Obama’s Chief of Staff

As far as I know, Rahm Emanuel hasn’t officially accepted Obama’s job offer yet, but it is widely assumed that he will.

What does this crucial first pick say about an Obama presidency? I don’t yet know enough about Emanuel to form a complete opinion. I’m sure we’ll learn a lot more about him in the days to come. Here’s what I do know:

He’s a career politician, not surprisingly. He worked as a staff member for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee back in the 80s and was named the Chair of that committee after he was elected to the US House of Representatives in 2002. He worked on Clinton’s presidential campaign and served as the Assistant to the President for Political Affairs and later as Senior Advisor to the President for Policy and Strategy. He was an investment banker from 1999 – 2002 and then ran for (and won) an open seat in the US House of Representatives serving Illinois.

I think Emanuel can fairly be described as a liberal. He is pro-choice, pro-gay rights, pro-environment, and pro-separation of church and state. He supports requiring the hiring of more women and minorities, the expansion of health care coverage, replacing coal and oil with renewable alternatives, a more progressive tax policy, providing a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants, drug enforcement, allowing churches to provide welfare services, the expansion of free trade, stricter limits on political campaign funds, and pulling the US out of Iraq. He opposes mandatory three strikes sentencing laws, the absolute right to gun ownership, the privatization of social security, the voucher system that would allow parents to choose public schools, the Patriot Act, and expansion of the Armed Forces. (For source, click here.) He has voted with his party 98% of the time, although I choose to believe (as I do with all politicians) that he does so because his values coincide with the party of which he is a member.

Given this information, I can’t say that I’m personally disappointed with the appointment. My views on national policies are closely aligned with Emanuel’s policy stances. Further, he has White House administrative experience coupled with legislative experience. I think this will significantly help Obama navigate the office of the presidency. It’s probably safe to say that everyone left of center on the political spectrum is happy with the choice.

But what about moderates and conservatives? Obama ran a campaign based on optimism and the idea of post-partisan politics. Should his first appointment have been a Republican? An Independent? Someone who has a strong history of crossing party lines? Perhaps. I’m sure many conservatives see this as a justification of what they fear will be the most liberal administration in a generation.

I’m holding out my judgments, though. Perhaps this is due to my faith in Obama to make the right decisions for our country. Everything I’ve learned about Obama leads me to conclude that he is a pragmatist, not an idealogue. I think that, ultimately, if we try to find consistency in his actions along the typical “liberal – conservative” spectrum, he will appear inconsistent. I believe that he’ll do what he thinks is necessary to get things done. I predict that some of his decisions will appear excessively liberal while others will appear excessively conservative (or at least moderately conservative). And the fact that this is only his second presidential decision (Biden being his first…and a very good one, I might add), coupled with my feeling that Emanuel was chosen based on his experience and not just on his ideology, leads me to hold my judgment until I see more of Obama’s decisions.

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Validation

There are no words to express my pure joy at the outcome of the presidential election. At various times tonight I could be found squealing, jumping up and down, and crying out of sheer happiness. Hopefully all of that will counteract my adrenaline and allow me to get to sleep tonight. And when I go to sleep, I will sleep easier knowing that this great country is finally, finally in good hands.

The outcome of this election has validated the feelings of so many Americans, myself included, that our country is big enough to move beyond partisanship and a politics of hate and fear. Our country is big enough to be hopeful. We have a bright future and are not doomed to the fall of democracy.

Well done, America.

Socialism Revisited

I know I posted about this a few days ago, but I’ve heard so many people wrongly describe Obama as a socialist with no actual knowledge about what socialism is that I felt it important to revisit the issue.

Let’s be clear: The tax policy that Obama proposes is NOT socialism. Socialism is defined as government ownership of the means of production. Obama does not propose this in any way, shape, or form.

But let’s talk about redistributing wealth. Our country has had a progressive tax policy – where the more you make, the more you pay – ever since the New Deal. Reagan was a big proponent of this and furtherd the progressivity of our tax policy. The only truly democratic, non-redistributionist tax policy would be a flat tax policy. And in order to implement such a policy without reducing tax revenues, we would have to double the taxes of most Americans to 30%.

Obama is simply talking about letting the Bush tax cuts expire, which would mean that the highest tax bracket would raise from 36% to 39%. That’s a 3% increase in one tax bracket. And the McCain campaign calls this socialism. It is not. It is merely bringing tax levels back to where they were in the 1990s, the decade in which we saw the largest economic expansion in American history and the bolstering of the middle class. Was our country socialist in the 1990s? No. Obama is not proposing tax levels that have never before been seen.

Finally, Republicans like to wax poetic about how the only way to improve the economy is to lower taxes. Let’s look at the record. We have had the lowest tax levels ever in our country during the last 8 years, and our economy is in the toilet. During the 8 years prior to the Bush tax cuts, taxes were at a slightly higher level, and we saw the largest economic expansion of our time. Raising taxes on the wealthiest 2% of earners does not limit or hinder economic growth. Giving larger tax cuts to the middle class, who spends more than the wealthiest 2%, while making up for that lost income by taking 3% more from the wealthiest Americans spurs growth. Cutting taxes for the wealthiest Americans does not spur the growth of the middle class, which is the backbone of our country.

Socialism…really?

Wikipedia defines socialism as “a broad set of economic theories of social organization advocating state or collective ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods.” Given this, will someone please explain to me how Obama’s tax policy makes him a socialist?

Obama is proposing to return the highest tax bracket from 36% to 39%…a mere 3 percentage points. This is a return to tax levels before the Bush tax cuts. We are not talking about tax levels that have never before been seen. Further, our country has always had a progressive tax policy, meaning that the people who make the most money pay the most taxes. This idea is not Obama’s. Reagan was actually a big proponent of it. And it doesn’t amount to socialism.

Now, McCain has proposed to have the government buy up bad mortgages. Doesn’t that sound more like socialism than Obama’s tax policy?

He’s the serious Major General.

So it looks like General Colin Powell will endorse Obama this weekend, on NBC‘s Meet the Press.

Good thing, too, since Sarah Palin goes on Saturday Night Live tonight, also on NBC.

Remember John McCain announcing his run for the presidency on CBS’s Late Show with David Letterman?

Gee, and here I was getting my news from the Jon Stewart Show all these days. I must really be missing out in by-passing broadcasting outlets and going straight to my narrow-cast interests on partisan TV and radio. Maybe, this is the mainstream media that McCain-Palin keeps ranting about? Maybe it’s just their way of saying they don’t watch the same things I do?

Nevertheless, Powell will give Obama a nice shot in the arm in the Ready-To-Be-President race. It might also be an interesting turnaround for Powell, since his testimony was a leading factor for our invasion of Iraq. Is Powell angling to return to a new administration, perhaps this time as Secretary of Defense? That would be a serious step towards a rehabilitated political career – National Security Adviser (1987 to 1989), Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (1989 – 1993), Secretary of State (2001 – 2005). His would be an interesting appointment, given his ties to former Senators Lincoln Chafee and Chuck Hagel (both of whom are friendly and supportive of Obama and Biden).

Deliberation or debate?

It’s your money, rescuing others. So. Do you understand what your money is being used for? I’m not sure I do. I’m not sure I know who does.

Maybe the Masters of the Universe? You know, the oh-so-smarter-than-you investment bankers. They’re certainly paid more for their wisdom than you or I. A first year, just out of college, investment banker gets around $125,000 – $150,000. And, we all know how much top-of-the-line investment bankers make – just look at Henry Paulson. In 2005, as CEO and Chairman of Goldman-Sachs, it is reported he made $30 million.

Maybe Paulson knows a thing or two: “There’s no way to stabilize the markets other than through government intervention.” Did he really say that?

Ah, but Paulson started out not wanting any strings attached. No equity stakes. No dividends. No limits on CEO compensation. Otherwise, the banks won’t play. Which begs the question: if they really need the bailout/loan/subsidy, then why wouldn’t they agree to those terms? Could they really turn down the government’s offer and watch the financial system go down the gurgler? Put aside the moral outrage that would be targeted at them (let alone the odd stone projectile or two), but wouldn’t that substantially eat further into their reserves and profitability. Doesn’t sound like a wise decision, either on behalf of their stockholders or their own future.

I continue to ponder the details. Like, where does the money come from? Is the Treasury going to print more money? That leads to inflation, which makes everything more expensive for everyone. A sure recipe to a major recession. Or, is the Treasury going to borrow more and raise our already dangerously high debt level? That will drive down the dollar, making imports more expensive and weakening the status and stature of American business overseas. (Not forgetting that it would probably be foreign sovereign wealth that would finance the debt!)

And, I ponder where the money will actually go. I suspect it will be the big banks (getting bigger by the day) that gets the lion’s share. They’re the ones who made all the dodgy investments (or have bought out the guys who did). They’re the ones who were able to package them into indescribably complex securities. And, they’re the ones that probably need it least – they’re big enough to cope with the losses and ride out the slump. Small banks, on the other hand, are more at risk. But, small banks (with some notable exceptions) never had the wherewithal to make those dodgy loans. So, are we rewarding the wrong guys? Who need it least?

Maybe that small-guy investor, Warren Buffett, has it right. When a bank needs liquidity, you either loan it to them at good terms or you get preferred stock. With a 10% annual dividend, even if the price of the shares fall in market value. Using that as a model, the country’s $700 billion should earn us a cool $7 billion. Guaranteed.

Does McCain understand that? Obama? I’ll be watching the debate, hoping to find out.

Obama is the true leader this week

McCain showed himself this week to once again not have the judgment to be our president. He announced Wednesday that he was suspending his campaign and going to Washington to help bring a bipartisan solution to the Congressional negotiations. (Of course, his campaign really wasn’t suspended as everyone else on his campaign was still campaigning and as his negative ads continued.) While his announcement may have sounded like a good idea to some, when you take a step back, you see that, even if we give him the benefit of the doubt and say it was well-intentioned (which is giving him a HUGE benefit that I don’t think he deserves), it was ill thought out and showed a lack of understanding of politics (which is ironic since he’s been a politician for over a quarter century). And it is this that further confirms to me that he is not fit to be president.

McCain is the Republican presidential nominee. Everything he says and does is now identified as “Republican” because he is the new leader of the Republican party and is running his campaign on a Republican platform. Nothing of consequence that he does during his campaign will be seen as bipartisan (appearing at Ground Zero with Obama doesn’t count). I fully admit that the same goes for Obama at this point in time. No matter how much either candidate wants to get past partisan politics, during their presidential campaigns is not the time to do it. Every Democrat wants their guy in the White House come January. And every Republican wants his guy in the White House. I’m not saying this is right, I’m just saying that’s the way it is. And so no Democrat is going to be amenable to McCain riding in on a high horse to bring “bipartisanship” to Washington. They’re going to scoff and rear back. The Republicans would do the same thing if Obama was the one riding in to save the day.

The difference between Obama and McCain is that Obama understands this. He recognizes that right now, by his very title as “Democratic presidential nominee,” he is very much hindered in his ability to foster bipartisanship. After the election, when Republicans have come to grips with the fact that they’ll be dealing with Obama for the next four years at least, they’ll both (Obama and Republicans) be in a better position to work together. The same can be said for McCain and Democrats. And so Obama, recognizing his handicap and seeing that a bipartisan agreement was coming along quite nicely in his absence, wisely chose to stay away from Washington. This does not mean he was disengaged. He’s been in frequent, regular contact with Congressional leaders, Secretary Paulson, and Fed Chairman Bernanke. But he recognized that going back to Washington, given his current status as Democratic presidential nominee, would infuse partisan, presidential politics into a delicate situation. He put the good of the country over the good of his campaign by recognizing this and acting accordingly.

McCain, on the other hand, decided that he had to go to Washington to push for a bipartisan agreement that was developing well without him. Of course, the irony is that, as all the newspapers report, the bipartisan agreement crumbled just as he arrived at the White House. This proves that his presence infused presidential politics into a delicate situation that he should’ve stayed out of. We are now further away from a deal than we were before McCain’s trip to Washington. If he did his by accident, then his utter lack of self-awareness and his reckless, misguided attitude that he could forge a bipartisan agreement shows that he does not understand the political process and is ill-equipped to be president. And if he knew exactly what he was doing, then it shows that he has put his campaign above his country by choosing to imbue partisan, presidential politics into a sensitive situation that was making good progress without him. Either way, it doesn’t paint him in a good light.

And what’s even worse is that we read just about everywhere that McCain has refused to take a stand on the agreement, said almost nothing in the White House meeting, and has not at all been involved in the real negotiations. How is this leadership? If he had gone to Washington with some sort of idea or vision or solution to get this passed, then maybe I could give him some credit. But he has nothing of the sort, which leads me to conclude that he (unwisely) thought that his mere presence would foster an agreement. How arrogant, pig-headed, and narrow-minded is that?!

The true leader this week has been Obama, who recognizes that good things can happen even in his absence and who is willing to let people do their jobs and to let the political process work. Let’s be clear, what isn’t working right now is the financial market. That is what needs to be fundamentally changed. But the political process of the executive branch submitting a bill to Congress who then negotiates and debates it and eventually passes a better form of the bill is fully functioning right now…or at least it was until McCain stuck his finger in it.