Tag Archives: Obama

Time to Boil Political Frogs

united states currency seal - IMG_7366_web

united states currency seal – IMG_7366_web (Photo credit: kevindean)

It must be an election year!  How do I know, because politicians of both parties are spouting talking points about the need for fiscal responsibility even while they do the opposite.  These same politicians have set up themselves and the rest of us for what is being called the ‘fiscal cliff’ at the beginning of 2013.

The fiscal cliff is the consequence political evasion, ill-considered gimmicks and cynicism.  Because the cost of enacting the ‘Bush tax cuts’ on a permanent basis was seen as politically unacceptable without also cutting spending by like amounts—also seen as unacceptable, Congress did neither.  Instead Congress jumped into the pot of cold water and turned on the heat by adopting the Bush tax cuts, giving them an expiration date, never expecting the water to boil on their watch thus engaging in the age old sport of driving up the deficit while complaining about all the spending.  This was not the finest hour for Republican leadership not because they got the policy wrong but because they bungled the execution and accountability. Had Republicans made the Bush tax permanent there would be no tax cliff.  Had they adjusted spending to match revenue the deficit would be substantially smaller today even counting the first round of stimulus spending. And ten year later Republicans in Congress are still on shaky grounds preaching about fiscal responsibility.

The other part of the fiscal cliff is made possible by another politically correct but imminently silly gimmick called sequestration.  This scheme allowed for the extension of the Nation’s debt ceiling sufficient to pay the bills but ordered automatic cuts in spending divided equally between defense and non-defense programs.  The Democrats agreed to this because they had no choice if they wanted to get the President’s debt ceiling measure approved in a divided Congress.  The Republicans agreed to it because it exacted a pound of flesh from the President’s backside because he needed something and decided to take the beating to get it.  Longer term, the Republicans believed they would win the next election and (avoid having their frog boil) by undoing sequestration for at least defense programs to avoid the cliff even if they sacrificed a few nondefense programs to claim they were cutting the fat out of the budget.

President Obama and the Congressional Democrats made the consequences of the tax cliff manifestly worse than the Republicans by driving up government spending, programs, staffing levels and industrial policy grants to favored players.  In typical Washington fashion any discussion of slowing down the INCREASE in Federal spending as a percentage of GDP is labeled as a ‘cut’ and YouTube videos of Paul Ryan pushing grandma over the cliff in her wheelchair suddenly appear.

“A Pox on Both Your Houses!”

That is the American public’s reaction to these stunts.  But here we are—careening down the 2012 election highway way above the speed limit heading toward the cliff.

In 2008, we voted for Barack Obama because we wanted to believe in his message of hope and change.  We wanted to be part of a historic presidency that celebrated to the world everything we cherished in the American dream.   We wanted to demonstrate that America was still the world’s leader and superpower.  We wanted to again reinvent America to face our economic problems squarely and to be that beacon of hope and change that a desperate world in 2008 desperately needed.

But President Obama has disappointed us instead by playing bait and switch, divided us by endless class warfare, apologized abroad for America’s vision of freedom and world leadership, and undermined our sense of optimism and American exceptionalism that drives Americans to confront challenges with a ‘yes we can’ spirit.  The challenge for President Obama in the 2012 election is America still longs for the 2008 hope and change historic Presidency he promised.  But President Obama abandoned hope and change—and us—after the 2008 election.  We do not like this ‘new normal’ and we don’t want four more years of what he’s given us.  The President has lost the benefit of our doubt and he has very little time left to try to change our minds.

The Republicans are set to nominate Mitt Romney.  He has the business experience a recovering America desperately needs.  He has the executive management and leadership experience the President lacked and we’re now paying for our ‘hiring mistake.  We are persuaded that Mitt Romney will be a good manager of America’s programs, services and finances.  The problem for Mitt Romney is so far he has been unable to ‘close the sale’ with us because while we need a good manager for America’s economic recovery—we still want a hope and change leader to restore America’s potential, self-confidence and global leadership.

Having been baited and switched once before on hope and change we are reluctant to sign up for another ‘squishy promise’ even one of competence and business savvy.  To close the sale Mitt must be more than the un-Obama.  He must inspire us more.  He must reveal his strategy in more detail so we can KNOW this time what is in the bill before we vote for it.

We want to hold our President accountable to deliver what he promises to deliver.

There are worse fates than a competent, but boring President.  But we have waited so long for hope and change and we don’t want to settle for less.

The polls tell us the campaign is a dead heat.  I believe the polls are REALLY telling us that Americans still want to believe in the 2008 hope and change Obama.  But Obama must persuade us that he still believes in hope and change.  We’re listening!  But if the 2012 Obama keeps giving us more of the same class warfare, hyper partisan, left of center rhetoric with continuing bad performance results, Americans are more likely than not to vote for competent but boring Mitt than take a chance of four more years of Obama under-performance.

The heat has been turned up under the Congressional frog with the tax cliff.  But like it or not the President and now Mitt Romney are also in the same pot as the Congressional frog.  Whoever proposes the most rational and achievable political strategy to avoid the fiscal cliff, rescue the nation and jump start our economic recovery will win our votes. A deal that avoids the tax cliff BEFORE the election is what we expect, but if we don’t get one there will be plenty of frog legs on the menu.

Watching a Train Wreck


Image by SS&SS via Flickr

One of the great ironies of the early 21st century will be how our soaring national pride in the election of Barack Obama as America’s first black president and our hopes for his success turned into buyers’ remorse as the President abandoned his inspiring, positive message of audacious hope that got him elected in favor of policies of profligate spending, over-reaching government intrusion, and crushing waves of new regulation as if they were the rightful spoils of his election success.  This was decidedly not the change we hoped for.

America did not change or “get soft” as the President recently put it, the President’s own policies have failed him and failed us—and now he projects his own failure on us.  We’re not buying it any more.

Whether we agreed with all the President’s political views we gave him the benefit of the doubt but time has shown us what we feared most—this is not working.  But as the 2012 election approaches and the President’s popularity sinks steadily in the opinion polls he seems unwilling or unable to moderate his policies.

Why would an obviously smart guy like Barack Obama crash and burn like this?

And don’t play the ‘race card’ on us, as Bill Clinton would say.  The President’s failure has nothing to do with race and neither does our criticism of failed policies, worsening conditions and lost confidence. As Americans we want—and need our president to succeed.  A large share of our current economic problem results from falling confidence in our national ability to dig out of this hole.  But the President keeps digging our economic hole deeper.

The reality of a failed Presidency is slowing sinking in.  The problem now is all the Republican candidates are so busy trashing each other that they are missing their best opportunity to be “the one” who will inspire us anew.  We don’t need for any of them to run “against the President” and spend their time criticizing him—he is self destructing on his own.  We need them to tell us what they plan to do to dig us out of this hole!  They need to persuade us they won’t bait and switch us like President Obama did.  We’re looking for a new President who can actually be an effective President.

The Gift of the Chinese Visitor

The state visit of Chinese President Hu Jintao was much anticipated and much studied for clues about the relative power of the two countries.  The press has been full of speculation about whether President Obama would bow to the foreign leader as he has to so many others.  But doing so this time would be more profound not only because this was “home” and because it would symbolize the truth to the Chinese view oft expressed that America’s time has passed and we should reconcile ourselves to China’s ascendance to global leadership.

It would only be a matter of time before the yuan replaced he dollar at the world’s reserve currency the Chinese keep telling the world as if to presage a realignment of the geopolitical stars and planets.

None of these things came to pass in the visit which was cordial but distant, intentional but not pretentious, honest but not acrimonious.  Thus the objectives of both China and the US were achieved by the state visit.  No bad things happened, but neither did much good happen either.

Yet as the world press tried to read every smile and smirk to detect the tenor of the meetings there were comparisons galore between the two countries.  This entire news binge was useful and to some degree clarifying.

Here’s my take:

  • It was good to welcome Hu Jintao to America and congratulate China on its many accomplishments.  They deserve much praise for what they have succeeded in doing to transform Red China into Gold China with their phenomenal economic growth.
  • China should also be praised because it has chosen a path of mercantilism instead of militarism for its ‘great leap forward’ and the world is a safer and better place because of it.
  • Global trade works to lift all boats when nations work together collaboratively, and while there are risks to be sure from trade imbalances the opportunities far outweigh the detriments.  America’s relationship today with China is tribute to capitalism and trade more profound than could have been hoped when Nixon went to China the first time.
  • America has nothing to fear from an ascendant China.  In truth the risks to America are more serious from a China unable to manage a soft landing for its unsustainable growth, its risk of runaway inflation, and the social unrest that might result from the end of the dream of every Chinese citizen that he too will someday, somehow climb out of poverty to join China’s growing middle class. For much of China poverty remains a reality.
  • China is self absorbed and that is good because its problems are greater than its many strengths.  It poses no imminent threat to America’s strategic interests and we should not change our global strategies because of China.  China is a proud nation still shamed from past invasions and insults, but America is not responsible for those sins nor should we change our strategic priorities because the Chinese might take offense.
  • America’s economic problems are real but America is resilient.  Our near meltdown experience may even prove providential if it constrains our spending and adjusts our politicians’ aspirations as appears to be in the works.  The genius of America is the capacity to reinvent itself, renew itself, and unleash the creative power of its citizens—and that is exactly what we must do to dig ourselves out of the hole we are in today.  America has learned that it cannot out-source its strategic manufacturing even to a friendly China without adverse effects at home.  America must restore its productive capacity to make things because it is a condition precedent to a stronger America not because we fear or resent China’s growth.
  • World trade is good for China and good for America but China cannot live by two rules—access to the world’s markets while restricting access to domestic markets.  America should insist that China plays ‘fair’.
  • America is pushing back on cap and trade legislation because Americans realize that killing off the rest of our industrial capacity to reduce greenhouse gas emissions when China, India and other developing countries refuse to play the game does neither the environment for our economy any good.  But allowing China to misappropriate our intellectual property, reverse engineering our technology and export it back to us at lower prices to gain market share for their export growth isn’t going to cut it any more.
  • China may not be our friend but it is not our enemy.  While some would like to see us become rivals the truth is China and America need each other more than ever to face the challenges ahead. By pursuing our own strategic global interests, cooperating where we can, competing where we must both nations can have a brighter future.

So it was good for Hu Jintao to come to America to remind us how fortunate we are to live in this great nation so full of potential—and to put into perspective that while China may be growing fast today it faces far greater risks than the US before it can replace us as the world’s reserve currency or the world’s leader.

Volatility is a Wonderful Thing

Volatility is a wonderful thing.  It not only brings profits to some willing to take risk, it punishes the foolish and teaches them lessons that make them stronger.  Some days just aren’t that great in times of volatility, but we keep going because we believe that tomorrow will be better, that we will be wiser the next time, and it reminds us of the values and principles that ground us to reality. That is the natural optimist in each of us, but it also works for companies and countries too.

We are living through one of those funky periods where life seems out of control and surreal.  Just when we think things are getting better something completely unexpected like a ‘flash crash’ of 1000 points happens on Wall Street.  Just when we think our energy situation is improving because advanced technology has enabled domestic production to go up, BP blows it and mucks up the Gulf of Mexico.  Just when the global markets show signs of growth Greece bleeds red ink and threatens to take the rest of the PIIGs or even the Euro with it.

Volatility teaches us lessons the hard way so we remember them.

What are you talking about, you ask?

  • EURO RESPONSIBILITY. After months of finger pointing by European leaders that the world’s economic problems were caused by those nasty American bankers and shady credit default swaps and other instruments of financial torture, we learn that ancient Greece has been up to its ancient ways cooking its books to hide its budget deficit borrowing money like Wall Street speculators from European banks eager for the transaction fees.  As Bogart said best “I’m shocked to hear that gambling is going on here!” But this time it was the GERMAN sheriff stepping in to break up the mayhem and restore order.
  • GHOST OF CALIFORNIA’S CHRISTMAS FUTURE. For California, living near the edge is not something we learned from Greece but our fate could be similar to Athens when judgment day arrives.  Those Greeks rioting because their pensions, salaries and spending irresponsibility was purchased with borrowed money look a lot like the California state employees, CALPERS, and the feckless State Legislature.
  • ARIZONA, MEXICO, DRUGS AND CONTROL OF THE BORDER. Drug cartels fight for control of markets and supply routes leaving a trail of violence and lawlessness sweeping Mexico.  Now that violence spills over the US border but the Federal Government does little to stop it. Arizona’s Governor is appointed Secretary of Homeland Security and its expectations that the Feds will help are raised then dashed when nothing happens.  After years of writing letters to Republican Feds, Secretary Napolitano now ignores the same plaintive letters from her successor as Governor.  The parties switched places but the results are the same—NOTHING!  So Arizona ups the ante by adopting SB1070—a virtual mirror of Federal law except it prohibits racial profiling (something not prohibited in Federal law) in an effort to get the Feds to act.  President Obama then accuses Arizona of racial profiling intentions. President Calderon correctly points out that drugs are a problem because of US drug demand.  While he disses Arizona for SB1070 in a state visit Mexico’s own immigration law is much more onerous than the Arizona law.  Mexico depends upon the remittances from Mexicans working in the US to family back home to help prop up its failing economy. There are immigration issues which must be addressed, but this is political malfeasance where both Democrats and Republicans seek to use a divisive issue to score political points. Shame on both of them!
  • A POX ON BOTH PARTIES! Republicans hope for an election bloodletting as Americans recoil from the stunning overreach of Democrats misreading their mandate and misusing the recession and economic volatility to impose a program of deficits spending, vast intrusions into business and daily life, and a blitzkrieg of legislation with little transparency hoping to enact their agenda before midterm elections.  But as voters it seems like we just kicked out the Republicans for the same reasons—they forgot who they work for!  Now we are unsure that returning them to majorities will be much of an improvement.
  • CHANGE WE DON’T BELIEVE IN ANYMORE. The president’s popularity was born of Americans joy at his election as a symbol to the world of our redemption from discrimination past and our belief in the principles of the founders that “all men are created equal” for the future.  But the celebration has turned moody feeling deceived that this change is not really what we expected. Americans see little difference between the Democrats overreach in power today rewarding their friends and the Republicans overreach in power yesterday doing the same. Sometimes those friends are the same bankers, unions and lobbyists pouring money into the political accounts of politicians to gain favor.  The Tea Party movement is a powerful and terrifying symbol of American dedication to its Constitutional values for our political class and due notice that the revenge of the voters will be exacted on both parties before it runs its course.

So why am I optimistic?

The genius of America has always been our ability to adapt to change and reinvent ourselves to take advantage of opportunities presented.  The volatility and economic shock we have experienced combined with the political wake-up call we are experiencing now are the best evidence of that American renewal process at work today.

The midterm elections will punish incumbents in both parties.  But we hope it will bring in new blood with a deeper commitment to the values we seek to advance and less partisanship.  We have learned as voters that we get better results in Congress when both parties fear us.  Giving big majorities to either party rarely works out well for us so we need to keep them evenly balanced and have good “adult supervision” from our president to set a wise course.

So far Obama is not winning any ‘Rookie of the Year’ awards but we still hope he can turn things around. But as insurance we are likely to take away his majority in at least one house of Congress this November.  And if his performance does not improve we may not renew his contract in 2012.

Volatility separates those with a future from those with just a past.

The difference between America and Greece is while we both celebrate our past, America lives into its future.  Our manifest destiny was reinvented from a quest for control of our continent to a quest to project our values of liberty, competitive markets and the rule of law into a world that craves each.

We won the cold war and now are completing the circle of the end of that long struggle.  Had America as the sole superpower after the Cold War sought to preserve its hegemony we would not have seen the rise of China as a great economic power, the integration of Europe, the natural spread of democracy and thirst for freedom all celebrated as global progress.  But progress also brings problems we now share with a more integrated world including the struggle to deal with Islamic terrorism, bad boy countries in the continental neighborhoods that must be policed, and the unintended consequences of global markets and trade.  But that interdependence is also strength since the consequence of not working together is worse than the price of compromise.

The world still needs American leadership but what it wants is American resolve to live into its core values and act predictably to advance them.  The world worries when America’s President apologizes for America’s values or advancing America’s self interest. In a choice between having the world love us and having them respect us take the latter every time.

When we live into our American values we set the global compass to true north and enable others to act in their self interest in ways that are either deliberately in concert with our own or—if they feel daring opposed to them.  If America wimps out and lets such challenges pass we only invite more dangerous behaviors.  But when we stand up for our values—and for our friends and allies—we don’t need to apologize for our behavior.

Volatility is a wonderful thing because it separates the brave from the bullies.

The best way to deal with bullies has always been to confront them face to face and expose them for what they are.  Bravery is learned from experience and is born of self confidence and values that are stronger than the fears we face.

That is why I have faith in America’s future!  But I am still going to enjoy kicking both Democrat and Republican butts this election.  I am not a Libertarian like Rand Paul but he said it for all of us election night in Kentucky:

“We are coming to take back out country!”

Is the ‘Change We Can Believe In’ a Disappointment?

Whether you voted for Barack Obama or not, there was a palpable sense of pride and hopeful expectation in his election.  We wanted to believe.  We who voted for McCain secretly rooted for him anyway. We lived into one of the most powerful strengths of America—our ability to change course.  And let’s face it, the Republicans ran out of gas—and good ideas long before the end of Bush’s second term.

So for the 2008 election we had a choice.  A wise old war hero who spent so much time in Congress he didn’t inspire us with where he might take us.  Or a brash, audacious young man whose soaring speeches reminded us of Camelot but offered little detail on where the “change you can believe in” would also take us.

We went for change we hoped we could believe in from a fresh face we hoped could deliver it.  And, in any case, we were ready to throw out the incumbents.  But after this first year of the Obama presidency we are losing much of our idealistic enthusiasm for what it is bringing us.  Yes, he faces tough problems not of his making.  But in some cases, he is making them worse—potentially much worse.

So far we are still willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.  The good news is we still hope these first year stumbles are the result of inexperience and that he will learn FAST from these missteps. The bad news is our sense of doubt is growing that maybe this is not going to turn out to be Camelot again after all. The awarding of the Nobel Prize largely for his aspirational leadership may turn out to be the turning point.  That it comes so soon is also both good news and bad.

At a time when we need for the recovery to take off, it is being diminished by growing fear of trillion dollar deficits built on a promise of stimulus that turns out to be the mother of all pork fests but producing very few jobs. Our president is outsourcing his leadership role to a Congress quite capable of screwing up a two-car funeral.  While he continues to deliver his campaign stump speech and blame his predecessor.

At a time when we are at a crossroads in the fight against terrorism and our “allies” in NATO largely refuse to fight, our President keeps apologizing for America’s perceived sins and shortcomings.  His equivocation undermines our best allies, emboldens our worst adversaries and cheers the Europeans—at least the Nobel committee.  Did they forget they spent the first half of the 20th century killing each other until America came to their rescue to fight off the state sponsored terrorism of European warlords, Nazis and Fascists and then stay to defend them against Communism?

And then there was health care.  Oh, how we wanted to believe in change on this front.  We know the current system needs fixing.  We know it costs too much.  We could all sign up for options—public or not—if they brought more choice, better service and lower costs.  But the stark reality is this debate has little to do with health care and everything to do with politics.  The politics of trial lawyers that means there is no mention of tort reform anywhere.  The politics of insurance companies who first try to ‘cut a deal with the devil’ promising large costs savings if the Democrats will not take their monopoly profits away—only to have Speaker Pelosi renege on the deal and demand more.  Then there is the politics of labor unions making it difficult for Congressional Democrats to tax “Cadillac” health plans in a desperate search for revenue when the Cadillac being taxed is union health plans.

Like the drip, drip, drip of a leaky roof the ceiling overhead is getting saturated, and there is only one outcome.  It is not too late for the Obama presidency, but if they hear the footsteps of impending failure we have yet to see a “surge” of new leadership direction from that end of Pennsylvania Avenue to take back control from Congressional Democrats who are running the Obama bus in the ditch.

So I’m not sure whether that is the good news or bad news.  I am still waiting for some change I can believe in, but am coming to realize that it is, perhaps, not BAD if none of these grand plans make it out of Congress.