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26
A snow-day deep-dive into current political commentary finds three things. One, Republicans are becoming more and more deranged. Two, Democrats are falling deeper and deeper into despair. And, three, it’s all about President Obama.
 
Politics has come unhinged since Election Day 2008 and the election of a black President. It just gets worse as time goes on and he stays in the White House.
 
Look at the Republicans lately. Rudy Giuliani says Obama doesn’t love him or America, which Giuliani apparently considers one and the same thing. Scott Walker isn’t sure Obama is a Christian. Bobby Jindal doesn’t think the President who ordered the raid on Osama bin Laden, drone attacks on al Qaeda and a war on ISIS is protecting us. John Boehner and Mitch McConnell want to shut down Homeland Security because they’re mad at Obama about immigration.
 
Democrats can’t or won’t see that all their problems are simply part of the reaction to Obama. Witness the DNC task force that bemoaned the 2014 election results. Its solution is this gobbledygook from Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear: “We need a cohesive, values-based narrative that quickly and succinctly defines our beliefs and helps voters identify with who we are and how we best represent them.”
 
Get a grip.
 
Democrats ought to be proud. They did something historic, remarkable and praise-worthy. After centuries of slavery and decades of discrimination, they elected the first African-American President. He and Democrats then saved us from a depression, saved the banks, saved the auto industry, gave millions of Americans affordable health care, attacked climate change, knocked down walls of discrimination, reduced the federal deficit, drew down two wars, killed the world’s number-one terrorist and got America back on track after eight years of war, waste and mismanagement.
 
Naturally, there has been a reaction. There always is. American history is two steps forward, one step back.
 
This too shall pass. Obama will be gone in two years. Then we’ll get back to more familiar turf, back to doing what we’ve done for nearly 30 years: hating the Bushes or hating the Clintons. 

 

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13
After the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, Franklin Roosevelt looked the American people in the eye and said, December 7th is a day that will live in infamy forever.
 
After ISIS burned a hostage alive, President Obama told the American people, We’ve done some pretty bad things ourselves.
 
Which is the proper response to a moral outrage?
 
We need Horatius at the Bridge in the White House but have Hamlet giving a soliloquy on moral relativism: They’ve sinned. We’ve sinned. They’ve done terrible things in the name of Allah. We’ve done terrible things in Christ’s name. We are all alike.
 
It’s the devil’s own argument breeding moral ambivalence and we wouldn’t be the first poor fools blinded by it.
 
Lord knows, we’ve committed sins. But we’ve also deposed Kings, vanquished tyrants, whipped Hitler – and never asked for a thing in return.  
 
The day before the President’s soliloquy the United Nations reported ISIS has been “crucifying Iraqi children and burying them alive.” 
 
It’s time for Hamlet to move past ambivalence and stop asking, Are we any better than ISIS?

 

 

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03
Bush’s steady and Hilary’s experienced and it all looks familiar but deep within the earth hidden rivers are flowing that may turn the Presidential race upside down.
 
No one had seen a caliph or caliphate for a millennium. Then, suddenly, in Yemen, Nigeria, North Africa, Syria and Iraq we have caliphates – and women sold as slaves, towns razed and hostages beheaded (or burned).
 
We have terrorist attacks from Australia to Paris and, in Saudi Arabia, an ‘enlightened’ country, the government has ordered a man publicly flogged, given 1000 lashes in front of a mosque for blasphemy.
                                                                                   
A year more of this and we may not be looking for a President whose steady or reliable – we may be looking for a warrior to whip the Huns. And someone who looks hard-edged, abrasive and unbending today, like Ted Cruz, may fit the bill.


 

 

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02
One score and four years after Bubba beat Poppy, another presidential election could be a showdown between the Republican First Family and Democratic First Family.
 
We shouldn’t be surprised. It’s the money, stupid.
 
Since the 1970s (or earlier), George H.W. Bush has built a vast network of fundraisers and donors. He did it the old-fashioned way, with good manners: handwritten notes, personal calls, Christmas cards and invitations to Kennebunkport and the White House. That network cleared the way for W. in 2000, and it’s doing the job for Jeb today. The only problem is that there are two other power centers today: Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News/Wall Street Journal network and the Koch Brothers’ money.
 
Similarly, since the 1970s (or earlier), Bill and Hillary have built a vast network of fundraisers and donors. They did it with idealism, ideology and access. There is nothing else like it in the Democratic Party. But the Clinton network is top-heavy with whip-smart people who are long-time campaign activists, all of whom have their own ideas about how to run a campaign and are willing to eviscerate any and all internal rivals. (See: Clinton Campaign, 2008.)
 
This time, Jeb and Hillary will carry the best and the worst of their legacies. Jeb’s slogan: “Just like my Dad – and a lot smarter than W!” Hillary’s: “Just like Bill – and without the bimbos or interns!”
 
Both will play off the President who interrupted the combined dynasties’ potential 32-year run in the White House. Explicitly or implicitly, both will say, “A lot better prepared than Obama – and I’ll LIKE the job.”
 
Now that Mitt Romney has seen what was obvious to everybody else, Jeb is the Republican frontrunner. He has all but sewn up the Moneyed Establishment wing of the party. But he’ll have to fend off challengers who emerge from the various Republican tribes, like the Tea Party, the Libertarians and the Religious Right.
 
Hillary is even more of a frontrunner than Jeb. Probably only two people can stop her nomination: Bill and Hillary. She also will have to handle the populist, anti-big bank, anti-Wall Street, anti-big business impulse that sets Democratic hearts aflutter.
 
Much will happen in the one score and one months ahead. But, one way or another, America could well have a Restoration in two years.

 

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27
It was a rare feat: Frank Luntz somehow found the twenty maddest-at-Obama people in the country and put them in a ‘focus group’ on Fox News after the President’s State of the Union speech – and they didn’t have one kind word to say.
 
But you have to give the devil his due: Barack Obama can be a powerful speaker. Who has a unique political voice. And Tuesday night there was no ‘voice’ on the Republican side of the aisle with the power to match him. 
 
And that’s what Republicans need to find sooner rather than later: A ‘voice’ who can step to a podium, look Obama in the eye, and answer him.

 

 

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23

 

Most of us older white conservatives just naturally see a Democratic Senator from Massachusetts who taught at Harvard and figure – barring a miracle – she’s got to be a liberal so it came as a shock the other night when a young conservative posted a link to one of Elizabeth Warren’s speeches with one word beside it: Wow!
 
Wall Street, Warren said, is nailing American workers to a ‘Cross of Gold’ to make already rich corporations richer.
 
Then she got right down to brass tacks and said we need to break up the big banks. 

Whatever else Elizabeth Warren may be she’s not just a liberal or just another Massachusetts Senator – she’s a voice we haven’t heard in a long time: The living and fire-breathing reincarnation of William Jennings Bryan populism.

 

 

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21
President Obama's speech last night showed he has a knack for coming back after a setback - and a knack for the comeback quip.
 
Three things about the night: (1) How Obama framed the debate (2) the partisan debate over bipartisanship and (3) the split-screen social media experience of watching political events like what Twitter dubbed #SOTU.
 
Framing the Debate
 
How good was the speech? Well, Democrats wish he had given it before the 2014 elections. And they liked the way he set up the battles to come in Washington this year and in the 2016 elections.
 
It helped, of course, that he had good economic news to talk about. As he chided the dour Republicans, “That’s good news, people.”
 
He framed the fight as good versus evil, fairness versus unfairness, Democrats fighting for the middle class while Republicans cater to the 1 percent. He said “we’ve turned the page” on the recession (read: “Bush”) and are creating more jobs since 1999 (read: “the last time we had a Democratic President, named Clinton”). Bill and Hill had to love that.
 
As one tweet noted during the speech, there probably wasn’t one idea in it that doesn’t get 70 percent support in the polls. The President put himself and the party on high ground for the battles ahead.
 
Partisanship About Bipartisanship
 
After sharply drawing the battle lines, Obama tried a difficult pivot by going back to his 2004 message: “There’s not a Democratic America or Republican America, there’s the United States of America.”
 
You wouldn’t know it by the reaction from Republicans in the hall and afterward. Things still look pretty divided.
 
One big divide is over what constitutes bipartisanship. To Obama, it’s passing the program he outlined. To congressional Republicans, it’s passing theirs. And never the twain shall meet.
 
Yes, we citizens yearn for the two parties to “put aside politics” and “work together” and “do their job.” But there is a fundamental divide in Washington and across the country about what that means. And the divide is over the role of government.
 
Democrats say government can do things to help people and, especially, protect them from the depredations of the free market. Republicans say government can’t do anything, period.
 
That’s a deep gap to bridge.
 
(A new book traces this fundamental debate over government back to the 1966 election: “Landslide: LBJ and Ronald Reagan at the Dawn of a New America,” by Jonathan Darman. Check it out.)
 
Even as he called on Republicans to rise about the fray, Obama couldn’t resist a shot. When he said he’d run his last campaign, somebody on the Republican side clapped. He shot back, “I know, because I won both of them.” It sounded too much like the Obama of “you’re likeable enough, Hillary.” Better he had just smiled and said, “You’re welcome.”
 
Split-Screen
 
How did we ever watch political events without Twitter? As you listen to the speech, you can follow the commentary of your choice on Twitter. It’s like being at a basketball game, except people scream on screen rather than at the refs.
 
Judging from Twitter, Obama clearly roused his base. He had Democrats pumped up from the get-go. And Republicans, too. From their get-go, their response was: “Socialism, big government, higher taxes, blah, blah, blah.”
 
Speaking of being onscreen, you almost felt sorry for John Boehner. He had to sit there mute while the President pounded him like a piñata. He had to sit beside Joker Joe Biden popping up to applaud every minute or so. And he knew that millions of people were watching every gesture and facial expression he made.
 
You couldn’t help but stare at him: his skin tone almost exactly matched his red leather chair. He looked like some kind of lizard taking on the coloration of his natural surroundings.
 
All in all, it was a night that put the fun back into politics – for a night.

 

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14
Two headlines this week tell why even President Obama’s fans despair sometimes.
 
First, while Obama and his staff focused on rolling out his free-community college proposal, they neglected to send anybody to the biggest story in the world: the Paris rally against terror. Second, while the President was giving a speech on cybersecurity, our military’s social media sites got hacked.
 
Mere symbolism, you might sniff. But Obama’s greatest failing as a leader is not understanding the importance of symbols like these. It’s not enough to get the policies right. It’s just as important, or more important, to show presidential and national strength.
 
Democrats didn’t lose in November because voters dislike Democratic policies nor like Republican policies. They lost because Obama looks like a weak President, not strong enough to fix the economy and keep American safe and strong.
 
For all the talk about a comeback in his last two years – “Obama being Obama” – the President’s problem isn’t fixable. His image is fixed, and Americans are turning to what they want in the next President.
 
Here’s betting they’ll want a man, or a woman, who is least like what they like least about Obama. They’ll look for a strong President to replace one who looks overwhelmed and over his head.

 

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12

 

Obama stands on a stage in Tennessee and promises nine million people he’ll give them $3,800 a year each (on average) and the press coos he’s made a “dramatic announcement” then a skeptic asks how Obama’ll come up with the money and Obama has the White House staff tell him, ‘That’s beside the point.’
 
As cynical politics it’s breathtaking.
 
In our modern world of five second sound bites, promising something for nothing is more powerful than magic: The President says he hasn’t given much thought to whether he’ll borrow, raise taxes, or cut spending to make every Community College (from the redwood forests to the Gulf Stream waters) free and instead of saying, This fellow’s pulling the wool over our eyes promising us something for nothing – a five second sound bite puts Obama back on top of the world, riding the crest of a PR wave.


 

 

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08
At 76, the California governor is still young at heart, bold of vision and quick of wit.
 
Brown was sworn into his fourth term this week, and he’s off with a bang. He wants to attack global warming by reducing California’s energy consumption over the next 15 years, slashing gas consumption by cars and trucks by as much as 50 percent and having 50 percent of California’s electricity come from renewable sources.
 
Then he got up a head of steam about his proposed 520-mile high-speed rail line from San Francisco to Los Angeles (price tag: $67 billion).
 
To critics and skeptics, he said: “People do get pusillanimous. I wanted to use that word because that’s the adjective I’m going to affix to all the critics. You can look it up on your cellphone right now. Pusillanimous. It means weak of spirit.”
 
He gave the best argument ever for trains "There's no anti-texting rule on the trains. You can use your iPhone. And you can have a martini or whatever you people drink."
 
Also, "There's also a really big barrier that puts a limit on how many cars—that's called congestion. You can only have so many lanes. You can't keep paving over prime agricultural land. You can't take property off the tax rolls any more than you have to."
 
The SF-LA line wouldn’t be running until 2030, but Brown is not pusillanimous about that, either: “I’ll be 92 in 2030. I’m working and pumping iron and eating vegetables. I want to be around.”

 

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