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Weekend selection

Monday, October 18, 2010
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Here are my choices of the best articles for class discussion from the papers on Saturday and Sunday

First, news of a shocking report that states that British blacks face a greater degree of discriminatory treatment by law and order forces than any other ethnic group in the developed world.  A story that is ripe for discussion if you are studying UK issues or considering civil liberties as part of the AS course or political ideologies.

I don’t bother usually with the magazine section in the Saturday Guardian, but I’m glad I didn’t miss this excellent piece on the Tea Party by Jonathan Raban, a Brit who has decamped in Seattle and is arguably the best travel writer on the US of recent times. Find it here.

And I just can’t get enough of Andrew Sullivan’s commentary in the Sunday Times. If there is a more original and astute writer on US politics out there, then I have yet to find them.

A sweeping victory for the GOP may be short term gain for long term loss. See the article here.

If you can’t get across the Times paywall…

An electoral meltdown for the Democrats in the upcoming mid-term elections will allow the president to call the right’s bluff on tax
Barack Obama faces a landslide of opposition next month that may well eclipse previous records of mid-term collapse.
Republicans will almost certainly win back the House and could win back the Senate. Moreover, the composition of the Republican legislature will be much further to the right than any recent Congress.
These are Republicans still wanting to repeal Franklin D Roosevelt’s New Deal, backed by voters who believe Obama was born in Kenya.

They are Sarah Palin supporters who want to repeal health insurance reform, wanted the banks to be allowed to fail and opposed any attempt to prevent a second Great Depression.
I got into an argument with a cardcarrying Tea Party member in Indiana last week who was all of the above. “So you would have been okay with 30% unemployment?” I asked.
“Sure,” he responded. “If that’s what it takes to get back our freedom.”
In the face of this, in the final stretch, the president sat down with The New York Times last week and gave an interview in which he conceded that he had made political mistakes in his first two years. “Given how much stuff was coming at us, we probably spent much more time trying to get the policy right than trying to get the politics right,” he said.
“I think anybody who’s occupied this office has to remember that success is determined by an intersection in policy and politics and that you can’t be neglecting of marketing and PR and public opinion.”
His supporters, exasperated at his equanimity, desperate for him to go on the offensive, threw up their hands. “With a little over two weeks to go to the critical elections, why would the Obama White House want reporters (and voters) to fixate on what it got wrong in its first two years?” David Corn, the liberal writer, vented in Mother Jones, the political magazine.
I see his point. But he is, in my judgment, wrong, just as much of the left has been wrong about Obama from the beginning. The reason he was elected was not to turn the country radically to the left. It was because the previous administration had so spectacularly failed, because the economy was tipping into a second Great Depression and because he seemed like a pragmatic centrist capable of being an adult in a storm.
He never wanted to be a divisive polarising president — he wanted to be the opposite. But events conspired with a ruthless conservative opposition to push him off message. The recession required him to bail out the banks (begun by George W Bush, of course), to put a bottom under the economy’s slide in the form of a stimulus, to rescue the car companies (successfully, as it turned out) — and all this could be depicted as a big government liberal agenda.
Obama’s concession of his mistakes was a reminder of why he is not to be underestimated When the economy did not recover quickly enough, the mood soured even further. Health insurance reform was the one signature move that gave a semblance of credibility to the notion that he was indeed a closet commie Muslim.
But in reality it contained the first cuts — health entitlement for the elderly — to Medicare, the state-run health insurer; it was also to the right of the Clintons’ plan in 1993; it was to be phased in gradually and, according to the Congressional Budget Office, would cut the deficit in the long run.
But by then the opposition had its simple message — he’s too left for America — and the die was cast.
That is not to say the Republicans have persuaded a majority. Obama’s approval rating is in the mid-forties — above Bill Clinton’s and Ronald Reagan’s at this juncture in their presidencies.
Obama’s ratings exceed any of his Republican rivals by a mile. What the Republican leaders have done is so rile up their own base that their turnout will probably vastly exceed the Democrats’ and so tip the scales far more radically than the real feelings in the country represent. That’s why I found Obama’s concession of his mistakes a reminder of why he is not to be underestimated, rather than an example of his political tin ear.
Take the worst-case scenario for the Democrats. The Republicans win back both Houses on a platform of cutting spending so that the budget is balanced. What then? Well, the president has a debt commission that includes Republicans which will issue a report in December.
It will almost certainly propose a blend of tax hikes and entitlement and defence cuts. The mix will vary. The timing is debatable. Both Obama and the Republicans say they want to tackle the debt, with Obama arguing that long-term tax increases are more necessary than big spending cuts. The Republicans, if they are to rule out tax increases and keep defence spending high, will have to back draconian cuts in healthcare and pensions — or be exposed as phoneys.
Who would you rather be? Look at the British government’s brave attempt to cut child benefit. Actually cutting spending — and not just vaguely talking about it — is very risky. The size of America’s debt and the Republicans’ opposition to any tax increases — even for those earning more than $250,000 (£156,000) a year — means drastic cuts in entitlements, including Medicare. The people likely to be hurt the most? The relatively well-off white retirees who form the base of the Tea Party.
No wonder Obama seems calm. No wonder he is reading The Clinton Tapes, the contemporaneous recordings that the former president made with Taylor Branch, the journalist. Despite his 1994 mid-term shellacking, Clinton ended his two terms with the highest ratings he ever achieved. And Clinton did not have such a substantive first two years to protect.
The scale of the laws passed under Obama is on a par with Lyndon Johnson’s first years. Legislatively, Obama does not have much more to do. What he will focus on is implementing health reform, which in its specifics is quite popular, and possibly immigration reform, which will drive the Republicans crazy but will cement the Democrats’ hold on the Hispanic vote. He can veto a repeal of the health bill, begin to withdraw from Afghanistan and keep pushing the Israelis and isolating Iran.
On the critical issue of debt, he can call the Republicans’ bluff. If he’s smart, he will not seem to be a tax-hiker but a compromiser. And, in my view on the debt, Americans will respond more positively to the person willing to compromise in a divided government than to the rigid ideologue refusing to do anything to solve the problem if it means a non-purist solution. Who does that sound like — Palin or Obama?
Obama thinks strategically; his opponents keep thinking tactically. They may win big next month and come to regret it.



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