Category Archives: Politics

Obama’s State of the Union drives conservatives crazy

State Of The Union

President Obama delivering his State of the Union address Tuesday night. Photo (cc) by NASA HQ.

Previously published at WGBHNews.org.

There’s plenty of fulminating in conservative media circles today over President Barack Obama’s unabashedly liberal State of the Union address.

Some of it is offered in world-weary tones suggesting that, once again, the grown-ups have to explain to the kids that the president doesn’t know what he’s talking about. “Mr. Obama’s income-redistribution themes are familiar,” The Wall Street Journal editorializes, “though they are amusingly detached from the reality of the largest GOP majority in Congress since 1949.”

Some of it is angry. “The president continues to count on and to exploit the ignorance of many of our fellow citizens,” thumps Scott Johnson of Power Line.

And some of it is just petulant. Breitbart’s Ben Shapiro concludes a long adolescent rant about Obama with this unmemorable line: “the state of his union sucks.”

Leave it to David Frum of The Atlantic, though, to explain what might have really been going on Tuesday night. A former speechwriter for President George W. Bush, Frum is the closest thing we’ve got these days to a moderate Republican commentator. And he thinks Obama was aiming his proposals — tax hikes for the rich, tax cuts for the middle class and new governmental benefits such as free community college — at an audience of one: Hillary Rodham Clinton.

“The intent, pretty obviously, is to box in his presumptive successor as head of the Democratic Party,” Frum writes. “Every time the president advances a concept that thrills his party’s liberal base, he creates a dilemma for Hillary Clinton. Does she agree or not? Any time she is obliged to answer, her scope to define herself is constricted.”

The effect, Frum predicts, will be to push the pro-business Clinton to the left and thereby hand an opportunity to the Republican presidential aspirants.

Whatever Obama’s motivation, there’s no question that his demeanor was that of a conquering hero rather than a weakened president facing the first all-Republican Congress of his tenure.

“Obama delivered an hour-long defense of his policies that at times sounded like a victory lap,” is how David Nakamura puts it in his lead story for The Washington Post. In The New York Times, Michael D. Shear calls Obama “confident and at times cocky.” Matt Viser of The Boston Globe says the president was “confident, brash, and upbeat.”

If nothing else, Obama demonstrated that he understood the atmospherics of the State of the Union. It’s a TV show, with all the entertainment values that implies. And thus there was no need for him to acknowledge the Democrats’ brutal performance in the November elections, or that the proposals he offered Tuesday have no more chance of passing than, say, Canadian-style health care. He had the podium, and the Republicans could applaud or not.

The timing was right for Obama as well. With the economy finally showing real improvement, the president’s job-approval ratings are up a bit. An ABC News/Washington Post poll puts Obama at 50 percent approve/44 percent disapprove, while an NBC News/Wall Street Journal survey has him at 46 percent approve/48 percent disapprove. Meanwhile, the public detests Congress as much as ever.

As for how the State of the Union was received, that’s a little harder to figure out. The only survey I’ve seen, from CNN/ORC, shows that 51 percent of viewers had a “very positive” reaction to Obama’s speech and 30 percent were “somewhat positive.” That’s sounds like a big thumbs-up until you look more closely at the numbers. It turns out that 39 percent of those surveyed were Democrats and just 20 percent were Republicans — a reflection of who watched the speech, not of public sentiment as a whole.

Another way of looking at that, though, is that Obama knew he was speaking to a friendly audience — not in Congress, but at home, as Democrats were far more likely to tune in than Republicans. So why not use the occasion to energize his supporters — and drive his enemies to distraction?

Obama’s detractors at Fox News were fairly restrained Tuesday night and online this morning. But you can be sure Bill O’Reilly, Megyn Kelly, et al. will be at it tonight. Meanwhile, consider this, from Charles Hurt of The Washington Times: “President Obama dedicated his State of the Union address to illegal aliens, college students and communist Cuba. In other words, all those imaginary supporters he claims to be hearing from ever since the actual American electorate denounced him, his party and his policies in last year’s beat-down election.”

More to the point, John Podhoretz writes in the New York Post that “in the most substantive speech he’s given in a long time, he has committed his presidency toward policies that have no hope of a serious hearing from the legislatures whose job it is to turn policies into law.”

Obama knows that, of course. The real message of the State of the Union was that the 2016 campaign has begun. Having long since concluded that the Republicans won’t compromise with him, the president delivered a political speech, aimed electing a Democratic president and Congress.

Why the midterms could be disastrous for the planet

PresidentAlfredPreviously published at WGBHNews.org.

Monday’s broadcast of “The CBS Evening News” began on a portentous note. “Good evening,” said anchor Scott Pelley. “Melting glaciers, rising sea levels, higher temperatures. If you think someone’s trying to tell us something, someone just did.”

Pelley’s introduction was followed by a report on the latest study by the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. According to The Washington Post, the panel found that global warming is now “irreversible,” and that drastic steps must be taken to reduce the use of fossil fuels in order to prevent worst-case scenarios from becoming a reality.

No matter. Before the night was over, Americans had turned their backs on the planet. By handing over the Senate to Mitch McConnell and his merry band of Republicans, voters all but ensured that no progress will be made on climate change during the next two years — and that even some tenuous steps in the right direction may be reversed.

At Vox, Brad Plumer noted that Tuesday’s Alfred E. Neuman moment came about despite more than $80 million in campaign spending by environmentalists and despite natural disasters that may be related to climate change, such as the unusual destructiveness of Hurricane Sandy and the ongoing drought in the West.

“Which means that if anything’s going to change, it may have to happen outside Congress,” Plumer wrote, adding that “the 2014 election made clear that Washington, at least, isn’t going to be much help on climate policy anytime soon.”

Not much help? That would be the optimistic view. Because as Elana Schor pointed out in Politico, Republicans and conservative Democrats may now have a veto-proof majority to move ahead on the Keystone XL pipeline. The project, which would bring vast quantities of dirty oil from Canada into the United States, would amount to “the equivalent of adding six million new cars to the road,” the environmentalist Bill McKibben said in an interview with “Democracy Now” earlier this year.

The problem is that though Americans say they care about climate change, they don’t care about it very much.

In September, the Pew Research Center reported the results of a poll that showed 61 percent of the public believed there is solid evidence that the earth has been warming, and that 48 percent rated climate change as “a major threat” — well behind the Islamic State and nuclear programs in Iran and North Korea.

Moreover, whereas Democrats registered 79 percent on “solid evidence” and 68 percent on “major threat,” Republicans scored just 37 percent and 25 percent. The Republican political leadership, anxious to keep its restive right-wing base happy, has every incentive to keep pursuing its science-bashing obstructionist path.

One possible solution to this mess was proposed in the New York Times a few days ago by David Schanzer and Jay Sullivan of Duke University: get rid of the midterm elections altogether by extending the terms of representatives from two to four years and by changing senatorial terms from six years to four or eight.

As Schanzer and Sullivan noted, presidential election years are marked by high turnout across a broad spectrum of the electorate. By contrast, the midterms attract a smaller, whiter, older, more conservative cohort that is bent on revenge for the setbacks it suffered two years earlier. (According to NBC News, turnout among those 60 and older Tuesday was 37 percent, compared to just 12 percent for those under 30.)

“The realities of the modern election cycle,” they wrote, “are that we spend almost two years selecting a president with a well-developed agenda, but then, less than two years after the inauguration, the midterm election cripples that same president’s ability to advance that agenda.”

There is, of course, virtually no chance of such common-sense reform happening as long as one of our two major parties benefits from it not happening.

The consequences of that inaction can be devastating. According to The Washington Post’s account of this week’s U.N. report, “some impacts of climate change will ‘continue for centuries,’ even if all emissions from fossil-fuel burning were to stop.”

Sadly, we just kicked the can down the road for at least another two years.

Correction: This commentary originally said that CBS News’ report on climate change was aired on Tuesday rather than Monday.

 

Drive a stake through the corrupt heart of casino gambling

8161314100_89f6987d5a_oLongtime readers know that I don’t disclose who I’m voting for. Yes, I’m a liberal, and if you tried to guess I’m sure you’d be right most of the time. But I firmly believe that journalists — even opinion journalists — should keep their choices to themselves. It’s not a matter of objectivity; it’s a matter of independence.

But I feel no such compunction about ballot questions. After all, I analyze and express my opinion about issues. It seems silly to refuse to say how I’m going to vote on Question 3 after writing repeatedly that I’m staunchly opposed to casino gambling.

Tomorrow is Election Day. Here’s how I’m going to be voting on the four statewide ballot questions.

And yes, I will start with Question 3, which I think is by far the most important matter on the ballot. I have been fighting against casino gambling since 2007, when the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe tried to build a casino in Middleborough, the town where I grew up. The bid eventually fell apart amid a miasma of anger and corruption (what a surprise, eh?).

But Gov. Deval Patrick and the state legislature, to their everlasting discredit, kept the issue alive with a 2011 law allowing for the opening of three casinos and one slots parlor. It is an outrage. A “yes” vote on Question 3, which you can be sure I’ll be casting tomorrow, would once again outlaw casino gambling in Massachusetts.

Casino gambling has been tied to an ocean full of social and economic ills — increased rates of crime, divorce, even suicide, and hollowed-own business districts as the spending shifts to the local casino. The stench of corruption is inevitable. Look at Everett, the locus of federal indictments even before one shovelful of dirt has been turned over.

I am disappointed that both major-party gubernatorial candidates, Republican Charlie Baker and Democrat Martha Coakley, say they would be open to finding a way to build a casino in Springfield even if Question 3 is approved. One aspect they may not understand is this: If casino gambling is legal, then tribal casinos become inevitable. You can’t let Springfield have a casino without opening the door to one, two or more tribal casinos as well. (And never mind the condescending attitude Baker and Coakley have about Springfield’s economic prospects.)

My fear is that Question 3 will lose decisively, thus creating the impression that Massachusetts residents are pro-casino. Polls consistently show that people are in favor of casinos in the abstract and against them when someone proposes to build one in their neighborhood. If Question 3 does go down, we can still fight them one at a time. But a “yes” vote would put the matter to rest once and for all.

Question 1. I’m voting “no.” A “yes” vote would repeal a law that indexes the gasoline tax to the rate of inflation. Our gas taxes are still on the low side, as anyone who drives through Connecticut can attest. Our transportation system needs a huge amount of investment whether you’re talking about rail, subways or highways and bridges.

Question 2. A “yes” vote would expand the bottle-deposit law, and I’m all for it.

Question 4. This is a perfect example of why some issues should not be decided by referendum. Passage of Question 4 would make medical leave mandatory at most private companies in Massachusetts. It’s an enormously complex issue. I’m voting “yes” because I’m concerned about the message that it would send if it goes down to defeat.

Thomas M. Menino, 1942-2014

Roxbury Community College PartnershipThe legendary Boston mayor Tom Menino has died. The city and region will be poorer without his presence. Keep his family in your hearts.

Photo (cc) by Eric Haynes/Office of Gov. Deval Patrick and published under a Creative Commons license. 

Looking at the Globe’s previous Republican endorsements

Despite The Boston Globe’s reputation as a Democratic paper, its editorial pages have endorsed Republican candidates for governor more often than you might think. Still, today’s editorial endorsing Charlie Baker over Martha Coakley is notable because it is only the second time in recent history that the paper has gone with a Republican over a more liberal Democrat.

Let’s look at the history of Republicans the Globe has endorsed starting in 1970.

  • 1970: The Globe did not endorse in the race between Gov. Frank Sargent, a Republican, and his Democratic opponent, Boston Mayor Kevin White. Winner: Sargent.
  • 1974: Sargent got the nod over a former state representative named Michael Dukakis. Sargent may have been the state’s most liberal governor until Deval Patrick; Dukakis campaigned as that year’s no-new-taxes candidate. Winner: Dukakis, who turned around and imposed a huge tax increase to cover the deficit left behind by the free-spending Sargent.
  • 1978: Dukakis lost the Democratic primary to a conservative, Ed King, whom he had removed as head of Massport. The Globe endorsed Republican Frank Hatch, a moderate who was the minority leader in the Massachusetts House. Winner: King.
  • 1990: The Globe endorsed moderate Republican Bill Weld, a former U.S. attorney, over conservative Democrat John Silber, the president of Boston University. Winner: Weld.
  • 1994: For the only time until now, the Globe chose the more conservative candidate — Weld, a moderate running for re-election, over then-state representative Mark Roosevelt, a liberal Democrat. Winner: Weld.
  • 2014: The Globe endorses Republican Charlie Baker, a moderate Republican, over state Attorney General Martha Coakley, a liberal. Winner: TBD.

Charlie Baker wins the Globe’s endorsement

Charlie Baker

Charlie Baker

As I and many other observers expected, The Boston Globe has endorsed Republican Charlie Baker for governor. Here’s the money graf:

Effective activist government isn’t built on good intentions. To provide consistently good results, especially for the state’s most vulnerable and troubled residents, agencies need to focus on outcomes, learn from their errors, and preserve and replicate approaches that succeed. Baker, a former health care executive, has made a career of doing just that. During this campaign, he has focused principally on making state government work better. The emphasis is warranted. And in that spirit, the Globe endorses Charlie Baker for governor.

The essential takeaway from the editorial seems to be that Gov. Deval Patrick’s competence has not matched his inspirational rhetoric, and that Martha Coakley offers a lot less inspiration with no promise of greater competence. Baker is no liberal, but he’s just liberal enough — especially on social issues — to get the nod.

How important is the Globe’s endorsement? It’s hard to say. I don’t think people look to newspaper endorsements to decide whom to support in high-profile races like governor or U.S. senator. Endorsements are more valuable when the candidates and offices are obscure, and voters are genuinely looking for guidance.

But the race has been moving Baker’s way during the past week or so. Even if you discount the Globe’s poll last Thursday showing Baker with a 9-point lead, the trend is clear, as this WBUR Radio graph shows.

Right after the primaries I predicted that Baker would win, and that it wouldn’t be particularly close. Let’s put it this way: The Globe’s endorsement of Baker may not be fatal to Coakley’s chances, but it certainly doesn’t help.

Photo (cc) by the Rappaport Center for Law and Public Service and published under a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.

The Globe’s surprisingly strong anti-casino editorial

To my surprise, The Boston Globe didn’t endorse in the governor’s race today. Maybe tomorrow? Maybe next Sunday?

But an even bigger surprise is the paper’s strong editorial against casinos. This is great news for those of us of us who oppose casinos on the grounds that they will breed crime, social dysfunction and traffic nightmares. In a delicious reference to the indictments that have already been handed down over the Everett project, the editorial calls casino deals “flypaper for low-lifes.”

Sadly, both candidates for governor, Martha Coakley and Charlie Baker, have left the door open to moving ahead with a casino in Springfield even if Question 3 passes. That’s a fight for another day. First casinos have to be defeated. Please vote “yes” on 3.