Commentary Magazine


Topic: Kansas City

How Bad Is Obamanomics?

Michael Boskin, former chair of the Council of Economic Advisers under the first President Bush, confirms just how bleak the economic picture is:

The Obama administration’s “summer of recovery” has morphed into a summer of economic discontent amid anxiety over the weakening economy. The greater than 4% growth and less than 8% unemployment envisioned by the president’s economic team are nowhere to be seen. Almost everything that is supposed to be up—the economic growth rate, the stock market, bond yields—is down. And almost everything that is supposed to be down—unemployment-insurance claims, new mortgage delinquencies—is up. …

How bad is it? In the data for the last few weeks and months, real personal disposable income was flat; core capital goods orders, a precursor of business capital spending, declined 8%; new home sales fell 12.4%, existing sales 27%, despite record low mortgage rates; single-family housing starts declined 4.2%; building permits, foreshadowing future construction, fell 1.2%; initial jobless claims spiked to over 500,000, leading forecasters to expect at best meager short-term private-sector job growth; the Kansas City, Philadelphia and New York Fed manufacturing indexes fell; and the trade deficit increased, as exports fell and imports rose.

Obama has done worse, much worse, than prior presidents when it comes to economic recovery. (“Compared to the 6.2% first-year Ford recovery and 7.7% Reagan recovery, the Obama recovery at 3% is less than half speed. The unemployment rate would now be 8% or lower at those higher growth rates.”)

As Boskin explains, Obama needs to reverse virtually every policy he has undertaken: slash spending, not increase it; cut taxes, not raise them; and address entitlements, not pass the buck to a do-nothing commission. It would certainly help if he were to stop imposing, and in fact cut back on, the draconian regulations, fees, and mandates he has saddled employers with.

What are the chances of this happening in the next two years? Very small. And accordingly, so are his re-election prospects.

Michael Boskin, former chair of the Council of Economic Advisers under the first President Bush, confirms just how bleak the economic picture is:

The Obama administration’s “summer of recovery” has morphed into a summer of economic discontent amid anxiety over the weakening economy. The greater than 4% growth and less than 8% unemployment envisioned by the president’s economic team are nowhere to be seen. Almost everything that is supposed to be up—the economic growth rate, the stock market, bond yields—is down. And almost everything that is supposed to be down—unemployment-insurance claims, new mortgage delinquencies—is up. …

How bad is it? In the data for the last few weeks and months, real personal disposable income was flat; core capital goods orders, a precursor of business capital spending, declined 8%; new home sales fell 12.4%, existing sales 27%, despite record low mortgage rates; single-family housing starts declined 4.2%; building permits, foreshadowing future construction, fell 1.2%; initial jobless claims spiked to over 500,000, leading forecasters to expect at best meager short-term private-sector job growth; the Kansas City, Philadelphia and New York Fed manufacturing indexes fell; and the trade deficit increased, as exports fell and imports rose.

Obama has done worse, much worse, than prior presidents when it comes to economic recovery. (“Compared to the 6.2% first-year Ford recovery and 7.7% Reagan recovery, the Obama recovery at 3% is less than half speed. The unemployment rate would now be 8% or lower at those higher growth rates.”)

As Boskin explains, Obama needs to reverse virtually every policy he has undertaken: slash spending, not increase it; cut taxes, not raise them; and address entitlements, not pass the buck to a do-nothing commission. It would certainly help if he were to stop imposing, and in fact cut back on, the draconian regulations, fees, and mandates he has saddled employers with.

What are the chances of this happening in the next two years? Very small. And accordingly, so are his re-election prospects.

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Obama’s Economy

It was supposed to be the summer of recovery. But the recovery isn’t happening, and consumers, employers, and investors have registered their votes on Obamanomics: thumbs down. The drop-off in housing sales tells us that despite historically low interest rates and available credit, consumers are nervous and lack confidence about the future. Better not to buy now. The stock market, the best indicator we have about expectations for the economy, has nosedived as well:

The Dow Jones Industrial Average stumbled back below 10000 on Thursday, an unwelcome milestone as worries about the U.S. economy increase. The blue-chip index erased early gains to finish down 74.25 points, or 0.74%, at 9985.81. The close is its first finish below the psychologically important level since July 6. …

Thursday’s stock declines came as the latest economic bad news—a stalling of manufacturing activity in the Kansas City district of the Federal Reserve Bank—added to a pile of economic warning signs in recent weeks.

Trading volumes were anemic, with less than four billion shares changing hands—below the daily average this year of 5.1 billion.

There is a political and economic way forward for Obama — not in time to spare him and his party bruising losses in November but to salvage the last two years of his presidency. First, and no easy thing for a man with a messiah complex, Obama needs to stop telling us that what he’s done has worked. It hasn’t, and it makes him look foolish. Second, he should listen to Douglas Schoen:

Mr. Obama and his Democratic colleagues also need to stop their phony populist campaign emphasizing that they have taken on the banks and Wall Street. Populism—particularly of the left-wing type that seeks to expand the role of government with redistributive fiscal policies and increases in government spending, intervention and ownership—rarely if ever works. In the absence of a successful argument for the administration’s overarching policy approach, a populist campaign would be as fruitless as blaming George W. Bush for every ill America now faces.

Beyond that, the administration must emphasize that it understands the electorate’s concern about fiscal prudence, the deficit, the debt and the need to balance the budget. The independent voters who hold the fate of the Democrats in their hands are looking for candidates who champion, in a bipartisan context, fiscal discipline, limited government, deficit reduction and a free market, pro-growth agenda. If Democrats don’t offer this, they will be branded liberal tax-and-spenders.

They are already branded the liberal tax-and-spenders, but that is smart policy and smart politics.

In the wake of the November election, there will be time for reflection, one hopes. If Obama wants to rescue his presidency and assist rather than encumber our recovery, he has to stop doing what he has been and start doing what his critics urged. After a summer of brutal economic developments and a decisive electoral defeat in November, maybe he’ll be ready. We’ll see.

It was supposed to be the summer of recovery. But the recovery isn’t happening, and consumers, employers, and investors have registered their votes on Obamanomics: thumbs down. The drop-off in housing sales tells us that despite historically low interest rates and available credit, consumers are nervous and lack confidence about the future. Better not to buy now. The stock market, the best indicator we have about expectations for the economy, has nosedived as well:

The Dow Jones Industrial Average stumbled back below 10000 on Thursday, an unwelcome milestone as worries about the U.S. economy increase. The blue-chip index erased early gains to finish down 74.25 points, or 0.74%, at 9985.81. The close is its first finish below the psychologically important level since July 6. …

Thursday’s stock declines came as the latest economic bad news—a stalling of manufacturing activity in the Kansas City district of the Federal Reserve Bank—added to a pile of economic warning signs in recent weeks.

Trading volumes were anemic, with less than four billion shares changing hands—below the daily average this year of 5.1 billion.

There is a political and economic way forward for Obama — not in time to spare him and his party bruising losses in November but to salvage the last two years of his presidency. First, and no easy thing for a man with a messiah complex, Obama needs to stop telling us that what he’s done has worked. It hasn’t, and it makes him look foolish. Second, he should listen to Douglas Schoen:

Mr. Obama and his Democratic colleagues also need to stop their phony populist campaign emphasizing that they have taken on the banks and Wall Street. Populism—particularly of the left-wing type that seeks to expand the role of government with redistributive fiscal policies and increases in government spending, intervention and ownership—rarely if ever works. In the absence of a successful argument for the administration’s overarching policy approach, a populist campaign would be as fruitless as blaming George W. Bush for every ill America now faces.

Beyond that, the administration must emphasize that it understands the electorate’s concern about fiscal prudence, the deficit, the debt and the need to balance the budget. The independent voters who hold the fate of the Democrats in their hands are looking for candidates who champion, in a bipartisan context, fiscal discipline, limited government, deficit reduction and a free market, pro-growth agenda. If Democrats don’t offer this, they will be branded liberal tax-and-spenders.

They are already branded the liberal tax-and-spenders, but that is smart policy and smart politics.

In the wake of the November election, there will be time for reflection, one hopes. If Obama wants to rescue his presidency and assist rather than encumber our recovery, he has to stop doing what he has been and start doing what his critics urged. After a summer of brutal economic developments and a decisive electoral defeat in November, maybe he’ll be ready. We’ll see.

Read Less

We Only Expected Competence

It somehow has never dawned on the Obama devotees who like to cite the administration’s “inherited mess” that this president’s failures don’t exactly reflect the overcautiousness of a leader constrained by a crisis. Taking over one-sixth of the private sector in an unintelligible health-care scheme is not an indication of tied hands; it’s a demonstration of unbridled recklessness. So too is dumping unprecedented billions into a liberal wish-list and calling it a stimulus. And so is cooking up financial reform that makes growth impossible and charges responsible banks with the task of bailing out irresponsible ones.

But it is Barack Obama’s most devoted supporters who should be most offended by the White House’s newest spin on the president’s shortcomings. Obama, we are now told, could never have lived up to people’s expectations of him.

Of the two excuses, the second is the more ignoble. The first merely passes the buck to another politician; the second places the blame at the feet of everyone else.  We’re not just talking about Americans, either. On Thursday, the European Commission’s president José Manuel Barroso told an interviewer that he was disappointed in the EU-America relationship under Obama. The administration’s response: “Senior U.S. figures said Obama could never live up to Europe’s sky-high expectations.”

I’m sure that will put transatlantic relations on the road to recovery in no time. But more to the point, it was candidate Barack Obama who vowed to accomplish the impossible. He said he would close Guantanamo Bay, lower the sea levels, end partisanship, elevate America’s standing in the world, and forge a new global order built on common humanity. With the exception of the laughably deluded, most everyone else’s expectations were fairly modest.

Americans, liberal and conservative, expected a president who could tell an interviewer what was actually in the biggest piece of legislation we’ve seen since FDR; one who would consider our employment crisis his first priority, not a nuisance standing in the way of a predetermined agenda; a leader who was unequivocal about military decisions, be they to escalate or drawdown; a statesman who didn’t immediately alienate our allies.

And as for those allies, Europe wanted an American president who would acknowledge the historic and ideological bonds between liberal democracies; one who wouldn’t preach financial prodigality while the continent adopted emergency austerity measures; one who would, in the words of Nicolas Sarkozy, “live in a real world, not a virtual world,” and who would consequently place the threat of a nuclear Iran before the pet cause of non-proliferation.

These bare minimums — our own and Europe’s — don’t even speak to an expectation of excellence, let alone a fantasy of “sky-high” miracle-working. They constitute a simple wish for competence in the most powerful office in the world.

Even if Obama didn’t hold that job, his excuse would be odd. Imagine a man who is up for a sales job at a company in crisis. He tells his prospective boss that not only will he rescue sales but he’ll also lower costs, turn out a better product, get the competition to cooperate instead of compete, raise wages, improve the food in the company commissary, and redecorate the offices to boot. This man then gets hired. For a year, sales continue to lag, and everything else stays the same. The new employee explains that the guy who used to have his job left behind an unconscionable mess, which has made it very hard to do the things he had promised in the interview phase. After a year and a half, sales hit an historic low, the product is being recalled, competitors have formed a guild and are pulling ahead, everyone at the company has taken a salary hit, a few people have gotten food poisoning in the commissary, and the offices are more dilapidated than ever. On top of that, vendors can’t get him on the phone, he’s insulted his co-workers, and he’s taken more vacation time than the company allows. The boss finally asks him what’s gone wrong. “I could never have lived up to your expectations,” the man says.

Looking ahead to midterm elections, Obama recently told a Kansas City audience, “You’re going to face a choice in November and I want everybody to be very clear about what that choice is – the choice between the policies that got us into this mess in the first place and the policies that are getting us out of this mess.” Which mess is that? The stimulus mess? The ObamaCare mess? The financial-regulation mess? The European-allies mess? The Israel-relationship mess? The Karzai-relationship mess? The civilian-military mess? We’re facing a lot of messes that don’t have a thing to do with conservative policies. Even the housing-loan policies that led to the bust and recession are liberal policies, whether or not Bush embraced them.

The administration is now telling Americans not to expect much and to keep Democrats in office. “Despair and stasis” doesn’t quite have the ring of a successful campaign slogan, does it?

It somehow has never dawned on the Obama devotees who like to cite the administration’s “inherited mess” that this president’s failures don’t exactly reflect the overcautiousness of a leader constrained by a crisis. Taking over one-sixth of the private sector in an unintelligible health-care scheme is not an indication of tied hands; it’s a demonstration of unbridled recklessness. So too is dumping unprecedented billions into a liberal wish-list and calling it a stimulus. And so is cooking up financial reform that makes growth impossible and charges responsible banks with the task of bailing out irresponsible ones.

But it is Barack Obama’s most devoted supporters who should be most offended by the White House’s newest spin on the president’s shortcomings. Obama, we are now told, could never have lived up to people’s expectations of him.

Of the two excuses, the second is the more ignoble. The first merely passes the buck to another politician; the second places the blame at the feet of everyone else.  We’re not just talking about Americans, either. On Thursday, the European Commission’s president José Manuel Barroso told an interviewer that he was disappointed in the EU-America relationship under Obama. The administration’s response: “Senior U.S. figures said Obama could never live up to Europe’s sky-high expectations.”

I’m sure that will put transatlantic relations on the road to recovery in no time. But more to the point, it was candidate Barack Obama who vowed to accomplish the impossible. He said he would close Guantanamo Bay, lower the sea levels, end partisanship, elevate America’s standing in the world, and forge a new global order built on common humanity. With the exception of the laughably deluded, most everyone else’s expectations were fairly modest.

Americans, liberal and conservative, expected a president who could tell an interviewer what was actually in the biggest piece of legislation we’ve seen since FDR; one who would consider our employment crisis his first priority, not a nuisance standing in the way of a predetermined agenda; a leader who was unequivocal about military decisions, be they to escalate or drawdown; a statesman who didn’t immediately alienate our allies.

And as for those allies, Europe wanted an American president who would acknowledge the historic and ideological bonds between liberal democracies; one who wouldn’t preach financial prodigality while the continent adopted emergency austerity measures; one who would, in the words of Nicolas Sarkozy, “live in a real world, not a virtual world,” and who would consequently place the threat of a nuclear Iran before the pet cause of non-proliferation.

These bare minimums — our own and Europe’s — don’t even speak to an expectation of excellence, let alone a fantasy of “sky-high” miracle-working. They constitute a simple wish for competence in the most powerful office in the world.

Even if Obama didn’t hold that job, his excuse would be odd. Imagine a man who is up for a sales job at a company in crisis. He tells his prospective boss that not only will he rescue sales but he’ll also lower costs, turn out a better product, get the competition to cooperate instead of compete, raise wages, improve the food in the company commissary, and redecorate the offices to boot. This man then gets hired. For a year, sales continue to lag, and everything else stays the same. The new employee explains that the guy who used to have his job left behind an unconscionable mess, which has made it very hard to do the things he had promised in the interview phase. After a year and a half, sales hit an historic low, the product is being recalled, competitors have formed a guild and are pulling ahead, everyone at the company has taken a salary hit, a few people have gotten food poisoning in the commissary, and the offices are more dilapidated than ever. On top of that, vendors can’t get him on the phone, he’s insulted his co-workers, and he’s taken more vacation time than the company allows. The boss finally asks him what’s gone wrong. “I could never have lived up to your expectations,” the man says.

Looking ahead to midterm elections, Obama recently told a Kansas City audience, “You’re going to face a choice in November and I want everybody to be very clear about what that choice is – the choice between the policies that got us into this mess in the first place and the policies that are getting us out of this mess.” Which mess is that? The stimulus mess? The ObamaCare mess? The financial-regulation mess? The European-allies mess? The Israel-relationship mess? The Karzai-relationship mess? The civilian-military mess? We’re facing a lot of messes that don’t have a thing to do with conservative policies. Even the housing-loan policies that led to the bust and recession are liberal policies, whether or not Bush embraced them.

The administration is now telling Americans not to expect much and to keep Democrats in office. “Despair and stasis” doesn’t quite have the ring of a successful campaign slogan, does it?

Read Less

Gray Lady to Obama: You Sound Like George Bush on a Bad Day

We get a brutal assessment of Obama’s performance from none other than the New York Times, which tells its doubtlessly shell-shocked liberal readers that all those “wins” in Congress are really losses. (“While he may be winning on Capitol Hill, he is losing with voters at a time of economic distress, and soon may be forced to scale back his ambitions.”) Here’s a low blow:

You know, sometimes these pundits, they can’t figure me out,” the president said last week, campaigning in Kansas City, Mo., for the Democratic Senate candidate there. “They say, ‘Well, why is he doing that?’ That doesn’t poll well. Well, I’ve got my own pollsters, I know it doesn’t poll well. But it’s the right thing to do for America.”

It is an argument that sounds eerily similar to the one Mr. Obama’s predecessor, George W. Bush, made to justify an unpopular war in Iraq as he watched his own poll numbers sink lower. Mr. Bush and his aides often felt they could not catch a break; when the economy was humming along — or at least seemed to be humming along — the Bush White House never got credit for it, because the public was so upset about the war.

The difference, however, is that Bush turned around the war. Obama has failed to do so on the economy and  is now paying the price for his liberal joyride:

Just 40 percent of Americans now approve of Mr. Obama’s handling of the economy, the CBS News poll found. More than half said he was spending too little time on the economy. In one of the most striking findings, nearly two-thirds said the president’s economic policies had no effect on them personally — just 13 percent said they had helped them.

“Voters don’t have a checklist that they tick off, of what an elected official promised and then delivered,” said Charlie Cook, the editor of The Cook Political Report, a nonpartisan newsletter that tracks Congressional races. “They were enormously frustrated last year by the fixation on health care when they wanted a focus on the economy, with Democrats losing the messaging fight on whether what they did was right and effective or not.”

Funny how the Times is just now figuring all this out. But at least the Gray Lady has, which is more than you can say for the Obami.

We get a brutal assessment of Obama’s performance from none other than the New York Times, which tells its doubtlessly shell-shocked liberal readers that all those “wins” in Congress are really losses. (“While he may be winning on Capitol Hill, he is losing with voters at a time of economic distress, and soon may be forced to scale back his ambitions.”) Here’s a low blow:

You know, sometimes these pundits, they can’t figure me out,” the president said last week, campaigning in Kansas City, Mo., for the Democratic Senate candidate there. “They say, ‘Well, why is he doing that?’ That doesn’t poll well. Well, I’ve got my own pollsters, I know it doesn’t poll well. But it’s the right thing to do for America.”

It is an argument that sounds eerily similar to the one Mr. Obama’s predecessor, George W. Bush, made to justify an unpopular war in Iraq as he watched his own poll numbers sink lower. Mr. Bush and his aides often felt they could not catch a break; when the economy was humming along — or at least seemed to be humming along — the Bush White House never got credit for it, because the public was so upset about the war.

The difference, however, is that Bush turned around the war. Obama has failed to do so on the economy and  is now paying the price for his liberal joyride:

Just 40 percent of Americans now approve of Mr. Obama’s handling of the economy, the CBS News poll found. More than half said he was spending too little time on the economy. In one of the most striking findings, nearly two-thirds said the president’s economic policies had no effect on them personally — just 13 percent said they had helped them.

“Voters don’t have a checklist that they tick off, of what an elected official promised and then delivered,” said Charlie Cook, the editor of The Cook Political Report, a nonpartisan newsletter that tracks Congressional races. “They were enormously frustrated last year by the fixation on health care when they wanted a focus on the economy, with Democrats losing the messaging fight on whether what they did was right and effective or not.”

Funny how the Times is just now figuring all this out. But at least the Gray Lady has, which is more than you can say for the Obami.

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The Unraveling

As this report explains, the Obama coalition — made up of diverse groups with conflicting understandings of what he was all about — may be unraveling. There is the “specifically eroding support among young voters and independents — in part because of the president’s economic agenda.” Well, these groups and others have reason to be put off by Obamaism and the Democrats in Congress who have been enabling the lurch to the Left.

With unemployment sky-high among young workers and the prospect of a new mandate to buy health insurance they don’t want and can’t afford, younger voters (who aren’t inclined to turn out in off-year elections anyway) may stand on the sidelines in 2010. In August Michael Barone detailed the anti-youth aspects of Obama’s agenda, noting that even Obama’s cynical foreign policy and indifference to human-rights and democracy promotion don’t offer much for those who bought into the hope-n-change routine:

That leads me to wonder whether you were dismayed when Obama responded with stony indifference to the people in the streets of Iran protesting a fraudulent election and demanding freedom and democracy. Some called for the end of a regime that subordinates women and executes homosexuals, things I’m sure you don’t like at all. Although Obama eventually indicated some sympathy, he seemed to regard those demands as a nuisance getting in the way of negotiating with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the mullahs.

Independents seem to be souring on Obamaism — huge spending, nasty partisanship, and massive debt. Then there are wealthy voters who are discovering just how expensive Obama’s economic agenda might be. In June the Wall Street Journal reported:

Recently elected Democrats from higher-income areas also have been cautious about legislation that would make it easier for labor unions to organize, and about legislation imposing tough new rules on banks. Republicans have savaged the new Democrats for supporting legislation to stem global warming by capping greenhouse-gas emissions, then forcing polluters to purchase and trade emissions.

The real kicker will be the Democrats’ insistence on a massive tax hike — allowing the Bush 2001 and 2003 tax cuts to expire. Combined with health-care taxes, marginal rates on the wealthy may return to pre-Reagan-tax-cut levels. That will be quite a wake-up call for the professional class that supported Obama in great numbers. Congressmen are not unaware of this:

“They’re just hanging themselves,” says Republican Rep. Sam Graves, who last year beat back a spirited challenge in his northwestern Missouri district, which includes suburban Kansas City, and said he is looking forward to a race on taxes in 2010.

The tax issue is presenting many new Democrats with a quandary as they struggle to get their political footing. “These members are going to have to make their own determinations on how to balance these interests,” said Maryland Rep. Chris Van Hollen, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and himself a representative of the affluent suburbs of Washington.

And finally, the Left is now miffed at Obama for failing to live up to netroots’ fondest dreams. They haven’t gotten gay marriage, a pullout from Iraq and Afghanistan, or repeal of the Patriot Act. They are grumbling that insufficient progress has been made on their extreme environmental agenda.

In sum, Obama is losing factions of his political coalition in record speed as these groups learn what his agenda is all about. His Democratic allies are likely to bear the brunt of that in 2010 — at a time when the economy has not yet recovered and unemployment is still high. This is why 2010 may, in fact, be a “wave” election and a bracing wake-up call for the White House.

As this report explains, the Obama coalition — made up of diverse groups with conflicting understandings of what he was all about — may be unraveling. There is the “specifically eroding support among young voters and independents — in part because of the president’s economic agenda.” Well, these groups and others have reason to be put off by Obamaism and the Democrats in Congress who have been enabling the lurch to the Left.

With unemployment sky-high among young workers and the prospect of a new mandate to buy health insurance they don’t want and can’t afford, younger voters (who aren’t inclined to turn out in off-year elections anyway) may stand on the sidelines in 2010. In August Michael Barone detailed the anti-youth aspects of Obama’s agenda, noting that even Obama’s cynical foreign policy and indifference to human-rights and democracy promotion don’t offer much for those who bought into the hope-n-change routine:

That leads me to wonder whether you were dismayed when Obama responded with stony indifference to the people in the streets of Iran protesting a fraudulent election and demanding freedom and democracy. Some called for the end of a regime that subordinates women and executes homosexuals, things I’m sure you don’t like at all. Although Obama eventually indicated some sympathy, he seemed to regard those demands as a nuisance getting in the way of negotiating with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the mullahs.

Independents seem to be souring on Obamaism — huge spending, nasty partisanship, and massive debt. Then there are wealthy voters who are discovering just how expensive Obama’s economic agenda might be. In June the Wall Street Journal reported:

Recently elected Democrats from higher-income areas also have been cautious about legislation that would make it easier for labor unions to organize, and about legislation imposing tough new rules on banks. Republicans have savaged the new Democrats for supporting legislation to stem global warming by capping greenhouse-gas emissions, then forcing polluters to purchase and trade emissions.

The real kicker will be the Democrats’ insistence on a massive tax hike — allowing the Bush 2001 and 2003 tax cuts to expire. Combined with health-care taxes, marginal rates on the wealthy may return to pre-Reagan-tax-cut levels. That will be quite a wake-up call for the professional class that supported Obama in great numbers. Congressmen are not unaware of this:

“They’re just hanging themselves,” says Republican Rep. Sam Graves, who last year beat back a spirited challenge in his northwestern Missouri district, which includes suburban Kansas City, and said he is looking forward to a race on taxes in 2010.

The tax issue is presenting many new Democrats with a quandary as they struggle to get their political footing. “These members are going to have to make their own determinations on how to balance these interests,” said Maryland Rep. Chris Van Hollen, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and himself a representative of the affluent suburbs of Washington.

And finally, the Left is now miffed at Obama for failing to live up to netroots’ fondest dreams. They haven’t gotten gay marriage, a pullout from Iraq and Afghanistan, or repeal of the Patriot Act. They are grumbling that insufficient progress has been made on their extreme environmental agenda.

In sum, Obama is losing factions of his political coalition in record speed as these groups learn what his agenda is all about. His Democratic allies are likely to bear the brunt of that in 2010 — at a time when the economy has not yet recovered and unemployment is still high. This is why 2010 may, in fact, be a “wave” election and a bracing wake-up call for the White House.

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McCain Makes His Case

John McCain spoke to the VFW in Kansas City today on the Iraq War. The speech in many ways sets out the contour of the fight he will have with his Democratic opponent. First, he tries to shape the political debate by contending that the choice in 2008 is about the future, not the past:

But the question for the next President is not about the past, but about the future and how to secure it. Our most vital security interests are at stake in Iraq. The stability of the entire Middle East, that volatile and critically important region, is at stake. The United States’ credibility as a moral and political leader is at stake. How to safeguard those interests is what we should be debating.

That argument jibes with the notion that elections are about the future, not the past. But with a majority of the public still believing the war was a mistake and the benefits outweighed by the costs, convincing voters of this will probably be an uphill battle.

Second, he tries to challenge his opponents’ proposed course of action. Pivoting off Barack Obama’s amorphous “strike force” he notes:

There are those who today argue for a hasty withdrawal from Iraq. Some would withdraw regardless of the consequences. Others say that we can withdraw now and then return if trouble starts again. What they are really proposing, if they mean what they say, is a policy of withdraw and re-invade. For if we withdraw hastily and irresponsibly, we will guarantee the trouble will come immediately. Our allies, Arab countries, the UN, and the Iraqis themselves will not step up to their responsibilities if we recklessly retreat. I can hardly imagine a more imprudent and dangerous course.

Here he is trying to focus the public on the results of what he contends is the Democrats’ “feel-good” strategy. Because the Democrats have yet to explain fully how departing Iraq would improve our security, he characterizes this as a failure of “leadership”:

To promise a withdrawal of our forces from Iraq, regardless of the calamitous consequences to the Iraqi people, our most vital interests, and the future of the Middle East, is the height of irresponsibility. It is a failure of leadership.

Will this speech change voters’ minds about Iraq? Quite possibly no. What we have seen over the last year is that facts on the ground, much more than political rhetoric, shift public opinion. But however you look at it, McCain has put the ball back into his opponents’ court to explain what they plan to do about al Qaeda in Iraq and how their plan for immediate withdrawal will aid America’s long term interests.

John McCain spoke to the VFW in Kansas City today on the Iraq War. The speech in many ways sets out the contour of the fight he will have with his Democratic opponent. First, he tries to shape the political debate by contending that the choice in 2008 is about the future, not the past:

But the question for the next President is not about the past, but about the future and how to secure it. Our most vital security interests are at stake in Iraq. The stability of the entire Middle East, that volatile and critically important region, is at stake. The United States’ credibility as a moral and political leader is at stake. How to safeguard those interests is what we should be debating.

That argument jibes with the notion that elections are about the future, not the past. But with a majority of the public still believing the war was a mistake and the benefits outweighed by the costs, convincing voters of this will probably be an uphill battle.

Second, he tries to challenge his opponents’ proposed course of action. Pivoting off Barack Obama’s amorphous “strike force” he notes:

There are those who today argue for a hasty withdrawal from Iraq. Some would withdraw regardless of the consequences. Others say that we can withdraw now and then return if trouble starts again. What they are really proposing, if they mean what they say, is a policy of withdraw and re-invade. For if we withdraw hastily and irresponsibly, we will guarantee the trouble will come immediately. Our allies, Arab countries, the UN, and the Iraqis themselves will not step up to their responsibilities if we recklessly retreat. I can hardly imagine a more imprudent and dangerous course.

Here he is trying to focus the public on the results of what he contends is the Democrats’ “feel-good” strategy. Because the Democrats have yet to explain fully how departing Iraq would improve our security, he characterizes this as a failure of “leadership”:

To promise a withdrawal of our forces from Iraq, regardless of the calamitous consequences to the Iraqi people, our most vital interests, and the future of the Middle East, is the height of irresponsibility. It is a failure of leadership.

Will this speech change voters’ minds about Iraq? Quite possibly no. What we have seen over the last year is that facts on the ground, much more than political rhetoric, shift public opinion. But however you look at it, McCain has put the ball back into his opponents’ court to explain what they plan to do about al Qaeda in Iraq and how their plan for immediate withdrawal will aid America’s long term interests.

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Bookshelf

• Everyone agrees that newspapers aren’t what they used to be—but what did they use to be? Fewer and fewer of us can remember a time when independently owned big-city newspapers, with their dictatorial proprietors and clean-up-this-town crusades, were a major cultural force in American life. For the most part, our understanding of these papers and their priorities now derives not from first-hand experience but from “Citizen Kane,” The Fountainhead and the half-nostalgic, half-jaundiced writings of A.J. Liebling and H.L. Mencken. Thus it was with great interest that I read Harry Haskell’s Boss-Busters and Sin Hounds: Kansas City and Its Star (University of Missouri Press, 450 pp., $34.95), a refreshingly well-written history of the Kansas City Star, which in its day was one of the most influential papers in the Midwest. I knew the Star well in my youth, and even wrote for it in the late 70’s and early 80’s, but by then it bore little resemblance to the paper founded by William Rockhill Nelson in 1880, and Haskell (whose grandfather, Henry Haskell, spent a half-century working for the paper) has done a sterling job of recreating the Star as it used to be.

Today Nelson is remembered, if at all, as the founder of Kansas City’s Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, one of the greatest museums in the Midwest. In his lifetime, though, he ran the Star with an iron hand sans velvet glove. “I am publishing the Daily W.R. Nelson,” he said. “If people don’t like my paper they can buy another.” Nelson’s paper was known for clear, direct writing (Ernest Hemingway, who put in a brief stint there, claimed ever after to have been deeply influenced by its no-nonsense style) and a brand of politics that grew increasingly progressive over the years (the Star backed Theodore Roosevelt to the hilt). The Star played a key role in the transformation of Kansas City into a modern middle-class metropolis, and it was Nelson’s thinking that determined the paper’s editorial priorities until the day of his death in 1915, on which sad occasion it ran a two-page obituary that he had personally read and approved.

Like all such papers, the Star underwent great changes after its founder’s death, and by the 30’s it was a staunchly (if not rigidly) Republican paper whose editors looked upon the New Deal with dour skepticism but still retained a measure of their youthful idealism:

Believing personal liberty and private enterprise to be society’s greatest good, they viewed the rise of big government, interest-group politics, and self-governing nation-states with grave misgivings. Seeing an enlightened governing class as the surest bulwark against the “moronic underworld,” they nevertheless accepted the necessity for capitalist societies to reorganize themselves on a more equitable and sustainable basis, to forestall another disastrous slide into totalitarianism or complacency.

Harry Haskell writes about the early days of the Star in much the same way that Robert Caro writes about Lyndon Johnson, making no secret of his own liberal views:

The pages that follow tell the story of one great newspaper and of the compelling “power of purpose” it exerted during what might be called the long Progressive Era . . . Few, I suspect, would rush to turn back to turn back the clock to a time when it was said that “the Star is Kansas City and Kansas City is the Star.” But we may yet think again. If there is a more powerful engine for community building and civic renewal than a strong local newspaper, it has yet to be invented.

But like Caro’s Johnson biography, Boss-Busters and Sin Hounds can also be read in a somewhat different way than its author presumably intended. That papers like the Star were a force for good in turn-of-the-century America is certainly arguable. On the other hand, it was rare for a community as large as Kansas City to be dominated so totally by a single agenda-setting newspaper—the day of the one-newspaper town had not yet come—and one may take leave to doubt that Haskell would now look with equal favor on a paper whose proprietor had been more like Ronald Reagan than William Rockhill Nelson.

In any case, the emergence of the “ethereal Internet ‘communities’” of which he writes so skeptically in his preface was to a considerable extent stimulated by the increasing tendency of postwar newspaper editors and reporters to assume that their ideological points of view were unassailably right. Empowered by the disappearance of competing editorial voices, they succumbed to hubris and thereby lost their influence with much of the American reading public, in the process opening the way for the rise of Web-based journalism and the simultaneous decline of the traditional newspaper. That, too, is part of the ambiguous legacy of W.R. Nelson.

• Everyone agrees that newspapers aren’t what they used to be—but what did they use to be? Fewer and fewer of us can remember a time when independently owned big-city newspapers, with their dictatorial proprietors and clean-up-this-town crusades, were a major cultural force in American life. For the most part, our understanding of these papers and their priorities now derives not from first-hand experience but from “Citizen Kane,” The Fountainhead and the half-nostalgic, half-jaundiced writings of A.J. Liebling and H.L. Mencken. Thus it was with great interest that I read Harry Haskell’s Boss-Busters and Sin Hounds: Kansas City and Its Star (University of Missouri Press, 450 pp., $34.95), a refreshingly well-written history of the Kansas City Star, which in its day was one of the most influential papers in the Midwest. I knew the Star well in my youth, and even wrote for it in the late 70’s and early 80’s, but by then it bore little resemblance to the paper founded by William Rockhill Nelson in 1880, and Haskell (whose grandfather, Henry Haskell, spent a half-century working for the paper) has done a sterling job of recreating the Star as it used to be.

Today Nelson is remembered, if at all, as the founder of Kansas City’s Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, one of the greatest museums in the Midwest. In his lifetime, though, he ran the Star with an iron hand sans velvet glove. “I am publishing the Daily W.R. Nelson,” he said. “If people don’t like my paper they can buy another.” Nelson’s paper was known for clear, direct writing (Ernest Hemingway, who put in a brief stint there, claimed ever after to have been deeply influenced by its no-nonsense style) and a brand of politics that grew increasingly progressive over the years (the Star backed Theodore Roosevelt to the hilt). The Star played a key role in the transformation of Kansas City into a modern middle-class metropolis, and it was Nelson’s thinking that determined the paper’s editorial priorities until the day of his death in 1915, on which sad occasion it ran a two-page obituary that he had personally read and approved.

Like all such papers, the Star underwent great changes after its founder’s death, and by the 30’s it was a staunchly (if not rigidly) Republican paper whose editors looked upon the New Deal with dour skepticism but still retained a measure of their youthful idealism:

Believing personal liberty and private enterprise to be society’s greatest good, they viewed the rise of big government, interest-group politics, and self-governing nation-states with grave misgivings. Seeing an enlightened governing class as the surest bulwark against the “moronic underworld,” they nevertheless accepted the necessity for capitalist societies to reorganize themselves on a more equitable and sustainable basis, to forestall another disastrous slide into totalitarianism or complacency.

Harry Haskell writes about the early days of the Star in much the same way that Robert Caro writes about Lyndon Johnson, making no secret of his own liberal views:

The pages that follow tell the story of one great newspaper and of the compelling “power of purpose” it exerted during what might be called the long Progressive Era . . . Few, I suspect, would rush to turn back to turn back the clock to a time when it was said that “the Star is Kansas City and Kansas City is the Star.” But we may yet think again. If there is a more powerful engine for community building and civic renewal than a strong local newspaper, it has yet to be invented.

But like Caro’s Johnson biography, Boss-Busters and Sin Hounds can also be read in a somewhat different way than its author presumably intended. That papers like the Star were a force for good in turn-of-the-century America is certainly arguable. On the other hand, it was rare for a community as large as Kansas City to be dominated so totally by a single agenda-setting newspaper—the day of the one-newspaper town had not yet come—and one may take leave to doubt that Haskell would now look with equal favor on a paper whose proprietor had been more like Ronald Reagan than William Rockhill Nelson.

In any case, the emergence of the “ethereal Internet ‘communities’” of which he writes so skeptically in his preface was to a considerable extent stimulated by the increasing tendency of postwar newspaper editors and reporters to assume that their ideological points of view were unassailably right. Empowered by the disappearance of competing editorial voices, they succumbed to hubris and thereby lost their influence with much of the American reading public, in the process opening the way for the rise of Web-based journalism and the simultaneous decline of the traditional newspaper. That, too, is part of the ambiguous legacy of W.R. Nelson.

Read Less




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