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April 30, 2011

Obama:: 2 Years In @ LAT FOB

Nick Goldberg - editor of editorial page at the NY Times. Called in because tonight is the night of the correspondence dinner at the White House. Start by reading something Garrett Gaff wrote.

Conservatives are still questioning where the president was born. Progressives, which I think are over-represented on this panel, are disappointed by the president. Hoping we'll have a serious discussion about whether progressives are right in their criticisms.

Garrett - editor of the Washingtonian magazine. Second book just came out - The Threat Matrix.

Garrett: I started out in politics working on Howard Dean's campaign and I represent the far right wing of the panel. One campaign's in poetry and governs in prose. The lesson Obama has learned in many hard ways over the last two years is that governing is much harder than talking about governing. As much as we'd like to think that closing Guantanamo would be easy to do, for a lot of reason - not all of which is related to the Republican party - it's not. I've followed Obama's national security plans and strategies closer than other issues. The world is a complicated place and he has been buffetted by events beyond his control. The unrest in the Arab world and the earthquake in Japan. One of the challenges that has become clear is how little of a presidency is up to a president. So much is a president reacting to events rather than creating events. What concerns me more than where Obama is or where the Republican party is, I think we're entering an era of politics in that we're no longer serious about solving the big problems. That was sort of the subject of my first book in 2007. I think that you can really see that playing out in Washington right now. This budget debate in so many ways has become about Paul Ryan and his plan and his thinking about the budget. The idea that we think that there is only one guy talking seriously about the budget is an indictment. These are huge issues, generational issues that are going to have to be solved one way or another. This is a stunning indictment of where we are in the political process.

Katrina vanden Heuvel - I'm editor and publisher of The Nation. I do think there are fundamental debates in this country. I think there's radical disconnect between the debates going on in Washington and those going on in the rest of the country. I met Obama once and the one thing he said to me was that perfect is the enemy of the good. 'If the left were not somewhat unhappy with Obama, it would not be much of a left.' Obama did pass two pieces of landmark legislation. But they were not commensurate with the scale and scope of the problem. The power of money, the power of lobbyists to dilute legislation. And a Republican party that stated their goal is to delegitimize Obama. Because of the diluted financial regulatory legislation, Obama resuscitated the financial system but did not fundamentally change it...worst thing he did was the demobilization of the base. Real crisis is not a deficit crisis but a jobs crisis that hasn't been heard in the halls of power...Progressives need to be as tough and as pragmatic about Obama as he is about us...He talked about Afghanistan being 'a good war.' I think now you have the ability - transpartisan majority of people who want to find a way out of Afghanistan, who want to challenge corporate power...thinking of President Johnson: wars kill a reform presidency. ...It's imperative now for citizens of conscious to organize more independently and force these issues into the next election and to create space for these issues to be taken up. ...A broad based assault on what have been considered fundamental pillars of this society.

Eric Alterman: In my head I have four competing arguments about Obama and I'm not sure which is best. One is just what Katrina mentioned briefly, which is personal. He had me over for dinner when he first became a senator. I can't think of anyone who is as smart and as committed to my values getting elected. So, I like the guy a lot. I'm sure a lot of you were crying when, Grant Park. So, part two is I was writing a chapter on Obama for my next book, called the Cause. Liberalism is a lot more marginalized than some of us would like to think it is. It's not easy to find liberal moments where the country has agreed on the goals and moved forward in ways that we would define progress. It's significant that Teddy Roosevelt called for public health insurance in 1912 and every Democratic president since him have tried to pass it and Obama did.

Part three - Legacy of the most corrupt, incompetent and ideologically obsessed presidency since Buchanan. People only knew about the MMS before the Gulf disaster because people were dealing crystal meth out of their offices in exchange for sex. For eight years, people were in charge who had no respect for government. I quote Dick Durbin saying of the banks "frankly, they own the place," talking about the Senate. I have a great deal of sympathy for a guy who treats us with respect and has to go and show his birth certificate. It's difficult to govern in that context. On the other hand, a series of columns I've written in The Nation on the Republican class war. A lot of people have launched an attack on the role the government plays for the poor and the middle class. The wealthiest 2% went from owning 8% of our assets to 20%. The top 10% have enjoyed 60% of the gains in this country. It's only in America that we've had this degree of inequality and it's been purposeful. The other attack is what you've seen in Wisconsin, the attack on our public unions. Obama refuses to recognize this fact - he's got all this 'why can't we all get along' stuff, and if one side is fighting a war and the other side has got their hands tied behind their back.

Mr. Ryan is not talking about sensible government, he's talking about what the Republicans call sensible government. He does nothing about the deficit for 10 years but it does two things: it destroys Medicare and gives another tax break to the wealthy. Paul Krugman says the only serious attack on the long term deficit of the social services is The People's Budget, so I'll take his word for it. This conservative aura has created a notion that you have to attack poor people and enrich rich people and that to me is the problem.

Garrett: We sort of use Ryan as short hand for starting the debate. There is a sense in Washington that there's not serious thinking on these big issues. When one person does begin to do that, we sort of default to letting him own that debate. There's sort of an interesting divide that we're talking about this.

Katrina: Explains that The People's Budget is marginalized not just by Fox News, but by the mainstream press. Quotes from an egregious Dana Milbank's editorial. 40% of people surveyed did not know Medicare is a government program.

Moderator changes topic to Libya.

Garrett: Scariest war we're involved in because it is a war without possibility of American casualties.

Katrina: The issue of drones is a problem in US foreign policy. The larger framework is that we are seeing the expansion of the security state with marginal attempts to cut the defense budget. But it's part of the expansion of, I don't like the term, but US Empire. The over-arching thing in my mind, which Obama may not have had the courage to do, is to make the case that we must end this war on terror. This is not a war. What should have happened after 9/11 should have been an increase in policing.

Eric: This is kind of a sacrilioug thing to say, but I don't know everything. I do know he should have gone to Congress and get a resolution. I do know that they're not evil people. I do know that Samantha Power is a nice person. (At one point he talked about war sometimes being the answer and I hissed. He remarked that it wasn't right to hiss this point. As a woman with a degree in Peace & Justice Studies, I find it ridiculous that my anti-war position is dismissed outright by someone without a clear understanding of real diplomacy being an alternative to war.) The choice is not between war and peace. The choice is between war and massacre. It is just anti-intellectual, a kind of moral masturbation to say you know that one evil is worse than another.

Katrina: I think he's been given a gift of a Republican candidate field that looks like a scene from the bar in Star Wars.

Garrett: I think he's going to have a relatively easy re-election bid....young people, people of color electorate expanding. If those people vote, it will be an easy election.

Eric: I'm not so sure Obama is going to get re-elected. Unemployment is not going down any more. The problem of Japan and the supply lines have not shown up yet, but it will. Housing prices are collapsing again. It really depends on whether the Republicans can select someone that the rest of the country will consider sane. They're setting up Mitch Daniels to be his guy and the press loves him. As far as the demographics, I think minorities and young people are going to be the hardest people to turn out because of the disappointments that have happened from 2008-2011. ...The fact is that, the greatest criticism I would make against Obama. ...quote that was given to Obama when he was running for state senate - you can't go after the whole hog, sometimes you have to accept a ham sandwich. And Obama has been taking a lot of ham sandwiches and the problem is there isn't even any ham in those sandwiches.

Opened up to questions.

Posted by cj at April 30, 2011 10:28 AM


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