A revolt among big donors on Wall Street is hurting fundraising for the Democrats' two congressional campaign committees, with contributions from the world's financial capital down 65 percent from two years ago.
The drop in support comes from many of the same bankers, hedge fund executives and financial services chief executives who are most upset about the financial regulatory reform bill that House Democrats passed last week with almost no Republican support. The Senate expects to take up the measure this month.
This fundraising free fall from the New York area has left Democrats with diminished resources to defend their House and Senate majorities in November's midterm elections. Although the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee have seen just a 16 percent drop in overall donations compared with this stage of the 2008 campaign, party leaders are concerned about the loss of big-dollar donors.
And now Politico:
With the financial reform bill likely to hit President Barack Obama’s desk in coming weeks, Wall Street's top political players are warning Democrats to brace themselves for the next phase of the fight: the fundraising blowback.
Democrats who backed the bill are finding big banks far less eager to host fundraisers and provide campaign cash heading into the tightly contested midterm elections this fall, insiders say.
Some banks, in fact, have discussed not attending or hosting fundraisers at all for the next few months. Goldman Sachs is already staying away from all fundraisers, according to two sources. The company would not comment.
“I think at least in the short term there is going to be a great deal of frustration with people who were beating the hell out of us — then turning around and asking for money,” said a senior executive of a Wall Street bank.
Based on these stories,
when if the Democrats get hammered come November, expect a lot of pixels and ink spilled on the awesome power of the financial sector to get what it wants in Washington. And don't believe a word of it.
This is the lobbying equivalent of a good but struggling baseball club calling a team meeting right before they play the worst ballclub in the league. That is to say, sports managers often save their rousing speeches before a game they're pretty likely to win, so they can claim that their motivation was what led their team to victory.
As Charlie Cook notes, the Democrats are heading into a Category 5 political disaster come November. This has nothing to do with FinReg, and everything to do with a struggling economy, an ecological disaster in the Gulf, fired-up conservatives, and disaffected liberals. Wall Street antipathy is really the least of their problems.
I'm laying this marker down now -- unless we see some shocking upsets among the New York delegation (the real target of Wall Street's ire), analysts who proclaim the awesome political power of financial sector will be doing so with sloppy facts and sloppy argumentation.
In recent years, I've seen some very... let's say exaggerated arguments about the power of political lobbies in Washington. They do possess political influence, but much of that influence rests on the perception that they can make or break electoral fortunes. In Wall Street's case, however, they're pushing on a door that was already wide open.
Which is not surprising. Powerful interests tend to apportion their money to candidates they think will win. Indeed, to use a term of art, Wall Street's political preferences appear to be -- dare I say it -- pro-cyclical.
The whole beauty pageant brouhaha reminds me that I have an article in the U.K. Spectator about the rise of political paranoia and discontent in the West. The opening paragraph:
Polio vaccines in Nigeria are part of a Western plot to make African women infertile. Foreign zombies are replacing indigenous labourers in South Africa. Barack Obama was born in Kenya and is a secret Muslim who hates the United States and wants to institute ‘death panels’ to govern the healthcare system. The United States triggered the earthquake in Haiti to expand America’s imperial reach.
Go read the whole thing and see if I'm onto something.... or whether the powers that be have gotten to me already.
[I'm noticing a trend of zombie references pervading your work. What's up with that?--ed. Oh, you're just being paranoid.]
Ten days ago I took David Axelrod to task for speaking publicly on foreign affairs when that's not really his job description.
I bring this up because I'm wondering if the reverse critricism applies -- should foreign policy leaders stick their beaks into domestic policymaking bailiwicks?
Last week there was this nugget buried within Mark Landler and Helene Cooper's story on the Obama-Clinton relationship on foreign policy: "Mrs. Clinton has also taken on duties that go beyond her job description. At the request of the White House, she made calls to wavering lawmakers to enlist their support for health care legislation late last year."
Now The Hill's Molly K. Hopper reports that the Secretary of State was actively involved in health care lobbying over the weekend:
Hillary Rodham Clinton attempted to persuade on-the-fence Democrats to vote for the healthcare reform bill that narrowly passed the House on Sunday.
Lawmakers told The Hill that Clinton, who failed to convince the Democratic-controlled Congress to pass healthcare reform in 1994, was active in whipping votes for the White House and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).
TMPDC's Rachel Slajda provides some context:
The White House kept her in the bullpen, she told CNN in February, taking the mound only when needed.
"When I am asked, I am very happy to respond. I mean, it's not anything I have direct responsibility for, but I have had a number of conversations and both in the White House and on the Hill and with others who are playing a constructive role," she said.
This is a bit unusual, to say the least. In recent history, Secretaries of State have refrained from active lobbying ands/or participation on matters of domestic policy.
What I'm not sure about is whether this is a violation of an unspoken norm or just an unusual situation. Hillary Clinton is not your ordinary Secretary of State. Unlike Axelrod and foreign policy, I'm not about to claim that the Secretary of State lacks sufficient policy expertise on the issue at hand. And let's face it, Hillary has a wee bit more political capital than, say, Warren Christopher did back in the day.
So, question to readers: is this a big deal?
Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images
Last week, ABC announced that foreign policy correspondent extraordinaire Christiane Amanpour would leave CNN to take over This Week Sunday morning talk show come August. Yesterday, Washington Post's Tom Shales wrote a sloppy, badly edited story which closed as follows:
From many angles, it was a bad choice -- one which could create so much consternation that Westin will be forced to withdraw Amanpour's name and come up with another "nominee" for the job. That would hardly be a tragedy -- considering how many others deserve it more than she does.
A bunch of bloggers and commentators jumped on Shales, accusing him of anti-Iranian bias and poor reporting/framing of the story. The first charge is a stretch, but the second charge holds up. In a chat, Shales reveals his preference even more blatantly, writing that, "I think Christiane is one of the most over-rated and hyped personalities of our day" and suggesting she's had a bad-hair year.
Sweeping away the silliness, the question I find interesting is whether a This Week-style Sunday morning talk show can pivot more towards foreign policy and still generate ratings/buzz/interest. That certainly seems to be ABC's intent:
Amanpour, in an interview, said she intended to increase the focus on foreign affairs on the Sunday-morning program. Previous host George Stephanopoulos made his insider's knowledge of Washington the show's hallmark.
The challenge for Amanpour will be to strike a balance between international and domestic policy debates while continuing to satisfy an audience that has come to expect large doses of inside-the-Beltway skinny and analysis of U.S. politics. If Amanpour can attract new viewers -- those who normally don’t tune in to the Sunday-morning news shows -- it would be a boost for ABC News, which has lost ratings momentum for some of its key programs....
In announcing her hiring, ABC News President David Westin said: “All of us know how much the international and the domestic have come to affect one another – whether it’s global conflict, terrorism, humanitarian crises or the economy. And our international reporting has long been a hallmark of ABC News, part of the legacy Peter Jennings left for us.”
Westin hinted to Washington insiders that, though their importance to the show would not be diminished, “This Week” would attempt to depart from the worn format of left/right political debates.
Christiane will bring the international and the domestic together," Westin said. "Our audience has come to us for years to see differing points of views expressed in intelligent and compelling ways; now the different points of view will be expanded beyond partisan politics alone."
As an world politics wonk, I really, really hope this works. The Sunday morning talk shows started to blur together long ago in my eyes, so anything distinctive is welcome. Anything distinctive and focusing on foreign affairs/international relations is even more welcome. Amanpour might have the celebrity to attract the kind of viewers who long to
watch as many ADM commercials as possible see a civil discussion of the connections between America and the world. If everyone else does generic inside-the-Beltway stuff, This Week might find a nice sinecure for itself on the international front.
That said, I'm skeptical that it will work, for two reasons. First, most Americans just don't care that much about foreign policy -- particularly right now. I'm not saying that's a good thing, I'm just saying that it's true.
Second, I'm not sure that the number of foreign policy wonks who ordinarily wouldn't watch This Week but might tune in now will compensate for the drop in those uninterested in foreign affairs. Last year, This Week attracted 2.3 million viewers, while Fareed Zakarias's GPS show attracted less than 200,000 viewers. There are numerous reasons for this, but one of them might be that world politics wonks don't watch much television about world politics. (full disclosure: I haven't watched This Week since
having children David Brinkley left).
Still, I'll be rooting for Amanpour to succeed, and will even offer one nugget of advice -- put Laura Rozen on the roundtable the moment you take over the show. She's a great bridge between the substance of foreign policy and the machinations of the foreign policy community.
Michael Loccisano/Getty Images
Commentary's Jennifer Rubin is reacting way out of proportion to David Axelrod's tour of the Sunday morning talk shows. That said, she's got a germ of a good point:
David Axelrod — a political operative who now seems at the center of foreign-policy formulation (more on this later) — went on the Fox, ABC, and NBC Sunday talk shows to repeat how insulted the Obami were over Israeli building in Jerusalem and what an affront this was to them....
[I]t might have something to do with the fact that Axelrod and the Chicago pols are running foreign policy. It’s attack, attack, attack — just as they do any domestic critic.
Quibble away with Rubin's characterization of "Chicago pols," but she does raise a decent question: why on God's green earth is the Obama equivalent of Karl Rove talking about foreign policy in public?
Since the VP trip from Hell, it's clear that the Obama administration has ratcheted up the rhetoric in private, in public, in press leaks and through multilateral channels to their Israeli counterparts. Given what transpired, it's entirely appropriate that the Obama administration make its displeasure felt publicly.
Why Axelrod, however? Sure, the Sunday morning talk shows wanted to talk health care as well. And it's true that Axelrod, thought of as pro-Israel, could send a tough signal. Still, couldn't the administration have sent Hillary Clinton to one of the Sunday morning talk shows instead? Wouldn't she have been the more appropriate spokesman.
I've spent enought time inside the Beltway to be leery of the gossipy tidbits I collect when I'm down there. That said, there was one persistent drumbeat I heard during my last sojourn -- that Axelrod and the political advisors were acting as Obama's foreign policy gatekeepers.
Now, I am shocked, shocked, that politicians are thinking about foreign policy in a political manner. That said, there is a balance to be struck between political and policy advisors. Even David Frum admitted that this balance got out of whack during the Bush administration. I'd like to see things return to to the pre-21st century equilibrium. It would be disturbing if the new equilibrium is that someone like David Axelrod becomes the foreign policy czar.
UPDATE: You know what's particularly galling about this? When the political operatives fail to do their job and point out politically useful things to do in order to augment American foreign policy:
As an unusual public showdown between the Israeli and American administrations plays out, Hill sources say leading Congressional Democrats would be with the administration on this but would really like to get a phone call from Middle East peace envoy George Mitchell, currently en route back to the Middle East to try to salvage Israeli-Palestinian proximity talks.
As former Senate Majority Leader, Mitchell has credibility with the Senators, one staffer said. It would be really helpful if he makes some phone calls from the plane, to say we really need you to stay with the administration, we are trying to push the peace process forward, and if he would articulate some sort of vision, of where this next sort of piece of tactical fight is going.
This is not the first time one has heard this from Hill Democrats that they are feeling a bit in the dark, but at such a tense moment, it is hard not to be astonished that the administration was not working the phones to the Hill all weekend.
"Same exact mistake of the first two Clinton years with majorities in both Houses," one Washington Democratic foreign policy hand said. "You'd think they would have learned the lesson of 'never take your allies for granted' at least after this year."
Because of my jobs, I've spent most of my adult life living in some pretty blue states -- California, Illinois and Massachusetts. This has made the Official Blog Wife very happy; it's made me, on occasion, wistful to live in a place where political campaigns were a more contested affair. During presidential campaigns, sometimes I would watch the news coverage of Ohio and think, "oh, to live in a battleground state, where a politician needs to sweat just a bit to get your vote."
The special election to fill Ted Kennedy's Senate seat is tomorrow, and polls have show a very tight race between Democrat Martha Coakley and Republican Scott Brown for the past week or so. If Brown upsets Coakley, the Democrats would lose their filibuster-proof majority in the Senate, so the race has significant national implications. According to the New York Times, it's suburbs like the one I live in that will prove to be the battleground areas in this campaign. President Obama was in the state yesterday, and Republican heavyweights have been touring around as well.
So, as it turns out, I've recenty gotten a taste of what this must be like -- and Ohio, you can keep your swing state status all to yourself. I no longer want any part of it.
For those readers who have never had the privilege of living in a battleground state, let me explain what the experience is like. Every other television commercial is about the campaign. Day after day, the race dominates the front page of the newspaper. Your mailbox is stuffed with fliers for or against one of the candidates. Your friends and neighbors talk about the campaign -- and who you support can affect your friendships. You can't escape either the race.
All of this would be tolerable if it were not for two things. First, the phone calls. Over this weekend, by my count, we have received ten phone calls asking us to vote for or against someone, and then a few phone calls on top of that polling us about our voting intentions (weirdest call, hands down, was a recorded message from Pat Boone. The Official Blog Wife got that call, and the end of it had no idea who Boone wanted her to vote for). Since these inquiries can't be put on the Do Not Call list, the phone will not stop ringing.
Second, the candidates are God awful. Seriously, they stink. Just to review our choices: Democrat Martha Coakley has a prosecutor's complex that would make Javert seeem like a bleeding-heart liberal. She is a God-awful politician so out of touch with reality that she accused Red Sox hero extraordinaire Curt Schilling of being a Yankee fan (Schilling's blog response is here). Based on the ads I've seen, her campaign has also been, by far, the nastier of the two.
This leaves Republican Scott Brown, who based on his vacuous Boston Globe op-ed, is an empty shirt with no actual policy content whatsoever. He was in favor of health care reform before he was against it. He can't stand the run-up in government debt, and wants to cut taxes across the board to take care of the problem -- cause that makes perfect economic sense. The one thing he is unequivocally for is waterboarding suspected terrorists.
Seriously, these are my mainstream choices? These people are the recipients of all the political firepower both parties can muster? I'm inundated with 24/7 political blather so I can choose between Nurse Ratched and Bob Roberts? And I'm a professor of political science -- if I'm fed up with the state of this campaign, just imagine how other Massachusetts voters feel.
Let me assure the rest of the country -- whoever wins tomorrow night, it's not going to be about sending a message to anyone. The only message that I can detect is, "will every professional politico please get the hell out of this state."
Ohio, you can keep your swinger status -- I want no part of it anymore.
In a post over the weekend about John Heilemann and Mark Halperin's new book Game Change: Obama and the Clintons, McCain and Palin, and the Race of a Lifetime, The Atlantic's Marc Ambinder makes a very odd closing point:
Political scientists aren't going to like this book, because it portrays politics as it is actually lived by the candidates, their staff and the press, which is to say -- a messy, sweaty, ugly, arduous competition between flawed human beings -- a universe away from numbers and probabilities and theories.
I know a lot of political scientists, and let me take this opportunity to assure Marc that most political scientists love good, dishy books full of political gossip -- the uglier, the better. I love Bob Woodward books and all the Making of the **** Campaign tomes as much as the rest of America seems to love John Grisham novels. Many political scientists have similar feelings on this -- before people become political scientists, they're usually political junkies. And anyone who studies this stuff for a living can't only be aware that politicians are flawed beings -- they have to love them just a little for their flaws. As Seth Masket points out, "If we only cared about numbers and probabilities and theories, we'd have become mathematicians."
I suspect that the difference between my profession and Ambinder's is that while I love these canmpaign narratives, I don't always buy their explanations for why things play out the way they do. Structural factors like the economy matter a hell of a lot as well. The chapter in Game Change on the Edwardses, for example, is really gripping stuff -- but it's gripping because of the tawdriness, not because it affected the campaign in any way whatsoever. Even if theirs had been a fairy-tale marriage, John Edwards still wasn't going to be the president.
Ambinder's passive-aggresive attitude towards my profession is not unique to him -- it flares up every once in a while among political journalists. In some ways, this dust-up mirrors the occasional testiness that emerges between traditional baseball writers and sabermetricians. Boston Globe columnist Dan Shaughnessy's recently complained about "the stat geeks, those get-a-lifers who are sucking all the joy out of our national pastime." Yeah, because the last thing the sport would want is for informed people to be arguing passionately about it.
Shaughnessy's assertion flabbergasted most sabermetricians, who clearly love baseball and all of its facets. They just find it silly not to consider the utility of smart statistics when analyzing the support. But a lot of sabermetricians tend to watch baseball with the television on mute so they don't have to hear broadcasters emphasize points that, to them, are superfluous -- just as many political scientists I know rarely watch the cable news shows.
A good narrative, however? We'll snap that up like popcorn.
So I'm back from my week off. Did I miss anything? Let's see:
In other words, a typical week in 2009.
Actually, that's not fair to Central America -- thankfully, coups there are much rarer than they used to be.
It turns out that Zhao Ziyang, China's Communist Party chief during the Tianamenn massacre (and who was outsted for opposing a violent crackdown), secretly recorded a memoir of his time in power.
This is very exciting -- as the New York Times' Erik Eckholm observes, "In a sharp break with Chinese Communist tradition, even for dismissed officials, Mr. Zhao provides personal details of tense party sessions." In other words, there's some good dirt here for China scholars.
One little thing nags me about Eckholm's story, however:
One striking claim in the memoir, scholars who have seen it said, is that Mr. Zhao presses the case that he pioneered the opening of China’s economy to the world and the initial introduction of market forces in agriculture and industry — steps he says were fiercely opposed by hard-liners and not always fully supported by Mr. Deng, the paramount leader, who is often credited with championing market-oriented policies....
Roderick MacFarquhar, a China expert at Harvard who wrote an introduction to the new book, said it had given him a new appreciation of Mr. Zhao’s central role in devising economic strategies, including some, like promoting foreign trade in coastal provinces, that he had urged on Mr. Deng, rather than the other way around.
“Deng Xiaoping was the godfather, but on a day-to-day basis Zhao was the actual architect of the reforms,” Mr. MacFarquhar said in an interview.
I'm not a China expert, but I am a seasoned reader of political memoirs. And, in my experience, memoirists do tend to paint a picture of their deeds that magnifies their accomplishments at the expense of others. I see no reason why Chinese political memoirs should be any different from American political memoirs on this score. So I'm going to take Zhao's claims on this point with juuuust a small grain of salt.
[Hmmm.... note to future version of you -- compile top ten list of best political memoirs--ed. So noted.]
Arlen Specter is now a Democrat, which means that:
So far, I'm not encouraged. Here's GOP chair Michael Steele's written statement:
Some in the Republican Party are happy about this. I am not. Let's be honest -- Sen. Specter didn't leave the GOP based on principles of any kind. He left to further his personal political interests because he knew that he was going to lose a Republican primary due to his left-wing voting record.
This is pretty incoherent. If Specter really did have a left-wing voting record, then why wouldn't he leave based on principle as well as personal interest?
Second, if GOP leaders keeps talking like this, then Democrats won't have to wait for Al Franken to be seated to have a filibuster-proof majority.
Politico's Martin Kady II and John Bresnehan report on Senator Olympia Snowe's reaction:
Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) a fellow moderate, didn't seem surprised. On the national level, she says, "you haven't certainly heard warm encouraging words of how they [Republicans] view moderates. Either you are with us or against us."
“Ultimately we're heading to having the smallest political tent in history they way things are unfolding,” Snowe said. “We should have learned from the 2006 election, which I was a party of. I happened to win with 74% of the vote in a blue collar state but no one asked me how did you do it. Seems to me that would have been the first question that would have come from the Republican party to find out so we could avoid further losses."
There might be more conservatives than liberals in the United States, but there's an awful lot more centrists than conservatives. Playing to the rump might provide some ideological comfort, but it's also a sure-fire method to becoming the minority party for the next generation. If the GOP keeps this up, Snowe's prediction will likely come true.
Ramesh Ponnuru gets this: "The Democrats are growing by appealing to formerly Republican moderates while the GOP is being reduced to a conservative rump."
One odd foreign policy effect out of all of this: Obama's bargaining position on some issues with the rest of the world might actually be weakened. Domestic constraints can sometimes function as a source of bargaining strength on the international stage. At this point, however, the domestic constraints Obama faces seem ever smaller, even if things haven't changed all that much in practice.
Let's label this Drezner's Political Analogy of 2009:
Why? Well, these two things have a surprising amount in common.
Consider this from today's Times write-up:
New York’s efforts against A.I.G. have overshadowed those of the Treasury secretary, Timothy F. Geithner, the official who is responsible for the financial bailout, along with the Federal Reserve. The White House and Treasury have been besieged by questions about why Mr. Geithner did not know sooner about the bonus payments due this month, and whether he could have done more to stop them, prompting White House officials to assert President Obama's continued confidence in Mr. Geithner.
If I was Mr. Geithner's press spokesman, here is what I would say in response to more media inquiries about this:
Mr. Geithner profusely apologizes for not devoting more attention to this matter. He clearly devoted too much time to the G-20 summit, implementing the stimulus package, preparing the 2009 budget, and other piddling matters like that. Clearly, instead, Mr. Geithner feels he should have devoted more attention to this issue, which does absolutely nothing to put the financial sector on a sounder financial footing. I mean, it's not like he's the only guy in the building or anything.
Mr Geithner thanks the media and Congress for focusing so much on this dumb-ass issue.
As you can see, there is very good reason why I'm not Tim Geithner's press spokesman.
Let's be clear -- I'd like AIG officers not to get these bonuses, just as I'd like to see earmarks removed from the budget. I just think the opportunity costs on focusing on these issues is pretty damn big.
I've received a bunch of e-mail queries asking me what I think of the Charles Freeman affair. One could argue that Freeman's actual policy positions got him into trouble. (When a letter to the Wall Street Journal on his behalf allows that "Chas has controversial political views, not all of which we share," it suggests that something is amiss). One could also argue pretty persuasively that the Israel Lobby flexed its muscle (as Freeman himself argues in his missive to FP's Laura Rozen).
In the wake of Freeman's withdrawal, I think everyone is vastly overestimating the influence of outside forces and underestimating the idiosyncracies of Freeman in trying to interpret what the hell happened. I don't mean his positions -- I mean his relative eagerness to get back into the game. Freeman's statements on the matter suggests that he was not all that eager to re-enter government life:
"As those who know me are well aware, I have greatly enjoyed life since retiring from government. Nothing was further from my mind than a return to public service. When Admiral Blair asked me to chair the NIC I responded that I understood he was “asking me to give my freedom of speech, my leisure, the greater part of my income, subject myself to the mental colonoscopy of a polygraph, and resume a daily commute to a job with long working hours and a daily ration of political abuse.” I added that I wondered “whether there wasn’t some sort of downside to this offer.”
Sometimes these statements are boilerplate, but I don't get that sense from Freeman.
To put it another way -- if Hillary Clinton had been in the same situation as Freeman, there's no way in hell that she withdraws her name.
Steve Walt claims that, "this incident reinforces my suspicion that the Democratic Party is in fact a party of wimps." He's got a point, but I'm not sure it's the one he intended to make. Freeman is just one of a longer list of policy wonks -- Wendy Sherman, Caroline Atkinson, Robert Gallucci, etc. -- who have either declined or changed their minds about high-ranking postings. While none of these other names were targeted by the Israel Lobby, they all found the opportunity costs of entering goverment service too onerous.
Question to readers: Has the vetting process in DC become too absurd, or are Obama's subcabinet candidates too thin-skinned?
Ever since Barack Obama was elected, I've received myriad queries about whether I'm going into the administration. And, for a variety of reasons, my answer has always been, "no, not interested."
After reading Ryan Lizza's profile of Rahm Emanuel in The New Yorker, however, I must confess that there is one job that I would do for free:
I noticed that over [Emanuel's] left shoulder, on the credenza behind him, was an official-looking name plate, which he said was a birthday present from his two brothers. It read “Undersecretary for Go F**k Yourself.”
Now that's my kind of job. It's a bit senior for me, though. If asked to serve, I would consider the stepping stone to that position -- Deputy Assistant Secretary for Eat S**t and Die.
I had only one thought as I drifted in and out of sleep while listening to President Obama's non-State of the Union -- he really is the second coming of Ronald Reagan. I mean that in both good and bad ways.
Obama, like Reagan, has figured out how to drive the opposition party completely nuts without compromising his ability to govern. Like Reagan, Obama is able to communicate effectively directly with the American people. I suspect his "going public" strategy will net him significant legislative accomplishments.
However, Reagan was elected on a platform of massive tax cuts, massive increases in defense spending, and balancing the federal budget. Older readers of danieldrezner.com might recall that he was never able to reconcile all of these aims, and as a result the budget deficit ballooned.
After listening to Obama's speech, I find it utterly implausible that the United States can fund energy alternatives, impose a "market-based cap" on carbon emissions, engage in comprehensive health care reform, and institute massive education subsidies, while also halving the federal budget deficit in four years.
Seriously, am I missing something? How does that circle get squared?
There are many quadrennial rites of occasion -- the Olympics, the World Cup, the, er... [C'mon, you need one more!!--ed.] the Quadrennial Defense Review [Nice save!--ed.]. And, of course, the first post-inauguration press conference. Your humble blogger will be covering it live by updating this post quite frequently.
8:00 PM: I'll be watching this on CNN, in the hopes that Anderson Cooper will ask a question via hologram.
8:05 PM: The key economic statement of the opening statement: "The federal goverment is the only entity left with the resources that that can jolt this economy into life."
8:08 PM: Good initial response to the AP question, referencing the Japan recession. Of course, the repeated efforts at fiscal stimulus in that country didn't work terribly well. And he went on way too long.
8:14 PM: At this rate, Obama will answer less than ten questions at this press conference.
8:16 PM: Just realized that the press conference will pre-empt the criminally underrated How I Met Your Mother. Suddenly feeling that Obama is part of the problem, not part of the solution.
8:20 PM: Non-answer on Iran, until the very end, when he mentions that Iran has both rights and responsibilities as a member of the international community. This could be a clever way of signaling that the U.S. is prepared to recognize Iran's right to a nuclear program, so long as Tehran is prepared to accede to safeguards. We'll see how this formulation plays in Iran.
8:30 PM: In response to a good question from Chuck Todd, Obama says, "the party now is over" and that "we have to adapt to new circumstances." I think he's subtly hinting that he wants Todd to leave the building.
8:33 PM: Bloomberg reporter, in her question, says, "Many experts, from Nouriel Roubini to Senator Chuck Schumer..." I fail to hear the rest of the question, as the notion of calling Schumer an "expert" at anything to do with economics causes my head to explode.
8:35 PM: It appears that Obama is asking for questions in a pre-arranged order. Did any president before Bush 43 do this?
8:39 PM: Obama's metrics for economic success: the creation of 4 million jobs, the unfreezing of credit markets, and the stabilization of housing prices. It's gracious of Obama to acknowedge that the federal govenment doesn't have "complete control" over that last category.
8:41 PM: In answer a question on Afghanistan, Obama takes pains to distance himself from Hamid Karzai. Also mentions the actions of the Taliban and Al Qaeda in the region. Obama should really ead my colleague Tom Ricks on this matter.
8:45 PM: Oooohhh, Fox News's first question!! And it's about Joe Biden!! This gives Obama his first real opportunity for an easy laugh in his response.
8:48 PM: A question about A-Rod! I'm mostly glad that Obama's answer was short and did praise MLB's toughening stance on the issue.
8:49 PM: Obama loses his Helen Thomas virginity. Good answer on preventing a nuclear arms race in the Middle East, managing to connect it to arms control with Russia. Thomas, God bless her, tries to keep talking.
8:53 PM: The Huffington Post gets a White House reporter? Who knew?!
8:57 PM: Obama closes with an appeal to pragmatism, but I wonder if there's as much expert consensus on important issues as Obama thinks there is.
9:01 PM: And it's over. I thought all players played their part well, but I would have liked to have seen shorter answers. For all his talk about the stimulus, I actually think his answer on Iran might be the most newsworthy.
As the state Senate's impeachment trial for Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich draws to a close, media relations pros say he might have been better off mounting a defense in the state capital rather than on the airwaves.
I look forward to the follow-up stories:
Readers are encouraged to suggest other pathbreaking predictions by media relations pros.
My latest column for The National Interest is now online. It assesses the strategic legacy of Bush 43 (hint: it's not pretty).
Bush’s strategic blunders have been so massive that they explain his greatest tactical success—the management of great-power relations. From a Chinese perspective, George W. Bush was an unparalleled strategic gift. He was a leader of a rival power who accelerated his country’s relative decline, easing the way for a larger Chinese role in the Asia-Pacific region. Of course Beijing would be friendly with a regime like that. The cruelest irony of the Bush administration is that those who will miss him the most will be the other great powers.
It seems kind of churlish to say goodbye on that note, so here's one positive Bushlink for today: Norman Ornstein is correct in his New York Times op-ed today when he writes that, "there is one area where President Bush’s legacy will be strong and admirable — the way he is leaving office."
Enjoy the ranch, George!
Like many Americans, I'm looking forward to the end of the Bush era and the inauguration of Barack Obama. Until this weekend, however, it hadn't occurred to me that this event was going to start prior to Tuesday. Apparently, however, it's a several-day-long be-in.
And a lot of out-of-towners are going to be crashing in DC. My train from Boston to New York today was packed to the gills with Bostonians headed to DC for the inauguration. Given the weather in the Northeast today, they chose the right mode of transportation.
While what was said was off the record, Andrew Sullivan does blog his own impressions of his conversation with Obama:
[I]t's hard to express the relief I feel that this man will be the president soon. I realize that's what I feel above all else: relief.
I may disagree with him at times, and criticize him at times, but his great gift is showing that he does not expect people to change their convictions in order to find common areas of agreement.
Stipulating that I'm probably looking forward to the transition as much as the next guy, this kind of statement has a familiar ring to it.
I remember where I was at the last presidential transition -- working at the U.S. Treasury. And what was interesting was that, despite the fact that Treasury had done very well under the Clinton administration in general and Larry Summers in particular, there really was a feeling of anticipation about Bush taking over.
Why? Because after eight years of one administration, even the stuff that used to seem endearing becomes annoying. The Clinton staffers chronic lateness to meetings, for example, drove the Treasury people batty. They welcomed a the more orderly schedule of the Bushies -- right up until the moment they started f%$#ing up policy.
My point is not to say that Obama is going to be like George W. Bush. My point is that, until he starts accumulating a record as president, one should take these platitudes with more than a pinch of salt. [And here I thought your point was that you were bitter that you haven't been asked to meet and greet Obama!--ed.]
Let me be the first FP blogger to welcome Shadow Government into the fold. As the Democrats take over the executive branch, it will be good to have some critical voices around to push and prod their foreign policies.
That said, I'd also love it if Shadow Government could also provide some evaluation on any criticism provided by other former Bush officials as the changeover commences. Do these criticisms have validity, or are they merely tactical justifications given the GOP's minority status?
For example, consider today's New York Times op-ed by John Bolton and John Yoo:
The Constitution’s Treaty Clause has long been seen, rightly, as a bulwark against presidential inclinations to lock the United States into unwise foreign commitments. The clause will likely be tested by Barack Obama’s administration, as the new president and Secretary of State-designate Hillary Clinton, led by the legal academics in whose circles they have long traveled, contemplate binding down American power and interests in a dense web of treaties and international bureaucracies.
Like past presidents, Mr. Obama will likely be tempted to avoid the requirement that treaties must be approved by two-thirds of the Senate. The usual methods around this constitutional constraint are executive agreements or a majority vote in the House and Senate to pass a treaty as a simple law (known as a Congressional-executive agreement).
Executive agreements have an acknowledged but limited place in our foreign affairs. Congressional-executive agreements are far more troubling.
Now, on the one hand, one could interpret this advice as a warning about the dangers of implementing international agreements without the broad support of Congress and the American people.
One could also, however, interpret this advice as awfully strange, as it emanates from officials who have, heretofore, been mostly concerned with the augmentation of the executive branch's power at all costs (and implemented plenty of congressional-executive agreements while in office).
It is terribly convenient, now that they are out of power, to be suddenly concerned with Obama running roughshod over the legislative branch. The domestic parallel would be if Bush officials who embraced No Child Left Behind and intervened in the case of Terry Schiavo suddenly developed a Strange New Respect for federalism.
So, Shadow Government, should one take Bolton and Yoo at face value?
UPDATE: Drezner gets results from Shadow Government. [Has the ten-year old in you has always wanted to type that sentence?--ed. Yes. Yes, he has.]
Bolten said another of his goals when he took over was to try to get the country to see the likable boss he and other aides saw in private, convinced that would boost Bush's popularity. "I failed miserably," he conceded. "Maybe in the beginning of the sixth year of a presidency, that's a quixotic task. . . . But everybody who has actual personal exposure to the president, almost everybody, appreciates what a good leader he is, how smart he is and, especially, how humane he is."Whenever I read something like this, I always go and get my copy of Jeff Greenfield's diverting political novel, The People's Choice, because he has a great take on this kind of statement from a politico:
When a political aide says, "He's really good in small groups," it means, He is so completely incapable of understanding the power of words or ideas that I can barely restrain myself from leaning across his desk, grabbing his lapels, and screaming, "Wake up, schmuck!" into that lean, beautiful face of his.Indeed.
What is truly worrisome, however, is that a lack of cooperation on trade could spill over into a lack of coordination on fiscal policy. Coordination on these two issues are linked. States running trade deficits worry that export engines like Germany and China will free ride off of their own fiscal expansions, boosting the growth prospects of these exporters without any serious fiscal expenditures on their part. Already, other Europeans are upset over Germany's inaction on the fiscal front. German Finance Minister Peer Steinbruck's warning against "crass Keynesianism" to NEWSWEEK's Stefan Theil has merely stoked these concerns even more. If this fear persists, there is a danger that any Keynesian boost will come attached with protectionist provisions to ensure that the benefits remain within national borders. Some reputable economists are already advocating this kind of action in the absence of global policy coordination. As the global downturn persists, these political pressures will become harder to ignore. What has been a mild backlash against trade liberalization could quickly turn into a tsunami. If trade wars break out in the wake of the global financial crisis, they will not take the form of Smoot-Hawley—but they will be equally dangerous.And, hey, on cue, the New York Times' Louis Uchitelle reports the following on the U.S. steel industry in the United States:
The industry itself is turning to government for orders that, until the September collapse, had come from manufacturers and builders. Its executives are waiting anxiously for details of President-elect Barack Obama’s stimulus plan, and adding their voices to pleas for a huge public investment program — up to $1 trillion over two years — intended to lift demand for steel to build highways, bridges, electric power grids, schools, hospitals, water treatment plants and rapid transit. “What we are asking,” said Daniel R. DiMicco, chairman and chief executive of the Nucor Corporation, a giant steel maker, “is that our government deal with the worst economic slowdown in our lifetime through a recovery program that has in every provision a ‘buy America’ clause.” (emphasis added)What it truly disturbing about this request is that it contradicts the narrative about the U.S. steel sector in recent years, a narrative tat Uchitelle comments on later in his story:
Not since the 1980s has American steel production been as low as it is today. Those were the Rust Belt years when many steel companies were failing and imports of better quality, lower cost steel were rising. Foreign producers no longer have an advantage over the refurbished American companies. Indeed, imports, which represent about 30 percent of all steel sales in the United States, also are hurting as customers disappear.The political economy implications of this are pretty disturbing. Steel, which can compete with the rest of the world, should be one of the last sectors to seek protection from foreign competition. With its mini-mills, Nuxor is one of the most competitive firms within the U.S. steel sector. If this is how Nuxor is behaving, however, how much protectionist lobbying will come from the less competitive sectors of the U.S. economy? Developing.....
There are some guests who simply refuse to go on the air with other particular people or with anyone at all. Likewise, there are some people who no one else wants to appear with. It's rarely discussed, because the bookers who mediate these ego wars are bound by contract—and their own interests—to keep quiet. And hosts rarely mention the snubs on-air, since they want guests to come back. But snubbing happens all the time, and conversations with bookers, producers, and guests reveal that some divas are especially notorious.This part stood out for me:
The biggest offenders are usually the ones whose egos are too big to accommodate any company: Henry Kissinger, Zbigniew Brzezinski, Alexander Haig, and others who figure they have better uses for their time than debating some flack on the air. "They would only go on if they could do the show alone," says a former producer for Crossfire. "Brzezinski won't debase his cable currency by being a two-box," explained a current booker, referring to the practice of displaying guests on a split screen. Another booker cited Brzezinski's refusal to go on with Pat Buchanan—"probably because he thinks he's an anti-Semite." (An assistant to Brzezinski says: "It isn't true that he will only appear alone. He has appeared many, many times with other guests." Maybe so. But bookers say he doesn't do so willingly.)Here's a piece of advice to TV bookers -- surprise these mooseheads with another guest just before they're going to go on. Why? Because, in my experience, when mooseheads at the Kissinger-Brzezinski level are alllowed to pontificate at will, they are unbelievably boring and rote. On the other hand, they are at their best precisely when they are challenged by someone. Maybe they get riled up at having their authority questioned, or maybe they want to smack down the young whippersnapper tring to unseat the Pundit King. All I know is, when they are poked and prodded, the analytical sharpness that got them to their exalted position comes out, and then the fun starts. I've seen this in person -- but Josh Marshall David Kurtz captures an example of this on video. Zbigniew Brzezinski doesn't like it when he's challenged on the Middle East -- watch what happens:
Oh, and it makes for good TV -- though in this case it has the added frisson of Mika Brzezinski's uncomfortable body language.
I easily could imagine and expected there to be financial turmoil. But the extent of it, O.K., I was naïve in terms of—I knew a lot about regulation but not nearly as much as I needed to know, and I knew very little about regulatory powers and authorities. I just had not gone into it in that kind of detail.Sweet Jesus. Finally, the last lines in the story, from Matthew Dowd:
You know, the headline in his presidency will be missed opportunity. That is the headline, ultimately. It’s missed opportunity, missed opportunity.UPDATE: Just one more quote -- because it's by a sympathetic oberver of Bus and therefore more devastating. It's from Noelia Rodriguez, Laura Bush's press secretary:
I wish that more people could have seen the president the way I experienced him. Even if you don’t agree with him or respect his opinions or his decisions—strip that away, if you’re able to—he is a caring human being. I brought my mom to the White House, to get a tour the day before Thanksgiving. The president came in and greeted her—it was a total surprise. And on the spot he invited us to go to Camp David for Thanksgiving. Of course, we went, and it was Disneyland for adults. We went to chapel services before dinner. I remember we got there early. A few minutes later the president walks in with Mrs. Bush and the family, and you could see him looking around, and he sees my mom in the distance, and he literally shouts at her from across the chapel, “Grace, come sit over here with me.” And at dinner, again, he sees her, and he says, “Grace, you’re going to sit over here next to me.” And he tilted the chair against the table so that nobody would take her place.In the context of screw-up after screw-up, this is like the standard media quote from the next-door neigbor of a felon saying, "Gosh, George was always nice to me." ANOTHER UPDATE: On the other hand, if Vanity Fair had managed to cram every screw-up like this one into the essay, it might have been an even longer history.
Most readers know that the views expressed on Matt’s blog are his own and don’t always reflect the views of the Center for American Progress Action Fund. Such is the case with regard to Matt’s comments about Third Way. Our institution has partnered with Third Way on a number of important projects - including a homeland security transition project - and have a great deal of respect for their critical thinking and excellent work product. They are key leaders in the progressive movement and we look forward to working with them in the future.This action has provoked a fair amount of blog reaction/rebuke -- check out William Beutler, Brad DeLong, Belle Waring, Ann Althouse, James Joyner, Brendan Nyhan, Julian Sanchez, and many more -- as well as follow-up posts from Yglesias himself and CAP's Faiz Shakir. Yglesias gets the understatement of the day: "I wish the guest post from Jennifer Palmieri that I put up Sunday evening had been handled differently in a variety of ways since just sticking it on the blog and then going to bed seems to have given people a lot of misleading notions about the site being somehow 'hijacked.'” As near as I can figure it, bloggers are very annoyed at the Center for American Progress, but they're angry for two very different reasons:
The reason an online jab gets elevated like this is that CAP is no longer just a think tank: It's interwoven with the transition, and expected to be close to the Obama White House. The perception that it was hostile to Third Way could have damaged Third Way's ability to raise money, among other things. It's an early sign of how the new Democratic infrastructure faces a new set of challenges with Democrats controlling the government.Glenn Reynolds has a point here: "Sorry, if you can’t stand what bloggers blog, don’t pretend you’re cool enough to hire bloggers." Or, if you allow "clarifications" on posts that deviate from your parent institutions' views, don't pretend that you're a cool blogger any more. UPDATE: I see that Palmieri is being considered for assistant secretary of defense for public affairs. While Palmieri is getting a little too much blame for an act that Yglesias was complicit in, I have to think that this whole brouhaha is not a point in her favor. For sheer theater value, however, I would love for this to come up in a confirmation hearing: "Ms. Palmieri, I'd like to bring up the CAPping incident with Mr. Yglesias...." ANOTHER UPDATE: Uh-oh... it's spreading.
President-elect Barack Obama this morning named Daniel K. Tarullo to the Federal Reserve Board of Governors, the first step in an unusual opportunity Obama has to remake the Federal Reserve at a time the institution is undergoing dramatic change.Although it is common for presidents to appoint several Fed governors by the end of a term, Obama will be able to appoint three of seven members of the Fed's board of governors immediately upon taking office, subject to confirmation by the Senate. He can either reappoint or replace Chairman Ben S. Bernanke when his term expires in January 2010, and he will make the same decision for Vice Chairman Donald L. Kohn when his term ends that June. Governors serve a 14-year term, though in practice, slots turn over every few years. Thus, within 18 months of taking office, Obama will likely have appointed five of seven Fed governors, including its top two members. Tarullo, if confirmed, will be one of them. He was a top aide to President Bill Clinton for international economic policy in the 1990s and since then has taught at Georgetown University's law school. He published a book this year on the Basel II international standards for bank regulation, arguing that the approach needs to be changed in major ways to prevent financial crises like that now underway. He is thus well poised to represent the Fed in its coordination with bank regulators around the world in responding to the financial crisis, and to take part in what is likely to be a vigorous debate on how the U.S. financial regulatory system should be overhauled and what the Fed's role should be.... The Obama administration is likely to move quickly to fill the three open governors slots, said Democrats who have been in touch with the transition team. Two of those slots are currently vacant -- nominations were held up by congressional Democrats -- and a third is occupied by Bush appointee Randall Kroszner, whose term has expired but who is serving until his replacement takes office. In filling the three governor slots, Obama should seek to bring a diversity of experience to the Fed in an effort to manage the various dimensions of the crisis, said economists who study the central bank. With Tarullo, he has filled one with an expert in international banking regulation. For the other two, he might appoint one person with a background in financial markets and another academic experience in macroeconomics and monetary policy.
Daniel W. Drezner is professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.