The Truth in Two Sentences

From Bill Keller in today’s NYT:  “Yes, Obama could do better.  But we could do a lot worse.”

We are reminded of this truth every time the Republican presidential candidates have a debate and scramble to out-do each other saying incredibly dumb things.

President Obama and LBJ

In her review of Ron Suskind’s book Confidence Men in today’s NYT, Michiko Kakutani writes that President Obama is described as “a young, inexperienced president lacking the leadership and managerial skills to deal effectively with the cascading economic problems he inherited….”

That reminded me of how President Lyndon Johnson had incredible leadership and managerial skills as one of the most powerful and feared majority leaders in Senate history, yet he was intimidated by people like Robert McNamara into getting us deeper and deeper into Vietnam.  I’m not disputing Suskind’s analysis, but that doesn’t mean that leadership and managerial skills guarantee success either.

The Barbarians Aren’t at the Gates, They’re Sitting in the Audience

At the last two Republican debates, there has been an important participant in addition to the candidates, and that is the audience.  They are not helping their cause of defeating President Obama by making the GOP appear to be the party of barbarians.

At the Reagan Library debate, there was a loud ovation for the number of executions Rick Perry has carried out.  At the Florida Tea Party debate, there were calls of “Let him die,” about the hypothetical 30-year-old who doesn’t have health insurance, but ends up in the hospital.

The GOP/Tea Party claim they offer much-needed common sense.  They clearly lack much-needed common decency.

A Speech is Fine, But a Paycheck Is Better

President Obama’s speech was better than I expected, in the size and scope of his proposals, and in the passion of his delivery.  But to me, it should be twice as big in dollars (I’m one of the few conservative Republicans who thinks the stimulus was too small, as well as poorly devised.  This group easily fits in my kitchen.).  So his jobs plan isn’t big enough for the current lack of demand in the private sector.

Of course there’s no way his plan is going to be enacted as he presented it.  So a too-small plan will get shrunk further, maybe by another half.  If your baby needs an eight-ounce bottle, a two-ounce bottle isn’t going to get him growing.

Much of his plan is based on politics, not economics.  He chose policies that won’t give us the most bang for our buck, but are designed to appeal to Republicans.  He should be careful what he wishes for.  The Republicans will probably approve an anemic plan — just enough so they can say they weren’t obstructionists, not enough to help him get re-elected because the economy is improving.

Richard Nixon said, “We are all Keynesians now.”  Now I’m one of the few Republican Keynesians left.

Michele Bachmann Off Her Meds Again

Michele Bachmann, critiquing President Obama’s speech in a desperate, attention-seeking press conference that no network showed live, called him “politically paralyzed.”  Gee, I wonder whose fault that might be?  Could it perhaps be the Tea Party Caucus, which I believe was started by one Michele Bachmann?

Michele Bachmann’s Fatal Attraction Moment

Y’all will recall that Glenn Close’s character in Fatal Attraction went ballistic when she was ignored.  Obviously distraught at the few questions she got at last night’s debate, at the obits on her campaign last night and this morning, Michele Bachmann has decided to have a press conference right after President Obama’s Joint Address to Congress tonight, just as she decided to offer her own “unofficial” response to his State of the Union Address, so that the GOP had two responses and looked foolish, although not as foolish as Bachmann did looking into the wrong camera.  Look for the red light, Michele, and lock up your bunnies, people.

Like a Tree Falling in the Forest

Given the attitude of the GOP, especially its Tea Party deadenders, President Obama’s jobs speech tonight will be like a tree falling in the forest.

Since he’s going nowhere, I hope he at least goes big.  And he should start out by yelling, “You lie” at everyone on the other side of the aisle.

Republican Debate

What I’ll be looking for at the Republican debate at the Reagan Library:

Is Rick Perry’s nose growing?  He hasn’t hesitated to tell whoppers before.  When debating Kay Bailey Hutchison, he accused her of supporting sanctuary cities for illegal aliens, which wasn’t true, but his mere assertion of it hurt her.

Does Michele Bachmann attack Perry?  Reports from her camp say that she will focus on President Obama.   But given the attack ad her Super PAC has been running in South Carolina, she may be forced to own the ad or risk look weak by backing off, as Tim Pawlenty did when he refused to repeat his attacks on Romneycare in the New Hampshire debate.  I can’t imagine that the questioners will not try to goad her into attacking Perry if she doesn’t want to go there herself.

If Bachmann attacks Perry, does Mitt Romney just watch or does he jump in?  When Bachmann and Pawlenty went at it in the last debate, they were fighting over issues from Minnesota, so it was okay for Romney to stay out of it.  But now he risks looking as if he’s hiding behind a girl if Bachmann is aggressive and he isn’t.  Romney doesn’t project boldness or toughness under the best of circumstances.  Both Bachmann and Perry can show him up for the overly-cautious wimp he is.

Is Perry doing okay with no breathtaking gaffes?  That’s all he has to do really to keep his early momentum going.  He doesn’t have to be dazzling, he just can’t be dumb.

Are Bachmann and Romney impressive?  They have to shine to hurt Perry and help themselves gain back some of the support they’ve already lost to him.

President Obama Cannot Give a Trivial Speech in a Towering Setting

A speech before a Joint Session of Congress, like the one President Obama will give on Thursday, is a huge deal.  Sometimes, as after 9/11, it is a command performance, when the American people expect to hear from their president after a major shock.  But when the president asks both for our attention and for that particular stage, he’d better live up to it.

If President Obama offers a laundry-list of minor job proposals, if the speech is not both instructive as to why we are in trouble and inspiring as to how we will triumph, he will be dwarfed by his setting and appear small and foolish, as unworthy of his office.

This is a truly awful moment to be president.  President Bush had the brilliant idea of cutting taxes while adding a new health care entitlement, the prescription drug part of Medicare, and fighting two wars.  Warnings about a Wall Street that had become Las Vegas with more tasteful decor, about an unregulated “shadow economy” of derivatives, were ignored.  The financial crisis we suffered is different from a generic recession, and takes much longer to recover from, especially with respect to job creation.

But there are larger forces at work here, aside from the domestic mess President Obama inherited.  Americans prospered because much of the rest of the world consisted of illiterate peasants.  Today, India and China are filled with young people who know math and science and know them better than many of our young people.  We prospered because we educated more of our people than other developed countries.  We didn’t force the bulk of our young people off the college track at a tender age, the way they did in Europe.

Our prosperity was based on our people, our unique American combination of a willingness to work hard and limitless opportunity for those who did.  Today, all over the world, other people are competing effectively with us.  President Obama needs to explain how these people, this rising global middle class, can become our customers rather than our competitors.

We have gone from an agricultural economy to a manufacturing economy to a service economy.  Where do we go now?  We are ready to hop in our covered wagons, metaphorically speaking, and go on to the next frontier.  But what is it, where is it, and how do we get there?

Ten years after 9/11, the president does not have to deal with our towers falling literally.  But they are falling figuratively.  We really need a national unity government to address the big picture of our current crisis and our uncertain future.  But a Republican Party obsessed with kicking President Obama out of the Oval Office will never sit down with him in that office to listen to experts and govern accordingly.  They aren’t interested in wisdom, only in winning, which is a loss for the American people, especially our unemployed.