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THURSDAY, JANUARY 22, 2009
BRILLIANT MOVE BY MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE - AT 8:24 P.M. ET: From London's Telegraph: Merrill Lynch, the loss-making Wall Street bank, paid its staff billions of dollars in bonuses even as it prepared to be taken over by the US government-backed Bank of America. Merrill's move took as much as $4 billion out of the bank days before it became part of Bank of America, which last week said it would get $20 billion from the US Treasury.
COMMENT: Brilliant. Real brilliant. Another act of genius by "executives," who provide the left with all the ammunition they need. It's also a warning to all of us: There are very responsible people on Wall Street. But some are not. There are some who should be drummed out of the investment business, but probably won't be. These types are not thinking of ways to reform the system. They're thinking of ways to do exactly the same thing again, and not be caught at it next time. I know some of these characters personally. Trust me.
DOWN DOWN - AT 8:20 P.M. ET: The Dow closed down 105, to 8123, flirting again with that 8000 psychological barrier.
THE OBAMA BEGINNING
Posted at 8:14 p.m. ET
This was the first full day on the job for President Obama. He signed executive orders closing the prison at Guantanamo within a year, and restricting interrogation techniques to those found in the Army field manual.
But what do these orders really mean? Robert Gibbs held his first briefing today as White House press secretary, and the news was in what wasn't said. The reporters were prickly and challenging at times, which is good. There were indications that some of them, at least, have gotten the message that in-the-tank journalism won't do, especially on live television. Gibbs, a laid-back southern chap who looked like he'd be more at home in the Bush White House, fielded all questions, but fully answered many fewer.
The main story: When asked if the restriction on interrogation techniques applied to "high-value" captures, say, Osama bin Laden, Gibbs declined to give an explicit reply, simply saying he'd check with the White House counsel.
The point, of course, is that there may be exceptions in the executive order, expressed or implied, or secret exceptions that will never be revealed publicly. Thus, no real answer to the question.
Gibbs was also shy when challenged on what, specifically, will be done with the Gitmo detainees considered too dangerous to release. No real answer except Gibbs's constant repetition of the memorized talking point - that the president felt the order closing the prison would enhance American security.
The press is constantly obsessed with itself, and many reporters expressed annoyance at being kept out of the second swearing-in ceremony. Bill Plante of CBS was especially testy on this point, charging that it violated the Obama administration's claim of transparency.
Summary: It was a testier news conference than I would have predicted.
TV coverage then shifted to the State Department, where a confident-sounding and very-much-in-charge Secretary Hillary Clinton, accompanied by her subordinates, the president and the vice president, introduced two new special envoys - former Senator George Mitchell for the Mideast, and former Ambassador Richard Holbrooke for Afghanistan/Pakistan. The president spoke, and, despite some hysterical reporting in the British press that he made a sharp break with Bush policy on Israel, he did nothing of the kind. He essentially reiterated American policy on the two-state solution and expressed compassion for victims on both sides. There was nothing, thus far, to be alarmed about.
The president speaks well, as we all know, and it was his style that differed from the former president's, in his State Department speech. He has a more personal tone than did Mr. Bush. You can parse his words all you wish, but I saw far more continuity in policy than rupture.
January 22, 2009. Permalink
SOAP OPERA, CONT'D - AT 7:43 P.M. ET: We said early this morning that the Caroline thing was juicy. It gets juicier, and it's sad. She would have been better off just staying a private citizen. From the New York Post, via Fred Dicker, one of the best:
In a stunning revelation, a source close to Gov. David Paterson insisted this afternoon that the governor "had no intention" of picking Caroline Kennedy for New York's vacant senate seat - because she was "mired" in an issue over taxes, her nanny and possibly her marriage.
Kennedy was "mired in some potentially embarrassing personal issues," the source said, citing tax liabilities and worker compensation liabilities connected to the employment of a nanny.
The source also said the state of her marriage may have presented a problem as well.
"She has a tax problem that came up in the vetting and a potential nanny issue," the source said. "And reporters are starting to look at her marriage more closely," the source continued, refusing to provide any specifics.
COMMENT: These issues would have potentially embarrassed Governor Paterson, but they could have also embarrassed the president. Please recall that Kennedy headed up his search team in the quest for a vice presidential candidate. Apparently, if the above story is accurate, she was never properly vetted for the position, a problem that has plagued the president in some of his Cabinet picks.
FROM MIKE SCULLY - AT 4:20 P.M. ET: I sometimes do the Mike Scully Show on WVOX (1460 AM,Wednesdays, 10:30 a.m.). Mike, who minces no words, reminds us that the Kennedy family, which has once again produced some embarrassing moments in the Caroline saga, has produced some others in recent years:
Honestly, what is it with this family? It reminds me of her cousin Joe Kennedy, when after long years of mundane service in the House of
Representatives decided that it was now his turn to begin the run-up
for governor of Massachusetts in 1997. That is, until his former wife,
Shelia Rauch, published the book, "Shattered Faith," detailing her
struggle to stand up to the Kennedys when Joe tried to have their marriage annulled behind her back, three years after their divorce. The book was a best seller and Joe Kennedy suddenly decided his real calling in life was to provide low cost heating oil for the poor of New England, not run the Bay State. What a guy.
COMMENT: Famous political families often produce bizarre histories. Franklin Roosevelt's children didn't work out all that well. The Longs of Louisiana are a saga in themselves. We're glad that Jimmy Carter's brood never became politically important. Lincoln only had one child who lived to adulthood, Robert Todd Lincoln, who, after some years of government service, became a railroad lawyer and is largely forgotten. And then there's Britain's royal family, which, in terms of food for gossip, puts the Yanks to shame.
THE CAROLINE MESS - AT 4:15 P.M. ET: From The New York Times:
ALBANY — Problems involving taxes and a household employee surfaced during the vetting of Caroline Kennedy and derailed her candidacy for the Senate, a person close to Gov. David A. Paterson said on Thursday, in an account at odds with Ms. Kennedy’s own description of her reasons for withdrawing.
COMMENT: I'll bet Caroline Kennedy wishes she'd never have gotten involved. Every supermarket tabloid, and plenty of legitimate news outlets, will be after this story. The president might be able to save her by giving her one of those "special assignments," but she's damaged herself.
YOU MUST SEE THIS - AT 1:29 P.M. ET: Reader John Catherwood alerts us to this terrific clip from The Daily Show, comparing Bush's speeches to Obama's inaugural address. Very revealing. Take a look.
Posted at 8:50 a.m. ET
One of the raps against President Obama is that he's vague. You never know, according to the charge, exactly where he stands or what his policies will be. The Politico seems to confirm that in a fine story this morning, examining the president's lobbying reforms. The key word is "loopholes."
President Barack Obama’s new ethics rules concerning lobbyists appear to be written right out of Wednesday’s headlines — the scandalous ones.
And while they represent the most aggressive attempt by an administration to rein in lobbyists, a host of loopholes that have bedeviled reform efforts for years won’t be plugged by the president’s executive order.
Other stories out today regarding the closing of Guantanamo and new rules for interrogating terror subjects feature the same vagueness. Rules will be issued, but how tight they'll be still remains a mystery.
Interestingly, though, what the rules don’t do is prohibit lobbyists from working in the Obama administration, which shouldn’t be surprising, since quite a few of them have already been named to it.
A sample: Attorney General-designee Eric Holder was a lobbyist with Covington & Burling, Deputy Health and Human Services Secretary-designate Bill Corr advocated for the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids and Vice President Joe Biden’s chief of staff, Ron Klain, was a player at O’Melveny & Myers.
Yeah, we noticed all that change we can believe in.
The Obama rule banning former presidential appointees from lobbying any part of the administration during his term — including a second one, if he wins reelection — is a sweeping prohibition that goes further than any similar presidential good government rules.
But what it doesn’t do — and can’t do — is ban former government officials from lobbying Capitol Hill, which is where the bulk of legislative advocacy happens anyway.
Such loopholes are notoriously common in rules aimed at containing the influence of lobbyists.
There's always the matter of interpretation:
The strength of Obama’s commitment, of course, will rely heavily on the independence and interpretations of the White House and Justice Department attorneys. In Bush’s case, he had their blessing each time he withheld records.
But, in fairness, most experts quoted in the story say that Mr. Obama's effort is the most far-reaching, and that is good. We now have to see how all this plays out in the real world.
January 22, 2009. Permalink
AGAIN, THE FALSE NUMBERS - AT 8:23 A.M. ET: From combined news sources:
The Italian newspaper Corriere della Serra Thursday quoted a doctor at Shifa Hospital in Gaza City saying that, despite Hamas and UN claims, most of those killed in Gaza were young men who were members of terror groups.
"The number of deaths was between 500-600...most were young men between 17 and 23 who were recruited into the ranks of Hamas, which sent them to be slaughtered," he said.
Journalist Lorenzo Cremonesi confirmed that only 600 people were killed, and not 1,300 as was widely reported, based on hospital visits and discussions with families of the victims.
"It was strange that the non-governmental organizations, including Western ones, repeated the number without checking, but the truth will come to light in the end," said the doctor.
"It's like what happened in Jenin in 2002," he said. "At the beginning they spoke of 500 dead; afterwards it was clear there were only 54 dead, at least 45 of them fighters."
COMMENT: We expect Hamas to lie. It's a fascistic terror group. But what is sickening here, although not shocking, is the corrupt role of the UN in just accepting Hamas numbers. Equally sickening, and not shocking, is the role of the press. You'd think, by now, in light of documented episodes of padded numbers, Photoshopped photos, and invention of "massacres," that the press would get the picture. It doesn't. I'm afraid too many "journalists" don't want to.
TALK ABOUT IN-THE-TANK JOURNALISM - AT 7:35 A.M. ET: From AP:
WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Barack Obama is executing the clean break from the Bush administration that he promised in his campaign and his inaugural address, with a dizzying series of events highlighting openness, inclusiveness and ethics.
The man known for speaking so eloquently now seems hellbent on doing things, dispensing a flurry of executive orders on his first full day in office Wednesday, even if he had only just seized the levers of government and his top aides had yet to turn on their computers.
COMMENT: He also proved himself faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, and he's working on leaping tall buildings at a single bound. Whatever happened to journalism?
NO OIL, NO SECURITY - AT 7:07 A.M. ET:
WASHINGTON, Jan 21 (Reuters) - U.S. President Barack Obama may order a hold on a proposal issued in the final days of the Bush administration to expand offshore drilling in previously banned areas, an Interior Department official told Reuters on Wednesday.
COMMENT: No good, no good. Hope it isn't true. The American people, in survey after survey, favor that drilling. It's critical for our independence, until some other energy sources are developed. We hope Obama doesn't cave to the environmental religionists.
Posted at 6:59 a.m. ET
Do you love political intrigue? Then you have to love what's going on in New York, where Governor David Paterson, son of a powerful New York politician, must fill the Senate seat vacated by Hillary Clinton, wife of a powerful Arkansas and Washington politician, and has been considering Caroline Kennedy, daughter of a powerful Massachusetts and Washington politician. Now Caroline has pulled out of the race, and the frontrunner is New York State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, son of a powerful New York politician and former governor, Mario Cuomo. And Andrew Cuomo used to be married to Kerry Kennedy, daughter of the late Robert Kennedy, a powerful New York and Washington politician. But the marriage broke up when Kerry Kennedy fell in love with Andrew Cuomo's friend. Oh, and Kerry Kennedy is the cousin of Caroline Kennedy, mentioned above.
Procter & Gamble is negotiating for the rights to this story, and plans to put it on CBS every afternoon at three, with organ music.
Welcome to public responsibility, at a time of economic peril.
So, Caroline has now pulled out. Fred Dicker, of the New York Post, one of the best political reporters around, was on TV this morning, having broken the story. He reinforced our doubts, expressed here late last night, that Caroline's sudden withdrawal, citing "personal reasons," had anything to do with Uncle Ted's collapse at an inaugural luncheon Tuesday. He made the point that Teddy has been seriously ill for some time. He speculated - stress speculated - that the withdrawal may have had something to do with the background check on Caroline, conducted for New York Governor David Paterson.
Andrew Cuomo is now considered frontrunner for the post, something that might enrage the Kennedys because of his difficult split from Kerry Kennedy. However, don't be shocked if the governor names a woman, possibly a congresswoman.
Great political story.
January 22, 2009. Permalink
HILLARY SWORN - AT 6:29 A.M. ET:
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Hillary Clinton was sworn in as the 67th U.S. secretary of state Wednesday afternoon after the Senate approved her nomination by a vote of 94-2.
Hillary Clinton was sworn in Wednesday in her Senate office by Associate Judge Kathleen Oberly.
Former President Clinton and her Senate staff looked on as Clinton's childhood friend and D.C. appeals court Associate Judge Kathleen Oberly swore her in on a Bible belonging to the former first lady's late father, in a ceremony in her Senate office.
COMMENT: I thought this was a bit weird. Shouldn't the president have been in attendance? It was an all-Clinton affair, including her childhood friend. Hmm.
WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 21, 2009
BULLETIN - AT 12:39 A.M. ET, JANUARY 22nd: Caroline Kennedy has issued a statement saying she has indeed withdrawn her name for consideration to replace Hillary Clinton in the U.S. Senate.
BULLETIN - AT 11:49 P.M. ET: You won't believe this, but AP is running a story claiming that Caroline Kennedy has changed her mind and again wants the Senate seat being vacated by Hillary Clinton. (See our Caroline stories, two items down.) The report:
ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) -- After wavering briefly, Caroline Kennedy renewed her determination Wednesday to win appointment to the U.S. Senate seat once held by her slain uncle, Bobby Kennedy, a person close to the decision said.
COMMENT: How obnoxious. Note that the AP leads with a reference to the seat once having been held by Robert F. Kennedy, as if that should determine who gets it now. This is just a bad scene. It is embarrassing for New York, for Governor Paterson, even for the president, who should offer Caroline some kind of non-job to avoid this display.
ATTENTION TO DETAIL - AT 9:51 P.M. ET: From The Washington Post:
President Obama took the oath of office -- again -- on Wednesday, out of what a White House lawyer described as "an abundance of caution."
"We believe that the oath of office was administered effectively and that the president was sworn in appropriately yesterday. But the oath appears in the Constitution itself. And out of an abundance of caution, because there was one word out of sequence, Chief Justice Roberts administered the oath a second time," said White House Counsel Greg Craig in a statement issued early Wednesday night.
Obama and Chief Supreme Court Justice John Roberts had both seemingly stumbled over the 35-word oath during Obama's swearing-in as president on Tuesday, leading some to question whether he had properly committed the Constitutionally-mandated speech act that made him president of the United States.
COMMENT: When Ronald Reagan, who'd been a movie actor, became president, his detractors warned, "There are no retakes in the Oval Office." Apparently they were wrong.
UPDATE TO CAROLINE STORY - AT 7:45 P.M. ET: The New York Times is now confirming the Caroline Kennedy story, printed just below:
Caroline Kennedy has withdrawn from consideration for the vacant Senate seat in New York, according to a person told of her decision.
On Wednesday she called Gov. David A. Paterson, who will choose a successor to Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton. Her concerns about Senator Edward M. Kennedy’s deteriorating health (he was hospitalized after suffering a seizure during President Obama’s inaugural lunch on Tuesday ) prompted her decision to withdraw, this person said. Coping with her uncle’s condition was her most important priority, a situation not conducive to starting a high profile public job.
COMMENT: With the understanding that I have no independent information, I'm just not buying her reason, as stated in the Times's story. It was made clear as she started campaigning for the job that the whole idea was for her to, in effect, succeed Ted Kennedy in the Senate, and keep a Kennedy presence there. This is speculation: Maybe she came to her senses and realized the resentment her appointment would cause, especially after her poor performance in recent press interviews. She surely understood that her name was all she really had, and that she was trading on it.
Or, maybe the governor told her she would not be appointed, and gave her a graceful way out. Paterson is not politically stupid, and knew that Kennedy was losing popularity with each interview she gave, not gaining it.
BULLETIN AT 7:37 P.M. ET: According to the New York Post, Caroline Kennedy has withdrawn her name from consideration to succeed Hillary Rodham Clinton in the U.S. Senate. Here is the report:
Caroline Kennedy has told Gov. David Paterson that she is withdrawing her name from consideration to replace outgoing Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton in the U.S. Senate, The Post has learned.
Kennedy cited "personal reasons," according to sources.
Her stunning move comes as sources revealed that Paterson had intended to appoint her to the now-vacant seat today.
COMMENT: It is too early to make any sense of this. I have my own theories as to what happened, but would prefer to wait for further information.
NO CHANGE IN GAZA - AT 6:50 P.M. ET: From The Jerusalem Post and AP:
Smuggling into Gaza from Egypt is underway again, only days after the end of the IDF operation against Hamas.
AP Television News footage showed Palestinian smugglers Wednesday filling a fuel truck with petrol that came through a cross-border tunnel from Egypt. The footage also shows workers busy clearing blocked tunnels and bulldozers carrying out other repairs.
COMMENT: Very explosive situation. Hamas is fanatical, and will try to smuggle even more weapons into Gaza. This may require Israeli forces to enter Gaza once again. It's President Obama who must deal with this now.
IGNORED VOICES - AT 6:18 P.M. ET: From Fox News:
Family members of people killed on September 11, 2001, and in other terror attacks say they are outraged by President Obama's draft order calling for the suspension of war crimes trials of prisoners being held at Guantanamo Bay.
"To me it's beyond comprehension that they would take the side of the terrorists," said Peter Gadiel, whose son, James, was killed at the World Trade Center on 9/11. "Many of these people have been released and been right back killing, right back at their terrorist work again."
COMMENT: In fairness, the trials are being suspended so the new administration can review procedures. But this is trouble for the president down the road, and will be a test of how much influence the far left has in his administration. A procedure must be found wherein dangerous people are not released.
STILL IN THE TANK - AT 5:32 P.M. ET: If you thought the media would step back from its Obamapassion, think again:
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Emotions ran high for some White House visitors who got the chance Wednesday to meet President Barack Obama. Some people cried. Others became flustered. One wore an Obama flag as a cape and a hat emblazoned with his name.
''We just praise and thank the Lord,'' said one woman who came face to face with Obama in the White House's Blue Room. ''It's been better than we expected.''
COMMENT: All right, it's the first day. We'll allow it. But I checked this morning, and I didn't see the oceans recede or peace come to all peoples. Better start working on that.
DOW WOW - AT 5:27 P.M. ET: The Dow soared 279 points, to 8228, almost erasing yesterday's losses.
THE WORD FROM IRAN - AT 2:15 P.M. ET: Apparently ignored by the mainstream American media, Iran has reacted to the inauguration of President Obama with a warm, kindly welcome, as Britain's Telegraph reports:
It was the Supreme Leader's Special Representative though, who put it most graphically and with evident disgust. "Obama's is the hand of Satan in a new sleeve," explained Hossein Shariatmadari. "The Great Satan now has a black face."
COMMENT: Let's see how many on the political left react with outrage at that racist remark. Are you hearing the silence?
THE PEOPLE'S RIGHT TO KNOW - AT 1:25 P.M. ET: From The Los Angeles Times:
Late Tuesday afternoon, Fox News was the only major national TV outlet that carried a live telecast of former President Bush's homecoming speech to cheering supporters in Midland, Texas.
COMMENT: We noticed that. It was an important speech, a spirited, at time defiant defense of his record, with a listing of what Mr. Bush considers his major accomplishments. But the mainstream media isn't interested.
BANKING ON IT - AT 9:32 A.M. ET:
Jan. 21 (Bloomberg) -- President Barack Obama's economic team is pushing to complete a bank-rescue plan that can be twinned with the $825 billion stimulus package being negotiated with Congress to alleviate the rapidly deepening financial crisis.
While full details of the rescue haven't been settled yet, people familiar with the deliberations said the package is likely to include a $50 billion-plus program to stem foreclosures, fresh injections of capital into the banks and steps to deal with toxic assets clogging lenders' balance sheets.
COMMENT: A private, and very knowledgeable source, tell us that the bank crisis is far worse than the public realizes, especially in England, but here as well. This could become full-blown very quickly, with a dramatic impact on the stock market, as we saw yesterday.
TRIVIA OF THE DAY - AT 9:25 A.M. ET: From The San Francisco Chronicle:
Several constitutional lawyers said President Obama should, just to be safe, retake the oath of office that was flubbed by Chief Justice John Roberts.
The 35-word oath is explicitly prescribed in the Constitution, Article II, Section 1, which begins by saying the president "shall" take the oath "before he enter on the execution of his office."
The oath reads: "I do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the office of president of the United States and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States."
In giving the oath, Roberts misplaced the word "faithfully," at which point Obama paused quizzically. Roberts then corrected himself, but Obama repeated the words as Roberts initially said them.
COMMENT: Roberts must have felt worse yesterday than any man in America, knowing he'll be remembered for that one flub on a historic day. If I were Obama, I'd take the oath again, and give Roberts another crack at it. Then they should both joke about the whole thing.
CONFIRMATIONS - AT 9:17 A.M. ET:
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Senate is expected to consider several of President Barack Obama's Cabinet nominees Wednesday. A vote to confirm Hillary Rodham Clinton as secretary of state, whose confirmation was blocked Tuesday by Republican John Cornyn of Texas, is expected Wednesday.
COMMENT: There could be some fireworks over Tim Geithner, nominee for treasure secretary over his failure to pay taxes on time. There could also be some tough questioning of attorney-general nominee Eric Holder over a host of items. Both are expected to be confirmed nonetheless because Republicans don't want to be seen as obstructing the new administration.
Posted at 7:30 a.m. ET
We described the president's inaugural address yesterday as workmanlike. That description holds. It was less than a great speech. Only a few have argued otherwise, and they had skipped their medication.
But it was a solid speech. There were some sections we liked, which sent the right message. For example:
In reaffirming the greatness of our nation, we understand that greatness is never a given. It must be earned. Our journey has never been one of shortcuts or settling for less. It has not been the path for the faint-hearted — for those who prefer leisure over work, or seek only the pleasures of riches and fame. Rather, it has been the risk-takers, the doers, the makers of things — some celebrated but more often men and women obscure in their labor, who have carried us up the long, rugged path towards prosperity and freedom.
For us, they packed up their few worldly possessions and traveled across oceans in search of a new life.
For us, they toiled in sweatshops and settled the West; endured the lash of the whip and plowed the hard earth.
For us, they fought and died, in places like Concord and Gettysburg; Normandy and Khe Sanh.
That's good. That's very good - especially the mention of Khe Sanh, one of the bitter battles of Vietnam. I'm glad the president knows the name Khe Sanh. A lot of his supporters don't.
And then this, also good:
To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict, or blame their society's ills on the West — know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy.
Or this, especially:
We will not apologize for our way of life, nor will we waver in its defense, and for those who seek to advance their aims by inducing terror and slaughtering innocents, we say to you now that our spirit is stronger and cannot be broken; you cannot outlast us, and we will defeat you.
There were also things, though, that were troubling. Consider:
To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history; but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.
That line is problematical because it contradicts some of the basic foreign-policy criticisms that Mr. Obama has leveled at the Bush administration. The line could have been spoken by President Bush, for that is exactly the policy he was pursuing. Here we see a flaw that we've seen before in Mr. Obama - he doesn't complete the thought, a problem often linked to inexperience. What, for example, does he do if the fist isn't unclenched? Does he negotiate? Does he threaten? Does he fight? President Bush showed an openness toward countries, like Libya, that moved, even slightly, in our direction. But when confronted with Saddam's clenched fist, or Syria's chill, he confronted or remained distant. Where is the difference here? Mr. Obama must spell it out.
On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord.
A needless and inaccurate swipe at the Bush administration. Who spread the fear, the conflict, the discord? The president might look to some of those who were his most enthusiastic boosters.
As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals.
Another needless insult. In fact, whenever Mr. Bush discussed our ideals, like the expansion of human freedom, he was ridiculed as an ideologue and a warmonger.
...we are ready to lead once more.
This was possibly the most quoted phrase of the speech, but it was wrong and improperly insulting. When did President Bush not lead? But leadership is not simply a matter of getting a show of hands, and acting only when everyone agrees. Sometimes leadership, as Churchill showed in 1940, is acting alone.
So, there were good things and not such good things. On balance, the president did well. But the speech will now be forgotten as his administration begins, and the translation of words into policy starts. The man of words, often powerful words, must become the man of action.
Eleanor Roosevelt said to Harry Truman on the day Truman became president, "You're the one in trouble now."
Mr. Obama is the one in trouble now, and we wish him well.
January 21, 2009. Permalink
QUESTIONS FOR PRESIDENT OBAMA
Posted at 7:03 a.m. ET
The following is reprinted from my piece at the Hudson New York website:
We are in a new age, the age of Obama. The mainstream media has given us a laundry list of things the new president is scheduled to worry about: Iran, Israel/Palestine, North Korea, Pakistan, Venezuela, and the economy, the economy, and the economy.
But beyond these immediate issues are fundamental questions, questions that go to the character of our policies and the strength of our ideals. How the new president deals with these questions may have far more to do with success or failure than the everyday detail of governing.
There are these fundamental questions. They represent challenges for President Obama:
1) Mr. President, are you prepared to affirm that the free nations are in a decades-long battle against Islamic extremism, or are you going to lean toward the old notion that this is a police problem?
Say what you wish about George W. Bush, but he defined the problem correctly after 9-11, and, thanks to that definition, the United States was able to make a reasonably effective stand against terrorism. Some 46 percent of Americans, in the last election, voted for John McCain, in part because they believed he would continue a vigorous fight against the extremist menace. Mr. Obama would advance the national interest and foster American unity if he would publicly accept the basics of the Bush definition.
2) Are you prepared, in the speech you plan to deliver in a Muslim capital, to explain directly and forthrightly our disagreements with fundamentalist Islam, and how America and the Islamic world might work together toward a more positive future?
One of Mr. Bush's failures was an inability to communicate internationally. Mr. Obama is a wonderful speaker, with a partly Muslim background. If he goes to a Muslim capital and simply spouts politically correct bromides about peace, he will disappoint all sides. He can advance both peace and America's security if he engages the Muslim world about why we have been fighting in several Muslim countries, and what it will take to have better relations with the West. He can also offer incentives that will benefit those nations that start to reform. And it would be helpful if he would reaffirm, in a Muslim capital, our commitment to Israel and explain that it stems from American principles, not a "lobby."
3) Mr. President, are you prepared to stress to the American people the need to remain strong and stalwart, and the need to sacrifice, in the international battles ahead - as President Kennedy did in his inaugural address?
Just before his death in 1964, General of the Army Douglas MacArthur worried that there might come a day when Americans would be unwilling to defend their country. That willingness often depends on a leadership that honors the soldier and respects national defense. President Obama has, commendably, shown great respect for military service, witness his placing a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery two days before his inauguration. He could make a further contribution by stressing, especially to young people, the notion of an America committed to its own survival, no matter what sacrifice it takes, monetary and physical. The idea of patriotic sacrifice has become frighteningly foreign to a young, indulged generation.
4) Are you prepared, as were Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry Truman and Ronald Reagan, to keep political fringes, and their ideologies, at a certain distance, truly becoming a president of all the people?
President Roosevelt borrowed ideas from the socialist movement, but kept that movement at a distance. He kept his appeal as broad as possible, which accounted for his electoral success.
We recall that, in 1948, Harry Truman was prepared to see the southern wing of his party walk out of the Democratic national convention over the issue of civil rights. What is often forgotten is that the far left of the party also departed that year, miffed over Truman's policy of resisting the Soviet Union. Former Democratic Vice President Henry Wallace ran against Truman in the November, 1948, election on the Progressive ticket. The left wing is now back in force, and believes it "owns" President Obama because it supported him so strongly. Commendably, Mr. Obama has made it clear since the election that he isn't owned by any faction, and has sought the advice even of John McCain. We hope that continues, and that he doesn't buckle under pressure from the more radical members of his party's congressional wing.
Similarly, Ronald Reagan, although regarded by some as an arch conservative, actually kept the fringe of his movement at a considerable distance, governing largely as a center-right leader, understanding that the national interest, and his own political interest, demanded it.
5) Domestically, are you prepared, Mr. President, to take on the educational establishment? In particular, are you prepared to confront our colleges and universities, and demand an accounting of what they spend, and why, before committing to billions more in federal aid?
Two news stories in the last week were particularly disturbing. One reported that colleges are raising their charges dramatically, even in the midst of a major economic decline. The other reported that the percentage of resources devoted to administration in our colleges is going up, but the percentage devoted to instruction is going down. And there are simply too many disturbing reports - too many to ignore - of teachers far more concerned with ideological indoctrination than with traditional teaching.
Parents are paying enormous amounts to send their kids to college. In economic hard times, many families are priced out of the education market. Yet, no questions are asked of our colleges, about where money goes, about extravagant mailings to prospective students, about "academic" departments that often seem more like cheerleaders for one group or another. Our colleges are too important to the future of the country to go unchallenged when they seem indulgent, profligate, and propagandistic.
6) Finally, President Obama, are you willing to defy the environmental/global-warming industry and have the entire issue of global warming studied by independent panels, before we spend trillions on a problem that may not be a problem at all?
We are told there is a "consensus" about global warming. But consensus is a political word, not a scientific one. Increasingly, well-credentialed scientists are coming forward to question different aspects of the global-warming "consensus." President Obama has thus far not joined in the skepticism, and, indeed, his scientific and environmental advisers are all members of the global-warming choir. But we need a true, vigorous, scientific and economic debate to determine the real extent of global warming, its probable effect down the line, and what, if anything, should be done about it. So far what we've gotten is a kind of religious movement, with a potential for enormous economic damage to fragile economies, and damage to our own national security.
Those are some questions for our new president. We hope he will address them.
January 21, 2009. Permalink