ reluctance to allot public funds even for paving roads, construction isn’t coming back anytime soon.

Strikes me that the candidates — Romney and Prez O — should be floating solutions to these issues.

And if they can’t find them, then I guess we’ll have to wait for Hillary in 2016.

Just sayin’.

The Economy and Jobs: Time to Stop Blaming Bush?

OK. I’ll admit it. I voted for Obama. I blamed Bush and his administration for crashing the economy and getting us into a reckless war in Iraq. And up until a few months ago I figured Obama had a lock on another four years in the White House. No more. In fact, I’m not so sure he merits a second term.

And in any event, it’s time to stop blaming Bush for the crisis we are facing with a stagnant economy and high unemployment. Obama and his gang have failed miserably to create jobs and restore confidence in the economy. Stimulus One was a flop. And the proposed Stimulus Two doesn’t offer much hope. In fact, I’m becoming convinced that despite Obama’s rhetoric, the administration never expected the American Jobs Act to pass in total. I’m not sure that “better than doing nothing” is a winning strategy these days. We’ll see.

Anyway, this isn’t just the view of a lonely pajama-clad citizen journalist pecking away at the computer in the early a.m. Here’s from Robert Sheer, opining on The Huffington Post, “One Betrayal Too Many“:

It’s getting too late to give President Barack Obama a pass on the economy. Sure, he inherited an enormous mess from George W., who whistled “Dixie” while the banking system imploded. But it’s time for Democrats to admit that their guy bears considerable responsibility for not turning things around.

He blindly followed President Bush’s would-be remedy of throwing money at the banks and getting nothing in return for beleaguered homeowners. Sadly, Obama has proved to be nothing more than a Bill Clinton clone triangulating with the Wall Street lobbyists at the expense of ordinary folks.

That fatal arc of betrayal was captured by a headline in Tuesday’s New York Times: “Soaring Poverty Casts Spotlight on ‘Lost Decade.’ ” The Census Bureau reported that there are now 46.2 million Americans living below the official poverty line–the highest number in the 52 years since that statistic was first measured–and median household income has fallen back to the 1996 level. As Harvard economist Lawrence Katz summarized this dreary news: “This is truly a lost decade. We think of America as a place where every generation is doing better, but we’re looking at a period when the median family is in worse shape than it was in the late 1990s.”

Ah, ouch.

But importantly, how much confidence is there that Obama and his economic team (and let’s not talk about Jeff Immelt, Obama’s Jobs Czar who is making a career at GE out of sending jobs to China) know what he is doing.

Well, the fiasco with “green jobs” and the now belly-up Solyndra doesn’t help much. To paraphrase Ross Perot, that sucking sound is billions of dollars of taxpayer money going down the toilet. Here’s from WaPo, “Obama green-tech program that created Solyndra struggles to create jobs“:

A $38.6 billion loan guarantee program that the Obama administration promised would create or save 65,000 jobs has created just a few thousand jobs two years after it began, government records show.

The program — designed to jump-start the nation’s clean technology industry by giving energy companies access to low-cost, government-backed loans — has directly created 3,545 new, permanent jobs after giving out almost half the allocated amount, according to Energy Department tallies.

President Obama has made “green jobs” a showcase of his recovery plan, vowing to foster new jobs, new technologies and more competitive American industries. But the loan guarantee program came under scrutiny Wednesday from Republicans and Democrats at a House oversight committee hearing about the collapse of Solyndra, a solar-panel maker whose closure could leave taxpayers on the hook for as much as $527 million.

The GOP lawmakers accused the administration of rushing approval of a guarantee of the firm’s project and failing to adequately vet it. “My goodness. We should be reviewing every one of these loan guarantee” projects, said Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.).

Obama’s efforts to create green jobs are lagging behind expectations at a time of persistently high unemployment. Many economists say that because alternative-­energy projects are so expensive and slow to ramp up, they are not the most efficient way to stimulate the economy.

And here’s a perspective from someone unlike me who may actually know what he is writing about: George Will — “Our floundering federal family“:

In societies governed by persuasion, politics is mostly talk, so liberals’ impoverishment of their vocabulary matters. Having damaged liberalism’s reputation, they call themselves progressives. Having made the federal government’s pretensions absurd, they have resurrected a supposed synonym for the government, the “federal family.” Having made federal spending suspect, they advocate “investments” — for “job creation,” a euphemism for stimulus, another word they have made toxic.

Barack Obama, a pitilessly rhetorical president, continues to grab the nation by its lapels, demanding its attention, and is paying the price: The nation is no longer listening. This matters because ominous portents are multiplying.

Bank of America, which reported an $8.8 billion loss last quarter, plans to lay off 30,000 out of a workforce of nearly 300,000. The Postal Service hopes to shed 120,000 of its 653,000 jobs (down from almost 900,000 a decade ago). Such churning of the labor market would free people for new, more productive jobs — except that to reduce unemployment, the economy needs an approximately 3 percent growth rate, triple today’s rate.

Consumers of modest means are so strapped that Wal-Mart is reviving layaway purchases for the Christmas season. The Wall Street Journal reports that Procter & Gamble, which claims to have at least one product in 98 percent of American households, expects hard times for a long time: It is putting new emphasis on lower-priced products for low-income shoppers.

And more:

For two years, there has been one constant: As events have refuted the Obama administration’s certitudes, the administration has retained its insufferable knowingness. It knew that the stimulus would hold unemployment below 8 percent. Oops. Unemployment has been at least 9 percent in 26 of the 30 months since the stimulus was passed. Michael Boskin of Stanford says that, even if one charitably accepts the administration’s self-serving estimate of jobs “created or saved” by the stimulus, each job cost $280,000 — five times America’s median pay.

And research by Garett Jones and Daniel M. Rothschild of George Mason University’s Mercatus Center indicates that just 42.1 percent of workers hired by entities receiving stimulus funds were unemployed at the time. More (47.3 percent) were poached from other organizations, and 10.6 percent came directly from school or outside the labor force.

Obama’s administration, which is largely innocent of business experience, knew its experts would be wizards at investing taxpayers’ dollars. Oops. After receiving more than half a billion stimulus dollars in loan guarantees, bankrupt solar-panel maker Solyndra has shed nearly all of its more than 1,100 workers.

Ah, time to stop blaming Bush.

Just sayin’.



Why No Urgency About Jobs and Unemployment?

Hurricane Irene sure got the attention of elected officials and sparked some immediate — and beneficial — action: mandatory evacuations, mobilizing emergency crews and so on. Too bad there has not been a similar response to the big problems of creating enough quality jobs and getting people back to work.

After a spring and summer of disappointing — at best — economic news and employment stats, Prez O is now post-holiday at work on a “jobs plan.” But an article in WaPo suggests that the plan is still evolving and specifics are still being considered by the White House policy wonks and other miscreants. Here’s from the WaPo story “Princeton economist tapped to head Council of Economic Advisers“:

The White House scrambled Monday to finalize a new jobs initiative as President Obama nominated the last member of the economic team that will be charged with carrying it out.

In tapping Alan Krueger, a Princeton University professor and noted labor expert, to be chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, Obama turned to an economist who officials said was well suited to guide the White House through a jobs crisis.

Obama, standing with Krueger in the Rose Garden on Monday, said he intended to reveal the much-anticipated new jobs agenda in a speech next week.

That address, coming at the end of a summer of worsening economic news and sagging poll numbers for the president, is shaping up as a pivotal moment as Obama tries to resuscitate his presidency with less than 15 months before he stands for reelection.

And yet, behind the scenes Obama and top aides had yet to reach agreement on the major tenets of that plan, and it remained unclear whether the president was looking for narrower ideas with a realistic chance of passing the Republican-led House or more sweeping stimulus proposals that would excite his liberal base and draw contrasts with the GOP.

Call me an asshat but, ah, why has it taken so long for the Prez and members of the administration to come up with a specific plan?

Here’s an interesting perspective from Nicholas Kristof, opining in the NYT, “Did We Drop the Ball on Unemployment?

WHEN I’m in New York or Washington, people talk passionately about debt and political battles. But in the living rooms or on the front porches here in Yamhill, Ore., where I grew up, a different specter wakes friends up in the middle of the night.

It’s unemployment.

I’ve spent a chunk of summer vacation visiting old friends here, and I can’t help feeling that national politicians and national journalists alike have dropped the ball on jobs. Some 25 million Americans are unemployed or underemployed — that’s more than 16 percent of the work force — but jobs haven’t been nearly high enough on the national agenda.

When Americans are polled about the issue they care most about, the answer by a two-to-one margin is jobs. The Boston Globe found that during President Obama’s Twitter “town hall” last month, the issue that the public most wanted to ask about was, by far, jobs. Yet during the previous two weeks of White House news briefings, reporters were far more likely to ask about political warfare with Republicans.

And the point:

Unless more people are working, paying taxes and making mortgage payments, it’s difficult to see how we revive the economy or address our long-term debt challenge. While debt is a legitimate long-term problem, the urgent priority should be getting people back to work. America now has more than four unemployed people for each opening. And the longer people are out of work, the less likely it is that they will ever work again.

We may not officially be in a recession, but for many people outside the power alleys of New York and DC it sure feels like it. Try to buy or sell a house lately? If you are out of work, how optimistic are you about finding one? If you believe your job is shaky, how likely is it that you are going to buy anything beyond what is absolutely necessary?

I’m never quite sure that people who live and work inside the bubble of DC understand that. Clearly there are thousands in DC who struggle economically and socially. But equally clearly, for the elite who make and influence policy and those who work for the government or for firms such as the large defense contractors, DC is a world untouched by the realities that face the rest of the country.

Here’s an interesting perspective from Catherine Rampell in the NYT, “Why Washington Really Likes Itself“:

IF it sometimes seems as if Washington exists in a totally different economic universe from the rest of us, rest assured: it does. According to Gallup, the District of Columbia is the most economically optimistic part of the country.

Every day, the polling organization surveys Americans of all income levels about whether they think current economic conditions are good, and whether the economy is getting better. The results of these two questions make up Gallup’s Economic Confidence Index.

The latest index report shows that the District of Columbia is far more confident in the economy than any state, by a long shot. In every state, most residents think the economy is getting worse; in the nation’s capital, fully 60 percent think the economy is getting better.

And yet the District of Columbia also has an unemployment rate above the nation’s — 10.8 percent, compared with 9.1 percent — and persistent ills like crime and poverty.

“If ever there were a place where people not only tend not to face economic facts, but it’s almost their purpose not to face economic facts, it’s Washington,” said P. J. O’Rourke, a contributing editor at The Weekly Standard and a political satirist.

And more:

In turn, these factors have helped prop up the housing market, unlike elsewhere in the country where foreclosure rates seem as high as pessimism.

According to the government’s housing price index, the worth of homes nationwide fell 2 percent last quarter. In Washington, they grew 2 percent. Zillow, a company that tracks real estate data, says three of every thousand homes in Washington are in foreclosure, less than a third the rate for the nation.

There is, of course, a large subset of Washingtonians who are not flush with federal largesse, as indicated by the high jobless rate.

Washington has one of the nation’s highest poverty rates, with 18.4 percent of residents living below the poverty line, a rate exceeded by only three states in 2009, the most recent year for which data are available.

Washington also has the highest income inequality in the country, according to the Census Bureau. For decades there has been a sharp divide between the haves and the have-nots in Washington. Northwest Washington is mostly white and wealthy; the other sections are largely black and poor.

“I do think that the views of politicians, specifically, are warped by their social networks and backgrounds,” said Larry M. Bartels, a political scientist at Vanderbilt University and author of “Unequal Democracy.”

So let’s keep our fingers and toes crossed that as the Prez puts together his jobs plan he considers what is happening Outside the Beltway.

And as I heard a pundit on TV exclaim the other day while I was chasing the treadmill belt early a.m.: “If you want to be a leader, then lead.”



Stock Market Meltdown: No Leadership but Plenty of Excuses

Well, as Dutch Reagan would say, “Here we go again.” Financial markets in the United States and around the world tanked yesterday. Hey, it’s time to fret over our retirement savings just like in 2008. I expect that the periodic cheery calls from my “wealth adviser” at Merrill Lynch are now on hold. Snort. I digress.

Anyway, I don’t buy the notion that this mess is the result of a “Tea Party Downgrade.” That’s just a talking point provided to the chattering class by politicians and their operatives who didn’t have the guts — or the smarts — to come up with a plan in 2009 or 2010 to address the very real problems of federal government debt and spending.

And at this point it doesn’t do any good to blame Standard and Poor’s. Granted, the management of that pathetically inept organization couldn’t find their asses with both hands in the dark during the mortgage debacle. But they are like baseball umpires without the benefit of an instant replay. No matter how stupid or wrong the call, it stands.

So what we have now is an economic crisis fueled by a slowing economy in the U.S. and throughout Europe, high unemployment, and a housing market that is all but dead unless you are fortunate enough to live Inside the Beltway.

And we have a crisis of leadership. I voted for Obama because I believed we needed a change — not just in policy but in how Washington could work together in the common interests of the American people. Oops. My bad. Let’s face it. Obama’s been a dud. He’s a mediator, not a leader. He’s a compromiser, not an advocate.

This, by the way, is not just the rant of one pajama-clad citizen journalist. When pundits like Dana Milbank at WaPo start to question the Prez, somebody in the administration may want to start checking on the availability of moving vans following the election in 2012.  Here’s from Milbank’s opinion article, “The most powerful man on Earth?“:

A familiar air of indecision preceded President Obama’s pep talk to the nation.

The first draft of his schedule for Monday contained no plans to comment on the downgrading of the U.S. credit rating by Standard & Poor’s. Then the White House announced that he would speak at 1 p.m. A second update changed that to 1:30. At 1:52, Obama walked into the State Dining Room to read his statement. Judging from the market reaction, he should have stuck with his original instinct.

“No matter what some agency may say, we’ve always been and always will be a AAA country,” Obama said, as if comforting a child who had been teased by the class bully.

When he began his speech (and as cable news channels displayed for viewers), the Dow Jones industrials stood at 11,035. As he talked, the average fell below 11,000 for the first time in nine months, en route to a 635-point drop for the day, the worst since the 2008 crash.

It’s not exactly fair to blame Obama for the rout: Almost certainly, the markets ignored him. And that’s the problem: The most powerful man in the world seems strangely powerless, and irresolute, as larger forces bring down the country and his presidency.

The economy crawls, the credit rating falls, the markets plunge, and a helicopter packed with U.S. special forces goes down in Afghanistan. Two thirds of Americans say the country is on the wrong track (and that was before the market swooned), Obama’s approval rating is 43 percent, and activists on his own side are calling him weak.

Yet Obama plods along, raising gobs of cash for his reelection bid — he was scheduled to speak at two DNC fundraisers Monday night — and varying little the words he reads from the teleprompter. He seemed detached even from those words Monday as he pivoted his head from side to side, proclaiming that “our problems is not confidence in our credit” and turning his bipartisan fiscal commission into a “biparticle.”

He reminded all that the situation isn’t his fault (the need for deficit reduction “was true the day I took office”), he blamed the other side (“we knew . . . a debate where the threat of default was used as a bargaining chip could do enormous damage to our economy”) and he revisited the same proposals he had previously offered to little effect: extending unemployment benefits and the payroll tax cut, and spending more on infrastructure projects.

This, he said, is “something we can do as soon as Congress gets back,” along with further deficit reduction. “I intend to present my own recommendations over the coming weeks,” he said.

Over the coming weeks? As soon as Congress gets back?

In the White House briefing room after Obama’s statement, the press corps grilled Jay Carney about the lack of fire in the belly.

“The president said our problems are imminently solvable, and he talked about a renewed sense of urgency,” CBS’s Norah O’Donnell pointed out. “Why not call Congress back to work?”

Carney chuckled at this suggestion.

“I mean, the Dow dropped below 11,000 — where’s the sense of urgency?” O’Donnell persisted.

The press secretary uttered something about the founders and the separation of powers.

NBC’s Chuck Todd was not swayed. “Why not bring Congress back now?” he repeated, pointing out that “the American public seems to be in a little bit of a panic” while Washington says, “We’re going to stand back and wait until school starts.”

“I think we’re getting a drumbeat here,” Carney said. “The press corps is leading here — always appreciated.”

At least somebody is.

Various reporters tried to elicit more information about Obama’s economic plans and deficit-reduction proposals, but Carney declined again to take the lead.

“I don’t want to get too far ahead of the process,” he explained to the Wall Street Journal’s Laura Meckler, adding that Obama “will be contributing to that process, not driving it or directing it.”

“Why?” inquired Politico’s Glenn Thrush. “He’s the leader of the free world. Why isn’t he leading this process?”

That is the enduring mystery of Obama’s presidency. He delivered his statement on the economy beneath a portrait of Abraham Lincoln, but that was as close as he came to forceful leadership. He looked grim and swallowed hard and frequently as he mixed fatalism (“markets will rise and fall”) with vague, patriotic exhortations (“this is the United States of America”).

“There will always be economic factors that we can’t control,” Obama said. Maybe. But it would be nice if the president gave it a try.

 No leadership. Plenty of excuses.

Just sayin’.


The Country We Want?

Kind of an interesting week for a pajama-clad citizen journalist as Congress and the Prez raced to keep the doors of the federal government open — and as we began in earnest the 2012 election campaigns with conflicting budget proposals and visions for the future of the nation. Whew.

Yesterday, Congress passed the compromise legislation on the 2011 budget, despite a last-minute brou-ha-ha over whether the announced $38 billion in spending cuts would amount to only some $352 million this fiscal year. If you have the energy to try to sort that out, here’s an informative article from NPR, “How Washington Turned $38 billion Into $352 million.”

OK. Now on to the main events — the 2012 budget and the national election campaigns that really should give voters a clear choice about the future of this country, our willingness (or not) to fund a host of social programs, and the role and scope of government at all levels.

Obama began his campaign Wednesday, giving his presidential response to Representative Paul Ryan’s 2012 budget resolution, “The Path to Prosperity.” Note to the Prez: It does seem a little impolite to invite Ryan to attend the speech and then turn it in to as Rush says “a personal bitch slap.” Sheesh.

But I guess it depends on where you sit on the big issues being tossed around here.

Here’s from a NYT editorial “President Obama, Reinvigorated“:

The man America elected president has re-emerged.

For months, the original President Obama had disappeared behind mushy compromises and dimly seen principles. But on Wednesday, he used his budget speech to clearly distance himself from Republican plans to heap tax benefits on the rich while casting adrift the nation’s poor, elderly and unemployed. Instead of adapting the themes of the right to his own uses, he set out a very different vision of an America that keeps its promises to the weak and asks for sacrifice from the strong.

But the WSJ demurs in its opinion article, “The Presidential Divider“:

Did someone move the 2012 election to June 1? We ask because President Obama’s extraordinary response to Paul Ryan’s budget yesterday—with its blistering partisanship and multiple distortions—was the kind Presidents usually outsource to some junior lieutenant. Mr. Obama’s fundamentally political document would have been unusual even for a Vice President in the fervor of a campaign.

The immediate political goal was to inoculate the White House from criticism that it is not serious about the fiscal crisis, after ignoring its own deficit commission last year and tossing off a $3.73 trillion budget in February that increased spending amid a record deficit of $1.65 trillion. Mr. Obama was chased to George Washington University yesterday because Mr. Ryan and the Republicans outflanked him on fiscal discipline and are now setting the national political agenda.

OK. I can’t sort this mess out on an early Friday morning. So let’s turn to David Brooks in the NYT to get his take, “Ultimate Spoiler Alert“:

If they [President Obama and Paul Ryan] met, would they resolve their differences? No, but they would understand them better. Paul Ryan believes five things Barack Obama does not. First, he believes that aging populations, expensive new health care technologies and the extravagant political promises have made the current welfare state model unsustainable. Fundamental reform is necessary or the whole thing will collapse, here and in Europe.

Second, he believes that seniors and the middle class cannot be excused from the benefit cuts that will have to be imposed to rebalance these systems. Third, he believes that health care costs will not be brought under control until consumers take responsibility for their decisions and providers have market-based incentives to reduce prices.

Fourth, he believes that tax increases should not be part of these reforms because the economic costs outweigh the gains. Fifth, he does not believe government can nurture growth and reduce wage stagnation with targeted investments.

Obama, meanwhile, does not believe the current welfare arrangements are structurally unsustainable. They have to be adjusted, but not fundamentally altered. He does not believe the seniors and members of the middle class have to suffer significantly in the course of these adjustments. The approach he outlined Wednesday mostly shields these groups from cuts, even if Congress can’t reach a deal on deficit-cutting and a fiscal trigger kicks in.

Obama does not believe in relying on market mechanisms to reduce health care costs. Instead, he would rely mostly on a board of technical experts, who would be given power to force their recommendations upon Congress.

Obama believes that tax increases on the rich have to be part of a fiscal package. His approach claims to contain $3 in cuts for every $1 in taxes, but if you count these things the way a normal person would, it’s closer to 1 to 1. Finally, Obama believes that government investments in research and infrastructure nurture broad-based prosperity.

Personally, I agree with Ryan on items 1-3 and with Obama on items 4 and 5, and I think an acceptable package could be put together to reconcile these views. But I do not believe there is any chance this will happen in the current climate. What’s going to happen is this: We’re going to raise the debt ceiling in a way that fudges the issues. Then we’re going to have an election featuring these rival viewpoints, and Obama will win easily.

Well, we’ll see.

Here’s Paul Krugman opining in the same NYT editorial section, “Who’s Serious Now?“:

The president’s proposal isn’t perfect, by a long shot. My own view is that while the spending controls on Medicare he proposed are exactly the right way to go, he’s probably expecting too much payoff in the near term. And over the longer run, I believe that we’ll need modestly higher taxes on the middle class as well as the rich to pay for the kind of society we want. But the vision was right, and the numbers were far more credible than anything in the Ryan sales pitch.

I doubt that Dr. K speaks for all Americans when he says “pay for the kind of society we want.”

We’re going to find out what kind of society we want when voters go to the polls in November 2012.

Joe Biden, Spending Cuts and the Big Snooze

C’mon. Admit it. When the White House announced earlier this week that the Prez was going to outline his views on federal spending and deficit reduction you had some concerns. No, not about the details. But whether or not he was going to preempt American Idol.

Well, the Prez opined yesterday afternoon at George Washington University in D.C. and by the time the American Idol wannabes appeared on stage his plan had already been sliced and diced by the TV Talking Heads and related pundits and Inside the Beltway miscreants.

We’re now a nation of born-again budget cutters and deficit reducers. The questions are how deep the cuts, to what programs and how quickly. And yeah. There’s that sticky point about taxes. The Prez is OK with hiking taxes on the wealthy. The Republicans — and conservative Democrats who want to be reelected — say no way. And wasn’t that the issue where the Prez and the Dems raised the white flag during the lame-duck session of Congress a few months ago? I digress.

Anyway, the debate over these issues is important, timely and necessary — and it will frame the national and state elections in 2012.

Here’s from an article in the NYT, “Obama’s Debt Plan Sets Stage for Long Battle Over Spending“:

President Obama made the case Wednesday for slowing the rapid growth of the national debt while retaining core Democratic values, proposing a mix of long-term spending cuts, tax increases and changes to social welfare programs as his opening position in a fierce partisan budget battle over the nation’s fiscal challenges.

After spending months on the sidelines as Republicans laid out their plans, Mr. Obama jumped in to present an alternative and a philosophical rebuttal to the conservative approach that will reach the House floor on Friday. Republican leaders were working Wednesday to round up votes for that measure and one to finance the government for the rest of the fiscal year.

Mr. Obama said his proposal would cut federal budget deficits by a cumulative $4 trillion over 12 years, compared with a deficit reduction of $4.4 trillion over 10 years in the Republican plan. But the president said he would use starkly different means, rejecting the fundamental changes to Medicare and Medicaid proposed by Republicans and relying in part on tax increases on affluent Americans.

The president framed his proposal as a balanced alternative to the Republican plan, setting the stage for a debate that will consume Washington in coming weeks, as the administration faces off with Congress over raising the national debt ceiling, and into next year, as the president runs for re-election.

Game on!

And with the stakes this high it’s understandable that the Prez wants a strong manager to lead the team. Again, from the NYT:

Mr. Obama named Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. to lead the negotiations with Congress, which the administration hopes will produce the outlines of a deal by the end of June, though a detailed agreement might have to await the outcome of the 2012 election. Mr. Biden played a similar role in talks that averted a government shutdown at the 11th hour, over issues far less thorny than those on the table now.

And yet it appears that VP Joe reacted to Obama’s remarks yesterday in much the same way as the American public: With a big yawn.

Here’s from The Huffington Post, “Was Joe Biden Sleeping During Obama’s Speech?“:

Did Vice President Joe Biden fall asleep while President Barack Obama delivered a speech on his administration’s plans for tackling the national debt on Wednesday?

ABC News released video of Biden attending the event held at George Washington University early in the afternoon. In the clip, the vice president appears to doze off while the president is speaking on the financial issue.

National Journal notes that if Biden did in fact nod off during the president’s remarks, it seems that he wouldn’t be the first member of the Obama administration to do so. In 2009, then-chief economics adviser to the president, Larry Summers, was caught snoozing in a picture taken by a Getty photographer during a meeting on the economic crisis.

OK. It’s hard for me to criticize the Veep on this one. I’ve been there Joe. And done that.

But hey. At least yesterday I made it right to the start of American Idol.