Tuesday, January 27, 2009

After a New York Minute

The debacle over Hillary Clinton's Senate seat mercifully ended, but not without significant political fallout. It was an unfortunate affair for pretty much everyone involved, particularly Governor David Paterson, who has been roundly criticized (and outright mocked) for his handling of the situation.

Caroline Kennedy's interest in the assignment was clearly problematic for Paterson. An accidental governor, he was sure to face a tough reelection battle in 2010 and probably a primary challenge as well. The Senate seat provided Paterson a way to clear a Democratic rival with designs on his job-- I'm thinking specifically of Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, son of popular former Governor Mario, but I'm sure there are others-- but Kennedy's hat in the ring threatened that chance.

My expectation was for Paterson to wait for Kennedy to lose momentum and hopefully fall out of favor with the electorate, which never knew her as a pol. Things appeared to be headed that way as she struggled in initial interviews, and polls said voters preferred the attorney general for the job.

But then things took an ugly and surprising turn.

Just as Hillary Clinton was set to be confirmed as Secretary of State, whispers circulated that Kennedy would withdraw her name for personal reasons. Paterson could have left it at that. Instead, sources close to the governor trashed Kennedy, saying the Paterson would not have nominated her anyway because of nanny and/or tax and/or marriage problems. Though he denied knowing who was behind the leaks, Paterson was derided by everyone from Maureen Dowd to David Letterman, and the New York Post's Fred Dicker called him a liar in a detailed report.

Perhaps stranger still, Paterson did not nominate Cuomo, but chose Kristin Gillibrand instead. A one term Congresswoman with (according to Dowd) a less than stellar reputation in the House, Gillibrand has been a friend to the NRA, and stood with former Senate Republican Al D'Amato at her annoucement. However, She fills two of Paterson's main public criteria: She's a woman and from upstate. Presumably, this is Paterson's attempt to build support in the region and appeal to female voters.

But she fails on another key component. As an unfamiliar name, Sen. Gillibrand will have difficulty raising the money or generating the enthusiasm necessary for what will be at least three elections in two years: a primary battle before a special election in 2010, the election itself and the race when the seat's actual term expires in 2012.

She also leaves the 20th district ripe for a Republican pick- off in 2010.

I understand the desire for upstate influence, but about 63% of New Yorkers live in the city, on Long Island or in Westchester county. Picking a woman to fill the seat is also commendable, but Gillibrand's gender is not enough to ensure female support, and any gains may be outweighed by the fallout from liberals and those upset over the Kennedy smears.

Gillibrand deserves a fair shot as senator, and upstaters deserve a voice. But Paterson's decision remains curious. If he wanted to avoid naming Cuomo, who had a messy divorce from Kennedy's cousin Kerry in 2003, out of respect for the Kennedy clan, why the disparaging leaks? If he wanted to use the pick as a political opportunity why not a) pick Cuomo, b) pick Kennedy (with her Obama and Bloomberg ties, deep pockets and wealthy friends) or c) pick a place- holder closely allied with Hillary like my rep. Nita Lowey (although she denied interest in the job).

Whatever the answers, interesting questions abound. And the next couple of years in New York politics should be unpredictable.

Let's look at the winners and losers:

The losers are obvious.

  • Caroline Kennedy. She struggled through a three month political career.
  • New Yorkers. We lost out on a senator with unparalleled access to the president at a tumultuous time.
  • David Paterson. The year he has to live this down before he'll have to mount a primary campaign may not be enough, and he looks more vulnerable than ever.

The winners are less clear.
  • The Clintons. They can't be too upset that one of Obama's biggest primary backers has been embarrassed, and won't get Hillary's old job.
  • Chuck Schumer. Who is now, without a doubt, the top dog in New York politics, especially after Mayor Bloomberg and his camp stuck their necks out for Caroline.
  • Andrew Cuomo. He'd probably prefer to be governor, and, through a series of bizarre events going back to Eliot Spitzer, has a golden opportunity.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Afternoon Links

Chistopher Hitchens on what turned out to be a great day for a conflicted city. (Slate)

Paul Krugman treads through some of the disingenuous reactions to Obama's stimulus plan. (NY Times)

In a long overdue move, auto emission standards are on the rise, thanks to President Obama. (NY Times)

Alberto Gonzales doesn't think the new administration will prosecute him. (Huffington Post)

Just before their new album drops, the E Street Band reflects on the Boss himself, Bruce Springsteen. (Rolling Stone)


Ireland's the Corrigan Bros. capitalize on the Irish ancestry of the 44th American president:

Monday, January 19, 2009

Thank you, George W. Bush

On Feb. 7 I'm going with a friend to see Will Ferrell's one man Broadway show, You're Welcome America, where he plays our 43rd president.

George W. Bush was inaugurated on January 20, 2001. I was 18 years old, and politically aware and interested but not ideologically developed. The vote I cast for Al Gore remains my proudest. Before Bush took the oath of office, I had a conversation with my high school girlfriend's father. He'd voted for Bush, and I told him that after Bush was through the country would be worse off economically and socially. He disagreed.

On this, the last night of the Bush presidency, I want to take a look back at his time in office.


Just in case the above anecdote makes me seem like a know it all, indulge me one more. After 9/11, my friend and I were sitting in his dorm room watching ex- presidents and dignitaries file into the National Cathedral for a mass marking the tragic event. Gore was on screen and I remarked, "Man, I voted for him, but I'm really glad that he's not president right now. We need Bush in there." He agreed.

Bush's bravado and cowboy style comforted a nation that had its sense of invincibility rocked. He was a man who would punish those responsible and restore order to our world. Check out this SNL clip, where Ferrell plays the president just after 9/11. The cheers and hoots are remarkable and almost startling.

We craved this kind of call- out, we wanted revenge. Seven years later, this clip is more sad than funny. If you'd told the members of SNL's studio audience that night that bin Laden would be on the run and releasing tapes in 2009 I don't think they'd have believed you. I certainly wouldn't have.

But Bush was his best in those early days, even if he didn't actually accomplish anything. I'd argue the two best moments of his presidency came in late 2001:

Here, Bush is confident and well spoken, even eloquent. He's not giving prepared remarks, but reacting to the emotion of the moment and words of workers at Ground Zero.

I don't like George W. Bush, and I hate the New York Yankees. But this was pretty cool--

The Aftermath

Bush executed the War on Terror in a reckless way that was often politically motivated. The Senate's vote for use of force against Iraq was held right before the '02 midterms, which turned it into a political issue.

Dick Cheney executed his "unitary executive" theory, which gave the president new power at the expense of civil liberties and international law. Neo- Cons executed their Iraq- as- Petri dish experiment for American hegemony in the 21st century unfettered, at the expense of American servicemen and women, uncounted civilians and America's alliances.

And the president wasn't curious enough or interested enough or competent enough to stop them.


The Iraq War was, as John Kerry famously put it, the wrong war in the wrong place at the wrong time. But with improved security in the country it has become Bush's best chance at lasting achievement, and the only thing that could rescue his name from historians' bottom tier of presidents, where he now seems destined to be remembered. A stable democracy in the heart of the Middle East, and the dismantling of an abhorrent dictator is a potential game changer for our world.

But it was sold under false pretenses and done on the cheap. And when it wasn't working, Bush didn't react. The failures in Iraq can fill books. And so it can never be a source of pride for Bush. But it does have potential.

The Economy

For much of Bush's eight years in office, before the economy collapsed in on itself, the country seemed to be doing quite well economically. Unemployment was stable near historic lows, the stock market routinely broke records, and home ownership was at its highest level ever. However, polls routinely showed that Americans didn't feel good about the economy. People didn't feel good about it because it wasn't working for them. Inequality skyrocketed during the Bush years, to levels that surpassed even the "Roarin' 20s."

Through tax cuts and loop holes corporate earnings and income for the wealthiest individuals were unprecedented. Yet the benefits failed to trickle down to the rest of us. And when inflated housing numbers popped they brought the DOW down too, and Bush's signature economic accomplishments were undone while he still lived in the White House.

The Administration

In Paul Krugman's 2007 book The Conscience of a Liberal the economist distinguishes the Republican party of Eisenhower, Nixon and Bush 41 from that of George W. Bush. Bush 43 emanated from what Krugman calls"movement conservatism," and one of its main tenets is patronage based on loyalty rather than expertise.

That became evident as figures drifted from the administration to companies they were supposed to be regulating and back. It was clear after the utter incompetence of horse breeder turned FEMA director, Michael Brown who still enjoyed George Bush's loyalty even as people suffered through the federal government's incompetence.


Bush's presidency might be best understood through the lens of what's known as the Peter Principle. It holds that in a hierarchy, members are promoted so long as they work competently. Sooner or later they are promoted to a position at which they are no longer competent (their "level of incompetence"), and there they remain.

George Bush rose to a level for which he was simply incompetent.

However, his presidency is not so much a personal failure, I think, as it is a failure of ideology and a corrupt politics. George Bush's disposition and personal character and story made him somewhat of a blank canvas on which movement conservatives could project their vision of government. For eight years we endured that vision.

Now, thanks to that experience, eroding racism and a shift in demographics movement conservatives have turned the Republican party into a mostly regional force. When the party returns to national prominence, we can expect it to look very different.

So perhaps Bush's legacy is that he made today possible. He helped elect the most progressive government since the 1930s. And I firmly believe our country will be better off for it. What's more, he put the country in a place where it was finally ready move past, not so much its racial divisions, but the cultural roils that defined the baby boom generation. Now that our first post- Boomer is in the White House we can close the book on George W. Bush's presidency and that tumultuous age.

So, thank you, George W. Bush.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Hope in the 21st Century

Here in Washington, D.C., the city braces for an influx of millions for the historic inauguration of Barack Obama as the 44th president of the United States. Obama was swept into office by idealism and words like "hope" and "change." Those old enough to remember likened the feeling to the early 1960s.

But, alas, this ain't quite the '60s.

Sportsfans, accustomed to the "Coors Light Player of the Game," the "Levitra Halftime Show" and the "Dijiorno 7th Inning Stretch," know the age in which we live. And if Obamaphiles harbor illusions that anything is sacred or safe from branding these days, well they might want to skip next week's festivities.

Because right when they emerge from Union Station, they'll be greeted with posters proclaiming "HOPE" and "Change is Coming!" But they won't be graced with an image of their hero, rather they'll be branded with logos from Ikea and Pepsi.

Those companies have lauchned Obama- style campaigns of their own.

Tired of failed policies from your furniture? Head over to EmbraceChange09.com for a countdown to the First Family's moving date and check out the wide selection of nightstands to usher in a new era to your studio apartment!

Disappointed about the state of our country? Embrace the activism of the Obama era, and think about ways to improve your community while enjoying a nice cold refreshing Pepsi.

Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do to win a Monster Snacker from KFC, just log onto FeedtheBeast.com for details!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

A Few Days Left: Quote of the Day 1/14

With a new message out from Osama bin Laden today, Dick Cheney's comment below bears mentioning. Wolf Blitzer asked the VP about his disappointment over not being able to capture the man who orchestrated the largest ever attack on America.

His response? We've still got a few days left... and some words of support for the domestic spying and torture policies that have kept us all so safe these past few years.

There's a legal principle (noted on The West Wing) that deals with this kind of reasoning: Post hoc ergo propter hoc. That B follows A does not mean that A caused B.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Watch: Barack Obama Formally Elected 44th President

From Real Clear Politics:

Yesterday in a Joint Session of Congress, the Senators and Representatives conducted the formal counting of the electoral votes cast by each state. When Vice President Cheney announced the final vote tally, members of Congress rose to their feet and applauded President-elect Obama's victory.

The announcement comes at 24:00 into the video.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Krugman Explanations, Obama Expectations

Two notes from the New York Times:

In the Op-Ed section, Nobel laurate Paul Krugman accuses Republicans of "whining that almost defies belief."

Did Alberto Gonzales, the former attorney general, really say, “I consider myself a casualty, one of the many casualties of the war on terror”? Did Rush Limbaugh really suggest that the financial crisis was the result of a conspiracy, masterminded by that evil genius Chuck Schumer?
Yeesh, I hope not.

Krugman believes the Republican party's problems are far more entrenched than the missteps of a failed administration, and stretch back to their Southern strategy that developed in the wake of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, when the "G.O.P. decided, in effect, to make itself the party of racial backlash."

But what ails the party is more than a shift in demographics, argues Krugman. Instead it's their anti- government philosophy that doomed them to incompetence and lost the confidence of the American people.

Consequently, the Obama administration has an opportunity for bold action unmatched even in the Clinton years. Krugamn hopes they seize it.

What a convenient segue...

We highlighted Dick Cheney recently saying he anticipated the incoming Obama administration to embrace President Bush's expansion of executive power:
"Once they get here and they're faced with the same problems we deal with every day, then they will appreciate some of the things we've put in place..."
Well Cheney's theory will be put the test real soon. The Times reports that the Obama administration must submit a brief to the Supreme Court "on one of the most aggressive legal claims made by the Bush administration — that the president may order the military to seize legal residents of the United States and hold them indefinitely without charging them with a crime."

The position of the new President, a former Constitutional law professor, will go along way toward defining the kind of change so many believed in.

At the heart of the case is "Ali al-Marri, a Qatari student who was arrested in Peoria, Ill., in December 2001. The Bush administration says Mr. Marri is a sleeper agent for Al Qaeda, and it is holding him without charges at the Navy brig in Charleston, S.C. He is the only person currently held as an enemy combatant on the mainland, but the legal principles established in his case are likely to affect the roughly 250 prisoners at Guantánamo."

Among the many cases on the docket, experts say a shift in course is most likely in Al- Marri's.

From the article:
Many legal experts say that all of the new administration’s options in Mr. Marri’s case are perilous. Intelligence officials say he is exceptionally dangerous, making deportation problematic.

Trying him on criminal charges could be difficult, too, in part because some of the evidence against him may have been obtained through torture and would not be admissible.

And staying the course in the Marri case would outrage civil libertarians.

“If they adopt the Bush administration position, or some version of it,” said Brandt Goldstein, a professor at New York Law School, “it is going to be a moment of profound disappointment for everyone in the legal community and Americans generally who believe that the Bush administration has tried to turn the presidency into a monarchy.”

The 2000s

This is what we're doing... Espn.com's Bill Simmons questions what we'll call the current decade.

With only a year remaining in this decade, we still haven't settled on a name for it. Should we call it the aughts? The zeroes? The double ohs? The Robert Parishes? You got me.
Well, Bill, I'm here to help.

We are calling this decade the Two thousands.

Accordingly, once we reach 2010, we'll refer to the year as twenty- ten, and not two thousand ten. That will carry through for the rest of the century. In 1985, we didn't call it ninteen hundred eighty-five, and 2085 will be "twenty eight-five."

So this is the final year that will start with "two thousand..."

(And, while we're here, the Eli Manning to David Tyree play of Superbowl XLII will be known as "The Flee to Tyree.")