Rosen’s gaffe does not equal Ted Nugent’s threat

Should a politician have to answer for what his/her surrogates say? That’s the question Politico’s Arena asked yesterday.

I see a big difference in the comparison between the two examples given, however. Here’s my answer–what do you say?

Politico Arena Asks:

The Secret Service has taken an interest in comments by rocker Ted Nugent about President Obama. At an NRA convention in St. Louis on Saturday, Nugent, a Mitt Romney supporter, said, “If Barack Obama becomes the president in November again, I will either be dead or in jail by this time next year.”

The Romney campaign has disavowed Nugent‘s remarks. And last week President Obama’s team denounced comments by supporter Hilary Rosen critical of Ann Romney’s role as a stay-at-home mother.

Should Romney be tied to Nugent’s tirade, as the president got linked to Rosen’s remarks? Or should candidates be absolved of responsibility for what supporters say about the campaign?

My Response:

All leaders get tarred or starred by the people they bring with them. It’s how leaders react that counts. Neither Romney nor Obama deserves kudos for his reactions to recent events. But Hilary Rosen’s gaffe does not equal Ted Nugent’s threat.

Shame on Romney for his tepid disavowal of Nugent. Any leader should voice unequivocal opposition to anyone who threatens, commits, or suggests others commit violence. Doesn’t Romney realize that if he becomes president, he might well become the target of similar vitriol that could become violent action if other leaders fail to stand with him against it? He should have issued a much stronger statement blasting Nugent.

In a lesser offense, but nevertheless discouraging to many women who have supported him, Obama threw Hilary Rosen under the bus when he could have used the opportunity to reframe the discussion of women and the economy in more positive and less polarized terms. Instead he bought into the right wing narrative that being a stay-at-home mother is the ideal, and that idealizes women who stay the heck out of the male-dominated economy.

Sure, motherhood is hard, but so is fatherhood if done right. Rosen was wrong in how she said it, but right in what she meant to communicate. Obama would have made himself a hero if he’d recognized women who not only are mothers but also work three jobs to support their kids with no nannies or housekeepers to help them–unlike Ann Romney whose cushy life gives her “choices” most women simply do not have.

And frankly, most women want to work for pay, even if they have multi-millionare husbands, because they want to use their talents beyond the home front. What are they, chopped liver?

Women who work outside the home make up the base of Obama voters, and he should give them more respect in the future.

Fresh start for Rick Perry?

Waaaay to soon to rule Rick Perry out, folks, as all of us who grew up tough in West Texas know.

What do you think will be Perry’s next “distractive” comment, by the way? And what are your thoughts about Obama’s best strategy to fight or flank?

Here’s the link to my original post on Politico


strategyThe Arena Asks: Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s new proposal would let Americans choose between their existing income tax rate or a new flat tax of 20 percent. Will Perry’s flat tax plan restore him to the GOP presidential primary lead? Will his new campaign team help? And what do you make of Perry’s recent birther-curious comments?


Rick Perry might not know how to govern the country but he knows how to win a race by adapting and persisting. The unifying thread connecting these three changes in Perry’s campaign is this: the man is a learner with an almost feral competitiveness that turns obstacles into fuel to propel him to his goal.

For example, while Herman Cain sounds crazy with his 9-9-9 plan, Perry catches that people yearn for simple, neat answers even if they are wrong. Voila! The Perry flat tax proposal, which sounds almost sane in contrast to Cain’s.

And in the bread and circuses category, there’s a dollop of raw meat for the birther contingent of the Republican Party to flame up the fires of Perry’s base (pun intended) support while taking their focus off his not-so-anti-immigration position. Guess he’s holding his next draconian anti-abortion salvo in his back pocket till another “distractive” issue is needed.

Democrats, be very afraid. And Obama had better come up with a zingier, more numerically explicit retort than mushy-mouthed allegations that the most fortunate would pay less while middle class people would pay more with a flat tax. It’s like cotton candy, melts in your mouth but doesn’t satisfy the need for real economic nourishment and a bold policy menu.

Will outside groups crush Dems?

Do you think it’s too late for Obama to redeem himself, as this question seems to imply?  If you were advising him, what would you say? And do you think insurgent movements like Occupy Wall Street can help re-inspire the progressive base?

Occupy Wall StreetArena Asks: Democrats across the country are preparing for an onslaught of attacks from American Crossroads, an independent fundraising group that bombed the 2010 elections with negative ads.

Even President Obama seems to acknowledge the shift in power. Will these outside groups give Republicans a big advantage in 2012? And is Obama right to consider himself an “underdog?”

My Answer:Unfortunately for Democrats, the only antidote to democracy is more and better participation in democracy. The Citizens United decision allowing unlimited corporate contributions has plowed up the electoral field. It forces Democrats to counter with more money and greater activism. That’s hard to accomplish when your leader has squandered so much of his first term with futile efforts to appease right wing crocodiles, and as a result has demoralized his base.

So yes, Obama is in a sense an underdog of his own making, but he still owns the bully pulpit. And he still has a year to redeem himself with an aggressive economic agenda and a full throated rhetorical assault against the greedy Tea Party and right-wing religious fundamentalist who would just as soon take us back to the dark ages on both fiscal and social policy.

What the Democrats are unlikely to do, thank goodness, is be as ruthless as the Republicans who as we speak are aiming to win by suppressing the vote in key swing states. The counterpunch must be to engage more Democrats and Independents to get mad and get even.

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.

Politico TheArena logo

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.

Is Marriage Equality at a Tipping Point?

Tracy Baim Watching the historic June 24 vote that sealed the deal for New York to become the sixth state to legalize same-sex marriage was goose-bumpy exciting. In this guest post, journalist Tracy Baim speculates on whether New York represents a tipping point, as some have speculated.

While opposite-gender marriage slips into a minority percentage of the population, the movement for gay marriage equality shows no signs of slowing down.

The state of New York has joined a small number of American states, and a few nations such as Canada and South Africa, that allow for some form of government recognized marriage or civil unions between two people of the same gender.

Is the New York marriage law a tipping point on this issue? It certainly does represent a unique set of circumstances, where moderate Republicans were pressured to join the Democrats in passing a long-fought for civil right.

But many U.S. states still have their own Defense of Marriage Acts (DOMA) that will refuse to honor those out-of-state marriages, and the federal government has its own DOMA law cutting state’s marriage rights off at the proverbial knees. (Many significant benefits of marriage are actually federal, not state—social security, inheritance taxes, immigration rights, etc.)

While a few more states may eventually pass full same-gender marriage rights, it is unlikely to hit a critical mass or majority. Therefore, it is important that the marriage battle takes place on a federal stage. Congress is not expected to have the votes to overturn this law, so the best hopes are resting on the court system.

But because of the unpredictable nature of the U.S. Supreme Court on this topic, the court strategy is also no guarantee for marriage equality. Even if lower federal courts begin to overturn DOMA, the law could have strong conservative allies in the nation’s highest court.

President Obama, long an opponent of DOMA even if he personally has changed his mind on gay marriage several times, has ordered his Department of Justice (DOJ) to stop defending DOMA’s section that denies recognition of legally sanctioned same-gender unions in the states.

Obama and his team are walking in historic quicksand. While he said he is “evolving” on this issue, he in fact has a history of supporting gay marriage (in a 1996 survey to my newspaper, Outlines, which merged with Windy City Times in 2000). He later changed his mind, and now is hinting at a new evolution to come, likely in 2012 or after.

But regardless of what he says, Obama’s DOJ work against DOMA is the most important current battle against marriage inequality. If federal DOMA comes tumbling down in the courts, it will mean that people across the country will have at least some rights of marriage, because some states, like New York, Iowa and Massachusetts, do allow out-of-state residents to get married there. These couples will return home, in some cases to state DOMA laws, where they will continue the legal battle for full equality.

Thus, while the dominoes are starting to fall, they are often disconnected and therefore the “falling” is not uniform, or predictable. This means that many gay couples, legally married in the eyes of some governmental bodies, remain in an accounting and legal limbo.

This limbo will cost them time and money, and will continue to be an unfair burden based simply on the gender of the person they love.

Tracy Baim is publisher and executive editor at Windy City Times in Chicago. She is also the author of “Obama and the Gays: A Political Marriage” (2010).

Dali Time Happy New Year

There’s a wonderful exhibit of surrealist Salvador Dali paintings and sculptures in New York’s Time Warner Center. They’re so alluring, they’re even upstaging the huge Botero Adam and Eve sculptures that attract much photo-snapping of people grinning slyly at Adam’s eye-level penis.

I am mesmerized by Dali’s clock sculptures. They drip time, melt time, warp time. Juxtapose fast and slow passage of time, or rather tease us for thinking such mundane distinctions exist. Apparently Dali agreed with Albert Einstein that time exists only so that everything doesn’t happen at once.

The Dance of Time

We may dance with time in our imaginations, but we mere realists and non-Einsteins need some concrete delineations of when things start and stop. Because too often it does feel as though everything is happening at once.

Milestones, Resolutions, Predictions
The New Year is a marker when we tend to think and talk about time a lot.

We look back on the big news events and personal milestones of the past year, clean out the closets of our minds, and make resolutions about what we plan to do in the next 365 day chunk of time. (Plug here—check out the new 9 Ways Power Tune-up and Journal for questions to help you consider where you are and where you want to go in your work, civic life, and personal relationships in the New Year.)

I asked my Facebook friends and Twitter followers what they think the biggest news stories of 2010 were. Responses range from Wikileaks to DADT repeal to Democrats losing the elections and therefore being freed to get some work done. That’s a very positive spin on my biggest disappointment, which the Democratic Congress and Barack Obama’s squandered time due to unwillingness to push hard enough against Republican recalcitrance on everything from judicial appointments to tax cuts for the wealthy. The campaign-promised Freedom of Choice Act was relegated to the ash heap without a peep from the women’s groups; the Paycheck Fairness Act was given a pro-forma fight but clearly wasn’t on Obama’s going home list.

On the plus side, seeing the fourth-ever woman appointed to the U.S, Supreme Court, bringing the current Court to one-third female symbolizes a shift toward leadership parity  that can’t be ignored and that despite a small step backward for women in the new Congress is, I believe, stoppable only if women ourselves fail to pursue leadership opportunities.

What are your picks?

Trends I Like

Significant gender power trend stories began with noting that 2010 was the year that women became half of the paid workforce, and ended with the emergence of stories like this one about men in the always-ahead-of-the-curve Netherlands taking “daddy-time,” working four days a week instead of five or making their flexible workdays compatible with their family responsibilities. I hope that the next great wave of the feminist movement will be men and women together changing the workplace so both can have a life and earn a living.

And in the “we’re not going to accept that any more” category, we saw Emily May’s new Hollaback saying “no” to street harassers; the Women’s Media Center, Political Parity, and Women’s Campaign Forum collaborating on the Name It Change It campaign to call out the shockingly rampant sexism in political media; and formal and informal groups like EVE and SheShouldTalkAtTed springing up all over to claim an equal share of the both historical representations and thought leadership for the future.

What’s Next?

What do you predict will happen in 2011? What are you going to make happen?

I love columnist Ellen Goodman’s approach: “We spend January 1 walking through our lives, room by room, drawing up a list of work to be done, cracks to be patched.  Maybe this year, to balance the list, we ought to walk through the rooms of our lives… not looking for flaws, but for potential.” And we’d do well to heed the inimitable late Art Buchwald, “Whether it’s the best of times or the worst of times, it’s the only time we’ve got.”

Whatever we do in the shiny New Year time ahead, let us be cognizant that the present we create will one day be someone else’s history; our actions, someone else’s inspiration.

But back to Dali time: You can find some great photos here, and you can see the exhibit at Time Warner until April 30.  Now I must rush over there to Whole Foods and buy some black-eyed peas so I’ll be assured of good luck in 2011. Goodness knows we’ll need lots of good luck for all the work there is to be done in the Brave New Year.

Wishing you and your family a New Year filled with much good luck, good health, and plenty of time for love and art and whatever purpose fills you with joy, but, of course, No Excuses.

Nobility of Time
The Snail and the Angel

Different Approaches to Controversy Yield Different Results

I can’t think of a better example of controversy well-taken than then-presidential candidate Barack Obama’s thoughtful speech exploring the role of race in American history, delivered in Philadelphia in the spring of 2008. In response to exploding controversy around his relationship with his pastor and mentor, Reverend Jeremiah Wright, who had made inflammatory (and frankly racist) remarks in his sermons, Obama rode directly into the wave of controversy. He didn’t deflect or minimize it, but took the festering issue of race in America head-on, thus defusing criticism, positioning himself as a courageous truth-teller, and building respect and enthusiasm for his candidacy among voters hungry for change. He turned a powder keg of a controversy that could have exploded his presidential campaign into a brilliant platform to teach about a subject so sensitive that it is often avoided in public discourse.

I sincerely doubt Obama or his campaign advisers would have sought out this controversy, but when it came up, they realized they had been handed a priceless moment to demonstrate genuine leadership. I believe this was the turning point that led him to victory, and that if Clinton had treated the equally vicious sexism thrown at her with the same directness and candor that Obama confronted race, the outcome might well have been different.

Sometimes we embrace controversies that have turned up on their own. And at other times, we need to create our own controversies in order to get things moving. In other words, there are controversies we make and controversies we take.

What are your own examples of embracing controversy? Did you make the controversy or did you take a controversy that came to you? What did you learn from your experiences?

How Does Health Care Reform Affect You Now? (An Addendum)

As‘s Linda Lowen reports, President Obama has now basically implemented the Stupak amendment banning the new insurance exchanges from covering abortion even if the premium is privately paid. I’m a little out of joint by the outraged protestations of pro-choice organizations. Because here’s the reality:

Outraged about Obama’s de facto implementation of the Stupak amendment? Well get this: They have also excluded birth control from the first iteration of the new health plan rules! It is incredibly naive to assume, as Dana Goldstein suggests in the Daily Beast, that these new rules will be amended to include birth control. That is unless very big and very smart campaign is mounted.

Women are 52% of the voters and up to 60% of voters who support Democrats. We have the power to rise up and hold Obama to his campaign promises. And now is the time to do it. No excuses and no fair complaining about the result if we fail to do so.

Splitting the Health-Reform Baby: What Women Lost by Winning

This is part two in my three-part series about what the Affordable Health Care Act means in tangible terms to each of us. The first post in the series was Barbara O’Brien’s optimistic “Health Care Reform Will Help Everybody.” Today, in a post that originally appeared in the Women’s Review of Books blog, I address women’s health specifically in both a personal and political context.

Remember, that the Department of Health and Human Services launched a new website,, on July 1 to help consumers wade through the new law’s provisions and how they will affect our access to health care. So do check that out, and as always, your comments and ideas are very welcome here.

Let me be clear: Had I been a member of Congress, I would have pressed the “yes” lever for the health-reform bill when it came down to the vote for final passage. It was incredibly important that we start somewhere to make health care accessible and affordable to all Americans. And we can celebrate, as Ms. magazine recounts in “What the Health Care Bill Means for Women,” that contraceptives will be covered, gender rating that discriminates against women has been eliminated, and preventive services such as pap smears will be covered without co-pay under the new plan.

But sometimes when you win you lose. Continue reading “Splitting the Health-Reform Baby: What Women Lost by Winning”

Say It Isn’t So, O!

They always disappoint you, these politicians. I tend to be a bit of a Pollyanna or at least a cockeyed optimist even after all these years of political involvement. And though Obama’s appointments have sometimes been thrilling, sometimes worrying; I figured we needed to cut the guy some slack; he’s got a mighty hard job in front of him after all, and it is critically important that he be successful.

But today, he went too far when he gave Rev. Rick Warren the enormous honor of delivering the invocation at his inauguration. I mean, please. Sarah Posner at The Nation writes:

There was no doubt that Obama, like every president before him, would pick a Christian minister to perform this sacred duty. But Obama had thousands of clergy to choose from, and the choice of Warren is not only a slap in the face to progressive ministers toiling on the front lines of advocacy and service, but a bow to the continuing influence of the religious right in American politics. Warren vocally opposes gay marriage, does not believe in evolution, has compared abortion to the Holocaust and backed the assassination of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Excuse me, but what about the basic human rights of women and gays? Is Obama buying into the absurd notion that such disrespect for our fundamental humanity is just a matter of opinion rather than a violation of simple justice?

And of all the members of the clergy that Obama could have chosen–and there are thousands of mainstream men and women of the cloth who would have delivered the message, for a president so skilled in the use of symbols, that the so-called religious right doesn’t have a lock on faith or righteousness–why in the world would he pick the very embodiment of intolerance?

There is in fact, little separating the hateful words of Rick Warren from the hateful words spewed by Jeremiah Wight except Warren’s less strident tone of voice and smarmy smile.

As Amie Newman observes in RHRealityCheck:

And, yet, it’s Pastor Rick Warren who will join President Elect Obama on stage when he is inaugurated. Warren who advocates strongly for the abstinece-only based ideological restrictions in our Global AIDS Plan – PEPFAR. It’s Warren who has advocated to retain these restrictions which clash wholeheartedly with Obama’s plan to strip them away…

It is hard to imagine Obama and Warren’s agendas for any sexual or reproductive health issues aligning at this point, making it all the more puzzling why Obama chose Warren for this role. In an expose on Religion Dispatches, Tom Davis writes of Warren’s die-hard positions on social issues all while taking more “moderate” stances on issues of global warming, poverty, war and AIDS (though, as I note above, supporting the imposition of religious restrictions on global AIDS policy is not moderate).

My fantasy–this is the Pollyanna in me talking now–is that Warren is so power hungry that he will be more than a little co-opted, possibly even corrupted (from the perspective of his followers), by the attentions Barack Obama is lavishing on him.

But The Nation’s Posner takes a dimmer, and probably more realistic, view about who will be corrupted:

Warren represents the absolute worst of the Democrats’ religious outreach, a right-winger masquerading as a do-gooder anointed as the arbiter of what it means to be faithful. Obama’s religious outreach was intended, supposedly, to make religious voters more comfortable with him and feel included in the Democratic Party. But that outreach now has come at the expense of other people’s comfort and inclusion, at an event meant to mark a turning point away from divisive politics.

So what are we going to do about it? Here are couple of ways to register your dismay and urge Obama to uninvite Warren and invite, say, Tom Davis who has long toiled in the vineyards of social justice for all. Here’s a  Facebook group you can join. Or, in a more direct approach, you can contact the Obama transition team here.

Blog it, tell your friends about it. Together we can raise clamor enough that Obama will have to reconsider this very bad decision, and say it isn’t so after all.