Tag Archives: hillary clinton

Tied to the Rails

We begin this week with a tragedy. No, not Jon and Kate’s divorce. No, not Ed McMahon, either. A D.C. Metro train jumped its tracks yesterday. METAPOR ALERT!

Already, President Obama is keeping an eye on what else might derail.

Let’s start with healthcare. The hospitals, doctors, and insurers are all aboard, but the price tag has fueled a mounting GOP criticism of Team Obama. Is the tiny GOP remnant on Capitol Hill yet powerful enough to stop this speeding locomotive? You betcha.

Congress is slated to begin sifting the specifics this week. Enough blue dogs are on the fence that the White House will have to do some courting, even if the House bill little resembles his requests.

Here’s the Blog’s take: for decades, we have been committing fiscal child abuse. The debts we continue to grow have implications for the security and health of Americans yet unborn. But we gotta, hafta, needta fix the healthcare system. If Congress can’t come up with something that will do the job, we need a new Congress.

As pressing and dire as healthcare reform is, the primary topic at this morning’s presidential presser was the Islamic Republic. Iran’s ruling clerics (some of them, anyway) began blaming the U.S. last week for the continuing protests over their recent presidential election.

Here’s why: protesters were mainly using Twitter to organize rallies. Twitter was supposed to shut down for maintenance one night last week. The State Department—broken arm and all—called the Twitter folks and asked if they’d stay online to help out the protesters.

Naturally, Iran’s leadership didn’t take kindly to that. Now, since we’re getting blamed anyway, the White House finally began putting direct pressure on Iran.

The past week’s events make Iran’s rulers look silly, and the U.S.—not to mention the Blog—doesn’t mind that one bit. This is a country that shoots protesters, tells women how to dress and what to do, that espouses bigotry and narrow-mindedness. But as always, dear reader, you must watch what Iran’s rulers do, and not heed what they say.

And despite tough talk, the Supreme Council is struggling with hard questions about democracy, human rights, and how government should work. They have ordered an official inquiry into the results and even admitted irregularities at the ballot box, atypical behavior for an autocracy.

So which will win out: popular sovereignty or religious pedantry? We’ll all have to stay tuned.

Beyond these major headlines, weird stuff keeps happening in politics. As previously mentioned, the Secretary of State has a boo-boo. The governor of South Carolina went missing, then found himself, and said he was just on a hike. And apparently shooting the messenger is now something we do.

It’s a mixed-up world, dear reader.

Top 5

The week’s best political reporting and commentary…

International Herald Tribune: “Iran’s Chinese Lessons” by Philip Bowring.

The New York Times: “A Supreme Leader Loses His Aura as Iranians Flock to the Streets” by Roger Cohen.

Bloomberg News: “Gods in White Coats Hold Key to Health Care Reform” by Margaret Carlson.

The Washington Post: “Public Confidence in Stimulus Plan Ebbs” by Balz and Cohen.

RealClearPolitics: “Hysteria from Right and Left” by Cathy Young.

On the Road Again

The Wrap: Constellations

How’d last week go?

 

If you were Barack Obama, three of four stars. Your speech to the joint session of Congress was widely praised as candid and bold, though it did require some interpretation and didn’t bring the deets at least one publication wanted. Your budget was also generally well-received, though many folks wondered how you were gonna cut the deficit. You also filled voids at HHS and Commerce, but you’ve learned not to count those particular chickens before they hatch.

 

If you were Bobby Jindal, one star. Good news: you got to rebut the president. Bad news: you forgot to rebut the president.

 

If you were the economy, you still get zero stars.

 

If you were Karl Rove, you get zero stars this week and docked one star from next week. Why, you protest? For this special little nugget of irony in your WSJ column: “Everyone resorts to straw men occasionally, but Mr. Obama’s persistent use of the device is troubling. Continually characterizing those who disagree with you in a fundamentally dishonest way can be the sign of a person who lacks confidence in the merits of his ideas.”

 

Top 5

The week’s best political reporting and commentary…

 

The Washington Post: “President’s Historic Message Balances Urgency, Optimism” by Daniel Pearlstein.

 

Newsweek: “Why Obama is Moving so Quickly” by Howard Fineman.

 

The New York Times: “Will Africa Let Sudan off the Hook?” by Desmond Tutu.

 

Huffington Post: “Restore the Republic” by Gary Hart.

 

The New York Times: “Paging Uncle Sam” by Tom Friedman.

 

Feature: On the Road Again

Secretary Clinton is abroad again this week, which gives the Blog another excuse to take a gander at Team Obama’s foreign policy. As you may recall, Secretary Clinton is just back from East Asia. There, her to-do list included stopping a sociopath from getting nukes, reversing a half-century of crankiness in Sino-American relations, and reintroducing the world’s largest Muslim nation to its most-famous long-ago resident.

 

This time, she’s hoping to establish peace in the Holy Land. As the Blog has previously argued, Palestine is the single greatest inhibitor to world peace. A solution would not fix the economy, reverse climate change, or even banish terrorism from the face of the planet. But it would prove that even the most intractable human problems can be solved.

 

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Middle East peace is the stickiest of wickets. It has religious, political, economic, and social components that reach back 5,000 years, and since the 1970s, precious little progress has been made.

 

While lower Manhattan still smoldered, the Bush Administration got religion (pun!) about Palestine, and it briefly appeared they might make substantial progress. But six years went by without a peep from the West Wing. In November 2007, the White House sponsored a conference in Annapolis, Maryland hoping to grind out a solution before the next election. No dice.

 

Plusses since Annapolis: Tony Blair and George Mitchell have agreed to help, Dick Cheney has agreed to go back to Wyoming, and backdoor negotiations between Israel and Hamas resulted in a brief ceasefire.

 

Minuses: A small war broke out and Israel seriously considered electing a rightwing nut-job prime minister. So we’re breaking even. The good news is folks are starting to take the issue seriously again. To succeed, they’ll have to work on three levels.

 

The direct, grandiose efforts must go on. George Mitchell must do what he did in Northern Ireland: maintain grace in public, and wield a machete behind the scenes. He must have the full weight and confidence of the White House. So must Tony Blair.

 

The private negotiations must continue, too. More often than not, real solutions are brokered in such a way that nobody wins a Nobel Peace Prize. None of the parties involved can afford to look soft in front of the world, but genuine compromise is possible out of the limelight. Israel, Fatah, and Hamas must have a locked door behind which to negotiate.

 

Finally, everybody has to have a seat at the table. This may be the most excruciating part. Until now, Iran and Syria have been roadblocks to peace. That’s why the Obama Administration has advocated direct talks with Tehran (though perhaps the Secretary of State would like to keep her odds-making to herself), and sent two emissaries to Damascus. No peace is possible if Israel is threatened by a soon-to-be-nuclear power to the east and by a Hezbollah outpost to the north.

 

Likewise Russia, China, Jordan, Egypt, and the Gulf states must be part of the process. Each has a vested stake in any arrangement. The impact of a workable settlement would be enormous for world affairs. Russia growls about U.S. plans to build a missile shield in Europe, which would guard against an Iranian launch. This morning, the press reported a secret message from Washington to Moscow: help us ensure Iran never becomes a nuclear power and we’ll scrap our shield plans. If we solved Palestine, Iran wouldn’t need nukes, we wouldn’t need the shield, and we could start working with Russia on issues like energy, trade, and human rights.

 

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These three processes working simultaneously may not provide a solution for years, but together they are the best and quickest hope for peace.

 

The White House has started well. George Mitchell is the right man for the job, and Secretary Clinton (private asides aside) may be the right woman. They have started by marshalling aid to Gaza, a necessary first step. But as they mend the material wounds of the December-January conflict, they must also begin triage on the political wounds. Left untreated, those may be far more damaging.

 

On Deck: Prognostications

As the Blog looks into its crystal ball, we predict this week will bring further proof that John Yoo is a total jerk (and not much of a lawyer), that CIA will once again be forced to wipe egg from its brow, and Sebelius and Locke’s confirmation proceedings will go smoother than those of their predecessors.

 

Looking further ahead, we see Jim Bunning being kicked by his own party (which Bunning has booted several times recently), a Lone Star throw down, and a nasty theme still building for administration nominees.

When in Beijing…

The Wrap: Over stimulated

Multiple choice: President Obama’s signature today on the stimulus bill ends a tug-of-war featuring too much/not enough…

 

A.)   …stimulus.

B.)   …bipartisanship.

C.)   …leadership.

D.)  All of the above

 

Many conservatives feel shut out of a process devoid of presidential leadership which produced a wasteful bill. Many liberals feel the bill doesn’t do enough, that Obama worked too hard to unsuccessfully woo Republicans, and that there were too many cooks in the legislative kitchen.

 

In an interesting retrospective, the WSJ (see Top 5) cites Obama’s decision to leave the specifics to Congress as the critical moment of the stimulus campaign.

 

Top 5

The week’s best political reporting and commentary…

 

Wall Street Journal: “Obama Strategy: Keep Lawmakers Close” by Jonathan Weisman and Naftali Bendavid.

 

The Los Angeles Times: “The Rise of Abigdor Lieberman” by M.J. Rosenburg.

 

Economist: “Speech Impediments.”

 

The New York Times: “Iran’s Inner America” by Roger Cohen.

 

TIME: “Will Beijing Respond to Clinton’s Diplomatic Wish List?” by Massimo Calabreisi.

 

Feature: When in Beijing…

Fresh off its domestic policy baptism, the Obama Administration is diving head-first into foreign affairs. Secretary Clinton departed today for Japan, Indonesia, Korea and China, kicking off the international edition of the “Yes We Can” tour.

 

She is a curious representative for this White House. During the campaign, her sharpest differences with Obama were on international issues, and she doubted aloud his foreign-policy experience and judgment. But they often saw East Asia through the same lens. Choosing that region as Clinton’s first destination underscores Asia’s expanding influence and the administration’s plans to engage there. In particular, there is great opportunity for revamped relations with China.

 

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Think of any mobster movie you’ve ever seen. What’s the underpinning motivation for almost every character? Respect.

 

When you think about Sino-American relations, try to think like a Corleone. For 50 years, China felt disrespected by the United States. This was mostly because we thought they were trying to blow us up.

 

Really, our mistrust of China is of deeper origin. America is about freedom of speech, of the press, of religion. We believe the rule of law applies equally to all people, that those who speak out against the government deserve extra protection from the government. (Note: we haven’t always rigidly adhered to these principles, but they’re what we aim for.)

 

Contrast that with China. It censors the press. It persecutes the devout. It makes examples of dissidents, from a handful of protesters to the entire nation of Taiwan. These differences boil down to questions of human rights, and for many years, human rights hang-ups prevented movement on many other issues. They resented our lecturing. It was disrespectful, and it got us nowhere.

 

How to show China respect and still make human rights progress? Focus on other things. We need China to finance our $10.7 trillion debt and they need our consumers to buy their goods, $266 billion worth last year. On climate change, the U.S. and China together produce more than half the world’s greenhouse gasses; any global solution must involve us both.

 

Meanwhile, globalization is making human rights advances harder to stop. It’s part technology—just ask Myanmar’s censors how they feel about Twitter. It’s part economics, too. Chinese markets and people are demanding more Western goods. Western ideas are never far behind.

 

Certain Machiavellian facets of our relations with China will persist. We will still use Japan and India as regional military counterweights, subvert Chinese support for dangerous North Korea, and arm Taiwan. And, when appropriate, we will still badger China about human rights. But the best way to bring about change in China’s human rights policy may be to focus our attention elsewhere.

 

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China’s human rights abuses aren’t okay, nor should they be a lower priority. But the definition of insanity is repeating the same action expecting a different result each time.

 

We’ve tried bellicosity with China over human rights. It hasn’t worked, and it’s slowed progress on other important issues like trade and climate change. If we approach our mutual interests respectfully, we can use them to accelerate China’s already-weakening grip on dissent from Tibet to Taipei.

 

The Obama Administration has signaled it will embrace this paradigm; Secretary Clinton’s climate envoy is traveling with her this week, but her human rights envoy is not. The message: our differences over human rights will no longer be the defining characteristic of our relationship.

 

On Deck: Who wants next?

If you’re Barack Obama and you’ve just survived the first major test of your administration’s power, what’s the next thing you would do? I’m guessing pick another fight isn’t what you had in mind.

 

Other items POTUS will have his eye on this week: his Senate replacement may face perjury charges, his Treasury Secretary needs a new bank plan (or any plan, some would argue), and a remix to ignition on the auto bailout. Lotsa luck, Mr. President.

Word One

The Wrap: Day One

Yesterday was the big day, but today concludes five days of inauguration festivities. First, there was the train ride. Then, the concert. Then, the cleanup, then yesterday, then the prayer service this morning. After that exhausting weekend, all President Obama has to do today is fix the economy, bring home the troops, hire a cabinet, rebuild alliances, and buy a dog.

 

All Tim Geithner has to do to day is say “yes, Mr. Chairman.” All Ted Kennedy and Robert Byrd have to do today is survive. All Hamas has to do today is restrain itself.

 

Everyone else? Back to work.

 

Top 5

The week’s best political reporting…

 

The New York Times: “Photographs of the Inauguration.”

 

The Washington Times: “Martin Luther King Day” by Barack Obama.

 

The New York Times: “A Pragmatic Precedent” by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and John Stauffer.

 

Politico: “7 Reasons for Health Skepticism” by Jim VandeHei and John Harris.

 

The Wall Street Journal: “Lincoln’s Lessons for a New President” by Jay Winik.

 

Feature: Word One

The Blog arrived at the National Mall yesterday before sunrise, brother in tow. For six hours we shivered, munched on satsumas, and nervously eyed a security detail large enough to conquer Poland. Someone in the throng began a hushed rendition of “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” Eventually, the U.S.M.C. Band began their fanfare. Dignitaries filed in. Cheers rose for Jimmy Carter, Al Gore, and Bill Clinton. George W. Bush received a few boos, but most people stood in frowning silence. After prayers and music, Joe Biden replaced Dick Cheney (attending via wheelchair) as veep.

 

Then, shortly after noon, Barack Obama took the oath of presidential office and became the 44th president of the United States.

 

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If you want to understand why that oath—built on two hours of ceremony, two months of transition, two years of campaigning, and over two centuries of American government—was significant, read the words that came after it.

 

In his first address as president, Obama acknowledged our dire straits and offered no easy way out. Instead he asked us to “pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America.” We have been bellicose, he said, and now we will extend a hand. We have been deluded into choosing between security and liberty, and now we will choose both. We have been inert, and now we will act.

 

He spoke to the world with understanding. In a Sorensen-esque section, he addressed several audiences:

 

“To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect. To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict, or blame their society’s ills on the West – know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy. To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history; but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.

 

“To the people of poor nations, we pledge to work alongside you to make your farms flourish and let clean waters flow; to nourish starved bodies and feed hungry minds. And to those nations like ours that enjoy relative plenty, we say we can no longer afford indifference to suffering outside our borders; nor can we consume the world’s resources without regard to effect. For the world has changed, and we must change with it.”

 

Finally, he talked about stewardship. Let posterity say, Obama implored, “that we carried forth that great gift of freedom, and delivered it safely to future generations.”

 

We have done wrong, but we will do better. We will welcome any people that wants to help us pursue humanity’s common goals. We will care for the fragile things, so they will be there for our children to pass to their children.

 

During the campaign, Obama’s critics charged that “change” was an empty promise. But think about how the previous administration addressed those themes, dear reader. Was America’s leadership cognizant of its fallibility but determined to do better? Were we willing to play well with others? Were we conservationists of freedom?

 

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On the long walk home, the Blog (and brother) considered presidential power.

 

Presidents have two sets of powers. One they get from the Constitution. The use of those powers will change under President Obama—troops will be redistributed, foreign partnerships strengthened, new priorities pursued at home. The other set of powers comes from the “bully pulpit” presidents enjoy. Presidents set the national tone. President Obama wants to replace certitude with curiousness, swagger with solicitation, and force with flexibility.  

 

Both formal and informal powers can be useful to an administration. But when these powers combine, presidents can move people. For President Obama, that task begins today.

 

On Deck: Week One

If you dozed off in civics, FDR was the first to pounce on his first 100 days in office as an opportunity to set the tone for his administration. Since the 1930s, we’ve come to expect great activity in each administration’s first 100 days, and Obama’s will be no exception. His strategy, according to ABC News’ The Note, is “putting points on the board early.” Obama wants to make quick progress on the economy, Iraq, and Gitmo. If he can do so without asking too many favors, early success may retain his political capital for tougher fights down the line.

 

The other top story this week will likely be cabinet confirmation hearings. Hearings are usually news when they get gummed up. With that in mind, here are three to watch: Eric Holder, Hillary Clinton, and Tim Geithner.

Oaths

The Wrap: Who Are You?

This week, if you…

 

…were hired, but your co-workers banned you from the office—then welcomed you with open arms—you might be Roland Burris.

 

…interviewed for a job you never thought you’d deign to accept, you might be Hillary Clinton.

 

…thought the transition from TV doctor to America’s doctor would be smooth, you might be Sanjay Gupta, and you’d be wrong.

 

Halfway around the world, Israel and Hamas continue to pummel each other. The Blog thought you might appreciate contrary perspectives on what’s going on there. Former Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu wrote this op-ed for The Wall Street Journal, and former PLO spokesguy Rashid Khalidi wrote this one for The New York Times.

 

Bottom line on this whole sitchu: both sides accuse one another of war crimes, but all wars are crimes. Said William Tecumseh Sherman, himself an authority on the subject: “War is cruelty; there’s no sense trying to reform it.”

 

Backroom bargaining and World War III aside, much of this week’s news was about next week’s news. More on that later, but while one president comes to town, another exits.

 

Top Five

The week’s best political reporting…

 

Los Angeles Times: “Bush’s ‘What ifs,’” Editorial.

 

Politico: “Can Obama Seize the Moment?” by David Rogers.

 

The Washington Post: “Hard Lesson for Israel” by Jackson Diehl.

 

Newsweek: “Era of Good Speaking” by Anna Quindlen.

 

The Washington Times: “Sharing the Dream” by Abdoulaye Wade, President of Senegal.

 

 

Feature: Oaths

As you may have heard, dear reader, we’ll have a new president next week. With all the hubbub and hullabaloo, the Blog wants to make sure you are hip to the flava about to be crunk’d. So bust out your Jesus piece, tip up your pimp cup, and put the safety on your Glock. Here we go.

 

Forty-eight years ago this week, John F. Kennedy took the oath of presidential office, gripped the lectern atop the cold Capitol steps and spoke to the world for the first time as president. “We observe today not a victory of party,” he began, “but a celebration of freedom.”

 

From our origins, Kennedy knew, transferring power has usually been a bloody affair. Agamemnon gained his kingdom by murdering Aegisthus and Thyestes, who had earlier slain his father. The Qins, for whom China is named, came to power by conquering six kingdoms. As human government evolved through Kennedy’s time and our own, violent power struggles were normal in most of the world, depravity escalating with the amount of power at stake. The Caesars, the Khans, Cromwell, Hitler and Mao all came to power through bloodshed.

 

Now consider what will happen one week from today. Barack Obama will climb the same Capitol steps Kennedy ascended, place his hand on the word of God and promise to serve his people.

 

That’s it. Transfer of power complete.

 

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When the Constitution was ratified in June of 1788, Article II Section 1 contained 35 words to be administered as an oath of presidential office. With the oath, power would be officially vested in its taker. On April 30th the next year, George Washington stood on a second-floor balcony at Federal Hall on Wall Street and recited the oath for the first time. It was administered that day by the Empire State’s highest judge, Robert Livingston, because there were no Supreme Court justices yet.

 

There was no requirement for the oath to be taken on a book of any kind, but during the ceremony, Washington placed his hand on a Masonic Bible. After following Livingston through the text prescribed by the Constitution, he added, “So help me, God.” Each successive president has done both since.

 

The oath of office has not changed since the 18th Century. Jefferson was the first to take the oath in Washington, DC after it became the capital in 1801. For many years, the oath was administered in March, allowing electors to gather and vote before confirming the new chief executive. In 1933, the designated day was moved to January to speed the presidential transition.

 

Substantial pomp (which would be a great name for a rock band) usually surrounds the oath’s recital. Notable exceptions include April 1865 and November 1963. But when circumstances permit Inauguration Day is, as Kennedy described, a day to celebrate. There are prayers, music, poems, crowds, bunting, parades and dances.

 

Most importantly, if you’re in the right frame of mind at the right moment, you’ll notice that all the blood in your body rushes to the capillaries just under the surface of your skin. That’s patriot pride, dear reader, and even if such a sensation is uncouth to mention aloud, quietly recognizing its presence is key to understanding Inauguration Day.

 

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The Blog’s mom, known to many of you, has always celebrated Inauguration Day as a personal holiday no matter who was elected. Her eyes usually fill as the mantle of power is peacefully passed from one person to another, and it took the Blog several inaugurations to decipher why.

 

Here’s the answer: Inaugurations reaffirm our faith in humankind’s capacity for self-government. Though we are objects of wrath, within our mortal scaffold is a divine spark hot enough to forge order from chaos.

 

Inaugurations are miracles, dear reader. Prepare accordingly.

 

On Deck: Party Like it’s 2009

Tim Geithner has a tax problem. Roland Burris has an acceptance problem. Eric Holder has a confirmation problem. But for now, Barack Obama has no problems. Why? Because next week is Inauguration Week. All other stories will get shelved for feel-good reports on the new boss.

 

Speaking of which: gonna be in the District for the inaug? Hit the Blog up. But you’d probably better text, not call.