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Thu May 28, 2015 at 06:12 AM PDT

Iraq: Five Points to Remember

by bobburnett

As the Republican presidential demolition derby continues, the 2015 GOP candidates have settled on two central themes: hatred for President Obama and desire to send US troops back to Iraq to fight ISIS.  While Republicans suffer from short-term memory loss, there’s no reason the rest of us should forget what actually happened in Iraq (and why sending troops back there is a terrible idea).

1. The Iraq war was a ghastly mistake.  Most political observers now believe the March 20, 2003, invasion of Iraq was the worst foreign policy decision in U.S. history.

The Bush White House had three reasons for invading Iraq. First, the invasion diverted the public’s attention from the failed campaign in Afghanistan, where Dubya’s people hadn’t captured Osama Bin Laden or any of the others responsible for 9/11.  In a March 13, 2002, news conference, Bush blurted, “I don’t know where [Osama Bin Laden] is… I truly am not that concerned about him.”

Because the 2002 mid-term elections were coming, Republicans needed positive momentum on their “war” on terror.  They shifted America’s focus from Osama Bin Laden and Al Qaeda in Afghanistan/Pakistan to Saddam Hussein in Iraq.  During the first quarter of 2002 the Bush White House decided to invade Iraq.  Vice President Cheney began asserting that Iraq had nuclear weapons.  In June, Karl Rove and other GOP political operatives said the Republican mid-term election strategy was “war and the economy.”

Dubya and his pals hated Saddam Hussein because he had once attempted to kill George Bush Senior.  As a consequence, the Bush Administration fed Americans a series of lies about Iraq: Saddam Hussein was connected to Al Qaeda, had helped plan the 9/11 attacks, and had “weapons of mass destruction.”

2. The Iraq war cost $4 trillion plus. The Bush Administration vastly underestimated the cost of the invasion.  On September 16, 2002 White House adviser Lawrence Lindsey estimated an Iraq War would cost $200 billion.  (On July 2, 2002, White House adviser Richard Perle observed, “Iraq is a very wealthy country [with] enormous oil reserves.  They can finance… reconstruction of their own country.”)  On November 8, 2002, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld predicted the length of an Iraq War: “Five days or five weeks or five months.  It certainly isn’t going to last any longer than that.”

The Iraq War lasted more than eight years (from March 20, 2003, to December 18, 2011.)  In March of 2008, Nobel laureate economist Joseph Stiglitz released a study estimating war cost as more than $3 trillion.  (In current estimates the war will cost “$4 trillion to $6 trillion.”)  This includes not only the direct costs of the war but also the interest on the money borrowed to finance the war plus the “medical care and disability benefits to about 70,000 soldiers injured in the conflict.”

To put “$4 trillion to $6 trillion” in perspective, the US debt is estimated at $18 trillion.  Guaranteeing every American a basic income at the poverty level is estimated to cost $2.1 trillion annually.  (The Congressional Budget Office estimates the cost of Obamacare over ten years [2016-2025] to be $1.2 trillion.)

3. The Iraq war was mismanaged.  It’s no secret that George W. Bush was a failed businessman.  In the 2000 campaign, Republicans attempted to shield Dubya by claiming he would be surrounded by seasoned managers, such as Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld.  But the reality is that Cheney and Rumsfeld were also failed managers, who made a series of awful decisions.

Not enough troops were sent into Iraq.  As a result the immediate result of the fall of the Saddam Hussein government was widespread looting and unnecessary damage to the civil infrastructure.  Instead of turning control of Iraqi civil society over to Iraqis, the Bush Administration formed the Coalition Provisional Authority.  In May of 2003, L. Pail Bremer, CEO of the Provisional Authority disbanded the ruling Ba’ath Party (and banned members from future employment in the public sector – effectively firing all educated teachers) and the army. This alienated most Iraqis, particularly Sunnis.

4. A bad US management team installed a bad Iraqi management team. Following the dissolution of the Coalition Provisional Authority, the US installed a Shiite, Nuri Al-Maliki, as prime minister (who served from 2006-2014).  Al-Maliki, a Shiite, systematically repressed the already repressed Sunnis.   He, in effect, spawned Isis.

5. In 2011, the Iraqi management team we installed asked us to leave the country.  As Time Magazine explained at the time: “ending the U.S. troop presence in Iraq was an overwhelmingly popular demand among Iraqis, and Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki appears to have been unwilling to take the political risk of extending it.”  Obama wanted to leave troops in Iraq but al-Maliki fought this by insisting on an unacceptable State of Forces agreement.

In summary, Republicans, and their progeny, are responsible for every piece of the Iraq debacle.  Now they are asking us to forget that.


Thu May 21, 2015 at 06:08 AM PDT

Marco Rubio: Back to the Future

by bobburnett

The surprising disintegration of Jeb Bush’s presidential campaign has opened up the race for the 2016 Republican nomination, benefitting the other candidate from Florida, Senator Marco Rubio.  This is a bizarre political development because Rubio is running as the second coming of George W. Bush.

One of the most surprising things about Jeb Bush is that, despite all of his apparent advantages – national name recognition, money, and organization – his campaign has never taken off.  (In mid April, 538’s Nate Silver observed that Bush’s unfavorability rating swamped his favorability rating.)  And despite his reputation as “the smart Bush,” Jeb flunked his response to the obvious questions about Iraq.

As Jeb Bush withers, other candidates gather support.  The latest Huffington Post Republican presidential candidate poll summary shows Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker ahead (15.2 percent of the vote), Jeb Bush second (13.8 percent), and Marco Rubio third (10.1 percent); the fourth and fifth place candidates are Senators Ran Paul (9.2 percent) and Ted Cruz (9.1 percent).  However, the most recent national poll, YouGov/Economist shows Rubio ahead with 17 percent of the vote.

Obviously, it’s too early to predict who will capture the Republican nomination at the July 2016 Cleveland convention.  Each of the top candidates has a distinct approach.  Marco Rubio has adopted the strategy George W. Bush used in 2000, depicting himself as a young outsider and super hawk.

At 43, Rubio is the youngest of the major Republican contenders.  He was born May 28, 1971, in Miami, Florida, to Cuban-American parents (who immigrated from Cuba in 1956).  Rubio plans to use his status as a millennial to differentiate himself from the presumptive Democratic presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton, aged 67.  He also plans to use his Hispanic roots to appeal to that (traditionally Democratic) voting segment.  

Nonetheless, while Marco Rubio may technically be a millennial, he doesn’t represent millenial beliefs.  On issue after issue – gay marriage, decriminalizing marijuana, net neutrality, global climate change, equal rights for women, etcetera – Rubio comes down as a doctrinaire conservative; he’s more like the 68-year-old Dubya than he is similar to other politicians his own age.

Even on immigration, Rubio has clung to his dogmatic conservatism.  He opposed normalizing relations with Cuba.  In 2013, Marco Rubio championed immigration reform, then he abruptly switched his position.  Now he says legislation will have to come on a piece-by-piece basis and border security should be the first priority.

Rubio is most like Dubya on foreign policy.

In April of 2012, Marco Rubio remarked, “George W. Bush, in my opinion, did a fantastic job over eight years.”  Given this level of adulation, and the fact that many of Dubya’s foreign policy advisers are counseling Rubio, the Florida Senator’s May 13th address to The Council on Foreign Affairs address was not surprising.  

Rubio lambasted President Obama: “He demonstrated a disregard for our moral purpose that at times flirted with disdain… The deterioration of our physical and ideological strength has led to a world far more dangerous than when President Obama entered office.”  

The Florida Senator elaborated his three “pillars” of foreign policy.  The first is, “to restore American strength, my first priorities will be to adequately fund our military.” (By the way, the US currently spends $610 billion annually on defense; 20 percent of our budget and more than the next seven countries combined.)   Rubio would also strengthen “the intelligence community” including reauthorization of The Patriot Act including the controversial bulk data collection authority (section 215).

Rubio’s second foreign policy pillar is, “the protection of the American economy in a globalized world.”  He would approve The Trans-Pacific Partnership and related trade agreements.  Rubio promised, “[As President] I will use American power to oppose any violations of international waters, airspace, cyberspace, or outer space.”  

The Florida Senator’s third pillar is:

Clarity regarding America's core values. We must recognize that our nation is a global leader, not simply because it has superior arms, but also because it has superior aims. America is the first power in history motivated by a desire to expand freedom, rather than simply expand its own territory.

The line in Rubio’s speech that received the most attention was “America is the first power in history motivated by a desire to expand freedom.”  Salon political writer Elias Isquith described this as Rubio’s “noble lie,” noting “the way it pretends the millions of human beings who lived in North America before the states were united never existed.”  Of course, this level of perfidy was the trademark of George W. Bush, who before the invasion of Iraq quipped, “The wisest use of American strength is to advance freedom.”

Time will tell if Marco Rubio survives the 2016 Republican version of demolition derby.  What’s clear is that despite his cherubic, youthful demeanor, Rubio is a hard-core conservative, every bit as dangerous as his idol, George W. Bush.


Thu May 14, 2015 at 06:09 AM PDT

Hillary Clinton: First Impressions

by bobburnett

On May 6th, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton held her first two fundraising events in San Francisco.  I attended an afternoon event, featuring a confident, positive Clinton.  While Hillary didn’t address all of the questions that liberals might have asked, she gave enough specifics to win over most, if not all, Clinton skeptics.

Clinton used her announcement video to establish populist themes.  Clinton observed, “Americans have fought their way back from tough economic times. But the deck is still stacked in favor of those at the top… Everyday Americans need a champion and I want to be that champion.”  The same tone dominated her San Francisco address.

First in Iowa and again in San Francisco, Clinton talked of four big fights that will focus her campaign rhetoric.

The first is “building the economy of tomorrow, not yesterday.”  Clinton touts the economic progress made under the Obama administration and her plans to build upon it by addressing inequality.  Hillary emphasized that a major feature of her economic initiative will be policies that help small businesses.

The second “fight” is “strengthening families and communities.” Hillary Clinton recently wrote: “You shouldn’t have to be the granddaughter of a president or a secretary of state to receive excellent health care, education, enrichment, and all the support and advantages that will one day lead to a good job and a successful life.”

An important part of this populist stance is raising the minimum wage.  Another is improving the education system.  Clinton promised to help those who are burdened with student loan debt – this might be a holding place for an announcement that she supports Senator Elizabeth Warren’s plan to refinance student loan debt.

Clinton includes immigration reform as an important component in her fight to strengthen families and communities.  On May 6th, Clinton said

The American people support comprehensive immigration reform not just because it’s the right thing to do—and it is—but because it will strengthen families, strengthen our economy, and strengthen our country. That’s why we can't wait any longer… for a path to full and equal citizenship.

At the San Francisco gathering, Hillary Clinton expressed her full support of The Affordable Care Act and her intention to strengthen Obamacare.

Clinton’s third “fight” is “fixing our dysfunctional political system and getting unaccountable money out of it even if that takes a constitutional amendment.”  Clinton acknowledged that a winning campaign will require raising a huge amount of money – The New York Times reported that she plans to raise $2.5 billion.  She observed that’s the reality she has to compete in but that doesn’t mean our political system works.

Finally, the fourth “fight” is “protecting our country from the threats we see and the ones that are on the horizon.”  Hillary mentioned the complexity of the situation in the Middle East and the new form of threat posed by the Islamic State (ISIL).  She also mentioned cyber terrorism.  

At the event I attended, Clinton didn’t mention the threat posed by global climate change; however, her campaign manager, John Podesta, has indicated she’ll make  “climate change & clean energy” a major concern of her campaign (and package it as a threat to national security).

Hillary Clinton demonstrated a level of energy and optimism that I hadn’t seen before.  Perhaps, as some have observed, she’s buoyed by the weaknesses of the Republican candidates.  More likely, she’s decided to run the campaign on her own terms, and doesn’t feel beholden to the legacy of her husband or Barack Obama.

Writing in The New Republic Brian Beutler observed:

In America, in 2015, large swaths of people with wildly differing political ideologies… are converging on a series of assumptions they didn’t always share…  that the drug war is a moral and practical failure; that three-strikes laws, mandatory minimum sentences, and myriad other aspects of our criminal justice system are flawed, racially biased, and in desperate need of reform; that the loosening of certain financial regulations in recent decades was disastrous; that the Iraq war never should have happened.

Hillary Clinton seems aligned with these sentiments.  She’s softened her position on medical marijuana.  In April, Clinton spoke of the need for reform of the criminal justice system and an end to “the era of mass incarceration.” She hasn’t come out and said, “the loosening of certain financial regulations was disastrous” but to many observers she seems to be aligning with Senator Elizabeth Warren,  (a recent New Yorker article on Warren observed that Clinton and her staff have been consulting with Warren and her staff.)  And in her updated memoir Clinton admitted that her support for the Iraq war was a mistake.

Obviously, anything can happen between now and the November 8, 2016, presidential election.  However, based upon first impressions, it looks like Hillary Clinton is on track to become America’s first female President.


Thu May 07, 2015 at 06:14 AM PDT

What Makes Bernie Run?

by bobburnett

On April 29th, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders announced he’ll compete with Hillary Clinton for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination.  Although anything can happen between now and the late July 2016 Democratic convention, it appears that Sanders’ intent is not to win the nomination but to influence Clinton on critical domestic policy issues – to move Hillary to the left.

74-year-old Sanders has a solid liberal pedigree.  In 1963 he was active in the civil rights movement as an organizer for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.  In 1971 entered politics.  In 1981 he was elected Mayor of Burlington and in 1991 became Vermont’s at-large representative to the US House of Representatives.  In 2007 Sanders moved to the US Senate where he has been a prominent member of the progressive caucus.

Bernie Sanders is a self-proclaimed “Democratic Socialist,” officially an independent member of the Senate, although he caucuses with the Democrats.  While he’s well known on the left, Sanders has limited national name recognition.  A recent Huffington Post poll found that he had 7.1 percent support among Democrats, compared with Hillary Clinton’s 61 percent support.

When asked about his candidacy, Sanders explained, “I'm not running to attack Hillary Clinton. I'm running to talk about the issues that impact the working class of this country and the middle class."  Two issues will illuminate the elemental differences between Clinton and Sanders: taxes and Wall Street reform.

Sanders has a strong liberal position on taxes:

At a time of massive wealth and income inequality, we need a progressive tax system in this country which is based on ability to pay. It is not acceptable that major profitable corporations have paid nothing in federal income taxes, and that corporate CEOs in this country often enjoy an effective tax rate which is lower than their secretaries.

In her announcement video Hillary Clinton said: “Americans have fought their way back from tough economic times. But the deck is still stacked in favor of those at the top… Everyday Americans need a champion and I want to be that champion.”  While Clinton recognizes that income inequality is limiting the US economy, she has been short on specific remedies.  (Although, in an Iowa campaign speech she noted, “Hedge-fund managers pay lower taxes than do most middle-class Americans.”)  In the 2008 Democratic presidential campaign, candidate Clinton agreed with Barack Obama that taxes rates for those making more than $250,000 a year should revert to the 1990’s rates.

Bernie Sanders also has a liberal position on Wall Street reform:

Today, six huge Wall Street financial institutions have assets equivalent to 61 percent of our gross domestic product – over $9.8 trillion. These institutions underwrite more than half the mortgages in this country and more than two-thirds of the credit cards. The greed, recklessness and illegal behavior of major Wall Street firms plunged this country into the worst financial crisis since the 1930s. They are too powerful to be reformed. They must be broken up.

Wall Street reform is a problem issue for Clinton.  It’s unlikely that she will support breaking up the big banks.   A recent CNN report observed that Hillary and Bill Clinton have a longstanding positive relationship with Wall Street:

As a New York senator for almost a decade, she represented Wall Street and courted the industry aggressively during her last presidential campaign. And there is a certain degree of nostalgia within the industry for her husband's two-term presidency, marked by the 1990s bull market and broad financial deregulation, including the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act, which separated commercial banking from riskier investing activities.

Nonetheless, in January, Clinton defended the Dodd-Frank Financial Reform Act: “Attacking financial reform is risky and wrong. Better for Congress to focus on jobs and wages for middle class families.”

There are two other issues that could differentiate Sanders and Clinton.  One is the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Sanders is against it: “The Trans-Pacific Partnership is a disastrous trade agreement designed to protect the interests of the largest multi-national corporations at the expense of workers, consumers, the environment and the foundations of American democracy.”

The Hill observed: “As secretary of State, [Clinton] was a chief advocate as talks commenced surrounding the Trans-Pacific Partnership.”  Recently Clinton has tempered her support for TPP.  In New Hampshire she cautioned: “Any trade deal has to produce jobs and raise wages and increase prosperity and protect our security.”

Another issue is the Keystone XL pipeline.  Bernie Sanders is opposed to the Pipeline.  While Secretary of State Clinton said she was “inclined” to sign off on the project.”  Most recently she has declined to take a position: “You won’t get me to talk about Keystone because I have steadily made clear that I’m not going to express an opinion.  It is in our process and that’s where it belongs.”

Bernie Sanders is doing Democrats a favor by running against Hillary Clinton.  His candidacy may not move her to the left, but it will draw her out and clarify her positions on key issues.


Thu Apr 30, 2015 at 06:14 AM PDT

Vote No On Armageddon

by bobburnett

A recent Bloomberg poll noted a disturbing political fact: Republicans are willing to support Israel even when its objectives diverge from those of the US.  This ominous stance is a consequence of the fundamentalist Christian leanings of the GOP.  Many Republicans blindly support Israel because they are praying for Armageddon.

The Bloomberg poll examined the deep political divide surrounding US policy on Israel and Iran.  The poll asked: “When it comes to relations between the US and Israel, which of the following do you agree with more?”  47 percent of respondents chose, “Israel is an ally but we should pursue America’s interests when we disagree with them.”   However, 45 percent chose, “Israel is an important ally, the only democracy in the region, and we should support it even if our interests diverge.”

Whether or not to offer Israel unquestioning support was split along Party lines.  67 percent of Republicans said we should support Israel even when we disagree with them.  64 percent of Democrats said we should pursue America’s interests when we disagree with Israel.

While the Bloomberg poll question may appear theoretical, it’s based upon the reality that Israel’s interests are not always in sync with those of the US.

Israel is a nuclear power.  Moreover, the current Israeli government of Prime Minister Netanyahu has made it clear that Israel reserves the right to defend itself from neighboring states (such as Iran) without consulting the US.  That suggests that Israel might launch a nuclear attack on an Arab state even if the US opposed such an action.

Why would Republicans be willing to support Israel “even if our interests diverge?”

According to the Bloomberg poll, unquestioning support for Israel is a consequence of the fundamentalist Christian leanings of many members of the GOP:

Religion appears to play an important role in shaping the numbers. Born-again Christians are more likely than overall poll respondents, 58 percent to 35 percent, to back Israel regardless of U.S. interests. Americans with no religious affiliation were the least likely to feel this way, at 26 percent.  

Unquestioning support for Israel is the result of recent GOP strategy.  Since the Reagan era, Republicans have courted fundamentalist Christians.  A 2012 Pew Research poll found that 70 percent of “white evangelical protestants” either identified as Republicans or leaned toward the Republican Party.

According to the Gallup Poll 76 percent of Americans identify as Christians.  Of these, 41 percent attend services regularly (at least once per week).  34 percent of Christians identify as Born Again.  The Gallup Poll found that 42 percent of Christians believe in “creationism,” “God created humans pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years or so.”

Many of the Christians who are regular church attenders, and believe in creationism, also believe the end times are coming soon.  They are fundamentalist Christians, mostly evangelicals, “born again.”  A Pew Research Poll found that 47 percent of US Christians believe that “Jesus will return to earth in the next 40 years.”  A Newsweek Poll found that 45 percent of US Christians, “believe that the world will end, as the Bible predicts, in a battle at Armageddon between Jesus and the Antichrist.”

There’s a disturbing connection between a belief in Armageddon and support for the state of Israel.  It’s detailed in the writings of Dr. Timothy P. Weber.  Weber discusses “dispensationalism,” the belief that we are “living in the last days.”  According to Weber, “About one-third of America's 40 or 50 million evangelical Christians… believe that the nation of Israel will play a central role in the unfolding of end-times events.”

Throughout their history, dispensationalists have predicted that before the final events of the End Times can take place, the Temple must be rebuilt in Jerusalem. According to their scenario, half way through the Great Tribulation, Antichrist will enter the restored Temple and declare himself to be God.

Dispensationalism explains the rock-solid support for the state of Israel evidenced by fundamentalist Christians.  It’s strengthened by the reality that many of these Christians believe that Barack Obama is the antichrist.  (A 2013 Public Policy Poll found that 13 percent of respondents believed Obama to be the antichrist and 13 percent were “not sure.”)

Recently, retired Republican congresswoman Michele Bachmann opined that President Obama is moving the world into the end times: “Barack Obama is intent, it is his number one goal, to ensure that Iran has a nuclear weapon… We have very little time… left before the second return of Christ. That’s good news."

It’s important to understand why Republican fundamentalist Christians stand with Israel and oppose a nuclear-arms agreement with Iran.  These dispensationalist Christians seek to increase the probability of war between Israel and its neighbors because this will hasten the end times.  

Support the nuclear-arms agreement.  Vote no on Armageddon.


Thu Apr 23, 2015 at 06:25 AM PDT

Scott Walker: Mobilizing Resentment

by bobburnett

It’s early in the Republican presidential primary process, but at this point former Florida governor Jeb Bush is a slight favorite.  However, the latest CNN/ORC poll indicates that Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker is closing in on Bush.  In a large GOP field that features archconservatives and outright crazies, Walker is the most disturbing because his stock-in-trade is mobilizing the resentment of working-class white voters.

According to the CNN/ORC poll, the ranking of Republican presidential candidates is Jeb Bush (17 percent), Scott Walker (12 percent), Kentucky Senator Rand Paul (11 percent), Florida Senator Marco Rubio (11 percent), former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee (9 percent), Texas Senator Ted Cruz (7 percent), followed by surgeon Ben Carson (4 percent) and New Jersey Chris Christie (4 percent). Pollster Nate Silver observed that most of these candidates have approval ratings that are “net-negative,” unfavorability ratings greater than favorable.  Scott Walker is an exception – his favorability ratings nearly match his unfavorable – perhaps because he has the lowest name recognition of the major candidates.  

Who is Scott Walker?  At this point in the competition for the Republican nomination, voters know about as much about Walker as they did about George W. Bush before he won in 2000.  

Writing in Mother Jones magazine, political blogger Kevin Drum argued that Scott Walker would be the 2016 Republican nominee because he is the one candidate that could unify the various factions of the GOP: “Scott Walker… has a record of governance. His persona is generally adult. He doesn't say crazy stuff. Relatively speaking, he's attractive to moderates. But at the same time, the tea partiers love him too.”

Barack Obama’s presidential campaign took off after his famous 2007 Iowa speech at the Jefferson-Jackson dinner.  Scott Walker’s prospects have heightened after his January 24, 2015, speech at the Iowa Freedom summit.

In that address, Walker positioned himself as the champion of “commonsense conservative reform.”  He bragged of defeating “big government special interests” to be twice-elected governor in a traditionally Democratic state and attributed this to his willingness to “go big and bold.”

In his Iowa speech, Walker worried about the future of the US; expressed concern that America won’t be as great in the future as it was when he was growing up.  His twisted explanation for this (alleged) decline was an expression of classic Reagan-era conservative logic: Washington is controlled by big government special interests, taxes are too high (“It’s the people’s money not the government’s money”), and too many Americans are content to “be dependent upon the government.”  Walker said he wants to build an economy that works “everywhere not just in Washington” and be a leader “who stands with our allies against terrorism.”  Predictably he’s pro-life and anti Obamacare.   He’s muddied his stance on global climate change but his Wisconsin record is virulently anti-environment.   On immigration he’s recently shifted his position to the far right.

As a result of his Iowa speech, Scott Walker is ahead in the early polling among Iowa Republicans.  In New Hampshire Walker and Jeb Bush are in a virtual tie (Walker has 17.6 percent Republican support and Bush 18 percent).

Many observers believe that Walker is a puppet controlled by the notorious Koch brothers.  Walker’s core message is targeted to harness the resentment of working-class white voters.  It’s based on the typical conservative lies often promulgated in campaigns funded by the Koch brothers.

The substantial economic gains of the last seven years haven’t been shared by all Americans; rather than blame the rich and powerful, Scott Walker blames Washington.  And, by implication, he blames the least fortunate Americans, those who need government assistance.  This is classic Reagan rhetoric but with a sharp edge that denigrates the poor and America’s racial minorities.

Recently, The New York Times contrasted the campaign strategies of Jeb Bush and Scott Walker.  Both are conservative, but Bush has an inclusive message: “He is telling Republicans, in effect, that they must accept a changing country: that the path to the presidency will be found through appealing to voters who may not look like them.”  On the other hand, Scott Walker has an adversarial message: “The Party’s way forward… lies in demonstrating toughness in the face of intense opposition from the left and mobilizing those who are already inclined to support conservatism.”

In the 2012 presidential contest, Barack Obama defeated Mitt Romney with 51 percent of the vote.  Obama carried women and racial minorities; Romney carried men and white voters.  Most tellingly, Romney carried white women.

Scott Walker’s 2016 strategy is simple: He will seek to defeat Hillary Clinton by mobilizing the resentment of working-class white voters, male and female.  Walker will take his adversarial message to swing states such as Colorado, Florida, Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, Ohio, Virginia, and Wisconsin; and hope to mobilize a massive turnout by angry white voters.  Walker is dangerous.


Thu Apr 16, 2015 at 06:24 AM PDT

Ready For Hillary?

by bobburnett

To no one’s surprise, on April 12th former First Lady, Senator, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced her entry into the race for the Democratic presidential nomination.  The obvious questions are: Why announce now?  What is her platform? And, does Hillary Clinton have a real chance to become America’s first female President?

The Iowa Caucuses won’t happen until February 1, 2016, and the Democratic convention will be held July 25-28, 2016.  So far, Hillary Clinton has no formidable challenger for the Democratic presidential nomination.  Senator Elizabeth Warren has repeatedly said she’s not running.  That leaves a relatively weak field: Vice President Joe Biden, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, former Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee, former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley, former Virginia Senator Jim Webb, and possibly former Arkansas Governor Mike Beebe, and former Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer.  (Hillary has a 48 point lead over her nearest contender leading some to label this race “Hillary versus the seven dwarfs.”)

This last time she ran, Hillary Clinton announced her candidacy in January of 2007.  She might have waited a bit longer, but there are good reasons for announcing now:
•    The Republican candidates (Bush, Cruz, Paul, Rubio) are beginning to declare and they were dominating the mainstream media.  Hillary’s announcement will take the wind out of their sails, at least temporarily.
•    There are salacious allegations against Clinton (Benghazi, email management while she was Secretary of State, and the donations to the Clinton Foundation).  The announcement will give her a good opportunity to respond to these.
•    Many Democrats were questioning what she stands for – whether she is liberal enough to represent the entire Party.  Now Hillary can respond.
•    Finally, the issue of the pending Iran agreement threatened to divide Congressional Democrats.  Now Clinton can wade in, presumably on the side of President Obama, and the Party can unify behind her.

Clinton used her announcement video to establish populist themes.  The bulk of the two-minute video shows seemingly average people discussing their lives: preparing for marriage, school, a new baby, a new home, retirement, or starting a business.  The participants represent the diversity of America including a gay couple and a mixed-race couple.  Clinton says, “Americans have fought their way back from tough economic times. But the deck is still stacked in favor of those at the top… Everyday Americans need a champion and I want to be that champion.”

The Daily Kos observed, “The real brilliance of this piece is that it’s inviting Republicans to stick their head in a noose… Instead of coming back with their own positive vision for America and actually arguing issues, Republicans will come back with attacks.”

After laying the foundation of her campaign, Clinton’s Campaign Manager John Podesta tweeted, “Helping working families succeed, building small businesses, tackling climate change & clean energy.  Top of the agenda.”  (The Clinton campaign later packaged “climate change & clean energy” inside “national security.”)

The latest CBS News poll indicates Americans remain concerned about jobs and the economy (18 percent) but they are also worried about Islamic terrorists such as ISIS and Al Qaeda (11 percent).  5 percent are concerned about healthcare followed by 4 percent that are concerned about education and the “income gap.”  Clinton will have a plan for each of these issues that should be positively received by Democrats and Independents.  (Other polls show that Americans are concerned about immigration and Clinton, who embraces the pathway to citizenship, also has a plan for this.)

There’s continuing concern about Hillary Clinton’s favorability ratings.  However, Nate Silver noted: “Hillary Clinton is extremely well-known, but her favorability ratings are now only break-even: 46 percent favorable and 45 percent unfavorable. These are nearly identical to President Obama’s ratings, which are 48 percent favorable and 46 percent unfavorable.”  Nonetheless, Silver observed that all the announced Republican presidential candidates have “net-negative” ratings; for example, Jeb Bush has 45 percent unfavorable and only 31 percent favorable.  (In other words, voters aren’t thrilled with any presidential candidate.)

The latest Real Clear Politics poll shows that Clinton leads all Republican presidential candidates; her closest challenger is Jeb Bush and Hillary leads Jeb by 7.4 percentage points.

Of course, most of us remember 2008, when Hillary Clinton appeared to be the inevitable Democratic nominee and then Barack Obama won the race.  In 2016, it seems unlikely that Clinton will lose the Democratic nomination.  The question is whether she can win the general election.

In 2012, presidential election exit polls indicated that Barack Obama beat Mitt Romney because he formed a strong coalition of women and racial minorities.  He also prevailed among urban voters and those who positively viewed his presidency and the economy.  This seems like a formula that will work for Hillary Clinton in 2016.  

Hillary Clinton has a populist platform, positive economic winds, and loads of experience.  This should be enough to defeat a weak Republican field.  Hillary looks to be ready to win.


Fri Apr 10, 2015 at 06:07 AM PDT

Iran: Diplomacy or War?

by bobburnett

We’re on the brink of a historic treaty to constrain Iran’s nuclear capabilities, but the details are still hazy and most Americans haven’t made up their minds.  Early polls indicated broad support for the agreement with Republicans the most resistant.  Before the end of June, when the details of the treaty are worked out, President Obama has to convince Congress and the US public that a rapprochement with Iran is in our long-term interest.  If we turn away from this treaty, we’re likely headed to war with Iran.

The latest Reuters/Ipsos poll found opinions on the Iran nuclear agreement split along party lines.  50 percent of Democrats supported it, 10 percent were opposed, and 39 percent were unsure.  31 percent of Republicans support the treaty, 30 percent are opposed, and 40 percent are unsure.  33 percent of Independents support the agreement, 21 percent are opposed, and 45 percent are unsure.

It’s worth remembering that, in the fifties, the United States helped Iran start its nuclear program under our “Atoms for Peace” initiative.  In 1979, the US-Iran relationship went south when the Iranian revolution toppled the Shah.  In 2003, Iran made a clandestine offer to the Bush Administration to guarantee full transparency to the Iran nuclear program in return for security assurances and normalization of relations; unfortunately, the Bush White House did not respond.  

In 2002, due to concern about the extent of Iran’s nuclear program, the United Nations, the European Union, and the US imposed sanctions: a ban on the supply of heavy weaponry and nuclear-related equipment to Iran; prohibition of arms exports to Iran; and an “asset freeze” on key Iranian individuals and companies.  In addition the US banned all trade with Iran making an exception only for humanitarian assistance.

Beginning in 2006, there were limited talks between Iran and the so-called “P5+1,” the five permanent members of the UN Security Council (China, France, Great Britain, Russia, and the US) plus Germany.  These talks accelerated in June of 2013 with the election of a more moderate Iranian president, Hassan Rohani.  Subsequently, there was an agreement that gave Iran $7 billion in sanctions relief in return for increased inspection of Iranian facilities by International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors.  Since then, the P5+1 has continued negotiations.

On April 2 these negotiations produced Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action the details of which will be revealed by June 30.:
•    The time it would take Iran to develop a nuclear weapon would be increased from two-three months to roughly a year.
•    Iran agreed to reduce its stockpiles of enriched uranium and to submit to rigorous inspection.
•    Iran will reduce its centrifuges from 19,000 to 6104.  It will enrich uranium at only one facility, Natanz, and will not enrich beyond 3.67 percent – insufficient for a bomb – for 15 years.  (It will suspend activity at the controversial Fordow nuclear facility.)
•    Inspectors from IAEA will monitor all Iranian nuclear facilities and stockpiles for 20 years and uranium mines and mills for 25 years.
•    Iran will gain additional sanctions relief.

On April 5, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman interviewed President Obama, who promised the Iran agreement would protect Israel, “There is no formula that will be more effective than the diplomatic solution we have provided.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu initially condemned the Iran agreement but after several days changed his tone, calling it “deeply flawed.” “Netanyahu believes the deal leaves too much of Iran's suspect nuclear program intact, would give it quick relief from economic sanctions and create an easy path for the Islamic Republic to gain the ability to produce a bomb.”

In his interview with Thomas Friedman, President Obama addressed Netanyahu’s concerns.  Obama felt the reduction of nuclear capabilities is sufficient and reasonable.  (Some Republicans want a total elimination of the program.)  Obama noted there will be a rigorous inspection process and sanctions will not be lifted until Iran accomplishes key points of the agreement.

Many Republicans feel an essential part of this agreement should be for Iran to recognize the State of Israel and to cease its support for militant groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah.  President Obama agreed these are important diplomatic objectives but argued they do not need to be part of this agreement.

There’s an essential difference between Obama’s perspective and that of many Republicans.  Obama sees the possibility of negotiation with Iran.  He told Thomas Friedman, “Iran may change. If it doesn’t, our deterrence capabilities, our military superiority stays in place… [This is a] once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see whether or not we can at least take the nuclear issue off the table."

However, many Republicans, such as Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton see Iran as an implacable foe.  (Cotton said US the US objective for Iran should be “regime change.”)  It’s hard to find a measured Republican voice on Iran.  Republican Senator Mark Kirk likened the Iran agreement to the appeasement of Nazi Germany at Munich.

Republican claim they want a better deal but it appears that many of them want no deal.  The Iran agreement may go ahead without their approval, but Republicans are playing a dangerous game: once again, they are favoring war over diplomacy.


Sixteen months before the Republican convention, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush is a slight favorite to win the GOP presidential nomination.  Given that Hillary Clinton is the overwhelming favorite to win the Democratic nomination, Bush vs. Clinton should be an interesting race.  Although Jeb Bush is a typical right-wing Republican, he will attempt to soften his image and portray himself as a “compassionate” conservative, as did his brother in 2000.

The latest CBS News poll shows that 51 percent of Republican respondents “would consider voting for” Bush as the Republican nominee.  (The next five were Mike Huckabee [42 percent], Rand Paul [39 percent], Marco Rubio [39 percent], Ted Cruz [37 percent], and Scott Walker [35 percent].)  

Bush is the frontrunner among the business-conservative wing of the GOP, ahead of his principal competitors for this segment: Walker, Christie, and former Texas Governor Rick Perry. Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee is the favorite of the Christian-conservative wing of the GOP, ahead of his principal opponents: Senator Rubio, Senator Cruz, former Senator Rick Santorum, and surgeon Ben Carson.  Kentucky Senator Rand Paul is the favorite of the GOP’s libertarian wing.

After their respective conventions conclude, both candidates will try to claim US political middle ground.  Clinton will attempt to establish that she is not as liberal as most Democrats.  Bush will try to prove that he is not as conservative as mainstream Republicans.

Out here on the left coast, we understand that Hillary Clinton is not a liberal.  She is a third-way Democrat, that’s why most of us aren’t very enthused about her.  

Although he’ll try, it’s unlikely that Jeb Bush can differentiate himself from Hillary Clinton on foreign policy.  Moreover, Americans are focused on domestic policy; the latest Gallup Poll indicated that Americans continue to be primarily concerned with Jobs and the economy, as well as government and healthcare.

Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush differ on most domestic issues.  On economic inequality, Bush talks about the skills gap and the education gap. Award-winning economist Thomas Piketty observed that if Republicans, such as Jeb Bush “are really serious about the skill gap and the education gap, then they cannot at the same time cut the tax on the rich.” to invest more resources in education.”

When Bush was governor of Florida, he became an advocate of charter schools.  Political writer Alec MacGillis observed that Jeb Bush’s education reform program, “was of a piece with his larger agenda to privatize state-run services, from prisons to Medicaid.”  Bush pushed “school choice.”   As a result, “by 2002 for profit-companies were managing three-quarters of the state’s newly approved charter schools,” which were “free of public oversight and collective-bargaining agreements,” and spent “about two thousand dollars less per student than traditional public schools.”

On job creation, Clinton supports increasing the minimum wage and Federal job creation plans.  Jeb Bush called for the elimination of the Federal minimum wage, “We need to leave it to the private sector.”  Bush is not in favor of Federal job creation plans and opposed the 2009 stimulus package.   A 2002 analysis of his term as governor found,

[Bush] championed tax cuts that chiefly benefited business and the wealthy, trimmed the state’s payroll, [and] stripped job protection from thousands of mid-level civil servants… while Florida led the nation in job creation, much of that was in low-paid service industry jobs that left many Floridians without health insurance and scrambling for affordable housing amid a real estate boom that helped fuel business-friendly tax breaks.

As one would expect, Clinton supports the Affordable Care Act.  Bush referred to Obamacare as a monstrosity; he wants to repeal it, and have the government provide only catastrophic coverage.

Clinton believes global climate change is real and would reduce carbon emissions via government regulations.  Bush responds, “I’m not a scientist.”

On immigration, Jeb Bush has a more humane attitude towards undocumented immigrants than do most Republican candidates; Bush said, “Immigration is not a felony but an act of love.”  Clinton supports immigration reform and a “pathway to citizenship.”

Jeb Bush is conservative on social issues.  He was an early supporter of the Indiana Religious Freedom Restoration Act.  “I think Gov. Pence has done the right thing.” Real Clear Politics observed: “During his governorship, Bush asserted himself frequently on hot-button issues that highlighted his staunch social conservatism, particularly in opposing embryonic stem cell research and abortion rights… Bush began a nearly two-year fight to keep alive Terri Schiavo.”

A recent New York Times article preicted that Jeb Bush plans to run on a “unifying” message.  It’s reminiscent of the claim of his brother, George W. Bush, that he would be “a uniter not a divider;” that he was “a compassionate conservative.”

Nonetheless, on an issue-by-issue basis, Jeb Bush is a staunch conservative.  He’s not any more compassionate than Dubya was.


Fri Mar 27, 2015 at 06:12 AM PDT

Israel: America's Bad Brother

by bobburnett

Most families contain a problem relative: an addled elder, schizophrenic sister, or troubled brother.  That’s the status of the state of Israel: a member of the US family but, these days, the bad little brother who is a constant headache.

Since the 1948 founding of the modern state of Israel, most Americans have felt protective of it, as if it is our 51st state.  Out here on the Left Coast, in the sixties, many of us envied Israel; we were enamored with the idea of building an egalitarian, liberal state.

In 1978, when the Camp David accords were signed, many Americans felt that a lasting middle-east peace was inevitable.  Then, for many reasons, the situation deteriorated.

Last week, Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, indicated that he no longer supported the two-state solution, no longer endorsed one of the pillars of the 1967 Arab-Israeli war peace accords.  Writing in The New Yorker David Remnick observed that Netanyahu then took a page from Richard Nixon, “He went racist…Netanyahu, a student – practically a member – of the GOP, is no beginner at this demagogic game.” “Netanyahu, sensing an election threat from the a center-left coalition…unleashed a campaign finale steeped in nativist fear and hatred of the Other.”  

As a consequence, Netanyahu retained his role as Prime minister, but the already strained relationship between President Obama and Netanyahu took a turn for the worse.  And Netanyahu lost the respect of many Americans, Jews and Gentiles.

In the US and Israel, Netanyahu is a divisive figure.  But his bellicosity doesn’t mean that America no longer supports Israel.  Instead, it’s a further indication that Israel can no longer viewed as a reliable member of the family.  Still blood kin but troubled.

Few American families abandon members who are sick or disabled.  But some shun the relative who becomes a troublemaker: who gets drunk and picks fights at family gatherings; who is always borrowing money and never repaying it; or who sleeps with the wife or husband of a family member.

The relationship between the US and our brother Israel is troubled, but no sensible American would suggest that the US shun or abandon Israel.  The problem is what to do to help Israel handle its problems.

First, we must acknowledge that many of the things we accuse Israel of, we are guilty of ourselves.  We don’t like Netanyahu’s bellicosity, but US foreign policy is also bellicose.  We, of course, stirred up the Middle East by invading Iraq.

We may believe that Israel is an authoritarian state, but many Americans believe that the US is an authoritarian state, witness our huge military expenditures and the level of surveillance on average citizens.

We may believe that Israel spies on us, but there’s ample evidence that the US has spied on Israel.

We disapprove of Netanyahu’s prejudice towards Palestinians, in specific, and Arabs, in general, but many Americans don’t trust Palestinians and Arabs.  Netanyahu may seem racist, but many Americans are racist.

We don’t like Netanyahu’s policies about Israeli settlements, confiscating Palestinian lands and building Israeli settlements across the green line.  However, around the world, American corporations routinely bribe local governments so that the corporation can seize land and build factories and office buildings.  Going further back in US history, our government seized the lands of native-Americans.

We disapprove of the hostile nature of the Israeli border security, but our own people, who man the US-Mexico border, are notoriously hostile to visitors who don’t appear to be “real” Americans.

In fact, the US government is guilty of most of the actions that Americans disapprove of when conducted by the state of Israel.

People in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.  Israel may be a troubled member of our family, but certainly not the only one.  What about Texas?

So what should the US do about Israeli?  It’s too facile to suggest: Do an intervention.  In most families interventions don’t work with a member who is a serious troublemaker.  Besides, what are we to say to Netanyahu: Do as I say, not as I do?  That would be hypocritical.  

We should continue to do as President Obama has done.  Reaffirm our support for the state of Israel; reaffirm that the Israelis are our brother and sisters.  And we should set limits with Prime Minister Netanyahu and those who support his positions.

We should continue to support the two-state solution, the “green-line” boundaries set in 1949, and the principles of the Camp David accords.

We should continue to pursue a reasonable nuclear accord with Iran.

We should continue to pursue peace with Israel’s neighbors.

We should continue to regard the state of Israel as our brother.  Troubled or not.


Fri Mar 13, 2015 at 06:20 AM PDT

What Do Republicans Stand For?

by bobburnett

20 months before the 2016 presidential election, the Republican Party is floundering.  Unlike the Democrats, where Hillary Clinton is the clear presidential favorite, there’s no frontrunner for the GOP nomination.  More important, it’s unclear what Republicans stand for – other than hatred of President Obama.

During the last week of February, the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) occurred in Washington, DC.  Speakers lambasted Obama and Clinton.  Potential candidates competed for attention – Rand Paul and Scott Walker won the CPAC straw poll.  Nonetheless, there was little agreement about a positive Republican domestic policy.

The CPAC crowd did agree on foreign policy.  Conservatives love the Iraq war, ridicule Obama as a wimp, are scared to death of ISIS, and don’t trust Iran.  The GOP’s problem is that, at the moment, voters aren’t concerned about foreign policy.  Poll after poll indicates that Americans are worried about US domestic policy, particularly the economy and jobs.

The GOP domestic-policy vacuum is evidence of a deeper problem: Republicans don’t have a plan to move America forward.  Voters understand the GOP is opposed to economic equality – or racial or gender equality.  But what are Republicans for?

Satirist P. J. O’Rourke once observed, “Republicans are the Party that says government doesn’t work, and then they get elected and prove it.”  Three-months experience with a Republican-controlled Congress has demonstrated this truth.  Republicans want to repeal Obamacare, but that train has left the station. (Unless the Supreme Court intervenes.)  Republicans want to restrict the President’s ability to effect immigration or block the Keystone pipeline, but don’t have the votes.  Republicans have no positive agenda.

Meanwhile, Democrats have a powerful story to tell.  The American economy continues to improve; the latest jobs report indicated the US added 295,000 jobs in February – 60 months of jobs growth.  the President’s approval ratings are the highest they’ve been in months. A recent Associated Press-GFK poll found there is growing support for the President’s economic policies and “51 percent approve of his handling of unemployment.”  In addition, more than 11 million people have enrolled in Obamacare.

Since the 2012 presidential election the primary GOP message has been “stop Obama.”  This has inflamed their base – and contributed to their victory in the 2014 midterm election – but it doesn’t give true Independent voters a reason to vote Republican in 2016.

Republicans are “hoist on their own petard;” victims of their own tactics.  At one time, Republican had a domestic identity: “fiscal restraint.”  They were for “small government.”  Somewhere during the George W. Bush administration they lost their “small government” message – witness the explosive growth of the Department of Homeland Security.  This development put Republicans into a box: it’s hard to be for “small government” and simultaneously support the world’s largest defense establishment -- the US spends as much on defense as the next eight countries combined.  

As a consequence of this cancerous tactic, recent Republican presidential nominees have been hamstrung.  In conservative gatherings like CPAC they tell each other that they hate government, but in Washington, and on the campaign trail, they can’t use this line because they actually love the behemoth national security state.  

The 2012 GOP presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, ran as, “I’m not Barack Obama.” Romney had a lame domestic message: “As President… I will cut marginal tax rates across the board for individuals and corporations...  I will repeal burdensome regulations, and prevent the bureaucracy from writing new ones… Instead of growing the federal government, I will shrink it.”  Romney tried to adapt Ronald Reagan’s 1980 message: government is the problem; helping the rich get richer will inevitably help everyone else; and markets are inherently self correcting and therefore there’s no need for government regulation.   But after thirty years, voters were suspicious of Reaganomics and Romney.

It’s easy to dismiss the GOP malaise as a consequence of their embrace of the status quo.  Republicans don’t want to break up big banks, or raise the minimum wage, or shutdown polluting industries, or provide women with access to health services, or close military bases, or feed and educate our children, or do anything of substance, because that would change the social order.  After all, Republicans get most of their funding from rich white men and party leaders don’t want to piss them off.

Contemporary American politics are all about money – billions of dollars.  And Republicans, more than Democrats, are behest to a relatively small number of rich, white, male donors.

The Republican moneybags want lower taxes and fewer government regulations.  They don’t care about the poor or women or people of color or the elderly.  If the Republican plutocrats had their way, they would role back the social safety net: Obamacare, Medicare, Social Security, and so forth.  

The problem for Republicans, in a presidential election year, is that these policies aren’t popular with most voters.  So the GOP has to go negative because they don’t have a positive agenda.


Fri Feb 27, 2015 at 06:37 AM PST

Good Obama, Bad Obama

by bobburnett

During the last two years of a President’s second term pundits begin discussing his “legacy.”  How will historians judge Barack Obama?  Conservatives believe he will be loathed.  Liberals tend to be more generous, however many of us believe Obama will be remembered as a mixed bag, a mixture of good and bad policies.

At this writing, the President’s approval ratings are the highest they’ve been in months and his favorability ratings are positive.  72 percent of those who watched Obama’s State-of-the-Union address believed the Administration’s policies “will move the country in the right direction.”  

Whether you believe Obama has done a good job or a bad job depends upon your Party affiliation. The Gallup organization observed that the President’s approval ratings are historically polarized: “Throughout President Barack Obama's sixth full year in office, an average of 79% of Democrats, compared with 9% of Republicans, approved of the job he was doing.”  

Typically, Democrats grade the President’s performance issue by issue and grade him positively for his handling of the economy.  Most voters agree that the Obama Administration guided us out of the great recession.  A recent Associated Press-GFK poll found there is growing support for the President’s economic policies and “51 percent approve of his handling of unemployment.”

But that doesn’t mean Obama gets an “A” for his economic leadership.  Even though the economy is recovering, there’s record inequality.  A recent report by investment bank Credit Suisse found that the ratio of wealth to disposable income is at its highest level since the Depression.  And, as Senator Elizabeth Warren is fond of pointing out, Wall Street is back to business as usual.  The President missed a historic opportunity to make fundamental changes to the US financial system.

On the other hand, Obama managed to get the Affordable Care Act passed.  11.4 million Americans are enrolled in Obamacare.  (87 percent receiving some sort of cost assistance.)  The latest Kaiser Tracking Poll found that while more Americans have an unfavorable view of Obamacare (46 percent) rather a favorable view (40 percent), the outcome is heavily influenced by political affiliation (64 percent of Democrats like it versus only 11 percent of Republicans.)  Moreover most voters want to “fix” Obamacare rather than junk it.  (64 percent fix versus 27 percent get rid of.)  

In addition, President Obama also gets positive marks from most voters on his handling of Immigration and the Environment.  The latest polls indicate 55 percent of voters support Obama’s executive actions on immigration.  A November Pew Research Poll found that voters trusted the President more than Republicans to protect the environment.

Nonetheless, President Obama has promoted some bad policies. Since 2010, the United States has been negotiating a secret trade deal, the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP).  If approved by Congress, this pact between the U.S. and 11 of America’s Pacific Rim trade-partners would govern 40 percent of US imports and exports.  US trade negotiators want TPP to get special, “fast-track” treatment from Congress, where it would simply get an up or down vote without Congress delving into the details.  Polls indicate that voters do not want the President to have fast-track authority.  Voters in blue states will likely oppose the entire trade deal.

Furthermore, the President is a mixed bag on foreign policy.  Obama was elected, in part, because of his promise to extricate the US from Afghanistan and Iraq.  While he’s removed most of the ground troops the “War on Terror” persists.  As a result, voters disagree with President Obama’s handling of terrorism, 54 percent disapproval compared to 44 percent approval, and an even larger margin don’t like his handling of the Islamic State (ISIS), 57 percent disapproval compared to 40 percent approval.

On February 18th, the President asked Congress for an authorization for the use of military force against the Islamic State. There are three issues with this request: whether or not the President is authorized to send ground troops into Iraq/Syria (the domain of the Islamic State), whether or not the authorization has an expiration date, and how broad the authorization is.  

Writing in Foreign Policy, law professor Ryan Goodman observed, “The decision on [the definition of “associated forces” of the Islamic State] may determine whether this [authorization for the use of military force] gives the next president the power to embroil America in conflicts and in countries that no current member of Congress could predict.”

What will Barack Obama’s legacy be?  If a judgment were made today, it would be positive: the economic recovery and Obamacare.  But the Transpacific Partnership trade agreement and the authorization for the use of military force threaten the President’s legacy; could turn it negative.

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