Obama’s Leadership: Will “Buffett tax” fly?

I didn’t get around to answering Politico’s question “Will ‘Buffett tax’ fly?” in time for them to publish it.  But after a day of hearing the President argue his case, I’m sharing my thoughts with you. Let me know what you think.

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Arena Asks: President Barack Obama will release a plan today to cut the federal deficit by $3 trillion over the next decade, drawing half the savings from new tax revenue and sparing Medicare recipients from having to wait longer to collect benefits. Invoking calls by investor Warren Buffett, Obama’s plan would also would prohibit millionaires from paying a lower tax rate than middle-class Americans. Will this populist-sounding proposal win broad backing? Or is it repackaged class warfare that won’t play well in an aspirational society?

My Answer: If Obama had launched this bold Buffet Rule initiative in January 2009, it would have been a slam dunk. The public was with him, it would have fulfilled a campaign promise, and it would have sucked the wind right out of the Republican “no”-sayer sails. Obama would be in a much more favorable leadership position today and the polls would show it. That’s because he would have shown both strength and courage by setting the agenda and establishing the playing field’s boundaries.

It’s still the right thing to do, and it’s never too late to do the right thing. If the president goes all out to educate people about why this proposal is fair to individuals and good for the economy overall, he might parlay the initiative into an electoral plus. The “class warfare” charge is nonsense, and in fact it’s just the opposite–an attempt to ameliorate an unfair tax system that has exacerbated economic class differentials.

Timing counts for a lot, though. Three years of transparently (and often foolishly) pre-emptive political compromising have used up the moral high ground momentum Obama brought into office. The Buffett Rule proposal in 2012 feels like the calculated hail Mary pass of a team captain with time running out for a win. And with a Republican House and weakened Senate Democratic majority, the likelihood of scoring a meaningful legislative victory is zilch.

Scoreboard: Net yardage gain to Obama, but not likely to change the game.

Pump Up the Passion: Why Dems Need a Bachmann!

I wrote this commentary for the Daily Beast and titled it “Pump Up the Passion.” Of course, they flamed it up and called it “Dems Need a Bachmann!” My point is that this is a moment of opportunity for progressive women to soar to leadership in a politics that sorely needs leadership, but we must a) learn from our adversaries and b) stake out a bold agenda to define and drive the debate. I value your opinions greatly, so tell me what you think about these ideas.

Passion! What a relief to see President Obama express some in his jobs speech Thursday. And for the first time that I can remember, a presidential proposal specifically addressed women’s essential role in driving the economic engine.

But the political narrative shifts awfully quickly these days. Congresswoman Michele Bachmann’s presidential candidacy, a hot ticket just a couple of weeks ago, is suddenly melting. And Sarah Palin is in her bus, hurtling full-speed toward self-parody as an attention-seeking political used-to-be. While women’s importance in the political landscape can no longer be overlooked, some might say that the much-hyped “year of the conservative women” is over.

To feminists, right-wing ideologues like Bachmann and Palin might seem like tools of the patriarchy, co-opted by their oppressors as mouthpieces for a party that would disempower women and return us to the days of back-alley abortions and economic discrimination. But you have to hand it to the women on the ideological right. What they lack in compassion they make up for with passion. They have the fire of moral certitude. You know where they stand. That kind of clarity connects with voters.

Republican presidential candidate Michele Bachmann (R-MN), Kevork Djansezian / Getty ImagesAnd so I say, learn from your adversaries. Progressive women could stand to emulate these characteristics of their sisters on the other side of the partisan aisle. I doubt fewer right-wing women will run in 2012, and that’s fine with me. But the dual Bachmann-Palin flameouts provide a critical window of opportunity for progressive women—whose numbers and experience in elective office are triple those of women on the right, and who have by and large been the unsung trailblazers for all women in politics—to kick their roles up a few notches and lead the nation forward from its current morass.

“Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann have breezed through the door that Hillary painstakingly built.”

It’s great that barriers to all women in politics have fallen precipitously despite continuing media bias and unequal access to big-money donors. Voters are more likely to trust women candidates, and rightly so: women legislators work harder and bring home more results for their constituents. Though they make up just 17 percent of Congress, women are 51 percent of the U.S. population, 54 percent of voters, and upward of 60 percent of progressive voters. That’s voting power that, if mobilized collectively and strategically, could change everything.

So many progressive policy initiatives and social movements since the 19th-century suffragists have been led by progressive women that it’s no wonder we get cognitive dissonance from the possibility that the first female president might be a right-wing Republican. Progressive women’s groups have led the way to recruit, train, and support women to run for office. Most of those groups are nonpartisan, such as the Women’s Campaign Forum, The White House Project, Women Under Forty, the 2012 Project, Running Start, and the National Women’s Political Caucus.

Without them, we would not have had Hillary Clinton’s 2008 run for president, after which voters understood that leadership is as likely come in a yellow pantsuit as in navy gabardine with a yellow tie. But as Siobhan “Sam” Bennett, CEO of the Women’s Campaign Forum, the oldest organization financially supporting women candidates, wryly told me, “Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann have breezed through the door that Hillary painstakingly built.”

That’s what we get for playing too nice. So let’s face down the progressive elephant in the room once and for all and nix the idea that any woman in political office is a net plus. Although complicated policies that work for the country are harder to communicate than simplistic antigovernment nastiness, women like Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) show it’s quite possible to employ passionate progressive arguments without the negative aspects of zealotry. More progressive women need to step up just as boldly—now.

See Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand’s new initiative to get more women into politics. But which women?  YouTube Preview Image

Because with lockstep “just say no” partisanship on the Republican side as the new normal and Democratic leaders too often supinely begging for crumbs of compromise, talk of bold change on the progressive side has gone mute. Yet small ideas will never be able to increment the nation’s economy into a future that’s emerging faster than Andrew Breitbart can whip up the blogosphere to bring down a member of Congress who tweeted inappropriately—sex scandals being one of the few truly bipartisan endeavors. And, by the way, haven’t those guys all been, well, guys?

This is exactly the breech into which progressive women should step. Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) took a stab at it and her vision, the Emergency Jobs to Restore the American Dream Act, substantively informed the president’s proposals. Feminist economists like Nancy Folbre have long advocated many of the ideas that the president has now urged Congress to pass.

For progressive women, seizing this opportune moment to assert our own authentic moral strength, strong language that inspires our base, and courage to advance bold policy initiatives is nothing less than a profound responsibility.

It’s time to pump up the passion and let it rip.

Will Obama’s jobs plan work?

What’s your opinion of the president’s speech? Please post below. Here’s mine:

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Arena Asks: President Barack Obama on Thursday proposed a $447 billion jobs package composed of tax cuts, aid to states and infrastructure spending, challenging a joint session of Congress to shut down the “political circus” and pass what he dubbed the American Jobs Act as soon as possible.

Will President Obama’s jobs plan work? And can any president really “create jobs”?

My Answer: Passion! What a relief to see President Cool Obama express some passion. I think the whole nation, regardless of political persuasion, breathed differently when at last, he energetically, definitively, told Congress what he wanted: “Pass the bill.”

I hope they do pass the bill, and soon. Everything in it is sensible, doable, does no harm, and might just do a lot of good for people who need it most. For the first time I can remember, he also paid attention to women as a key part of the economic engine–a major breakthrough. These are all important and valuable things.

The American Jobs Act, however, is also fundamentally incremental. It might stanch bleeding, but there is no soaring strategy to elevate thinking, make people more optimistic for the long haul, or jump start the game-changing innovation we need to grow our way out of the recession. In usual Obama leadership fashion, the speech was overtly crafted not to define the terms but to work within the Republicans’ framing of the problem: debt and taxes are both too high, which inherently buys into the labeling of Democrats as tax and spend profligates.

With his speech, the President successfully changed the tone. But though his new found passion enlivened the discourse, he has yet to change the conversation.

POLITICO Arena: What would you ask the candidates?

Get into the act! What question do you want to ask the candidates?  Post your comments here.

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Arena Asks: Eight Republican presidential hopefuls are gearing up to take the stage tonight for the POLITICO/NBC News debate – the first major faceoff as campaign season kicks into high gear.

If you were a moderator at tonight’s debate, what would you ask the candidates and why?

My Answer: You see government as the problem. Yet you want to be not just part of it but to lead it. How would you create public confidence in its elected officials and public servants after you have you have built your candidacy on making them the enemy?

(Follow up question: how will you make up for the broadscale elimination of public sector jobs caused by your policies?)

Many Democrats and Independents would agree with you that the government is the problem when it comes to social issues you espouse, such as making abortion illegal, eliminating women’s health care such as routine family planning from insurance plans, and intruding on medical practice with gag rule measures that tell doctors what they can or cannot say to patients. Please explain why you support these measures while promising to get government out of people’s lives.

(Follow up question: These measures are all aimed at exerting government power over women’s lives. Yet you don’t support measures like Paycheck Fairness to give women an equal shot at economic self-sufficiency. How in the world do you justify that?)

Should voters consider candidates’ religious beliefs?

Don’t get me wrong: I think religious literacy, as in knowing the history and beliefs of various religions including one’s own, is important for every citizen.  And in answer to the question of whether voters should consider candidates’ religious beliefs, I should have added that people need to understand what each of the candidates’ religious beliefs are so as to understand better how that individual might govern. Beyond that…well, read on and let me know what you think. Continue reading “Should voters consider candidates’ religious beliefs?”

Is Rick Perry dumb?

When you have Kinky Friedman, shame on him, lauding Rick Perry’s charms, you must believe with perfect faith that the Politico Arena question of the day can only be answered one way. Read on please and tell me what your answer would have been. Continue reading “Is Rick Perry dumb?”

Does Libya Success Vindicate Obama’s Leadership or Clinton’s?

The other day I tweeted:

“Love Traister’s writing http://t.co/GPYXI1X but it misses key #leadership lesson: executive responsibility C gets, O doesn’t.”

I was immediately flooded with retweets and comments both there and on my Facebook page. Some disagreed but most concurred–strongly. As I see a preponderance of the comments on the Times post do.

Have you read this article? What are your thoughts?

In case you didn’t see it yet, the article referenced is a New York Times Magazine piece speculating “What Would Hillary Clinton Have Done?”  by one of my favorite feminist writers, Rebecca Traister. The intent of the article was to suggest people stop speculating, whereupon she speculates that there would have been little difference because the two candidates were both center-right in political philosophy.

I have to disagree strongly with my friend Traister this time. Full disclosure: she interviewed me and quoted me extensively in her book Big Girls Don’t Cry, which analyzes Clinton’s run for the presidency and chronicles Traister’s own slow shift from supporting Obama to Clinton as she considered the gender, racial, and socio-political implications of her voting choices.

So when I received the Politico Arena question, the answer came easily. Their query was: Is President Obama vindicated on Libya?

The answer to the question, it seems to me, is rooted in the same missing piece of analysis as that in Traister’s article. Executive leadership requires setting an agenda, having a strongly articulated point of view and teaching/arguing/inspiring/politicking/leading the people and then the Congress to it.

That is something Clinton understands because of her time in the White House and lengthier experience in national political leadership in general. These toughened her up for the fray. It taught her valuable lessons in how to use diplomacy in the service of an authentic agenda. It’s a quality that can surely be learned, but Obama seems to shrink from the executive role rather than embracing it. His emphasis on “the deal” and penchant for striking pre-emptive bargains against himself have seriously diminished his leadership stature. More troubling, it has given the Republicans way more campaign fodder than they deserve–bereft as they are of caring about anything beyond lining their own cronies’ pockets so they can hold onto their threadbare political power.

I do think getting Qadhafi out of power is a net positive for Obama (though one could argue even here that Clinton is the strength behind the president’s victory). But until he gives America a new economic vision and jobs agenda, I’m afraid the benefit to his presidency will be short lived.



POLITICO Arena: Bachmann’s victory

It’s hard to believe the next presidential election is still almost 16 months away. If you were Michelle Bachmann’s advisor, what strategy would you propose she take to sustain her momentum and end up as the Republican standard bearer? (Ouch, I have a headache…)

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Arena Asks: Michele Bachmann was named the winner of the Iowa straw poll tonight, taking 4,823 votes out of nearly 17,000 cast. Ron Paul was a close runner-up, taking 4,671 votes. In a distant third place was former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who took 2,293 votes after investing heavily in the event. What does this victory say about Bachmann’s future in the presidential race? And is this the end of the line for Tim Pawlenty?

My Answer: Pawlenty’s third place was actually better than his numbers would have predicted going in, so he’s lived to fight at least one more day. Cain, Santorum, Huntsman, and Gingrich can go home now.

That Bachmann and Paul, the two wackiest of the major candidates, together scooped up over 56% of the vote ought to be enough to send chills down the spines of every Democrat and Independent, along with a few moderate Republicans–and joy into the Obama and Romney camps.

Perry’s entry timing was masterfully orchestrated. It drew the glow off Bachmann’s victory. I grew up the buckle of the Texas Bible Belt and I see three big problems for Bachmann with Perry in the race. First, do not underestimate that Texas good ol’ boy charm and the arrogant sense of entitlement that underlies it. Second, Perry will play very dirty with an engaging smile on his face and an unctuous prayer on his lips masking his two-step like the politician in “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.” And third, given a choice between a male and a female candidate from their own ranks, the fundamentalist (and fundamentally patriarchal) Christian base will choose the man. Perry will flank Bachmann on the right within a few weeks.

Meanwhile, though, it’s Bachmann’s moment, and much will depend on her ability to sustain her momentum given that the other candidates may well aid Perry by gunning straight for her.

NO LESS THAN SIX — Take Action to Make “Super Committee” 50% Women

sixIt is coming down to the wire and you voice needs to be heard! Republican Speaker John Boehner, Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell, and Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid are making their choices to select a 12-person bipartisan “Super Committee” to decide upon critical issues that came to the forefront when the debt-ceiling measure was passed.

The Women’s Media Center has a place where you can sign a letter to each of these lawmakers raising your voice that it is critical they appoint an equal number of women and men to this powerful body. Click HERE to send your letters now.

It is imperative that women are at the table and that women’s voices are heard in equal numbers to men’s voices. The “Super Committee” will be tasked with making critical judgments that will likely affect social programs that women disproportionately depend on – like Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. The positions, priorities, and perspectives of women need to be heard.”  The Women’s Media Center

Another ACTION opportunity is with the Women’s Campaign Forum and sign their petition for “no fewer than 6 women” chosen for this powerful role in America’s future. Click HERE to sign the petition.

Has what happened in Washington these last few weeks has made you angry to take action?? “No Excuses” Power Tool #7: Create a Movement shows us the time is now to act so the changes made in Washington are made with equal voices! DEMAND NO LESS THAN SIX!!

But do it right this minute–rumor has it that announcements could be made today. http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0811/60980.html

Is Geithner good for Obama?

Psychology professor Drew Westen’s New York Times commentary “What Happened to Obama?” is good supplementary reading for today’s Arena question. It’s the most on the mark piece I’ve read about Obama’s leadership and why we’re all feeling icky after the “deal.” I’ve been writing about Obama’s leadership problems since the start of his administration: “Is a Good Enough Stimulus Good Enough?”
President Harry Truman
To be fair, many of the constituency groups that supported him have been complicit in not holding his feet to the fire. But we know where the buck stops. I hope against pattern that he will listen to and learn from the S and P downgrade that you might as well go ahead and do what you know is right because your enemies are going to find a way to castigate your decision no matter what. A true leader stays ahead of the opposition and drives the agenda rather than responding and offering “deals.”

Politico TheArena logoArena Asks: The Treasury Department announced yesterday that Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner will remain in his post through President Obama’s reelection campaign. Is Geithner’s continued post a good thing for Obama’s re-election? Will voters see this decision as a step toward economic stability?

My Answer: When asked if he had a hard time making tough decisions, President Harry Truman replied, “No. If I’m right, the problem’s solved. If I’m wrong it’ll just come back to me as another problem.”

Geithner’s appointment was an easy decision that signaled President Obama’s intent to stick with financial business as usual rather than implement the change his campaign had inspired voters to believe in. That in turn began the slow draining away of public confidence in Obama’s leadership and a rebounding cynicism about his administration’s willingness to make tough decisions, let alone solve problems.

Now, even if Geithner has been doing the best possible job under what have surely been extremely difficult circumstances, his head is likely to roll. That won’t solve the problem. But shaking things up would create a new set of problems for everyone to focus on. Bringing in a different team leader could boost confidence and give Obama back some power with which to push back against Tea Party solutions that merely slash and burn everything in sight except tax advantages for the wealthy.