Between a fundamentalist pastor’s on-again, off-again plans to barbecue the Quran and Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf’s baffling interview on Larry King Live, it’s been an epic and instructive week in a new era of political correctness. To sum it up: Florida Pastor Terry Jones had planned to set afire scores of Qurans in a protest against Islam on the anniversary of September 11th, raising objections from nearly everyone across the political spectrum who feared that it would incite violence against Americans in the Islamic world, undercut current efforts at outreach and tarnish the principles of religious tolerance for which this country stands. He has now seemingly agreed to cancel “Burn a Quran Day” on the condition that Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf find a different location for his planned Islamic outreach center. In a completely unrelated development, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf appeared on Larry King Live earlier in the week and admitted that, had he known the public response to his plans to build an Islamic center a few blocks away from Ground Zero would be so controversial he might have sought a different location. He emphasized, however, that he simply cannot cancel the plans at this stage out of concern that it would fuel radical Islamic hatred against America and put the country in danger.

It’s certainly understandable that most Americans are either scratching their heads or shrugging their shoulders in reaction not only to the sequence of events themselves, but to the competing narratives coming from politicians, the media and private interest groups, each one seemingly divining a different moral to the complicated story, for which the common thread seems to be the antagonizing of Islam. The president and General Patraeus argued that the Quran burning would incite violence against Americans and bolster al Qaeda recruiting efforts. Sarah Palin opined that Terry Jones’ plans, while perfectly legal, were in bad taste and un-American, “much like building a mosque at Ground Zero.” While the media has tried to be above the fray, a consensus does seem to have developed among the various news outlets: due to the actions of one small town, Southern fundamentalist pastor and the Islamophobic Americans who disapprove of the Ground Zero mosque, all of the hard work by presidents Bush and Obama to assure the Muslim world that the War on Terror is not a war on Islam may come to naught.

In this blogger’s opinion, the waters have become far too muddied. I opposed Pastor Jones’ plan to burn the Quran, not out of fear of a Muslim backlash, but because as a Christian and a freedom-loving American I find the image of my fellow citizens setting books on fire out of religious hatred embarrassing and difficult to stomach. Some have argued that his demonstration is aimed only at radical Islam and is therefore no different than South Park’s satirical and provocative depictions of Mohammed or the Danish cartoons. Forgive my skepticism, but a man who writes a book entitled “Islam is of the Devil,” if he takes issue only with radical Islam, either has terrible business sense or is being disingenuous. And even if Burn a Quran Day were aimed only at Islamic extremism, I find it hard to believe he could not have found a more creative and less ill-conceived means of getting his message across. While I agree he has every right to go through with this distasteful display should he so decide, I would hope that he and his congregation would find another, more enlightened way of demonstrating.

As for the Ground Zero mosque, I haven’t come down either way. I’ve been of the opinion that, while September 11th holds significance for every American, the decision should be left up to the state and city of New York and its residents. I have no issue with a mosque so close to Ground Zero, but I would have an issue with a mosque run and bankrolled by fundamentalists sympathetic to those that launched the attacks against us at such a sensitive site. Indeed, I’ve become more and more suspicious of Imam Abdul Rauf’s real intentions the longer the circus surrounding his outreach center plans went on. His
comments that America is an “accessory” to September 11th and his outrageous claims that America has the blood of many more innocent Muslims on its hands that al Qaeda are troubling for a man who has repeatedly asserted that he wishes to honor the memory of the victims of the September 11th attacks. Moreover I could not understand why a rational man who insisted his mission was sensitivity and outreach to the non-Muslim American community would prolong such a clearly painful debate in the very community to which he wished to minister. But what really turned me off about the Imam were his pretensions that he did not anticipate such an explosive response to his outreach center plans and, even more absurd, that if he were to cancel them now it would only encourage further Islamic radicalization in the Middle East and invite violence against the US. Which brings me to my main argument and what I believe to be the real lesson drawn from all this nonsense.

A lot has been said over the last nine years about how we have waged and should wage the War on Terror. Neo-conservatives have argued that Americans must give up some civil liberties for the sake of security while we take the fight to the enemy. Liberals have by and large criticized this as allowing the enemy to alter our way of life and needlessly erode our essential freedoms. Ironically, liberals now find themselves in the position of arguing the same things as neo-conservatives but with a different tone. Rather than defending us from radical Islam’s violent response to our fight against them, liberals are concerned about defending us from radical Islam’s violent response to our way of life and essential freedoms! In many ways this is far more insidious than the simpler line taken by neo-conservatives. Attempting to silence the (distasteful) exercise of one’s free speech rights out of fear of what violent Islamic extremists might do is corrosive to liberty. Just as demanding that exercising one's freedom of religion in a deliberately provacative manner should be universally approved of on the premise that it will invite violence from Islamic extremists if it is not is corrosive to liberty.

What is less often said is this: perhaps Americans shouldn’t be held responsible for the response of radical Islamic extremists, but rather radical Islamic extremists should be held responsible for their own response. Taking it a step further, those in the mainstream Muslim community who frequently argue that they condemn such violent responses might also look at the role they have to play in combating the extremist elements in their communities, just as Christians have rightly been criticized for the acts of their fundamentalist adherents, both past and present, not only in this country but across the world. If a group of people are not held to account for not only preaching but acting on their belief that anyone who disagrees with or offends their faith should be silenced or, worse yet, be killed, then this problem will never go away but merely grow larger. Our response as free citizens cannot be to change our way of life to appease those blackmailing us with violence, and any such argument (particularly when made by liberals) is entirely inappropriate. If we learn one lesson from these insane events, it’s that we ought to frame our opposition to or support of particular American experiences in American terms rather than in terms of our fears, rational or otherwise, of those who seek the ruin of freedom as we know it.




Eugene Robinson has had it with American voters who, in his words, are “acting like a bunch of spoiled brats.” In his recent piece in the Washington Post, Mr. Robinson posits that Americans may benefit from a good old-fashioned trip the political woodshed so that we may better appreciate the fact that quick-fixes to our most serious national problems are impossible. This childish mentality, he argues, is at the heart of the political whirlwind that threatens to blow scores of Democrats from Congress and replace them with a Republican majority no better equipped to handle our current state of affairs than their liberal foes. Of course Mr. Robinson insists that his assessment is non-partisan in nature and has nothing to do with his well-known liberal predilections. While I acknowledge there is some truth to Mr. Robinson’s assessment that many Americans do regularly fall for the populist “quick fix” claptrap peddled by political snake oil salesmen, I disagree that this dynamic is largely to blame for the Democrats’ imminent, Icarus-like plummet back to earth. And, also unlike Mr. Robinson, I’m willing to disclose that my political views, correct as they are, heavily inform my argument.

To say that the most visible grass-roots campaign responsible for the Democrats’ inevitable political misfortunes, the Tea Party, is driven by a desire for quick-fixes or get-rich-quick schemes is laughable in the extreme. Their platform consists almost entirely of austerity measures that promise none of the entitlement or stimulus sweeteners that the Eugene Robinsons of the world have long championed and which, often with bipartisan support, have left the country in its current state of economic and fiscal decrepitude. At best and by their own open admission, Tea Party sympathizers like Paul Ryan hope to implement policies which, if enacted today, will get the country on track for fiscal solvency by mid-century. Hardly a quick fix, but certainly better than the prospects Americans face under continued Democratic leadership.

Mr. Robinson seems unable to confront the fundamental truth underlying the current political mood: that when it comes to promises of an “easy way out” and the populist low-road, liberals are and always have been the usual suspects, and Obama is without doubt the granddaddy of the quick-fix. Unfortunately for them and contrary to Mr. Robinson’s assertion, the American people are, at least for the time being, wising up and demanding more from their government. And who can blame them? When the Obama administration pushes through a $787 billion stimulus package that it promises will hold unemployment under 8% only to see current heights of 9.6%, the expensive quick-fix is debunked. When the White House touts a delusional “Summer of Recovery” that has seen a downturn driving some economists to openly talk about a double-dip recession, the American people rightly lose confidence in their leadership. When Obama’s campaign rhetoric promised that by sheer force of his singular personality he would make America likeable again on the world-stage was followed by continued attacks on American citizens by Islamic extremists and newly-incited animosity against us by our allies, the flim-flam operation begins to fall apart.

There is a powerful, primal emotional response driving the backlash against the Democrats, but it has little to do with a search for quick-fixes and much to do with an electorate fed up with such empty promises. Those leading the movement for change this November are distinguished by the seriousness with which they intend to address our nation’s problems, rather than the politics-as-usual approach that has created them. Americans should be commended for their firm grounding this election season, not chastised by an angry pundit unable to comprehend the overwhelming failure of his own policy preferences.



To the Editor of the New York Times Editorial Page:
In Response to "What's Our Line" by Michael Kinsley.
Michael Kinsley unnecessarily complicates the issue of detention vs. constitutional protection in the realm of anti-terror policy by arguing for the US border as a line of demarcation. Furthermore, he casually glosses over the fact that the United States is in fact at war with al Qaeda and other organized non-state actors by his suggestion that treating such non-uniformed enemy combatants (acting in clear violation of the Geneva Convention) caught on American soil as prisoners of war is a "judgment call."
I'll take the opportunity to clarify the issue for Mr. Kinsley. Foreign nationals that we are fortunate enough to detain on American soil prior to carrying out acts of terror warrant detention and interrogation, not constitutional protection. Doing so is to confer upon them a frivolous privilege, not a fundamental right. Mr. Kinsley equates Timothy McVeigh and Nidal Hasan with Umar Abdulmatallab and Khalid Shaikh Mohammed. This is not an apt comparison. McVeigh and Hasan were US citizens and, despite the acts they committed, were and are entitled to constitutional protections, including the right to an attorney, a civilian trial and the right to remain silent. Furthermore there is little evidence that McVeigh or Hasan were acting in concert with organized state or non-state actors or carrying out attacks as part of a larger conflict being waged against the United States. Is drawing such a line "absurd," as Mr. Kinsley suggests?
Clarity should be brought to the debate over civilian trials for captured enemy combatants as well. The concern is not chiefly that obviously guilty mass murderers will be let off on a technicality, although that is a remote but ugly possibility (particularly when suspects who had previously been held as enemy combatants are brought into civilian court), but that it misses a vital chance for intelligence gathering by allowing the suspects to hide behind the Fifth Amendment. When an opportunity to interrogate a terrorist who has either been detained prior to or, God forbid, after carrying out an attack on the United States presents itself, it should be taken. These individuals can provide some of the most crucial, usable intelligence available that will save lives.
As American citizens we must demand that our government maintain a coherent, consistent strategy to fulfill its constitutional obligation to protect us. Calling the means at hand to combat the existential threats to our liberty "absurd" is not useful, and suggests a lack of seriousness on the part of the one who does so.




Charles Krauthammer penned an op-ed on Saturday that brilliantly illustrates the ridiculous dichotomy of the current administration’s anti-terror policy. This insight gives one an impression of a tangled and inconsistent approach to combating violent extremism that warrants a dramatic overhaul.

Krauthammer points out that, under the current administration, foreign nationals detained on American soil for participating in acts of terrorism, be they preparatory (collecting bomb-making materials) or final (setting off a failed explosive device aboard an airliner), have been accorded Constitutional protections, among which are the right to an attorney, the right to remain silent, and the right to trial in a civilian court. This is illustrated by the gradual “decommissioning” of the Guantanamo Bay detention facility, as well as the treatment of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the would-be “Christmas Day Bomber” now in custody.

In stark contrast, the Obama administration has opted to continue in large part the policy of the Bush administration in its contingency operations overseas; that is, capturing or killing those involved in acts of terrorism, be they preparatory (training camps) or final (setting off bombs in crowded marketplaces) by use of military force. American predator drones routinely end the careers of up-and-coming jihadists in countries such as Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq and, as we now know, Yemen. Those extremists who are captured are turned over to American military or intelligence officials for exhaustive interrogation and indefinite detention, whereby they are squeezed like a proverbial lemon for every drop of usable intelligence they can provide. There are no lawyers, and there is certainly no Fifth Amendment.

So what accounts for the radically disparate treatment of extremists unfortunate enough to be operating in Pakistan and extremists lucky enough to be caught in the act on American soil? Some argue that anyone, be they American citizens or foreign nationals, is protected by our Constitution as soon as they set foot in the United States. But that is a separate debate that misses the point entirely. When talking about foreign national, violent extremists apprehended on American soil, one has to ask themselves the fundamental question of whether they believe the United States is at war with terrorism. If the answer is yes, then not only American but international legal precedent is clear: it allows for the military detention of these individuals, as they have clearly violated the terms of the Geneva Convention by targeting civilians and waging war out of uniform. If we choose to extend non-US citizens apprehended in the United States for acts of terrorism Constitutional protections, we are granting them a frivolous privilege, not a fundamental right.

The bottom line is that the administration needs to choose whether it treats terrorism as a law enforcement issue or a national security issue. It cannot, unfortunately, have it both ways. The United States must be consistent in its battle with violent extremism, not conducting military detentions overseas and civilian trials in the US. The current system is illogical and unsustainable, and it betrays President Obama’s discomfort with having to deal with the issue at all.




I recently saw a diagram (see here) on a friend’s computer and was immediately impressed by the concept. The graph, compiled by some artistically talented individuals from across the pond, is a visual representation of the archetypical “left versus right”. Off the bat the author publishing this graph reveals that he does in fact have a liberal biased, and also acknowledges that it is not a truly representative depiction of political ideology (a representative model being biaxial, see diagram pictured to the right).
I think it is an interesting narrative however, on some of the biases that underpin our individual political leanings. While impressed by the concept of this visualization, I must say I very much disagree with many of the generalizations that are made about left and right. I believe that most of these errors, as I would see them, in the diagram’s classifications stem from the biases we all have towards people of opposing ideology. The remainder is born of ignorance – and by this I do not mean any specific lack of intelligence on the author’s part, but a lack of experience that prevents the author from making a meaningful comparison.
Right now what we are really looking at is one person’s visualization of how they view their own ideology, and a contrasting visualization of how they view people of a factious ideology. I could spend hours deconstructing this diagram and rewriting it to fit my personal worldview, but in the end I fear all I will do is replace one bias visualization with another.
I would like to point out what I believe are a few of the more obvious errors in the model, and would then ask for your input as well. Perhaps by combining multiple viewpoints, we may be able to come to a consensus that creates a meaningful tool.
The diagram makes the assertion that the goal of a government on the left is personal freedom, and the goal of a government on the right is economic freedom. I take exception with this immediately, as the two are one in the same. One would argue that not allowing a person to walk around nude infringes that person’s personal freedom, while taxing someone infringes economic freedom. However, the same people will tell you that it is not an infringement on personal freedom to outlaw guns. The line is not drawn on economic or social lines; it is drawn on what each group defines as acceptable behavior.
The next most obvious flaw in this representation is the depiction of the ideal family on the left and the right. The nurturing parent on the left has a relationship with their child built on respect and trust, where as the strict parent on the right has a relationship build on respect and fear? I come from a family I am certain the author of this diagram would consider to the right, but I would most definitely classify my parents as nurturing, and our relationship based on trust more than fear. At the same time, I know many people who would define their households they were raised in as liberal, and would most definitely not consider them nurturing. This is one of the diagram’s classifications that I believe is born of ignorance and lack of experience. I don’t believe political ideology fosters one parenting style or another – rather, the values on which the family focuses are different. Parents can be both strict and nurturing. Responsibility is really where the difference lies. I would think the family on left would see nurturing a child as the responsibility of the community, not the parents. In contrast, I believe that nurturing the child in a conservative home is strictly a parental responsibility (to the extent that parents often take offense when unsolicited nurturing comes from exterior sources).
Furthermore, the diagram argues the left family teaches children to ask questions. I think this is fundamentally incorrect. Skepticism is a specifically individualistic trait, and from my experience is usually frowned upon in left ideology. If you want to break this down into a more fair representation, it should ask whom does each side teach you to question? The left encourages you to question other individuals, but is less likely to challenge authority or society. On the other hand, the right encourages trust in specific individuals, but is skeptical of trusting society and authority.

Anyway, those are a few of my more relevant thoughts. Again, I could go on for hours, and would love to pick other peoples minds as to what an accurate chart would really look like. Please let me know your thoughts.




By now everyone is well aware of the concerted effort by the White House to marginalize Fox News and other conservative voices of opposition in the media. You know this because the White House has made no secret of it; nay, they have gone out of their way to make sure you know it. In a new strategy to “defend” the White House’s agenda and message, senior aides and officials have been touring the major Sunday news shows (except for Fox News, of course) and delivering cold pricklies about the legitimacy of said cable news network. David Axelrod has characterized Fox as “not really a news station.” Said White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel in an interview on CNN with John King (a legitimate news organization):

“I suppose the way to look at it, and the way we, the President looks at it, we look at it is it's [Fox News] not a news organization so much as it has a perspective. And that's a different take. And more importantly is not to have the CNN's and the others in the world basically be led and following Fox as if that what they're trying to do is a legitimate news organization in the sense of both sides' sense of a valued opinion.”

But the most in-depth and telling statements have come from White House Communications Director Anita Dunn, who cautioned Americans to “not pretend they’re [Fox News] a news organization like CNN.” Considering the blatantly leftward slant of CNN and its founder, Ted Turner, I would recommend Anita and Rahm link up to compare notes as to whether that statement amounts to a flawed comparison. Dunn took her criticism even further by saying:

“The reality of it is that Fox News often operates almost as either the research arm or the communications arm of the Republican Party. And it is not ideological… what I think is fair to say about Fox, and the way we view it, is that it is more of a wing of the Republican Party.”

This tactic on the part of the White House is doomed to miserable failure, and I disdain it not so much out of any ideological sympathies, but rather on purely intellectual grounds. This strategy is dumb. First, the argument that Fox News is illegitimate because of a partisan slant is disingenuous, ridiculous and just plain whiny. It doesn’t stand up to even the most minute of intelligent scrutiny. Second, the White House can offer no solution to these complaints they’ve raised without sounding like they are suppressing free speech. As even some left-leaning news media outlets have begun to point out, the White House strategy smacks of the sort of hardball played by the Dark Lord of politics himself, Richard Nixon.

To say that Fox News has a partisan slant is not necessarily an earth-shattering revelation. Indeed, most rational people understand that. Just as they understand that most of the rest of the 24-hour news outlets available to them, such as MSNBC and CNN, tend to lean decidedly left. So what is the goal for the White House? To inform the public and steer them away from Fox News? Please. People know what they get when they turn it on, and they still watch in droves, more so than any other news programming out there. All that is accomplished by this blatant, bungling assault is establishing Fox News as the leading voice of opposition to the Obama administration and laying bare the White House’s pathetic inability to cope with that lonely voice of criticism. Furthermore, by Rahm Emanuel’s flimsy definition of what constitutes a “news organization,” every major media outlet save perhaps C-SPAN (sans commentary) is disqualified. The American people don’t mind having their news colored with comment and opinion. In fact, they seem to demand it. Otherwise Fox News, Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck would be penniless.

President Obama, who won election on the promise of bridging the partisan gap, stands to lose a great deal from this confrontation. Fox News isn’t going to roll over and play dead for the White House as other news organizations have. They intend to fight back, and this should concern the president’s political advisors greatly. The president may be the president, but even he can’t saturate Americans with his message 24-7, as Roger Ailes can. And Obama may be antagonizing his biggest ally by bullying Fox News in this undignified fashion: the media at large. The White House’s ham-handed attempt to exclude Fox News from having access to interview pay czar Ken Feinberg with the complicity of ABC, NBC, CBS and CNN backfired when those four news outlets refused to participate in the interviews unless Fox News was also allowed in (see
here). After the rebuke, the White House backed off and has since refrained from overt attempts to deny Fox News access. This event was instructive: President Obama, for once, cannot count on the support of his news media sympathizers to ostracize Fox. In fact, he has succeeded in broadening criticism of his tactic to those very organizations, who are speaking out against the executive branch bullying journalists.

For now it looks like the White House may be pumping the brakes on its attack strategy against Fox, which is wise politically. How they ever convinced themselves that it would work in the first place is beyond comprehension and reflects even more poorly on Rahm Emanuel and David Axelrod. They have cost their president some serious political capital with this maneuver at a time when he needs just about all he can get.




The Nobel Peace Prize has officially jumped the shark this morning as news comes out that it has been awarded to President Barack Obama. For what, I have no idea. I’ll venture to guess that even some Democrats are left scratching their heads as to what seminal accomplishment this man has yet made to recommend him for such a distinction. Part of the citation from the Nobel Committee is as follows:

“Obama has as President created a new climate in international politics. Multilateral diplomacy has regained a central position, with emphasis on the role that the United Nations and other international institutions can play. Dialogue and negotiations are preferred as instruments for resolving even the most difficult international conflicts. The vision of a world free from nuclear arms has powerfully stimulated disarmament and arms control negotiations. Thanks to Obama's initiative, the USA is now playing a more constructive role in meeting the great climatic challenges the world is confronting. Democracy and human rights are to be strengthened.”

You’ll note that the award seems to have been given despite the fact that none of the items cited have borne fruit. The fact that Obama was awarded the Peace Prize is even more shameful when viewed in light of the other contenders. Zimbabwe’s Prime Minister, Morgan Tsvangirai, whose opposition movement to President Robert Mugabe’s regime was brutally suppressed and who himself was arrested and beaten on his way to a prayer rally. His vocal and courageous opposition led to the creation of a coalition government under Mugabe, the first significant challenge to his autocratic hold on power since he assumed control in 1987. Dr. Sima Samar, another leading contender, fled Afghanistan with her son after the Communist regime arrested her husband in 1984. She began an organization to provide medical care for Afghan refugees while living in exile for almost a decade, returning to Afghanistan in 2002 to assume a cabinet post in the interim government. She eventually became Minister for Women’s Affairs, until being forced to resign following death threats from Islamic extremists for her challenges to Sharia. She has since fought tirelessly for human rights, in particular women’s rights, in Afghanistan.

And yet the award went to a president who is nine months into his first term with nothing to show for it. It is absolutely outrageous and shameful, and most of all it is insulting to the other potential laureates who suffered imprisonment, torture, and threats of death for years struggling to bring real change and basic human rights to their respective nations. It is a transparent political gesture that, I believe, will seriously backfire on President Obama as the public has the time to digest its implications. Seeing him accept such as award (just days after Saturday Night Live lampooned him for his indecision and lack of accomplishment) will be sure to elicit at least some measure of confusion not only from Americans but the world at large.
Shame on the Nobel Peace Prize Committee.



Thomas Friedman penned a column in the New York Times today (see here) that waxes nostalgic for a by-gone era of American politics, one before Al Gore gave birth to the internet and unleashed the scourge of the “blogosphere” upon us all. An era in which there were no fringe elements in American society; no lunatics, fundamentalists or dissident groups. An era in which political speech was moderated by temperance and attention to the issues and, at worst, issues of character, rather than the legitimacy of the President of the United States. Mr. Friedman harkens back to this time out of concern for the well-being of our political system and the very safety of our sitting, duly-elected president, Barack Obama.

It is my unhappy duty to report, Mr. Friedman, that your idyllic Eden of American politics never existed, and sadly never will. Politics in this nation has never been civil, though the attempt to make it so has been an expedient for politicians from both parties to score cheap points. It has been ugly, deceitful, replete with the basest of character attacks. It has destroyed lives. Since the election of 1800, when Federalist newspapers charged that Jefferson’s election to the presidency would lead to the “teaching of murder, robbery, rape, adultery and incest,” to the election of 1964 when President Johnson suggested in a none too subtle fashion that Barry Goldwater would get countless Americans killed by starting a nuclear war, American presidential politics has been a gruesome, amoral sport.

I too despise the elements of our society that cross the line from ugly sport to treason. I am ashamed of them. I would see those who voice their intent to harm our president prosecuted and imprisoned. But do not delude yourself, Mr. Friedman, for the sake of your own political sympathies, into believing that the concept of an American “we” has ever been a mainstay in our politics, barring exceptional times of great national distress. All Americans would like to see a more civil tone in politics, but the cacophony of vitriol is the price of a free republic that allows fools from all persuasions to speak freely. To propose the imposition of a remedy to it is to trample the Constitution and the system of government you would seek to protect.
We've been down that road before, if you'll recall.

As Jefferson himself said in his Inaugural Address, after suffering some of the most despicable attacks one could conceive, “If there be any among us who would wish to dissolve this Union or to change its republican form, let them stand undisturbed as monuments of the safety with which error of opinion may be tolerated where reason is left free to combat it.”




Tonight, Barack Obama is giving what some pundits are calling the most critical address of his presidency. He will go before a joint session of Congress and make a final sales pitch for his as yet elusive vision of healthcare reform. Press Secretary Robert Gibbs has promised that the speech will answer a wide array of concerns on the part of Americans, such as how the president’s proposal will ensure the security of their current insurance plans, protect Medicare coverage for seniors, and much more. With both the media and the American peoples’ expectations high, and the White House now validating those expectations, it is safe to say that if the president does not deliver tonight, not only will the public option wither on the vine, but Obama’s presidency may do the same. Clearly the president knows the stakes. He has three options, each of which carry equally dangerous consequences.

First, he can back off of the public option and instead endorse a co-op based plan, acquiescing to the political winds and positioning himself for success. This will lose him support among his liberal base and place him in direct opposition to key members of his own party in the House and Senate, who have sworn that they will not vote for healthcare reform without a public option. Democratic in-fighting will benefit Republicans, even if Obama eventually signs a co-op bill.

Second, the president can employ his famous rhetorical skill to restate his current position in a new way. That is to say, that he prefers the Congress pass a public option but will not say whether or not he will veto a bill without it. This is perhaps the safest route politically, as it keeps his options open and allows him to wait out the debate as he has been doing. Nevertheless, to do so would make him look weak and the effort would likely be transparent, demonstrating an inability to rise to the expectations his own White House has set. It would take incredible eloquence and double-speak, not to mention some media complicity, to pull such a tactic off. Of course, Obama has all three.

The third option would be for President Obama to “go big or go home,” in the parlance of our times. He could stand before Congress and the American people and declare unwavering commitment to the public option, throw his full support behind it and ask Congress to send a reform bill to him that includes it with all possible speed. This would energize his base and show strength and leadership. However, it pits him against public opinion, which has shifted seismically against a government-run option, and would force his party to use their majorities in both houses of Congress to ram the legislation through without significant bipartisan support, something they are loathe to do. Additionally, if the public option legislation should fail, Obama will be faced with a choice: signing a bill without the public option after committing to it, or vetoing it and risk sending healthcare reform into a downward spiral.

My instincts tell me, and this is just one man’s opinion, that President Obama will take the third and perhaps riskiest route. He will employ every political weapon in his considerable arsenal to arm-twist and coerce hesitant Democratic and even Republican legislators, and he will double his efforts on turning around public opinion with a new assault on public option critics. Indeed, he can do no less, as he is staking his presidency on this one issue alone. He will do whatever it takes to get Congress to pass a bill that he can claim as a political victory, because anything short of that would turn his already dwindling political capital to dust. He will suffer, I’m sure, from a negative reaction from the public should he sign such legislation into law, but I think that’s a risk he’s willing to take to stay alive politically. Make no mistake, it is a great risk: Democrats could stand to lose their majorities in one or both houses of Congress in 2010. But let’s not forget that President Obama believes strongly in the public option. It is more than a political battle, but one of ideology and doing what he believes is in the essential good of the nation, wrong as he may be.

Whether or not the president decides to “go big,” tonight’s address will be interesting to watch.




Today’s deficit figures from both the White House and the Congressional Budget Office are not pretty. In fact, they are record-setting. The administration’s report projects the 2009 deficit at $1.58 trillion. That figure jumps to a staggering $9 trillion over ten years, though projections that far out are often unreliable. This is an unequivocal financial quagmire for the Obama administration, which at this very moment is seeking to push through healthcare reform legislation that could cost an additional $1 trillion over ten years, with no sustainable source of funding yet identified.

When George W Bush left office in January of this year, he bequeathed a deficit of $1.3 trillion to his successor. The size of that deficit was largely due to the $700 billion federal bailout legislation that the Bush administration supported, without which he would likely have ended on a still mammoth but much more manageable $600 billion deficit figure.

The reaction on the part of Obama’s supporters has largely been according to formula: the record-high Obama deficit is Bush’s fault. House Budget Committee Chairman John Spratt put it this way: “Today's deficits are a legacy of the Bush Administration and of the worst recession since the 1930s, which began in December 2007 on the watch of President Bush. Most of this year's deficit is a carry-over from his administration.” With all due respect to Congressman Spratt and his Democratic colleagues, this argument is disingenuous and, quite frankly, immature.

If we are to blame the $1.3 trillion Bush deficit that Obama inherited for the $1.58 trillion figure now projected, we have to wonder what the president would have done differently to have started his administration on a more financially sound note. The fact is that, as a United States Senator, he voted in favor of the $700 billion federal bailout that made up the lion’s share of the Bush budget deficit he now decries. His ardent support of the $787 billion stimulus package earlier this year further demonstrates that he is more than willing to double down on even more wasteful, bailout-style spending on the federal level. His administration and his party also support the continuation of another big ticket budget item from the Bush era: prescription drug benefits.

While the president never misses an opportunity to point out the fiscal negligence of the Republicans during the Bush administration, he and his party have had ample opportunity to prove themselves equal to or worse than their predecessors in the realm of economic policy and crafting a responsible budget. The new deficit figures are irrefutable proof that they have outdone Republican largesse without breaking a sweat. And even in the face of a staggering $1.58 trillion deficit they show no signs of backing down on healthcare reform that, as the president fallaciously claims will be deficit neutral, you can be sure was not included in the recent figures.

The country has outgrown whatever taste it had for Bush-bashing and, amazingly, expects an administration promising change to reverse whatever fiscal backsliding it continues to accuse its predecessors of. The president and his party need to stop laying the blame at the feet of Bush and man up. We want solutions to our fiscal problems, not excuses and additional problems.