It Is Possible For President Obama to Be Both Pragmatist and Transformative

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I’m fairly certain that Slate’s Jacob Weisberg is a left of center political analyst. So I found it remarkable in a column written a year or so ago that he pleaded for compromise on Medicare because, he argued Medicare paid a 100% of seniors medical expense – it actually ranges from 70 to 75% with the rest paid out of pocket or by Medicaid. He has written some good columns since then. Bloggers are pundits and sometimes analysts and even those of us on the same side do not always agree on every detail, yet Weisberg seems to have a dark side, a tendency to embrace Beltway cynicism that is on full display in this column of President Obama’s second term, The Agenda. How the president can move beyond reactionary liberalism in his second term.

To say that the president has yet to develop a broad, coherent vision of government is not the same as saying he lacks an agenda. Obama’s second-term program has already begun to emerge: gun control, immigration reform, and protecting the core of the federal safety net—Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. But this agenda comes largely as a response to events and political opportunity: gun control because of the Sandy Hook shootings, immigration because of the rising power of Latinos, a defense of entitlements against the House Republican Jacobins.
With such a defensive agenda, however, Obama and the Democrats face a long-term hazard. The danger is slipping into a purely reactionary liberalism—one that stands for spending on programs that please powerful constituencies rather than for basic principles.

The obstacle that prevents liberals from thinking more ambitiously about government’s role is the swelling cost of entitlement spending, which is turning the Democrats into the party of transfer payments and taking any new ideas that cost money off the table.

That is not even thinly disguised Simpson-Bowles Catfood commission mentality. Since health care costs are not like the costs of potatoes and subject to market forces – when was the last time you saw a Sunday newspaper coupon for 10% off a bag of costly medical services, Medicare costs are going to go up. Weisberg, apparently a captive of the austerity mindset just can’t see through the Beltway fog. Instead of cutting benefits, which is another way of saying that seniors and the disabled will have to accommodate more pain, more misery and a higher death rate – something that Weisberg found morally objectionable when Republican cheered for social-Darwinism – employers like the big retail and fast food chains could pay their employees a living wage. They in turn would contribute more into the entitlement insurance they will need one day. And we could also increase the co-pay for richer recipients of Medicare. That is not reactionary. It is reactionary to force hardship on the nation’s most vulnerable – much as the old Russian Czars did to the poor in Russia. Rather than cost billionaires a few million. Jacob did mention something that all of us care about, except for the particulars obviously,

By continuing in this mode for another four years, he stands to leave a legacy as a fine decision-maker and manager in troubled times. Unless he raises his sights, however, he is unlikely to live up to his promise as a transformational leader.

A lot can change in four years. While Obama has been the frustrating pragmatist at times, Democrats, the Democratic base is a rough crowd. The pundits, bloggers, analysts and visionaries are difficult to please because they set their sights so high and tend towards impatience. Obama is part pragmatist and part transformational. His legislative accomplishments are in fact, unsurpassed. They look smaller only in comparison to the Democratic bases wish list. There is room for improvement as Gleen Greewald and The Nation will be happy to tell you, but also a rough road ahead. The number one mission of the House Republican majority and the Senate minority’s use of the filibuster means baby steps, not leaps. There will be accomplishments, especially if Democrats can overcome the Republican gerrymandering advantage and take the House in 2014. Barack Obama, Student of Power

And if the last few weeks are any indication, the Obama of the second term could be a much tougher character. He probably won’t be as tough as many of his liberal supporters would like, but he seems to have fundamentally changed his perspective on how to deal with the opposition. Whether because he was disabused of some naïve notions about his power to persuade or because he has simply made a strategic shift (more likely the latter), Republicans are likely to be even less pleased with him than they have been up until now.

We shouldn’t overstate this—Obama isn’t suddenly turning into a cold-blooded Machiavellian, seeking only to crush his enemies and see them driven before him. But he acting as though he has come to realize that bipartisanship for bipartisanship’s sake has no particular value, and negotiating with yourself only leaves you with less when all is said and done.

Look, for instance, at how he handled his new effort to address gun violence. As E.J. Dionne has observed, instead of trying to guess what Republicans might want and including some of those guesses in his proposal, Obama simply said, Here is what I want, now we can start negotiating. It’s true that his proposals could have gone farther (he could, for instance, have proposed that everyone who wants a gun should pass a safety test and get a license), but there wasn’t that attempt we’ve seen so often from him of trying to bring in Republicans by making concessions from the start.

Let’s not forget how many times Obama played that guessing game in his first term. He wanted Republican support for his stimulus package, so it was written so a full third of the money would be distributed in the form of tax cuts. How many Republicans voted for it? Zero in the House, and two (the Maine moderates) in the Senate. On health care reform, he not only made a conservative idea the centerpiece of his proposal (the individual mandate, which had its origins at the Heritage Foundation), but spent a year in meetings and speeches and conclaves and events practically begging Republicans to join him. How many voted for the Affordable Care Act in the end? Zero in the House, zero in the Senate.

While melodrama of debt ceiling conservative pearl clutchers is not over, they seem to have taken Obama at his word – this is what I am prepared to do, take it or leave it. With Newt Gingrich emitting the occasional sound bite and Boehner (R-OH) being a veteran of the Republican 1996 debt ceiling humiliation, conservatives seem headed toward avoiding the worse in order to save their own skin if nothing else. Many Republican voters agree with the President’s new gun safety regulations, whether they can make themselves heard over the shrill victim-hood of the gun fetishists is another matter. There might be enough support there to bring back Bush 41’s assault weapon’s ban.

Five Injured in Accidental Shootings at Gun Shows on “Gun Appreciation Day” and Kid Kills 5 in Family with Assault Rifle in New Mexico, Planned Slaughter at WalMart. Unlike some other issues where we can gloat a little at a conservative getting their comeuppance we don’t get that pleasure here. The medical costs of the five accident victims will be outrageous. Some if not all of them look like they’ll miss some work, so there is the lost income, the medical bills and the physical pain and maybe lifetime disability. The murdered family had a closet full of guns. They did not keep them locked. This kid had a history of emotional issues. If they saw a fire moving towards their house they would have taken precautions, but for some reason ignored a potential disaster under their nose. Another terrible tragedy that might have been avoided with just a tiny shift in attitude towards guns.

Death doesn’t take vacations, it just takes advantage of unhinged and unfounded fears of some sensible changes to make more money, Major Gun Company Begins Asking Customers to Fight Obama’s Proposed Reforms

The threat of gun control has been integral to the soaring profits of gun companies in recent years, since NRA-stoked fears of gun confiscation have sent a record number of Americans to the stores to purchase weapons. As Business Week noted, “Since Obama’s inauguration the [Ruger’s] stock price has risen more than 400 percent, making it a better investment than gold, which is up 113 percent.”

It appears that Phil Mickelson is the Gerard Depardieu of golf, Golfer Phil Mickelson May Call It Quits Due To Climbing Tax Rates

Q. Moving to Canada?

PHIL MICKELSON: I’m not sure what exactly, you know, I’m going to do yet. I’ll probably talk about it more in depth next week. I’m not going to jump the gun, but there are going to be some. There are going to be some drastic changes for me because I happen to be in that zone that has been targeted both federally and by the state and, you know, it doesn’t work for me right now. So I’m going to have to make some changes.

To be honest, it’s hard to blame Mickelson – who has compiled a net worth approaching $180 million by repeatedly striking a tiny white ball until it falls into a hole — for putting all options on the table, which according to some, include the possibility of prematurely shutting down his career to avoid his rising tax burden. Let’s take a look at what Mickelson is up against in 2013:

For starters, courtesy of President Obama’s re-election and the subsequent fiscal cliff negotiations, Mickelson will experience an increase in his top tax rate on ordinary income from 35% to 39.6%, and an increase in his top rate on long-term capital gains and qualified dividends from 15% to 20%. Clearly, when faced with tax hikes of that magnitude, it stops making economic sense for Mickelson to continue to swing a metal stick up to 70 times a day in exchange for the $48 million he earns on an annual basis.

But it gets worse. Thanks to the expiration of the temporary 2% reduction in the payroll tax rate on the first $113,700 of self-employment income, Mickelson will have to fork over an extra $2,274 in tax during 2013, an additional burden that makes it hard to justify briskly walking as many as five miles per day, four days a week. In long pants, nonetheless.

What is it like to live in a complete cocoon of elitist entitlement. Is he going to have to sell his car elevator to one of the Romney kids.

“The Dream Continues: Photographs of Martin Luther King Murals by Camilo José Vergara”. The picture below is just from my collection.

Statue of Dr Martin Luther King Jr in the Kelly Ingram Park, Birmingham, Alabama

Statue of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in the Kelly Ingram Park, Birmingham, Alabama. “Kelly Ingram Park (formerly West Park) was a staging ground for civil rights demonstrations in the 1960s. It is located adjacent to the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute and the 16th Street Baptist Church.”

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