Thursday, June 30, 2011

Recess is Over

Politico Arena Topic: President Obama: Scolder-in-Chief?

Congressional Republicans have been doing more than just acting like children with regard to the debt ceiling--to play a game of political chicken with the nation’s debt limit is extremely irresponsible. At no time in our nation’s history has a political party held the country’s debt ceiling hostage to ideological demands. Previous Democratic and Republican presidents and congresses have acted responsibly by raising the debt ceiling when needed. True, at times they waited until the last possible moment but at no time did recalcitrant lawmakers threaten that if they did not get their way - and only their way - that they would allow the United States government to default on their its debt obligations.

The fact that President Obama has been forced into the middle of negotiations should be victory enough for the GOP because he will now be forced to cut a deficit-reducing deal and may pay a political cost for it - especially if negotiations go badly. The Obama administration would have been better off insisting on a clean debt limit vote, saving deficit reduction for budget negotiations. Now both parties must negotiate with the added pressure of an August 2 guillotine hanging over the heads.

Finally, I think it is apropos that President Obama compare his kids to the GOP leadership. After all, it was House Majority Leader Cantor who took his ball and went home last week after negotiations did not go as he planned. Hopefully his actions haven’t soiled the sandbox too much for the other kids.

Recess is over (and the GOP should probably think twice about going on another one this weekend). It’s time to get to work and understand that in a negotiation, both sides need to get something. Clearly the House majority leader and many of his Republican colleagues do not understand that concept.

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Friday, June 24, 2011

Boehner Gets Tossed Under Bus By Cantor on Debt-Ceiling Talks

Politico Arena Topic: Eric Cantor Gutsy or 'Gutless' on Debt-Talk Walkout?

Will Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) be able to cut a deal with the White House and Senate Democrats without angering his base? Short answer: no way. It looks as if the House Majority Leader has thrown his fellow leader under the bus on the debt ceiling talks. The fact that House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) did not consult with or inform the speaker of his intentions to withdraw from the negotiations until he went public, reveals a major rift in the House GOP leadership. Boehner and Cantor may not be exchanging holiday cards with one another this year.

If Boehner succeeds in closing a deal with Obama and the Dems, that deal will likely include elimination of some tax breaks to big oil and other special interests — something Republicans are loathe to do and the Speaker will get crucified from conservatives for this. Boehner will also face opposition from the tea party and small government crowd who are flat out against raising the debt ceiling despite the economic chaos that will likely happen if those efforts fail. And if Boehner fails to cut a deal, he’ll be blamed for that as well. He is in a box alone, courtesy of Cantor and company.

Though Republicans are calling for President Obama to get involved to jump start negotiations, this is a merely a political ploy to force the president to put some skin in the game that can be used against him in 2012. The White House would be better served to let the president concentrate on using the bully pulpit to hammer the GOP on this issue. Meanwhile, Vice President Biden can continue to hold negotiations out of public view.

In the end, all Americans should hope this game of political chicken being played ends soon. The markets don’t like uncertainty. And if it ends badly, uncertainty will reign supreme.

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Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Constitutional Ambiguity of the Presidential Autopen

A great article by Mark Knoller of CBS News about the controversy surrounding the presidential autopen. Knoller observes that:

"For the first time in U.S. history, Mr. Obama authorized the use of such a machine to sign a bill into law. On May 26th, he was 3700 miles away at the G8 Summit in France, up against a midnight deadline to prevent provisions of the Patriot Act from expiring, so he authorized the White House Staff Secretary the use the autopen to sign it. The problem is - and few proclaim they see a problem - is that the U.S. Constitution makes no provision for the use of a signature machine. Article 1, Section 7 clearly states that if a bill is passed by both the House and Senate, it shall be presented to the president. "If he approve(s) he shall sign it," states the Constitution. There's nothing in the document that suggests a reasonable facsimile affixed by an appliance will do just as well. The White House circumvented the constitutional requirement citing a 2005 opinion from the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel. It concluded that '...the President need not personally perform the physical act of affixing his signature to a bill he approves and decides to sign in order for the bill to become law.'"

There have been few objections to this, save for a small group of members of Congress. It does bring up serious questions, however: "Congressman Tom Graves, R-Ga., worries what might happen if the president is hospitalized or otherwise in a state of diminished capacity. '...Can a group of aggressive Cabinet members interpret a wink or a squeeze of the hand as approval of an autopen signing?' says Graves. 'I am very concerned about what this means for future presidential orders, whether they be signing bills into law, military orders, or executive orders.'

It will be interesting to see if the autopen controversy ends up in the courts or if presidents will go out of their way to avoid this controversy. Of course, with advances in technology, presidents will likely performing more official duties via remote like this, not less.

[Signature on left is autopen; signature on right is real Obama signature. Photo Credit: CBS]

Monday, June 20, 2011

The Tweeting of the Presidency

Who would have thought 20 years ago that a president would not only be using the Internet, but using it to directly communicate with individual citizens? President Obama is not only the first president to use a smartphone as president, he is the first to personally "tweet" messages to his followers on Twitter. Sure, the White House already had a presence on Twitter as well as Facebook; however, Obama is the first sitting president to pen tweets himself.

According to the New York Times: "Over the weekend, President Obama did something his Internet fans have long dreamed of: He sent a Father’s Day message in his own words via the @BarackObama Twitter account. The 122-character tweet was also posted to the Barack Obama page on Facebook. 'Being a father is sometimes my hardest but always my most rewarding job,' the President said. 'Happy Father’s Day to all the dads out there. –BO' Going forward, any messages signed '-BO' will be written by the President himself, rather than a staffer, according to an announcement posted Friday at, the official Web site of the President’s re-election campaign."

The Obama campaign of 2008 really was the first 21st Century campaign in terms of they utilized social media. Clearly 2012 will raise the bar higher. And as we go forward, future presidents and candidates will be expected to utilize social media and advanced communications techniques to get their message out and connect with the American voter and citizen.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

No Better Nor Worse

Politico Arena Topic: Should Obama Donors Get Plum Government Jobs?

The Obama administration is no better nor worse than preceding administrations when it comes to offering plum governmental posts to big money donors. The problem is the campaign finance system itself. It is broken. The amount of money needed to get elected to any national office is staggering. Even local offices such as school board and city council require oodles of money. At no time in American history has money been more important to running a successful campaign — especially for the White House.
Once elected, officeholders feel beholden to the donors they needed to get there. And with good reason — without them they don’t get elected. Obama and McCain combined to raise more than $1.1 billion in 2008. The two general election candidates may surpass $2 billion in 2012. And much of that money will come from big money donors and bundlers, not every day folk writing $25 checks. Until the system is fixed — really fixed — big donors will continue reap the benefits of their fundraising prowess. It’s just the way it is.

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Jobs and Education are Social Issues

A brilliant commentary by Jason Huff about how jobs and education are the real social issues presidential candidates should focus on--even Republican candidates:

"A healthy economy, based on a foundation of well-paying jobs that allow for working-class people to afford homes and education for their children, is the centerpiece of a winning campaign for any office and the only way to make this country strong for the future. Invading the privacy of people's bedrooms and rewarding inept boardrooms does nothing to pull the U.S. out of the ditch. Social conservatives (busy taking the country back) often point to the Constitution and the Bible as the reference documents for their platform. From my years of studying political science, I have quite a few copies of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. Even after careful combing of both works, I can find nothing on how gay marriage is the kryptonite of our society or that while the government has no right to determine how to spend tax dollars, it has every right to tell a woman she has no choice when it comes to the most difficult decision she would ever face. Hands off your revenue but hands on a woman's body: boggles the mind, doesn't it?"

You can check his stuff out at Politico Arena and Soapbox Bubba.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Obama's Smaller Playing Field in 2012

Politico Arena Topic: What Are Obama's Chances in North Carolina in 2012?

In 2008, capturing traditionally red states like North Carolina, Virginia, and Indiana was the icing on the cake for the Obama campaign. In 2012, unless there is a significant economic rebound, the Obama campaign will have a much smaller playing field to get to the magic number of 270 electoral votes.

The good news for Team Obama is that border states like North Carolina are not must-wins. Even subtracting North Carolina, Virginia, Indiana, and the more traditional battleground state of Florida from the 2008 map still yields an Obama victory with some wiggle room built in.

Though Democrats would like an expanded electoral map in 2012, the political environment has shifted from 2008. If anything, 2012 may look much more like 2004 than 2008, with the election being decided by a handful of states in the Upper Midwest, a couple in the West, and the big three of Florida, Pennsylvania, and most especially Ohio.

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Friday, June 10, 2011

Where My Students Are Now: Emma Lieberth

I've been teaching a over 10 years at The University of Akron and have had the pleasure to mentor many, many students. In fact, probably the most gratifying part of my job is the ability to positively (I hope) impact the lives of my students. Well, many of those students have gone on to bigger and better things, especially in the political world. This post is the first of a series of posts (I hope) highlighting the careers of some of the students (and colleagues) with whom I have worked. The posts will be in basic question/answer format based on questions I emailed out. I hope the 9 of you who regularly read this blog enjoy it.

Interview with Emma Lieberth

WHEN ATTENDED UNIVERSITY OF AKRON OR HOW ARE YOU AFFILIATED WITH THE BLISS INSTITUTE? I Graduated in 2006 with a degree in polisci/criminal justice, certificate in applied politics.

WHAT HAVE YOU DONE SINCE? After graduating in Dec. 2006, I moved to Iowa to work on Tom Vilsack's Presidential Campaign. A few weeks after I went out there, the former Governor of Iowa withdrew from the race. Shortly after, I was hired as a field organizer for Hillary Clinton's Presidential Campaign. I worked in Iowa through the 2008 caucuses and then I worked in Nevada, Ohio, and Indiana before leaving the campaign in May 2008. I moved to Washington, DC and started working with the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence where I'm currently employed. I'm starting my Masters in Public Administration at George Mason University this fall.

WHERE DO YOU ULTIMATELY HOPE TO BE WHEN YOU REACH THE PINNACLE OF YOUR CAREER? New opportunities come up all the time so I'm not sure, but hopefully working for a cause that I really care about.

Debbie Wasserman Schultz: A Fighter, Not a Sideline Gazer

Politico Arena Topic: DNC Leader Help or Hinderance?

Being surprised that Debbie Wasserman Schultz is outspoken is like being surprised that Lindsay Lohan is in rehab or that Brett Favre has un-retired. It’s what she’s known for and, in fact, one of the reasons she was tapped by the Obama team.

It hasn’t been a flawless beginning by any means but one should never bet against Wasserman Schultz. After all, this is a woman that has risen to the highest ranks in her party’s leadership, become a household name in the world of politics, and raised her three small children all while secretly battling breast cancer and continuing to perform her day job as a Florida Congresswoman. Wasserman Schultz is a fighter, not a sideline gazer and never will be. After the electoral “shellacking” of 2010 and with the 2012 presidential election upon us, some fight is exactly what the Democratic Party needs.

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Thursday, June 9, 2011

Fleeing the Gingrich Titanic

Politico Arena Topic: End of the Line for Newt Gingrich?

Having a top staffer quit a campaign in protest is a problem. Having a few quit is a crisis. Having the entire team quit is a catastrophe -- a sign that the ship is about to strike the iceberg and the rodents know better than to stay on board.

Since I am not on the inside, I have no idea whether this is the end of the Gingrich campaign. It is certainly at a crossroads, however. None of the Republican candidates have gotten off to a shakier start than Gingrich. From his Ryan budget comments to his Tiffany debt to his Mediterranean cruise, Newt Gingrich the candidate has misfired from the start. From the outside, it appears that these seasoned campaign professionals were tired of dealing with this unconventional candidate who refused to take advice or be handled in anyway. Though his campaign may yet survive, Gingrich's odds of winning the GOP nomination just dropped even more.

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Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Hubris, Arrogance, and Stupidity in the Fish Bowl

Politico Arena Topic: Sex Scandals Ruining Congress's Image?

Since the days of Mark Twain, Congress has had an image problem. That image problem is particularly great today. In a Gallup Poll from the summer of 2010, only 7% of citizens said they had a “great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in Congress—dead last among all societal institutions including the presidency and Supreme Court. The seemingly unending ethics scandals of members of congress (both active and former) of both parties further erodes the confidence of the American public. And the fact that the dirty details of text messages, tweets, and photos is readily available for public assumption, exacerbates the problem and increases the cynicism with which the American public views the legislative branch and government in general.

The hubris, arrogance, and stupidity of some in the political class never fails to surprise, amuse, and sicken me all at once. It’s bad enough that they engage in morally bankrupt behavior hurting their marriages and sometimes destroying their families. That so many behave this way despite living in a fish bowl, is shocking.

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Saturday, June 4, 2011

Lawrence Eagleburger, Professional Diplomat, R.I.P.

Lawrence Eagleburger, a longtime diplomat and former Secretary of State during the George H.W. Bush Administration, passed away at the age of 80. A Milwaukee, Wisconsin native, he was the first career foreign service officer to rise to the post. For those of us who came of age during Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm, Eagleburger was a constant presence in the media as Secretary of State James Baker's deputy during that period.

Perhaps his toughest assignment was when he was tasked with convincing Israel to not retaliate during the Persian Gulf War as Iraqi scud missiles rained down on that country. He succeeded thus keeping the delicate coalition together that was constructed by President Bush to remove Iraq from Kuwait. Here is how the New York Times described his efforts:

"During the first Bush presidency, Mr. Eagleburger was second in command at the State Department under James A. Baker III, and because of his previous experience in the Middle East as Mr. Kissinger’s aide, he was sent on a delicate mission to Israel in 1991, at the start of the Persian Gulf war, which had been mounted to eject Iraq from Kuwait. Mr. Eagleburger’s task was to persuade the Israelis under Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir to stay out of the fight, even though Iraqi Scud missiles were landing in Israel. The United States was concerned then, as it would be 12 years later in the war in Iraq, that Israel not be seen as a military partner, fearing that such a perception would alienate Arab and Muslim states willing to help. His success eventually led to his appointment as secretary of state."

He was one of the smartest foreign policy guys around. He will be missed.

Eugene Allen: A White House Butler's Amazing Journey

Last year, one of my students gave me a copy of a Washington Post article about a former White House butler who passed away March 31, 2010, who had worked at the White House for 34 years. It got buried in a pile of papers. I unearthed it and am very glad I did. The man's name was Eugene Allen and his story is fascinating. Allen, an African-American, grew up in Virginia during segregation. Working in the White House, he witnessed many of the pivotal historical moments of the 20th Century and was on hand in 2009 for the swearing-in of America's first president of color: Barack Obama.

Read both WaPo articles linked above for more details on Allen's amazing career and life. It is a fascinating read about a fascinating man and his journey.

Friday, June 3, 2011

John Edwards: Beyond the Pale

Politico Arena Topic: John Edwards Indicted: Can His Legacy be Rehabbed?

Americans are a very forgiving lot, but not in this instance. John Edwards’s political career is toast as the gory details make Arnold Schwarzenegger and John Ensign look like choir boys.

Having an affair and a love child when your spouse is battling terminal cancer is beyond the pale. Compounding the heinousness of this act is the fact that he allegedly misused campaign funds to conceal the affair and child ... all while running for president. It is hard to comprehend the incredible selfishness of an individual who not only engages in infidelity while his wife is dying, but chooses to run for president knowing full well that his behavior may be exposed, putting the country and his political party at great risk, not to mention his family.

It simply boggles the mind.

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