POLITICS AFTER OBAMA : THE COMING 2014 ELECTION

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^ in the post-Obama era, insurgents find common ground : Elizabeth Warren and John McCain

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The 2014 mid-term elections are under way, and both parties are preparing a battle which won’t resemble that of 2012 much at all.

We’re moving into the post-Obama period. Agendas are advancing that the President either does not want or has little to do with. Even in foreign policy he doesn’t have his way undisputed : witness the Senate bill, presented by 13 members from each party, to toughen Iran sanctions if the recent Interim Agreement doesn’t lead to a permanent one. The bill’s point is hard to disagree with, but it’s hard to see how diplomacy is assisted by legislation that feels like interference.

I agree with the Wall Street Journal that the hiring of John Podesta as a Presidential adviser announces that Democrats will campaign 2014 as a “class warfare” election. But it’s difficult to see how that translates into support for Obama’s remaining initiatives : immigration reform, gun control legislation, tax reform. The “class warfare” cry seems geared to invigorating the Democratic party for 2016. Same is true of nominating Senator Max Baucus of Montana to be Ambassador to China. Baucus was up for re-election next year; he had already announced his retirement. Montana was carried by Romney in 2012, by 14 points. Electing a Democrat to succeed Baucus was going to be difficult. Now, however, a Democrat — probbaly Lieutenant governor John Walsh, as the Wall street journal says — will assume Baucus’s seat, by appointment, and run in 2014 as the incumbent. It’s a smart move and a party move. Retaining the senate is a must for their 2016 basis.

Obama has wiggle room to pursue party-building stuff because the Republican Party is having to change as well, in the direction of compromise, so that it can be seen as a realistic governing party and not as obstruction. Republican strategy now accords vital budget and funding agreements, even as Obama concentrates on party-building in opposition.

As I have noted in several columns, Democrats at ground level having been moving for many months now to advance an agenda largely (but not entirely) Left-populist : union workers’ rights, higher minimum wages, banking reform, teacher union control of public education, alleviation of pay inequities, greater public spending on infrastructure and aid to families in need. It was easy to see that the infusion of these priorities into Mayor elections in Boston and New York was not happening only for local reasons. Clearly the leaders of this agenda had in mind the 2016 Democratic nomination for President.

At times the intensity of this movement has threatened to split the Democratic party, and i have decried that. we don’t need the Demotratic party to become “Left-tea’d,” as I have put it. But I wonder now if my warnings have been superseded by events. The 2014 campaign is upon us, the Democratic Party as a whole seems committed to the Left-ing agenda, and this is probably a wise decision for the party to make at mid-term time.

What must not happen is for this agenda to appear the Elizabeth Warren for President campaign. THAT would personalize the issues, and generate all manner of opposition to from Democrats threatened. Speaking of Warren, how come I do not see as much love for Senator Bernie Sanders as for her ? Sanders has been an eloquent voice for a Left-populist agenda — much of it very needed — long before Senator Warren appeared on the scene. My suspicion is that Warren Love arises from the 52 million dollars she raised for her 2012 campaign. It is ironic that the Left-populist movement wants big big money even while decrying its influence.

Readers can now ask me : what, if any, of the Left-populist agenda do I support ? Answer : I support quite a bit of it.

1. We do need a higher minimum wage. Substantially higher. Why should taxpayers have to sbsidize low-wage employers who pay their workers so little that they need public assistance to make ends meet ?

2. Employers should not be allowed to use job seekers’ credit scores as a hiring factor except if the job being sought is a financial one such as a comptroller or bank employee.

3. Financial institutions that specialize in customer deposits should not be allowed to use those deposits to engage in arbitrage trading. Or else such trading should be subject to the Federal Reserve’s margin requirements just as these are already imposed on customer accounts at stock-broker firms.

4. Union workers’ pension and benefit rights, as contracted for, should never be subject to legislative negation.

5. Infrastructure is as communal as anything in our society. Maintaining and improving our infrastructure is a vital economic duty. If tax dollars are needed, they should be granted.

But :

1.Education reform. This was the big divisive issue in the Boston Mayor election. I do not agree that teachers’ unions should control public school reform or that corporations have no defensible interest in school performance. I support school competition, because it is from competition that we find out what works well or not so well. I accord teachers unions a central voice in school reform because it is they who must do the teaching and who must work competigtively. But decsions on how to proceed with education reform must be collegial. Corporations have a vital interest in public education because the jobs they must fill depend on school graduates being prepared sufficiently to do them.

2.Unions in general : as I wrote almost every day during the Boston Mayor campiagn, union workers deserve strong representatipon in the halls of power, but they shouldn’t own the halls of power. Union workers number only about 10 %, nationally, of all employees, and no next-generation jobs in the innovating economy easily translate to unionization because almost all such jobs are individually dfifferent, employed by small units constantly reshaping, and involve pay that isn’t just a paycheck but includes benefits, stock, bonuses, and collaboratives. How to accommodate the innovation economy will be a major challenge for Democratic policy leaders facing 2016. Many in the innovation economy might just find a newly reasonable Republican Party more sympatico than a Democratic party committed to Left Populism. Take the fake-“Christian” stuff, the contempt for needy people, and the anti-immigration bigotry out of the Republican agenda, and the possibility is very real for the innovation community to prefer Republican entrepreneur-ist reform to Democratic Left-Populism.

After all, if Elizabeth Warren and John McCain, insurgents both, can co-sponsor banking reform legislation — and they have — then economic innovators are as free to find a useful home on the McCain range as on the Warren one.

—- Michael Freedberg / Here and Sphere

2016 PRESIDENT : NOT A SENATOR AGAIN, PLEASE

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^ Lions of the senate ; the Presidency, not so much. At least not now.

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UPDATE : last night Senator Warren announced as follows : “I pledge to serve my full Senate term.” Her term ends in 2018. And so ends speculation about her plans to seek the Presidency. I applaud her decision.

— MF

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Three letters appear in today’s Boston Globe, all of them telling those who would Pres-boom our state’s Senator Elizabeth Warren, to cool out. I agree with the letters and their reasons. as the letters point out : (1 ) Warren in 2016 will still be working her first term and ( 2 ) her uncompromising stance makes her a kind of reverse-coin Ted Cruz. Advocacy for advocacy’s sake  becomes anti-advocacy; and in any case, while a Charles Sumner can advance a cause, the actual Charles Sumner would have made a horrible President.

This is not to say that I don’t applaud much of what Senator Warren advocates. I do applaud it. The financial regulation bill she has co-sponsored with John McCain is needed, and her call for he expansion of social security voices the needs and hopes of many, many Americans for whom Social Security is the difference between making it and not. Yet the progress that she calls for is going to be hard enough to enact into law, and as Ted Kennedy’s decades of work make clear, the Senate is the Forum in which to do it, and that only by long service. The Presidency is not the place to vanguard things.

That Warren is being touted for President seems a reaction, on the Left, to the radicalization on the right that has all but swallowed the GOP. As I wrote during the Mayor’s race, watching the Connolly versus Walsh battle come close to splitting the Massachusetts Democratic party, “you can’t radicalize an electorate in one direction only.” Radicalization on the Left is growing, fueled by an inflammatory Right. This we understand — and decry. It must stop short of engulfing the Presidency, the one office that all of us choose.

The greatest presidents are principled, dogged centrists : Abraham Lincoln, Franklin D Roosevelt, Harry Truman, George Washington, Ronald Reagan all held firm to their chosen course but refused to be hurried, bullied, or pushed over an edge. Confronters like Thomas Jefferson, Teddy Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson have done less well. Roosevelt and Wilson both achieved much, in a hurry, but they did not when or how to stop. Flame out was the result for Roosevelt, humiliation for Wilson. Jefferson’s terms, brilliantly begun, ended in disaster. Elizabeth warren is a confronter. (So is John McCain, but that’s another story.) There is a lot of Teddy in Warren — on much the same issues, too — and much Wilson. That alone should give us pause.

Frankly, I think we’ve had enough Senators in the Presidency for a while. The worst failing of President Obama, a Lincolnesque figure for sure, is his demonstrated inability to manage the Federal bureaucracy. We’ve seen it time and again, vividly in the stumbled roll-out of his signature legislation, the ACA. It is time to elect a Governor. Men and women who govern have to administer. it’s what a Governor is all about. those who succeed as a governor pass the first test — the most basic test — of a President. Managing the bureaucracy may not look sexy, sound dramatic, or feel like a crusade; but a President who cannot do it can’t succeed at much of the high drama and loud crusades that define the office for most voters.

The only reason that Obama’s failings as an administrator haven’t decimated the domestic agenda of his Presidency is that he knows his policy goals bottom to top, they’re modest enough, and he pursues them relentlessly, opposition be damned. He simply refuses to lose. That’s a good thing; but capable administration of his policy in action would be even better.  Conversely, the numerous triumphs of Obama’s foreign policy, an arena in which administration defers to manoeuver and decision, Here, Obama has had no equal since Reagan ; no Democratic equal since Truman.

2016 should be a Governor’s time for another reason : the office is chosen by all the people of a state and, in the hands of the most responsible governors, unites people rather than divides them. Cases on point : Andrew Cuomo (NY), Jeb Bush (FL) , Chris Christie (NJ), and Martin O”Malley (MD). In this time of radicalization, that has cleaved the GOP, paralyzing it, even rendering it a danger to the nation, and that threatens now to set Democrats at each other’s throats, the last thing we need is an inflamer of passions, a Senator Microphone, an advocate in a hurry.

Of course even a great governor can’t be an effective president without a responsible political party to lead, or tame. Mitt Romney had administrative ability to spare; but the party he led in 2012 had rendered him unthinkable, to a majority, by its virulence and its contempt for all but the successful, viewpoints that he unfortunately seemed to share.

To sum up : 2016 should be a Governor’s time. Let’s elect Andrew Cuomo, Chris Christie, Jeb Bush or Martin O’Malley — and leave Elizabeth Warren in the Senate, to advocate, advocate, advocate all she needs to, a Charles Sumner but no, NOT a president.

—- Michael Freedberg / Here and Sphere

ALIVE, BUT ALSO DEAD : TODAY’S GOP


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^ Chris Christie : a Fiorello LaGuardia for the 21st Century ?

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Folks in today’s GOP think it’s very much alive, indeed is the wave of the future. Observers OUTSIDE the GOP think it’s very much dead, the voice of the past, grim and gone.

They’re both right. Here’s why.

A political party is its people, its rank and file and its big voices. Today’s GOP has major big voices that span almost the entire horizon of American governance :

—- There is Chris Christie, voice of the Northeast, populist, even progressive, Fiorello LaGuardia wing of the GOP, to which this writer belongs (Christie even looks and speaks like LaGuardia).

—- There’s Jeb Bush, son and brother of Presidents, voice of the expansionist, immigrant-welcoming vision of growth and opportunity — a Teddy Roosevelt without T.R.’s Anglo-Saxon bias.

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^ Jeb bush : welcoming immigrants as a boon to our economy and the rescue of Social security

—- In the Senate, there’s Rand Paul (KY), voice of “libertarian” agendas, with one foot in the camp of radical freedom / isolation, and his other in nativism and gun-brandishing kookery

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^ Rand Paul : most influential libertarian voice in decades

—- also in the Senate, there’s John McCain : internationalist, reformer — including progressive banking and campaign finance reform — top voice of our war veterans and the avatar of bi-partisan agreements, with his two most effective allies, Lindsey Graham (SC) and Bob Corker (TN).

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^ Tennessee’s Bob Corker : shrewd and willing to experiment

—- add yet another Senator, Marco Rubio (FL), who is trying to be all things to all people: a plan that rarely works but which at least acknowledges that all people are entitled to be listened to and responded to

—- and the Tea Party, anti-government to the max, and “Christian” social conservatives, strong in the South and Mississippi valley: think Rick Santorum, Mike Huckabee, Rick Perry, and a bunch of other guv’nors and legislators whose names we seldom hear up Nawth but who are wreaking Armageddon on the social progress of numerous states.

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^ Tea Party ; frustration is a dead end politics

Life, there most definitely is, on the GOP side. Unfortunately, there is also death there. The GOP rank and file includes almost no people of color, few who live alternative lifestyles, and not very many Hispanics. Walk through any important American city — state capitols especially — and you will see everybody that the GOP is not. The GOP holds sway in America’s back country, including the most outlying exurbs of big cities — people — almost all White — who see themselves losing ground, economically and culturally, to city people. This is not a misperception. They are losing ground. And the people to whom they are losing ground — the highly educated, the technology whizzes — today live, work, and shop in center cities and have remarkably remade almost all of these.

The GOP is, to a large degree, the party of America’s have-nots and excludeds. Few GOP’ers belong to the underclass or the working poor, but of those whose incomes rank just above the minimum — who work at tasks increasingly unrewarded by the technology economy — the GOP claims a majority. Curiously, the same is true of their bosses. The executives of technology companies overwhelmingly support the Democrats, but the folks who own and manage enterprises staffed by slightly above minimum-wage workers identify just as GOP as their workers do. As for minimum wage enterprises, the more minimum the wages paid to its workers, the more GOP does the management of such companies identify.

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^ Chick-a-fil CEO : fast food GOP

This is, economically, a culture of death. No one wants to live as a minimum wage employee subject to termination at any moment, without health insurance or benefits of any kind. No business that engages workers on that basis can ever rest easy that it will not be undercut by a competitor yet more ruthless. Workers in this sort of economy cannot participate in it. They can barely pay the essentials — indeed often require food stamps and other public assistance just to get by. A just-get-by family cannot buy anything discretionary ; and it is the discretionary economy that grows itself, that increases the nation’s prosperity and builds us a future.

This death would not be so dead if it embraced people of color, immigrants, and those of alternative lifestyle living and working in similar conditions. But it does not embrace them. It sees them as the cause of the death culture that has come upon them. Thus to death is added isolation, a kind of cultural solitary confinement.

The GOP needs badly to shake itself free of this culture of death; to deconstruct it entirely and rebuild entirely anew the lives of those now trapped in it. So far, however, the party’s only answer to this death trip is that of Texas’s Ted Cruz and Wisconsin’s Paul Ryan: an “opportunity fantasy.” As Congressman Jim McDermott (D-WA) just recently, in committee hearing, pointed out, this fantasy isn’t real. In it, everybody is on his own — no social safety net of any kind because that breeds laziness, say Cruz and Ryan — pursuing a kind of multi-level marketing scheme in which, if you dream hard enough, you will pyramid your dreams into acres of diamonds. This might work for a lucky, early few; for the future-less millions of us, it’s just another brick in the wall of being lied to.

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^ Ted Cruz : a male Mary Kay Ash ?

It is hard to be alive when much of you is dead. The GOP has plenty of life in it, at the leader level. Whether those leaders will have more alive followers than they have now depends on their ability to cast off the deadness. By 2016 we will know if any of them has succeeded.

—- Michael Freedberg / Here and Sphere

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^ NYC Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia ; when the GOP was the voice of big multitudinous cities