A Call for Progressive Values: Evolved, Unapologetic and Urgent

By RICHARD W. STEVENSON, New York Times, January 21, 2013

WASHINGTON — He did not utter the words, but President Obama suffused his second Inaugural Address with the spirit of a favorite phrase: the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s call to heed “the fierce urgency of now.”

This was a president unbound from much of what defined him upon taking office four years ago, a man clearly cognizant of time already running down on his opportunity to make his imprint on the country and on history.

Gone were the vision of a new kind of high-minded politics, the constraint of a future re-election campaign and the weight of unrealistic expectations. In their place was an unapologetic argument that modern liberalism was perfectly consistent with the spirit of the founders and a notice that, with no immediate crisis facing the nation, Mr. Obama intended to use the full powers of his office for progressive values.

“We must act, knowing that our work will be imperfect,” he said.

After spending much of his first term “evolving” on the question of same-sex marriage and doing too little in the eyes of many African-Americans to address poverty and civil rights, he invoked “Seneca Falls and Selma and Stonewall” and cited responsibility for the poor, sick and displaced.

He acknowledged the budget deficit but emphasized protecting Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. He mentioned jobs but highlighted global warming. He lauded the bravery and strength of the United States armed forces, but started his foreign policy remarks by asserting that “enduring security and lasting peace do not require perpetual war.”

Mr. Obama came to office four years ago all but consumed by what he inherited: two wars and an economy in free fall. He then confronted an exhausting series of crises and political problems at home and abroad: budget showdowns, a huge oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, Middle East turmoil, the rise of the Tea Party movement.

Through it all, he chose to wage additional battles of choice, most notably his successful push to overhaul the health insurance system. But not until this point, with the economy gradually mending, one war over and another winding down, with Osama bin Laden dead and the Democratic Party drawing strength from the nation’s changing demographics, has he had the opportunity to master his own presidency.

The policy details of what that effort entails will emerge over the next month through his State of the Union address and his budget, and many or most of them will encounter strong opposition from Republicans on Capitol Hill. Monday’s address to the nation and its political class was intended to set out the value system that informs the policy.

Mr. Obama has always had a dialectical quality: pragmatism versus ideology, bold versus cautious, hawk versus dove, post-racial versus man of color. Those tensions no doubt remain.

But since Election Day, he has seemed to be choosing between them more than in the past. His decision after the Newtown massacre to embark on a full-scale effort to crack down on gun violence showed him to be less shackled to political wisdom about what is possible or electorally wise. His willingness to stare down Republicans over raising the debt limit — and winning — showed that he is less likely nowadays to start a negotiation by moving to the center and trying to find common ground.

To some Republicans, it is what they warned of all along: a president who ran as a centrist proving to be an unreconstructed liberal. It was no doubt hard for some of them to accept a scolding for treating “name calling as reasoned debate” — a phrase in his Monday address — from a man who won re-election by excoriating Mitt Romney as a job-killing plutocrat.

“I think all Americans would hope that President Obama, now that he’s not facing re-election, would actually sit down and honestly work with Republicans who are very sincere in our desire to fix these problems,” said Senator Ron Johnson, Republican of Wisconsin.

But, Mr. Johnson added, that was not the sentiment he detected from Mr. Obama on Monday. “You’ve got to sit down in good faith,” he said. “But I just don’t see that with this president.”

Representative Pete Sessions, Republican of Texas, said, “I’m surprised we’ve so abruptly noticed after this election we’re now managing America’s demise, not America’s great future.”

Mr. Obama’s address nodded to ideological inclusiveness but did not repeat his view from four years ago that it was time to end the “recriminations and worn-out dogmas” that characterized Washington battles. It recognized the power of individual liberty but argued that only through collective action could the nation remain prosperous and secure.

But most of all, it sought to elevate to a more prominent place in the political debate the question of how best the nation should address the “little girl born into the bleakest poverty,” the parents of a child with a disability, the gay men and women seeking to marry, voters facing hurdles because of their race and immigrants seeking a toehold in a land of opportunity.

“We do not believe that in this country, freedom is reserved for the lucky, or happiness for the few,” Mr. Obama said.

In many ways it was an address, given on a day that commemorates King, that reflected not just the civil rights leader’s “fierce urgency of now” but the lines that immediately followed it in his “I Have a Dream” speech on the National Mall 50 years ago.

“This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism,” King said. “Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy.”

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/22/us/politics/obamas-speech-is-urgent-call-for-progressive-values.html?nl=todaysheadlines&emc=edit_th_20130122

President Obama’s second inaugural address (Transcript)

Published: January 21, Washington Post

Here’s a full transcript of President Obama’s second inaugural address, delivered on Jan. 21, 2013 .

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Thank you. Thank you. Thank you so much.

Vice President Biden, Mr. Chief Justice, members of the United States Congress, distinguished guests, and fellow citizens, each time we gather to inaugurate a president, we bear witness to the enduring strength of our Constitution. We affirm the promise of our democracy. We recall that what binds this nation together is not the colors of our skin or the tenets of our faith or the origins of our names.

OBAMA: What makes us exceptional, what makes us America is our allegiance to an idea articulated in a declaration made more than two centuries ago. We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.

(APPLAUSE)

That they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, and among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Today we continue a never ending journey to bridge the meaning of those words with the realities of our time. For history tells us that while these truths may be self-evident, they’ve never been self-executing. That while freedom is a gift from God, it must be secured by his people here on earth.

OBAMA: The patriots of 1776 did not fight to replace the tyranny of a king with the privileges of a few, or the rule of a mob. They gave to us a republic, a government of, and by, and for the people. Entrusting each generation to keep safe our founding creed. And for more than 200 years we have. Through blood drawn by lash, and blood drawn by sword, we noted that no union founded on the principles of liberty and equality could survive half slave, and half free.

OBAMA: We made ourselves anew, and vowed to move forward together.

Together we determined that a modern economy requires railroads and highways to speed travel and commerce, schools and colleges to train our workers. Together we discovered that a free market only thrives when there are rules to ensure competition and fair play. Together we resolve that a great nation must care for the vulnerable and protect its people from life’s worst hazards and misfortune.

Through it all, we have never relinquished our skepticism of central authority, nor have we succumbed to the fiction that all societies ills can be cured through government alone. Our celebration of initiative and enterprise, our insistence on hard work and personal responsibility, these are constants in our character.

For we have always understood that when times change, so must we, that fidelity to our founding principles requires new responses to new challenges, that preserving our individual freedoms ultimately requires collective action.

For the American people can no more meet the demands of today’s world by acting alone than American soldiers could have met the forces of fascism or communism with muskets and militias. No single person can train all the math and science teachers we’ll need to equip our children for the future. Or build the roads and networks and research labs that will bring new jobs and businesses to our shores.

OBAMA: Now, more than ever, we must do these things together, as one nation, and one people.

(APPLAUSE)

This generation of Americans has been tested by crises that steeled (ph) our resolve and proved our resilience. A decade of war is now ending.

(APPLAUSE)

And economic recovery has begun.

(APPLAUSE)

America’s possibilities are limitless, for we possess all the qualities that this world without boundaries demands: youth and drive, diversity and openness, of endless capacity for risk and a gift for reinvention.

My fellow Americans, we are made for this moment and we will seize it, so long as we seize it together.

(APPLAUSE)

For we, the people, understand that our country cannot succeed when a shrinking few do very well and a growing many barely make it.

(APPLAUSE)

We believe that America’s prosperity must rest upon the broad shoulders of a rising middle class. We know that America thrives when every person can find independence and pride in their work, when the wages of honest labor will liberate families from the brink of hardship.

OBAMA: We are true to our creed when a little girl born into the bleakest poverty knows that she has the same chance to succeed as anybody else because she is an American, she is free, and she is equal not just in the eyes of God but also in our own.

(APPLAUSE)

We understand that outworn (ph) programs are inadequate to the needs of our time. So we must harness new ideas and technology to remake our government, revamp our tax code, reform our schools, and empower our citizens with the skills they need to work hard or learn more, reach higher.

But while the means will change, our purpose endures. A nation that rewards the effort and determination of every single American, that is what this moment requires. That is what will give real meaning to our creed.

We, the people, still believe that every citizen deserves a basic measure of security and dignity. We must make the hard choices to reduce the cost of health care and the size of our deficit.

(APPLAUSE)

But we reject the belief that America must choose between caring for the generation that built this country and investing in the generation that will build its future.

(APPLAUSE)

For we remember the lessons of our past, when twilight years were spent in poverty and parents of a child with a disability had nowhere to turn. We do not believe that in this country freedom is reserved for the lucky or happiness for the few. We recognize that no matter how responsibly we live our lives, any one of us at any time may face a job loss or a sudden illness or a home swept away in a terrible storm. The commitments we make to each other through Medicare and Medicaid and Social Security, these things do not sap our initiative.

OBAMA: They strengthen us.

(APPLAUSE)

They do not make us a nation of takers. They free us to take the risks that make this country great.

(APPLAUSE)

We, the people, still believe that our obligations as Americans are not just to ourselves, but to all posterity. We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations.

(APPLAUSE)

Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires, and crippling drought, and more powerful storms. The path towards sustainable energy sources will be long and sometimes difficult. But American cannot resist this transition. We must lead it.

(APPLAUSE)

We cannot cede to other nations the technology that will power new jobs and new industries. We must claim its promise. That’s how we will maintain our economic vitality and our national treasure, our forests and waterways, our crop lands and snow capped peaks. That is how we will preserve our planet, commanded to our care by God. That’s what will lend meaning to the creed our fathers once declared.

OBAMA: We, the people, still believe that enduring security and lasting peace do not require perpetual war.

(APPLAUSE)

Our brave men and women in uniform tempered by the flames of battle are unmatched in skill and courage.

(APPLAUSE)

Our citizens seared by the memory of those we have lost, know too well the price that is paid for liberty. The knowledge of their sacrifice will keep us forever vigilant against those who would do us harm. But we are also heirs to those who won the peace, and not just the war. Who turn sworn enemies into the surest of friends. And we must carry those lessons into this time as well. We will defend our people, and uphold our values through strength of arms, and the rule of law.

We will show the courage to try and resolve our differences with other nations peacefully. Not because we are naive about the dangers we face, but because engagement can more durably lift suspicion and fear.

(APPLAUSE)

OBAMA: America will remain the anchor of strong alliances in every corner of the globe. And we will renew those institutions that extend our capacity to manage crisis abroad. For no one has a greater stake in a peaceful world than its most powerful nation. We will support democracy from Asia to Africa, from the Americas to the Middle East, because our interests and our conscience compel us to act on behalf of those who long for freedom. And we must be a source of hope to the poor, the sick, the marginalized, the victims of prejudice.

OBAMA: Not out of mere charity, but because peace in our time requires the constant advance of those principles that our common creed describes; tolerance and opportunity, human dignity and justice. We the people declare today that the most evident of truth that all of us are created equal — is the star that guides us still; just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls and Selma and Stonewall; just as it guided all those men and women, sung and unsung, who left footprints along this great mall, to hear a preacher say that we cannot walk alone; to hear a King proclaim that our individual freedom is inextricably bound to the freedom of every soul on Earth.

(APPLAUSE)

It is now our generation’s task to carry on what those pioneers began, for our journey is not complete until our wives, our mothers and daughters can earn a living equal to their efforts.

(APPLAUSE)

Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law, for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal, as well.

(APPLAUSE)

Our journey is not complete until no citizen is forced to wait for hours to exercise the right to vote.

(APPLAUSE)

Our journey is not complete until we find a better way to welcome the striving, hopeful immigrants who still see America as a land of opportunity, until bright young students and engineers are enlisted in our workforce rather than expelled from our country.

(APPLAUSE)

OBAMA: Our journey is not complete until all our children, from the streets of Detroit to the hills of Appalachia to the quiet lanes of Newtown, know that they are cared for and cherished and always safe from harm.

OBAMA: That is our generation’s task, to make these works, these rights, these values of life and liberty and the pursuit of happiness real for every American.

Being true to our founding documents does not require us to agree on every contour of life. It does not mean we all define liberty in exactly the same way or follow the same precise path to happiness.

Progress does not compel us to settle century’s long debates about the role of government for all time, but it does require us to act in our time.

(APPLAUSE)

For now, decisions are upon us and we cannot afford delay. We cannot mistake absolutism for principle or substitute spectacle for politics, or treat name-calling as reasoned debate.

(APPLAUSE)

We must act. We must act knowing that our work will be imperfect (ph). We must act knowing that today’s victories will be only partial, and that it will be up to those who stand here in four years and 40 years and 400 years hence to advance the timeless spirit once conferred to us in a spare Philadelphia hall.

OBAMA: My fellow Americans, the oath I have sworn before you today, like the one recited by others who serve in this Capitol, was an oath to God and country, not party or faction.

And we must faithfully execute that pledge during the duration of our service. But the words I spoke today are not so different from the oath that is taken each time a soldier signs up for duty, or an immigrant realizes her dream.

My oath is not so different from the pledge we all make to the flag that waves above and that fills our hearts with pride. They are the words of citizens, and they represent our greatest hope. You and I, as citizens, have the power to set this country’s course. You and I, as citizens, have the obligation to shape the debates of our time, not only with the votes we cast, but the voices we lift in defense of our most ancient values and enduring ideas.

(APPLAUSE)

Let us each of us now embrace with solemn duty, and awesome joy, what is our lasting birthright. With common effort and common purpose, with passion and dedication, let us answer the call of history and carry into an uncertain future that precious light of freedom.

Thank you.

God bless you.

And may He forever bless these United States of America.

END

http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/president-obamas-second-inaugural-address-transcript/2013/01/21/f148d234-63d6-11e2-85f5-a8a9228e55e7_story.html

The Obama Majority

By Harold Meyerson, Washington Post, January 22, 2013

Excerpt

There is an Obama majority in American politics…whose existence is both the consequence of profound changes to our nation’s composition and values and the cause of changes yet to come. That majority…would not exist but for Americans’ struggles to expand our foundational belief in the equality of all men. The drive to expand equality, [President Obama] said in his speech’s most historically resonant line, “is the star that guides us still, just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls and Selma and Stonewall.”

Our history, Obama argued, is one of adapting our ideals to a changing world. His speech…reclaimed U.S. history from the misrepresentations of both constitutional originalists and libertarian fantasists…the moral and practical arc of U.S. history bends toward equality..The president closed his speech by asking his supporters to join him to help “shape the debates of our time.”

..The Obama Majority — its existence and mobilization — is what enabled the president to deliver so ideological an address. No such inaugural speech has been delivered since Ronald Reagan took office in 1981, demanding the curtailment of government programs and secure in the knowledge that much of the white working class had shifted its allegiance away from the Democrats and supported his attack on the public sector and minority rights. On Monday, Obama, secure in the knowledge that the nation’s minorities had joined with other liberal constituencies to form a new governing coalition, voiced their demands to ensure equality and to preserve and expand the government’s efforts to meet the nation’s challenges

Full text

“We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change we seek,” candidate Barack Obama said in 2008. At the time, his comments came in for criticism: They were narcissistic; they were tautological; they didn’t make a whole lot of sense.

But in the aftermath of Obama’s 2012 reelection and his second inaugural address, his 2008 remarks seem less a statement of self-absorption than one of prophecy. There is an Obama majority in American politics, symbolized by Monday’s throng on the Mall, whose existence is both the consequence of profound changes to our nation’s composition and values and the cause of changes yet to come.

That majority, as the president made clear in his remarks, would not exist but for Americans’ struggles to expand our foundational belief in the equality of all men. The drive to expand equality, he said in his speech’s most historically resonant line, “is the star that guides us still, just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls and Selma and Stonewall.”

Our history, Obama argued, is one of adapting our ideals to a changing world. His speech (like recent books by Michael Lind and my Post colleague E.J. Dionne Jr.) reclaimed U.S. history from the misrepresentations of both constitutional originalists and libertarian fantasists. “Fidelity to our founding principles requires new responses to new challenges,” the president said. “Preserving our individual freedoms ultimately requires collective action. For the American people can no more meet the demands of today’s world by acting alone than American soldiers could have met the forces of fascism or communism with muskets and militias.”

Having established that the moral and practical arc of U.S. history bends toward equality, Obama vowed to push his demands for equality still further — to ending the systemic underpayment of female workers; the voter suppression that compels some Americans, usually minorities, to wait hours to cast their votes; the deportations of immigrants who would otherwise help build the economy; and the laws that forbid gay Americans to marry.

As the president acknowledged, however, social equality is rising even as the relative economic equality that once defined American life has sharply and broadly receded. “Our country cannot succeed,” he said, “when a shrinking few do very well and a growing many barely make it.” For this, Obama prescribed revamping our taxes and reforming our schools, but these are by no means sufficient to transform our nation into one that, as the president put it, “rewards the effort and determination of every single American.” The waning of the middle class is, with climate change, the most vexing item on the president’s agenda and requires far-reaching solutions beyond any he laid out. U.S. workers must regain the power they once had to bargain for their wages, but that only begins the list of economic reforms that are as difficult to achieve as they are necessary to re-create an financially vibrant nation.

The president closed his speech by asking his supporters to join him to help “shape the debates of our time.” The biggest mistake Obama made when he took office was to effectively disband the organization of the millions of Americans who had worked for his election — for fear, in part, that it might upset members of Congress whose votes he would need for his policies. He wants no such unilateral political disarmament now; his operatives hope to keep his 2012 campaign’s volunteer army in the field for the legislative battles ahead. Obama’s legions have proven that they can win elections, and this matters a great deal more, the president has learned, than whatever trace elements of goodwill he may win by deferring to Congress.

The Obama Majority — its existence and mobilization — is what enabled the president to deliver so ideological an address. No such inaugural speech has been delivered since Ronald Reagan took office in 1981, demanding the curtailment of government programs and secure in the knowledge that much of the white working class had shifted its allegiance away from the Democrats and supported his attack on the public sector and minority rights. On Monday, Obama, secure in the knowledge that the nation’s minorities had joined with other liberal constituencies to form a new governing coalition, voiced their demands to ensure equality and to preserve and expand the government’s efforts to meet the nation’s challenges. As he left the stage, he stopped and turned to marvel at the crowd, at the new American majority they represented. They were the ones he, and we, were waiting for.

Read more from Harold Meyerson’s archive or follow him on Twitter.

Read more on this from Opinions: E.J. Dionne: Obama’s unapologetic inaugural address David Ignatius: A flat, partisan and pedestrian speech Michael Gerson: Obama shoves idealism into its grave Eugene Robinson: The black president no longer Marc Thiessen: An inaugural gift from the GOP

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On inaugural eve, Obama’s most virulent foes want the celebration stopped

By Marc Fisher, Washington Post, January 14, 2013

Eldon Bell, a retired Air Force officer and physician, is making no plans to see Barack Obama’s second inauguration, in part because Bell considers the president arrogant and dishonest, but more so because Bell is not yet persuaded that the swearing-in will occur at all.

“Whether I watch depends on who’s being inaugurated,” says Bell, 78. “If it’s this guy, probably not, because I don’t pay much attention to illegitimate things.”

At this late date, Bell and his fellow believers in the notion that Obama was born overseas or is otherwise ineligible to be president still expect some court somewhere to buy into one of their theories. After more than 100 court cases, no judge has.

Even after Obama convincingly won reelection despite four years of low popularity ratings, a sluggish economy and a highly motivated opposition, advocates of various counterfactual theories about the president — he’s a foreigner, he’s a Marxist, he’s a Muslim — say they’re sticking to their fight.

“This inauguration is a mistake and those who permit it to happen will have to live with their own consciences,” says Bell, a former Washingtonian who retired to South Dakota.

Most Americans have moved on from earlier dalliances with denials of the president’s biography. National opinion polls have shown increases over the past three years in the percentage of Americans who agree that Obama was born in the United States and that he is a Christian. But a persistent minority — between a tenth and a fifth in most polls — still believe he is Muslim, foreign-born or a socialist.

Those voters tend to be vehement opponents of Obama, and on Inauguration Day, they will not be at the party — and they’re still searching for ways to have the president declared illegitimate.

“Let’s face it, this is a man very deep into an ideology that is not American,” says the Rev. Clenard Childress, a New Jersey minister and antiabortion activist who says black and white voters alike returned Obama to office “to feel better about ourselves and get the guilt of racism off us.”

Childress says it’s 50-50 that Obama is a Muslim who was born in Kenya: “But what I really care about is do we have the same values? Do you believe in the sanctity of life? Do you believe in marriage as being between man and woman? And this president does not.”

Just because the election is over doesn’t mean the confrontations of the first term will end, Childress says. In addition to the fiscal battles on Capitol Hill, the minister says, social issues will keep Obama opponents fired up, starting with next month’s antiabortion rally on the Mall and continuing with court and political battles over same-sex marriage.

“There will never be more contentiousness than in the next two years,” he says. “I told my congregation: Just strap yourselves down, it’s going to be nasty.”

Those who monitor anti-Obama movements say the inauguration will do nothing to quiet the rapids. “The rhetoric since the election has actually gotten more vicious,” says Kevin Davidson, better known as “Dr. Conspiracy,” his handle on his Web site, Obama Conspiracy Theories, which keeps tabs on those who declare Obama’s presidency illegitimate.

Davidson, a retired software developer in South Carolina, has been predicting for four years that hardcore anti-Obama agitation would dissipate, but it keeps going, driven, he believes, by anti-black sentiment. “I’ve seen more openly racist remarks since the election,” he says. “Before November, they were careful to control the racist language because they were trying to persuade people to vote against him. Now they sort of don’t care.”

Hard-core opponents say that even without another election, they will keep up their efforts to end Obama’s tenure. “We have to think about impeachment for abusing executive power,” says Cliff Kincaid, who runs America’s Survival, a collection of Web-based groups portraying the nation as threatened by socialism, the United Nations and liberal culture. “The Republicans seem not to realize that Obama is a Marxist who wages class warfare and could not qualify for a sensitive government position based on his associates and his character.”

Kincaid, based in Owings, Md., recognizes that impeachment is a long shot, so he is focusing on pushing the GOP rightward. “We can survive Obama,” he says, “but is there another Reagan-like conservative who can lead the charge? Romney refused to run as a conservative. We had a failure of conservative candidates and conservative media, not of conservative philosophy.”

Although many Americans have thought about whether the president’s approach to health care and the role of government equates to socialism — “socialist” was the most looked-up word in the Merriam-Webster online dictionary in 2012 — polling indicates more widespread support for the conclusion that Obama is what he has called himself, a pragmatist. Before his first inauguration, he said that “what is required is a new declaration of independence, not just in our nation, but in our own lives — from ideology and small thinking. . . .”

Still, Obama’s more severe critics see him as highly ideological. Francis Cianfrocca, a New York cybersecurity entrepreneur, believes the president is determined to limit freedom and wealth. “He called people like me ‘fat cats,’ ” says the successful businessman. “What are we supposed to do with that? A lot of the personalization of the opposition to him comes from his saying personal things against capitalism, business people and Republicans.”

Although Cianfrocca thought of Obama as “a thoroughgoing socialist looking for wholesale reconstruction of the economy,” the president’s reelection persuaded the businessman that “the country is with him and that gives him tremendous moral authority.”

Cianfrocca’s disagreements with the president are mainly philosophical; he believes the country will right itself and flourish again within a decade. Many birthers and other hardcore anti-Obama activists, in contrast, see the president as the final architect of the collapse of American power.

“I despair for the future of our country,” says Bell. “He’s an emperor with no clothes.”

Even if the birther movement has lost some steam since Obama released his birth certificate in 2011, Davidson sees evidence that birthers are diversifying into other anti-Obama issues, using their Web sites and radio shows to focus attention on the next phase of the health-care debate, the attack on a U.S. diplomatic post in Libya and the latest Cabinet nominations.

Although Dr. Conspiracy is obsessed with tracking the birthers — before he retired, he worked on the software that state governments use to manage vital records, and that got him interested in the debate over Obama’s birth certificate — he is not one of them. After engaging with thousands of people who believe Obama has committed identity fraud, he says, “I know two examples in the entire country of birthers who changed their views. It’s just in the nature of believers that you can’t back down.”

Conspiracy theories have been an undercurrent in American politics since the birth of the republic, but after decades in which such ideas could be hawked only through obscure newsletters and shortwave radio, the Internet and cable TV have made it far easier to connect with like-minded souls.

From inside the information silos of left and right, Obama can seem to be the subject of the most virulent hatred of any modern president. But that’s been said of the past three occupants of the White House. Hillary Clinton said during her husband’s presidency that a “vast right-wing conspiracy” was out to get him, and an energetic network of Enemies of Bill questioned his qualifications and honesty from long before his candidacy through his impeachment in 1998.

George W. Bush and Richard M. Nixon hold the modern records for highest disapproval ratings in Washington Post-ABC News polling, but such surveys don’t capture the relatively small numbers of people who turn unhappiness with a president into a dyspeptic worldview.

“There’s a certain world of people who move from one conspiracy theory to the next,” says Bill Bryan, proprietor of The Fogbow, a Web site devoted to debunking anti-Obama movements. “Obama is perfect for them. They just hate him so much, and the election won’t end that. They really believe that one day soon, he’ll be declared an illegal president and Obamacare will vanish with a poof and Sotomayor and Kagan will have to leave the Supreme Court.”

“I got sucked into their vortex,” Bryan says, “but when I run into normal people, like waiters at a restaurant, only half of them have even heard of birthers, so I take comfort in that.”

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Obama in Command: The Rolling Stone Interview

In an Oval Office interview, the president discusses the Tea Party, the war, the economy and what’s at stake this November

by: Jann S. Wenner, 9/28/2010

We arrived at the southwest gate of the white house a little after one o’clock on the afternoon of September 17th. It was a warm fall day, but the capital felt quiet and half-empty, as it does on Fridays at the end of summer, with Congress still in recess. Rolling Stone had interviewed Barack Obama twice before, both times aboard his campaign plane — first in June 2008, a few days after he won the Democratic nomination, and again that October, a month before his election. This time executive editor Eric Bates and I sat down with the president in the Oval Office, flanked by busts of Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King Jr. The conversation stretched on for nearly an hour and a quarter. The president began by complimenting my multi-colored striped socks. “If I wasn’t president,” he laughed, “I could wear socks like that.”

This article appeared in the October 14, 2010 issue of Rolling Stone. The issue is available in the online archive.

When you came into office, you felt you would be able to work with the other side. When did you realize that the Republicans had abandoned any real effort to work with you and create bipartisan policy?
Well, I’ll tell you that given the state of the economy during my transition, between my election and being sworn in, our working assumption was that everybody was going to want to pull together, because there was a sizable chance that we could have a financial meltdown and the entire country could plunge into a depression. So we had to work very rapidly to try to create a combination of measures that would stop the free-fall and cauterize the job loss.

The recovery package we shaped was put together on the theory that we shouldn’t exclude any ideas on the basis of ideological predispositions, and so a third of the Recovery Act were tax cuts. Now, they happened to be the most progressive tax cuts in history, very much geared toward middle-class families. There was not only a fairness rationale to that, but also an economic rationale — those were the folks who were most likely to spend the money and, hence, prop up demand at a time when the economy was really freezing up.

I still remember going over to the Republican caucus to meet with them and present our ideas, and to solicit ideas from them before we presented the final package. And on the way over, the caucus essentially released a statement that said, “We’re going to all vote ‘No’ as a caucus.” And this was before we’d even had the conversation. At that point, we realized that we weren’t going to get the kind of cooperation we’d anticipated. The strategy the Republicans were going to pursue was one of sitting on the sidelines, trying to gum up the works, based on the assumption that given the scope and size of the recovery, the economy probably wouldn’t be very good, even in 2010, and that they were better off being able to assign the blame to us than work with us to try to solve the problem.

The Case for Obama

How do you feel about the fact that day after day, there’s this really destructive attack on whatever you propose? Does that bother you? Has it shocked you?
I don’t think it’s a shock. I had served in the United States Senate; I had seen how the filibuster had become a routine tool to slow things down, as opposed to what it used to be, which was a selective tool — although often a very destructive one, because it was typically targeted at civil rights and the aspirations of African-Americans who were trying to be freed up from Jim Crow. But I’d been in the Senate long enough to know that the machinery there was breaking down.

What I was surprised somewhat by, and disappointed by, although I’ve got to give some grudging admiration for just how effective it’s been, was the degree to which [Senate Minority Leader] Mitch McConnell was able to keep his caucus together on a lot of issues. Eventually, we were able to wear them down, so that we were able to finally get really important laws passed, some of which haven’t gotten a lot of attention — the credit-card reform bill, or the anti-tobacco legislation, or preventing housing and mortgage fraud. We’d be able to pick off two or three Republicans who wanted to do the right thing.

But the delays, the cloture votes, the unprecedented obstruction that has taken place in the Senate took its toll. Even if you eventually got something done, it would take so long and it would be so contentious, that it sent a message to the public that “Gosh, Obama said he was going to come in and change Washington, and it’s exactly the same, it’s more contentious than ever.” Everything just seems to drag on — even what should be routine activities, like appointments, aren’t happening. So it created an atmosphere in which a public that is already very skeptical of government, but was maybe feeling hopeful right after my election, felt deflated and sort of felt, “We’re just seeing more of the same.”

Photos: Barack Obama’s Rock & Roll White House

What do you think the Republican Party stands for today?
Well, on the economic front, their only agenda seems to be tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans. If you ask their leadership what their agenda will be going into next year to bring about growth and improve the job numbers out there, what they will say is, “We just want these tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, which will cost us $700 billion and which we’re not going to pay for.”

Now what they’ll also say is, “We’re going to control spending.” But of course, when you say you’re going to borrow $700 billion to give an average $100,000-a-year tax break to people making a million dollars a year, or more, and you’re not going to pay for it; when Mitch McConnell’s overall tax package that he just announced recently was priced at about $4 trillion; when you, as a caucus, reject a bipartisan idea for a fiscal commission that originated from Judd Gregg, Republican budget chair, and Kent Conrad, Democratic budget chair, so that I had to end up putting the thing together administratively because we couldn’t get any support — you don’t get a sense that they’re actually serious on the deficit side.

What do you think of the Tea Party and the people behind it?
I think the Tea Party is an amalgam, a mixed bag of a lot of different strains in American politics that have been there for a long time. There are some strong and sincere libertarians who are in the Tea Party who generally don’t believe in government intervention in the market or socially. There are some social conservatives in the Tea Party who are rejecting me the same way they rejected Bill Clinton, the same way they would reject any Democratic president as being too liberal or too progressive. There are strains in the Tea Party that are troubled by what they saw as a series of instances in which the middle-class and working-class people have been abused or hurt by special interests and Washington, but their anger is misdirected.

And then there are probably some aspects of the Tea Party that are a little darker, that have to do with anti-immigrant sentiment or are troubled by what I represent as the president. So I think it’s hard to characterize the Tea Party as a whole, and I think it’s still defining itself.

Obama’s Sheriff

Do you think that it’s being manipulated?
There’s no doubt that the infrastructure and the financing of the Tea Party come from some very traditional, very powerful, special-interest lobbies. I don’t think this is a secret. Dick Armey and FreedomWorks, which was one of the first organizational mechanisms to bring Tea Party folks together, are financed by very conservative industries and forces that are opposed to enforcement of environmental laws, that are opposed to an energy policy that would be different than the fossil-fuel-based approach we’ve been taking, that don’t believe in regulations that protect workers from safety violations in the workplace, that want to make sure that we are not regulating the financial industries in ways that we have.

There’s no doubt that there is genuine anger, frustration and anxiety in the public at large about the worst financial crisis we’ve experienced since the Great Depression. Part of what we have to keep in mind here is this recession is worse than the Ronald Reagan recession of the Eighties, the 1990-91 recession, and the 2001 recession combined. The depths of it have been profound. This body politic took a big hit in the gut, and that always roils up our politics, and can make people angry. But because of the ability of a lot of very well-funded groups to point that anger — I think misdirect that anger — it is translating into a relevant political force in this election.

What do you think of Fox News? Do you think it’s a good institution for America and for democracy?
[Laughs] Look, as president, I swore to uphold the Constitution, and part of that Constitution is a free press. We’ve got a tradition in this country of a press that oftentimes is opinionated. The golden age of an objective press was a pretty narrow span of time in our history. Before that, you had folks like Hearst who used their newspapers very intentionally to promote their viewpoints. I think Fox is part of that tradition — it is part of the tradition that has a very clear, undeniable point of view. It’s a point of view that I disagree with. It’s a point of view that I think is ultimately destructive for the long-term growth of a country that has a vibrant middle class and is competitive in the world. But as an economic enterprise, it’s been wildly successful. And I suspect that if you ask Mr. Murdoch what his number-one concern is, it’s that Fox is very successful.

You’ve passed more progressive legislation than any president since Lyndon Johnson. Yet your base does not seem nearly as fired up as the opposition, and you don’t seem to be getting the credit for those legislative victories. There was talk that you were going to mobilize your grass-roots volunteers and use them to pressure Congress, but you decided for whatever reason not to involve the public directly and not to force a filibuster on issues like health care. What do you say to those people who have developed a sense of frustration — your base — who feel that you need to fight harder?
That’s a bunch of different questions, so let me see if I can kind of knock them out one by one.

One of the healthy things about the Democratic Party is that it is diverse and opinionated. We have big arguments within the party because we got a big tent, and that tent grew during my election and in the midterm election previously. So making everybody happy within the Democratic Party is always going to be tough.

Some of it, also, has to do with — and I joke about it — that there’s a turn of mind among Democrats and progressives where a lot of times we see the glass as half-empty. It’s like, “Well, gosh, we’ve got this historic health care legislation that we’ve been trying to get for 100 years, but it didn’t have every bell and whistle that we wanted right now, so let’s focus on what we didn’t get instead of what we got.” That self-critical element of the progressive mind is probably a healthy thing, but it can also be debilitating.

When I talk to Democrats around the country, I tell them, “Guys, wake up here. We have accomplished an incredible amount in the most adverse circumstances imaginable.” I came in and had to prevent a Great Depression, restore the financial system so that it functions, and manage two wars. In the midst of all that, I ended one of those wars, at least in terms of combat operations. We passed historic health care legislation, historic financial regulatory reform and a huge number of legislative victories that people don’t even notice. We wrestled away billions of dollars of profit that were going to the banks and middlemen through the student-loan program, and now we have tens of billions of dollars that are going directly to students to help them pay for college. We expanded national service more than we ever have before.

The Recovery Act alone represented the largest investment in research and development in our history, the largest investment in infrastructure since Dwight Eisenhower, the largest investment in education — and that was combined, by the way, with the kind of education reform that we hadn’t seen in this country in 30 years — and the largest investment in clean energy in our history.

You look at all this, and you say, “Folks, that’s what you elected me to do.” I keep in my pocket a checklist of the promises I made during the campaign, and here I am, halfway through my first term, and we’ve probably accomplished 70 percent of the things that we said we were going to do — and by the way, I’ve got two years left to finish the rest of the list, at minimum. So I think that it is very important for Democrats to take pride in what we’ve accomplished.

All that has taken place against a backdrop in which, because of the financial crisis, we’ve seen an increase in poverty, and an increase in unemployment, and people’s wages and incomes have stagnated. So it’s not surprising that a lot of folks out there don’t feel like these victories have had an impact. What is also true is our two biggest pieces of legislation, health care and financial regulatory reform, won’t take effect right away, so ordinary folks won’t see the impact of a lot of these things for another couple of years. It is very important for progressives to understand that just on the domestic side, we’ve accomplished a huge amount.

When you look at what we’ve been able to do internationally — resetting our relations with Russia and potentially having a new START treaty by the end of the year, reinvigorating the Middle East peace talks, ending the combat mission in Iraq, promoting a G-20 structure that has drained away a lot of the sense of north versus south, east versus west, so that now the whole world looks to America for leadership, and changing world opinion in terms of how we operate on issues like human rights and torture around the world — all those things have had an impact as well.

What is true, and this is part of what can frustrate folks, is that over the past 20 months, we made a series of decisions that were focused on governance, and sometimes there was a conflict between governance and politics. So there were some areas where we could have picked a fight with Republicans that might have gotten our base feeling good, but would have resulted in us not getting legislation done.

I could have had a knock-down, drag-out fight on the public option that might have energized you and The Huffington Post, and we would not have health care legislation now. I could have taken certain positions on aspects of the financial regulatory bill, where we got 90 percent of what we set out to get, and I could have held out for that last 10 percent, and we wouldn’t have a bill. You’ve got to make a set of decisions in terms of “What are we trying to do here? Are we trying to just keep everybody ginned up for the next election, or at some point do you try to win elections because you’re actually trying to govern?” I made a decision early on in my presidency that if I had an opportunity to do things that would make a difference for years to come, I’m going to go ahead and take it.

I just made the announcement about Elizabeth Warren setting up our Consumer Finance Protection Bureau out in the Rose Garden, right before you came in. Here’s an agency that has the potential to save consumers billions of dollars over the next 20 to 30 years — simple stuff like making sure that folks don’t jack up your credit cards without you knowing about it, making sure that mortgage companies don’t steer you to higher-rate mortgages because they’re getting a kickback, making sure that payday loans aren’t preying on poor people in ways that these folks don’t understand. And you know what? That’s what we say we stand for as progressives. If we can’t take pleasure and satisfaction in concretely helping middle-class families and working-class families save money, get a college education, get health care — if that’s not what we’re about, then we shouldn’t be in the business of politics. Then we’re no better than the other side, because all we’re thinking about is whether or not we’re in power.

Let me ask you about financial reform. Despite all the things like consumer protection that you did get accomplished, the regulation of Wall Street — especially the closing down of all the derivatives trading that was really at the heart of the financial meltdown — seems to have been eviscerated.
I’ve got to disagree with that. If you take a look at it, what we’ve essentially said is that the vast majority of derivatives are now going to be sold through a clearinghouse. And if you ask the experts what was the best way to make sure the derivative markets didn’t bring down the economy again, it’s transparency, so that everybody understands who the counterparties are, everybody understands what the deal is, what the risks are — it’s all aboveboard, it’s all in the light of day.

People have legitimate concerns that if the rules drafted by all these various agencies in charge of implementing financial reform wind up with exceptions that are so big you can drive a truck through them, and suddenly you can have these specially tailored derivatives that are sold outside of the clearinghouse, then you could end up with an inadequate regulatory structure.

But if the rules are written properly — and I have confidence that the people I appointed to these agencies intend to apply them properly — it’s going to make a difference. Is it going to solve every potential problem in Wall Street in a multi-trillion-dollar, worldwide, capital market? Probably not. There could end up being new schemes, new loopholes that folks are going to try to exploit. The special interests are already ginning up to try to influence the rulemaking process in all these issues, so we have to remain vigilant. But to say that we did not significantly improve oversight of the derivatives market, it just isn’t true.

There’s also a concern when it comes to financial reform that your economic team is closely identified with Wall Street and the deregulation that caused the collapse. These are the folks who were supposed to have had oversight of Wall Street, and many of them worked for or were close to banks like Goldman Sachs.
Let me first of all say this. . . .

You used to work for Goldman Sachs!
[Laughs] Exactly. I read some of the articles that Tim Dickinson and others have produced in Rolling Stone. I understand the point of view that they’re bringing. But look: Tim Geithner never worked for Goldman; Larry Summers didn’t work for Goldman. There is no doubt that I brought in a bunch of folks who understand the financial markets, the same way, by the way, that FDR brought in a lot of folks who understood the financial markets after the crash, including Joe Kennedy, because my number-one job at that point was making sure that we did not have a full-fledged financial meltdown.

The reason that was so important was not because I was concerned about making sure that the folks who had been making hundreds of millions of dollars were keeping their bonuses for the next year. The reason was because we were seeing 750,000 jobs a month being lost when I was sworn in. The consequence to Main Street, to ordinary folks, was catastrophic, and we had to make sure that we stopped the bleeding. We managed to stabilize the financial markets at a cost that is much less to taxpayers than anybody had anticipated. The truth of the matter is that TARP will end up costing probably less than $100 billion, when all is said and done. Which I promise you, two years ago, you could have asked any economist and any financial expert out there, and they would have said, “We’ll take that deal.”

One of the things that you realize when you’re in my seat is that, typically, the issues that come to my desk — there are no simple answers to them. Usually what I’m doing is operating on the basis of a bunch of probabilities: I’m looking at the best options available based on the fact that there are no easy choices. If there were easy choices, somebody else would have solved it, and it wouldn’t have come to my desk.

That’s true for financial regulatory reform, that’s true on Afghanistan, that’s true on how we deal with the terrorist threat. On all these issues, you’ve got a huge number of complex factors involved. When you’re sitting outside and watching, you think, “Well, that sounds simple,” and you can afford to operate on the basis of your ideological predispositions. What I’m trying to do — and certainly what we’ve tried to do in our economic team — is to keep a North Star out there: What are the core principles we’re abiding by? In the economic sphere, my core principle is that America works best when you’ve got a growing middle class, and you’ve got ladders so that people who aren’t yet in the middle class can aspire to the middle class, and if that broad base is rolling, then the country does well.

How do you personally feel about hedge-fund managers who are making $200 million a year and paying a 15 percent tax rate? Or the guy who made $700 million one year and compared you to Hitler for trying to raise his taxes above 15 percent — does that gall you?
I’ve gotta say that I have been surprised by some of the rhetoric in the business press, in which we are accused of being anti-business. I know a lot of these guys who started hedge funds. They are making large profits, taking home large incomes, but because of a rule called “carried interest,” they are paying lower tax rates than their secretaries, or the janitor that cleans up the building. Or folks who are out there as police officers and teachers and small-business people. So all we’ve said is that it makes sense for them to pay taxes on it like on ordinary income.

I understand why folks might disagree with that. I’ve yet to meet a broad base of people who are anxious to pay higher taxes. But the point you’re making, which is exactly right, is that what should be a pretty straightforward policy argument ends up generating the kind of rhetoric we’ve been seeing: where I’m anti-business, I’m socialist, our administration is trying to destroy capitalism. That, I think, is over-the-top.

The average American out there who is my primary concern and is making 60 grand a year and paying taxes on all that income and trying to send their kids through school, and partly as a consequence of bad decisions on Wall Street, feels that their job is insecure and has seen their 401(k) decline by 30 percent, and has seen the value of their home decline — I don’t think they’re that sympathetic to these guys, and neither am I.

Let’s talk about the war in Afghanistan. Where were you when you first heard about the comments made by Gen. Stanley McChrystal and his staff, and how did you feel as you read them for yourself?
I was in my office in the residence, in the Treaty Room. Joe Biden called me — he was the first one who heard about it. I think it was Sunday night, and I had one of the staff here send me up a copy, and I read through the article. I will say at the outset that I think Gen. McChrystal is a fine man, an outstanding soldier, and has served this country very well. I do not think that he meant those comments maliciously. I think some of those comments were from his staff, and so he was poorly served. And it pained me to have to make the decision I did. Having said that, he showed bad judgment. When I put somebody in charge of the lives of 100,000 young men and women in a very hazardous situation, they’ve got to conduct themselves at the highest standards, and he didn’t meet those standards.

But it couldn’t have just been those remarks, which were casual and forgivable. The whole article was pretty damning.
The remarks themselves, I think, showed poor judgment. The rest of the article had to do with a series of very difficult, complex choices on the ground in Afghanistan, in which, as I said before, there are no easy answers. So Gen. McChrystal, in response to a very serious and legitimate concern about civilian casualties in Afghanistan, put out orders that have significantly reduced civilian casualties. The flip side of it is that it frustrates our troops, who feel that they may not be able to go on the offense as effectively, and it may put them in danger. That’s a profound strategic, tactical debate that takes place in the military. That’s not unique to Gen. McChrystal — that’s a debate that Gen. Petraeus is having to work his way through, that’s a debate that I have to work my way through as commander in chief.

To broaden the issue for a second, you were asking about the sources of frustration in the progressive community; clearly, Afghanistan has to be near the top of the list, maybe at the top of the list. I always try to point out, number one, that this shouldn’t have come as any surprise. When I was campaigning, I was very specific. I said, “We are going to end the war in Iraq, that was a mistake,” and I have done that. What I also said was that we need to plus up what we’re doing in Afghanistan, because that was where the original terrorist threat emanated, and we need to finish the job. That’s what we’re doing.

Now, I think that a lot of progressive supporters thought that maybe it would be easier than it has proven to be to try to bring Afghanistan to a place where we can see an end in sight. The fact of the matter is, when we came in, what we learned was that the neglect of Afghanistan had been more profound than we expected. Just simple examples: The Afghan National Army, the Afghan security forces, oftentimes were recruited, given a uniform, given a rifle, and that was it — they weren’t getting trained. As a functional matter, there was no way that they were going to start taking the place of U.S. troops.

What we’ve had to do after an extensive review that I engaged in was to say to our commanders on the ground, “You guys have to have a strategy in which we are training Afghan security forces, we’re going to break the Taliban momentum, but I am going to establish a date at which we start transitioning down and we start turning these security functions over to a newly trained Afghan security force.” That is what we’re in the process of doing.

It is exacting a terrible cost. Whenever I go over to Walter Reed or Bethesda, or when I was in Afghanistan, and I meet kids who lost their legs or were otherwise badly injured, I am reminded of that cost. Nobody wants more than me to be able to bring that war to a close in a way that makes sure that region is not used as a base for terrorist attacks against the United States. But what we have to do is see this process through. Starting July of 2011, we will begin a transition process, and if the strategy we’re engaged in isn’t working, we’re going to keep on re-examining it until we make sure that we’ve got a strategy that does work.

But by every index we know of, there seems to be no part of the Afghanistan strategy that is working. The Taliban control more of the country than ever. The Karzai regime is incredibly corrupt and has lost the trust of its own people. The program to buy the loyalty of Taliban soldiers, which was used with the Awakening during the surge in Iraq, can’t find enough takers for the $250 million that was allocated to it. The McChrystal offensive in Kandahar also failed. Afghanistan has been called the “graveyard of empires.” In view of the fact that Great Britain failed there, the Soviet Union with millions of troops right on the border failed there — what makes you think we are going to succeed?
Number one, this is very hard stuff. I knew it was hard a year ago, and I suspect a year from now, I will conclude that it’s still hard, and it’s messy. Number two, when you tick off these metrics that have quote-unquote “failed” — well, they haven’t failed yet. They haven’t succeeded yet. We’ve made progress in terms of creating a line of security around Kandahar, but there’s no doubt that Kandahar is not yet a secure place any more than Mosul or Fallujah were secure in certain phases of the Iraq War.

I will also agree that Afghanistan is harder than Iraq. This is the second-poorest country in the world. You’ve got no tradition of a civil service or bureaucracy that is effective countrywide. We have been very successful in taking out the middle ranks of the Taliban. We have been very successful in recruiting and beginning to train Afghan security forces. There are elements that are working, and there are elements that are not working.

Keep in mind that the decision I have to make is always, “If we’re not doing this, then what does that mean? What are the consequences?” I don’t know anybody who has examined the region who thinks that if we completely pulled out of Afghanistan, the Karzai regime collapsed, Kabul was overrun once again by the Taliban, and Sharia law was imposed throughout the country, that we would be safer, or the Afghan people would be better off, or Pakistan would be better off, or India would be better off, or that we would see a reduction in potential terrorist attacks around the world. You can’t make that argument.

Some have argued that what we can do is have a smaller footprint in Afghanistan, focus on counterterrorism activities, but have less boots on the ground. We examined every option that’s out there. I assure you: With all the problems we’ve got here at home, and the fact that I have to sign letters to the family members of every soldier who is killed in Afghanistan, if I can find a way of reducing the costs to the American taxpayer, and more profoundly, to our young men and women in uniform, while making sure that we are not rendered much more vulnerable to a terrorist attack in the future, that’s going to be the option that I choose. But no matter what your ultimate belief is in terms of what will succeed in Afghanistan, it’s going to take us several years to work through this issue.

Ideally, what would have happened was that we didn’t go into Iraq. Right after our victory in 2001, if we had focused on rebuilding Afghanistan, and had been in much more direct day-to-day interaction with Karzai and his government, then we wouldn’t find ourselves in this circumstance.

But you know what: I have to play the cards that I’m dealt. In an ideal world, I wouldn’t have inherited a $1.3 trillion deficit and the worst recession since the Great Depression. But you work with what’s before you.

Let me ask you about the Gulf oil spill. British Petroleum fired Tony Hayward, so my question is: Why does Interior Secretary Ken Salazar still have his job? The corruption at Minerals Management Service was widely known at the time he came into office, as was reported several times in Rolling Stone and other places, and that’s what helped the Gulf disaster to happen.
When Ken Salazar came in, he said to me, “One of my top priorities is cleaning up MMS.” It was no secret. You had seen the kind of behavior in that office that was just over-the-top, and Ken did reform the agency to eliminate those core ethical lapses — the drugs, the other malfeasance that was reported there. What Ken would admit, and I would admit, and what we both have to take responsibility for, is that we did not fully change the institutional conflicts that were inherent in that office. If you ask why did we not get that done, the very simple answer is that this is a big government with a lot of people, and changing bureaucracies and agencies is a time-consuming process. We just didn’t get to it fast enough.

Having said that, the person who was put in charge of MMS was fired. We brought in Michael Bromwich, who by every account is somebody who is serious about cleaning up that agency. We are committed to making sure that that place works the way it is supposed to. But when I have somebody like Ken Salazar, who has been an outstanding public servant, who takes this stuff seriously, who bleeds when he sees what was happening in the Gulf, and had started on a path of reform but just didn’t get there as fast on every aspect of it as needed to be, I had to just let him know, “You’re accountable, you’re responsible, I expect you to change it.” I have confidence that he can change it, and I think he’s in the process of doing so.

James Hansen, the NASA scientist who is perhaps the most respected authority on global warming, says that climate change is the predominant moral issue of the 21st century, comparable to slavery faced by Lincoln and the response to Nazism faced by Churchill. Do you agree with that statement?
What I would agree with is that climate change has the potential to have devastating effects on people around the globe, and we’ve got to do something about it. In order to do something about it, we’re going to have to mobilize domestically, and we’re going to have to mobilize internationally.

During the past two years, we’ve not made as much progress as I wanted to make when I was sworn into office. It is very hard to make progress on these issues in the midst of a huge economic crisis, because the natural inclination around the world is to say, “You know what? That may be a huge problem, but right now what’s a really big problem is 10 percent unemployment,” or “What’s a really big problem is that our businesses can’t get loans.” That diverted attention from what I consider to be an urgent priority. The House of Representatives made an attempt to deal with the issue in a serious way. It wasn’t perfect, but it was serious. We could not get 60 votes for a comparable approach in the Senate.

One of my top priorities next year is to have an energy policy that begins to address all facets of our overreliance on fossil fuels. We may end up having to do it in chunks, as opposed to some sort of comprehensive omnibus legislation. But we’re going to stay on this because it is good for our economy, it’s good for our national security, and, ultimately, it’s good for our environment.

Understand, though, that even in the absence of legislation, we took steps over the past two years that have made a significant difference. I will give you one example, and this is an example where sometimes I think the progressive community just pockets whatever we do, takes it for granted, and then asks, “Well, why didn’t you get this done?”

We instituted the first increase in fuel-efficiency standards in this country in 30 years. It used to be that California would have some very rigorous rule, and then other states would have much weaker ones. Now we’ve got one rule. Not only that, it used to be that trucks weren’t covered, and there were all kinds of loopholes — that’s how SUVs were out there getting eight miles a gallon. Now everybody’s regulated — not only cars, but trucks. We did this with the agreement of the auto industry, which had never agreed to it before, we did it with the auto workers, who had never agreed to it before. We are taking the equivalent of millions of cars off the road, when it comes to the amount of greenhouse gases that are produced.

Is it enough? Absolutely not. The progress that we’re making on renewable energy, the progress that we’re making on retrofitting buildings and making sure that we are reducing electricity use — all those things, cumulatively, if we stay on it over the next several years, will allow us to meet the target that I set, which would be around a 17 percent reduction in our greenhouse gases.

But we’re going to have to do a lot more than that. When I talk to [Energy Secretary] Steven Chu, who, by the way, was an unsung hero in the Gulf oil spill — this guy went down and helped design the way to plug that hole with BP engineers — nobody’s a bigger champion for the cause of reducing climate change than he is. When I ask him how we are going to solve this problem internationally, what he’ll tell you is that we can get about a third of this done through efficiencies and existing technologies, we can get an additional chunk through some sort of pricing in carbon, but ultimately we’re going to need some technological breakthroughs. So the investments we’re making in research and development around clean energy are also going to be important if we’re going to be able to get all the way there. Am I satisfied with what we’ve gotten done? Absolutely not.

Do you see a point at which you’re going to throw the whole weight of the presidency behind this, like you did on health care or financial reform?
Yes. Not only can I foresee it, but I am committed to making sure that we get an energy policy that makes sense for the country and that helps us grow at the same time as it deals with climate change in a serious way. I am just as committed to getting immigration reform done.

I’ve been here two years, guys. And one of the things that I just try to remember is that if we have accomplished 70 percent of what we committed to in the campaign, historic legislation, and we’ve got 30 percent of it undone — well, that’s what the next two years is for, or maybe the next six.

Understandably, everybody has a great sense of urgency about these issues. But one of the things that I constantly want to counsel my friends is to keep the long view in mind. On social issues, something like “don’t ask, don’t tell.” Here, I’ve got the Secretary of Defense and the Joint Chiefs of Staff both committed to changing the policy. That’s a big deal.

You get credit for that.
Now, I am also the commander in chief of an armed forces that is in the midst of one war and wrapping up another one. So I don’t think it’s too much to ask, to say “Let’s do this in an orderly way” — to ensure, by the way, that gays and lesbians who are serving honorably in our armed forces aren’t subject to harassment and bullying and a whole bunch of other stuff once we implement the policy. I use that as an example because on each of these areas, even those where we did not get some grand legislative victory, we have made progress. We have moved in the right direction.

When people start being concerned about, “You haven’t closed Guantánamo yet,” I say, listen, that’s something I wanted to get done by now, and I haven’t gotten done because of recalcitrance from the other side. Frankly, it’s an easy issue to demagogue. But what I have been able to do is to ban torture. I have been able to make sure that our intelligence agencies and our military operate under a core set of principles and rules that are true to our traditions of due process. People will say, “I don’t know — you’ve got your Justice Department out there that’s still using the state-secrets doctrine to defend against some of these previous actions.” Well, I gave very specific instructions to the Department of Justice. What I’ve said is that we are not going to use a shroud of secrecy to excuse illegal behavior on our part. On the other hand, there are occasions where I’ve got to protect operatives in the field, their sources and their methods, because if those were revealed in open court, they could be subject to very great danger. There are going to be circumstances in which, yes, I can’t have every operation that we’re engaged in to deal with a very real terrorist threat published in Rolling Stone.

These things don’t happen overnight. But we’re moving in the right direction, and that’s what people have to keep in mind.

What has surprised you the most about these first two years in office? What advice would you give your successor about the first two years?
Over the past two years, what I probably anticipated but you don’t fully appreciate until you’re in the job, is something I said earlier, which is if a problem is easy, it doesn’t hit my desk. If there’s an obvious solution, it never arrives here — somebody else has solved it a long time ago. The issues that cross my desk are hard and complicated, and oftentimes involve the clash not of right and wrong, but of two rights. And you’re having to balance and reconcile against competing values that are equally legitimate.

What I’m very proud of is that we have, as an administration, kept our moral compass, even as we’ve worked through these very difficult issues. Doesn’t mean we haven’t made mistakes, but I think we’ve moved the country in a profoundly better direction just in the past two years.

What music have you been listening to lately? What have you discovered, what speaks to you these days?
My iPod now has about 2,000 songs, and it is a source of great pleasure to me. I am probably still more heavily weighted toward the music of my childhood than I am the new stuff. There’s still a lot of Stevie Wonder, a lot of Bob Dylan, a lot of Rolling Stones, a lot of R&B, a lot of Miles Davis and John Coltrane. Those are the old standards.

A lot of classical music. I’m not a big opera buff in terms of going to opera, but there are days where Maria Callas is exactly what I need.

Thanks to Reggie [Love, the president's personal aide], my rap palate has greatly improved. Jay-Z used to be sort of what predominated, but now I’ve got a little Nas and a little Lil Wayne and some other stuff, but I would not claim to be an expert. Malia and Sasha are now getting old enough to where they start hipping me to things. Music is still a great source of joy and occasional solace in the midst of what can be some difficult days.

[asset]

You had Bob Dylan here. How did that go?
Here’s what I love about Dylan: He was exactly as you’d expect he would be. He wouldn’t come to the rehearsal; usually, all these guys are practicing before the set in the evening. He didn’t want to take a picture with me; usually all the talent is dying to take a picture with me and Michelle before the show, but he didn’t show up to that. He came in and played “The Times They Are A-Changin’.” A beautiful rendition. The guy is so steeped in this stuff that he can just come up with some new arrangement, and the song sounds completely different. Finishes the song, steps off the stage — I’m sitting right in the front row — comes up, shakes my hand, sort of tips his head, gives me just a little grin, and then leaves. And that was it — then he left. That was our only interaction with him. And I thought: That’s how you want Bob Dylan, right? You don’t want him to be all cheesin’ and grinnin’ with you. You want him to be a little skeptical about the whole enterprise. So that was a real treat.

Having Paul McCartney here was also incredible. He’s just a very gracious guy. When he was up there singing “Michelle” to Michelle, I was thinking to myself, “Imagine when Michelle was growing up, this little girl on the South Side of Chicago, from a working-class family.” The notion that someday one of the Beatles would be singing his song to her in the White House — you couldn’t imagine something like that.

Did you cry?
Whenever I think about my wife, she can choke me up. My wife and my kids, they’ll get to me.

[Signaled by his aides, the president brings the interview to a close and leaves the Oval Office. A moment later, however, he returns to the office and says that he has one more thing to add. He speaks with intensity and passion, repeatedly stabbing the air with his finger.]

One closing remark that I want to make: It is inexcusable for any Democrat or progressive right now to stand on the sidelines in this midterm election. There may be complaints about us not having gotten certain things done, not fast enough, making certain legislative compromises. But right now, we’ve got a choice between a Republican Party that has moved to the right of George Bush and is looking to lock in the same policies that got us into these disasters in the first place, versus an administration that, with some admitted warts, has been the most successful administration in a generation in moving progressive agendas forward.

The idea that we’ve got a lack of enthusiasm in the Democratic base, that people are sitting on their hands complaining, is just irresponsible.

Everybody out there has to be thinking about what’s at stake in this election and if they want to move forward over the next two years or six years or 10 years on key issues like climate change, key issues like how we restore a sense of equity and optimism to middle-class families who have seen their incomes decline by five percent over the last decade. If we want the kind of country that respects civil rights and civil liberties, we’d better fight in this election. And right now, we are getting outspent eight to one by these 527s that the Roberts court says can spend with impunity without disclosing where their money’s coming from. In every single one of these congressional districts, you are seeing these independent organizations outspend political parties and the candidates by, as I said, factors of four to one, five to one, eight to one, 10 to one.

We have to get folks off the sidelines. People need to shake off this lethargy, people need to buck up. Bringing about change is hard — that’s what I said during the campaign. It has been hard, and we’ve got some lumps to show for it. But if people now want to take their ball and go home, that tells me folks weren’t serious in the first place.

http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/obama-in-command-br-the-rolling-stone-interview-20100928

We must change – Uptown Neighborhood News, Jan 2013

Commentary by Phyllis Stenerson, Uptown Neighborhood News, January 2013

“We must change.”

President Barack Obama clearly and emphatically stated this at the December 16 prayer vigil for vic­tims of the shoot­ing at Sandy Hook Ele­men­tary School in New­town, Connecticut.

This public declaration was prompted by the tragic, senseless killing of 26 people, including 20 first-grade school children, with an assault rifle designed for combat on a battlefield. That this lethal weapon came to be fired at astonishing speed at innocent children in a classroom says volumes about our country’s misplaced priorities and broken political system.

Examining the history of the proliferation of guns, including those with no discernible civilian purpose, and the dismal failure of gun control initiatives, can serve as a case study for how things happen, and don’t happen, in the political/governmental process.

In a word – power.

The legislative, legal and regulative systems are absurdly complex enabling convoluted thinking and barely legal tactics to prevail by those who amass the power to get what they want. In this case power is wielded primarily by the National Rifle Association that is richly funded by all facets of the firearms industry from manufacturers to retailers like Walmart.

Financial power translates into political power that can be used to help elect Members of Congress who are friendly to their agenda and, perhaps more dangerously, to aggressively work against those who resist following in lockstep. Targeting and defeating, often humiliating, a few non–compliant representatives sends a powerful message. Intimidation is one of the key strategies used by the National Rifle Association, as well as many other special interest groups.

The gun lobby cites the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution to justify and legalize its demands:

The Second Amendment:  A well regulated Militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed.

That’s all it says.

At the time this Amendment was adopted regular citizens had to be ready to defend the new nation. Rifles at the time were slow and clumsy. It is preposterous to claim the founders intended to legalize the right for any person to obtain, through purchase or theft, a weapon that can kill 26 people in a matter of minutes. This is not maintaining a well-regulated militia, it’s a breakdown in our civilization.

The tragedy in Newtown brings into sharp focus one major crisis – gun violence. The solutions to countless other critical national and international problems including climate change, childhood poverty and, closely related to this tragedy, adequate provision of mental health services are impeded by similar abuse of power in the political system. A disgusting, real aspect of our democratic system and one we must confront head-on.

At the prayer vigil in Newtown, President Obama went on talk about how our responsibility to our children must be our nation’s top priority. He said “this job of keep­ing our chil­dren safe and teach­ing them well is some­thing we can only do together, with the help of friends and neigh­bors, the help of a com­mu­nity and the help of a nation….We will be told that the causes of such violence are complex, and that is true. No single law, no set of laws can eliminate evil from the world or prevent every senseless act of violence in our society, but that can’t be an excuse for inaction. Surely we can do better than this…”

Surely, we can and must do better than this in keeping our children safe as well as housed, fed and educated. That the United States of America is ranked among third world countries on these criteria shows how we are failing at this most critical responsibility.

Again, about power.

“I’ll use what­ever power this office holds to engage my fel­low cit­i­zens, from law enforce­ment, to men­tal health pro­fes­sion­als, to par­ents and edu­ca­tors, in an effort aimed at pre­vent­ing more tragedies like this, because what choice do we have? We can’t accept events like this as routine,” said the President.

We individuals have enormous power if we take our responsibility as citizens seriously and organize to change America. The power of citizens working for the common good can overcome the power of money and special interests. Now is the time.

“The test of the morality of a society is what it does for its children.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer

More commentary from various sources related to the nexus of culture, politics, religion, spiritualty and intellect can be found at www.ProgressiveValues.org.

Phyllis Stenerson is the previous Editor of the Uptown Neighborhood News and lives in the CARAG neighborhood.

The Price of Our Freedom

by George Lakoff – Author, ‘The Political Mind,’ ‘Moral Politics’ and ‘Don’t Think of an Elephant!’ – Huffington Post. December 27, 2012

“Are we prepared to say that such violence visited on our children year after year after year is somehow the price of our freedom?” — Barack Obama, Newtown Address, December 16, 2012

That sentence, uttered by President Obama in his Newtown Address, may turn out to be a turning point in American history. The president, in one sentence, turned the beautiful faces of the 20 first-grade children murdered brutally by assault weapons into the moral measure of our nation. Conservatives have argued that guns = freedom, and that there should be no limit on such freedom. The president trumped their argument: The price of not protecting the nations’ children is too high. Permitting the mass murder of our children is not freedom.

It comes as a shock at a certain point where you realize no matter how much you love these kids, you can’t do it by yourself. That this job of keeping our children safe and teaching them well is something we can only do together, with the help of friends and neighbors, the help of a community, and the help of a nation.

And in that way we come to realize that we bear responsibility for every child, because we’re counting on everybody else to help look after ours; that we’re all parents; that they are all our children.

This is our first task, caring for our children. It’s our first job. If we don’t get that right, we don’t get anything right. That’s how, as a society, we will be judged.

Democracy, as the president has said, begins with the people taking care of one another responsibly, importantly through government as an instrument of freedom. That how we get our public schools, our roads, our sewers, our patent office, our scientific research, our energy, communication and transportation systems, our food safety, our protectors, and all the rest that we need to be free in our private lives. It is a truth: the private depends on the public. We, all together, constitute the public. Unless we take care of one another and one another’s children, we can’t get democracy — and freedom — right.

The gun lobby rests on conservative ideology: Democracy supposedly gives each of us individually the “liberty” to seek our own self-interests with no responsibility for the interests or well-being of anyone else. After and Obama’s Newtown Address, the whole idea of such “liberty” makes no sense.

The time is ripe to end the conservative grip over nearly half of America. That starts with an all-out effort to put in place responsible gun safety laws. Total registration, just like with cars. An end to automatic and semi-automatic weapons. And an end to blaming massacres on crazies. Gun massacres require guns that can massacre. Eliminate them.

The president set just the right tone. We’re in this together. We bear joint responsibility for one another and all our children. If you accept this, really accept it, you can’t keep conservative ideology, not just on guns, but on anything.
George Lakoff is Goldman Distinguished Professor of Cognitive Science and Linguistics at the University of California at Berkeley. He is co-author, with Elisabeth Wehling, of The Little Blue Book.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/george-lakoff/the-price-of-our-freedom_b_2314658.html?utm_hp_ref=daily-brief?utm_source=DailyBrief&utm_campaign=121712&utm_medium=email&utm_content=BlogEntry&utm_term=Daily%20Brief

President Obama’s speech at prayer vigil for Newtown shooting victims

By Washington Post Staff, Published: December 16

Full transcript of President Obama’s remarks at a Dec. 16 prayer vigil for victims of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.

OBAMA: Thank you.

Thank you, Governor. To all the families, first responders, to the community of Newtown, clergy, guests, scripture tells us, “Do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, inwardly, we are being renewed day by day.

“For light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all, so we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

“For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven not built by human hands.”

We gather here in memory of 20 beautiful children and six remarkable adults. They lost their lives in a school that could have been any school in a quiet town full of good and decent people that could be any town in America.

Here in Newtown, I come to offer the love and prayers of a nation. I am very mindful that mere words cannot match the depths of your sorrow, nor can they heal your wounded hearts.

I can only hope it helps for you to know that you’re not alone in your grief, that our world, too, has been torn apart, that all across this land of ours, we have wept with you. We’ve pulled our children tight.

And you must know that whatever measure of comfort we can provide, we will provide. Whatever portion of sadness that we can share with you to ease this heavy load, we will gladly bear it. Newtown, you are not alone.

As these difficult days have unfolded, you’ve also inspired us with stories of strength and resolve and sacrifice. We know that when danger arrived in the halls of Sandy Hook Elementary, the school’s staff did not flinch. They did not hesitate.

Dawn Hocksprung and Mary Sherlach, Vicki Soto, Lauren Russeau, Rachel Davino and Anne Marie Murphy, they responded as we all hope we might respond in such terrifying circumstances, with courage and with love, giving their lives to protect the children in their care.

We know that there were other teachers who barricaded themselves inside classrooms and kept steady through it all and reassured their students by saying, “Wait for the good guys, they are coming. Show me your smile.”

And we know that good guys came, the first responders who raced to the scene helping to guide those in harm’s way to safety and comfort those in need, holding at bay their own shock and their own trauma, because they had a job to do and others needed them more.

And then there were the scenes of the schoolchildren helping one another, holding each other, dutifully following instructions in the way that young children sometimes do, one child even trying to encourage a grownup by saying, “I know karate, so it’s OK; I’ll lead the way out.”

As a community, you’ve inspired us, Newtown. In the face of indescribable violence, in the face of unconscionable evil, you’ve looked out for each other. You’ve cared for one another. And you’ve loved one another. This is how Newtown will be remembered, and with time and God’s grace, that love will see you through.

But we as a nation, we are left with some hard questions. You know, someone once described the joy and anxiety of parenthood as the equivalent of having your heart outside of your body all the time, walking around.

With their very first cry, this most precious, vital part of ourselves, our child, is suddenly exposed to the world, to possible mishap or malice, and every parent knows there’s nothing we will not do to shield our children from harm. And yet we also know that with that child’s very first step and each step after that, they are separating from us, that we won’t — that we can’t always be there for them.

They will suffer sickness and setbacks and broken hearts and disappointments, and we learn that our most important job is to give them what they need to become self-reliant and capable and resilient, ready to face the world without fear. And we know we can’t do this by ourselves.

It comes as a shock at a certain point where you realize no matter how much you love these kids, you can’t do it by yourself, that this job of keeping our children safe and teaching them well is something we can only do together, with the help of friends and neighbors, the help of a community and the help of a nation.

And in that way we come to realize that we bear responsibility for every child, because we’re counting on everybody else to help look after ours, that we’re all parents, that they are all our children.

This is our first task, caring for our children. It’s our first job. If we don’t get that right, we don’t get anything right. That’s how, as a society, we will be judged.

And by that measure, can we truly say, as a nation, that we’re meeting our obligations?

Can we honestly say that we’re doing enough to keep our children, all of them, safe from harm?

Can we claim, as a nation, that we’re all together there, letting them know they are loved and teaching them to love in return?

Can we say that we’re truly doing enough to give all the children of this country the chance they deserve to live out their lives in happiness and with purpose?

I’ve been reflecting on this the last few days, and if we’re honest with ourselves, the answer’s no. We’re not doing enough. And we will have to change. Since I’ve been president, this is the fourth time we have come together to comfort a grieving community torn apart by mass shootings, fourth time we’ve hugged survivors, the fourth time we’ve consoled the families of victims.

And in between, there have been an endless series of deadly shootings across the country, almost daily reports of victims, many of them children, in small towns and in big cities all across America, victims whose — much of the time their only fault was being at the wrong place at the wrong time.

We can’t tolerate this anymore. These tragedies must end. And to end them, we must change.

We will be told that the causes of such violence are complex, and that is true. No single law, no set of laws can eliminate evil from the world or prevent every senseless act of violence in our society, but that can’t be an excuse for inaction. Surely we can do better than this.

If there’s even one step we can take to save another child or another parent or another town from the grief that’s visited Tucson and Aurora and Oak Creek and Newtown and communities from Columbine to Blacksburg before that, then surely we have an obligation to try.

In the coming weeks, I’ll use whatever power this office holds to engage my fellow citizens, from law enforcement, to mental health professionals, to parents and educators, in an effort aimed at preventing more tragedies like this, because what choice do we have? We can’t accept events like this as routine.

Are we really prepared to say that we’re powerless in the face of such carnage, that the politics are too hard?

Are we prepared to say that such violence visited on our children year after year after year is somehow the price of our freedom?

You know, all the world’s religions, so many of them represented here today, start with a simple question.

Why are we here? What gives our life meaning? What gives our acts purpose?

We know our time on this Earth is fleeting. We know that we will each have our share of pleasure and pain, that even after we chase after some earthly goal, whether it’s wealth or power or fame or just simple comfort, we will, in some fashion, fall short of what we had hoped. We know that, no matter how good our intentions, we’ll all stumble sometimes in some way.

We’ll make mistakes, we’ll experience hardships and even when we’re trying to do the right thing, we know that much of our time will be spent groping through the darkness, so often unable to discern God’s heavenly plans.

There’s only one thing we can be sure of, and that is the love that we have for our children, for our families, for each other. The warmth of a small child’s embrace, that is true.

The memories we have of them, the joy that they bring, the wonder we see through their eyes, that fierce and boundless love we feel for them, a love that takes us out of ourselves and binds us to something larger, we know that’s what matters.

We know we’re always doing right when we’re taking care of them, when we’re teaching them well, when we’re showing acts of kindness. We don’t go wrong when we do that.

That’s what we can be sure of, and that’s what you, the people of Newtown, have reminded us. That’s how you’ve inspired us. You remind us what matters. And that’s what should drive us forward in everything we do for as long as God sees fit to keep us on this Earth.

“Let the little children come to me,” Jesus said, “and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.”

Charlotte, Daniel, Olivia, Josephine, Ana, Dylan, Madeline, Catherine, Chase, Jesse, James, Grace, Emilie, Jack, Noah, Caroline, Jessica, Benjamin, Avielle, Allison, God has called them all home.

For those of us who remain, let us find the strength to carry on and make our country worthy of their memory. May God bless and keep those we’ve lost in His heavenly place. May He grace those we still have with His holy comfort, and may He bless and watch over this community and the United States of America.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/president-obamas-speech-at-prayer-vigil-for-newtown-shooting-victims-full-transcript/2012/12/16/f764bf8a-47dd-11e2-ad54-580638ede391_story.html?wpisrc=nl_headlines

Barack Obama’s victory speech – Nov 6, 2012

full text – guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 7 November 2012
Link to this video http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/video/2012/nov/07/barack-obama-victory-speech-video

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you so much. (Sustained cheers, applause.)

Tonight, more than 200 years after a former colony won the right to determine its own destiny, the task of perfecting our union moves forward. (Cheers, applause.)

It moves forward because of you. It moves forward because you reaffirmed the spirit that has triumphed over war and depression, the spirit that has lifted this country from the depths of despair to the great heights of hope, the belief that while each of us will pursue our own individual dreams, we are an American family, and we rise or fall together as one nation and as one people. (Cheers, applause.)

Tonight, in this election, you, the American people, reminded us that while our road has been hard, while our journey has been long, we have picked ourselves up, we have fought our way back, and we know in our hearts that for the United States of America, the best is yet to come.

(Cheers, applause.) I want to thank every American who participated in this election. (Cheers, applause.) Whether you voted for the very first time (cheers) or waited in line for a very long time (cheers) – by the way, we have to fix that – (cheers, applause) – whether you pounded the pavement or picked up the phone (cheers, applause), whether you held an Obama sign or a Romney sign, you made your voice heard and you made a difference. (Cheers, applause.)

I just spoke with Governor Romney and I congratulated him and Paul Ryan on a hard-fought campaign. (Cheers, applause.) We may have battled fiercely, but it’s only because we love this country deeply and we care so strongly about its future. From George to Lenore to their son Mitt, the Romney family has chosen to give back to America through public service. And that is a legacy that we honour and applaud tonight. (Cheers, applause.) In the weeks ahead, I also look forward to sitting down with Governor Romney to talk about where we can work together to move this country forward.
(Cheers, applause.)

I want to thank my friend and partner of the last four years, America’s happy warrior, the best vice-president anybody could ever hope for, Joe Biden. (Cheers, applause.)

And I wouldn’t be the man I am today without the woman who agreed to marry me 20 years ago. (Cheers, applause.) Let me say this publicly. Michelle, I have never loved you more. (Cheers, applause.) I have never been prouder to watch the rest of America fall in love with you too as our nation’s first lady. (Cheers, applause.)
Sasha and Malia – (cheers, applause) – before our very eyes, you’re growing up to become two strong, smart, beautiful young women, just like your mom. (Cheers, applause.) And I am so proud of you guys. But I will say that, for now, one dog’s probably enough. (Laughter.)

To the best campaign team and volunteers in the history of politics – (cheers, applause) – the best – the best ever – (cheers, applause) – some of you were new this time around, and some of you have been at my side since the very beginning.

(Cheers, applause.) But all of you are family. No matter what you do or where you go from here, you will carry the memory of the history we made together. (Cheers, applause.) And you will have the lifelong appreciation of a grateful president. Thank you for believing all the way – (cheers, applause) – to every hill, to every valley. (Cheers, applause.) You lifted me up the whole day, and I will always be grateful for everything that you’ve done and all the incredible work that you’ve put in. (Cheers, applause.)

I know that political campaigns can sometimes seem small, even silly. And that provides plenty of fodder for the cynics who tell us that politics is nothing more than a contest of egos or the domain of special interests. But if you ever get the chance to talk to folks who turned out at our rallies and crowded along a rope line in a high school gym or – or saw folks working late at a campaign office in some tiny county far away from home, you’ll discover something else.

You’ll hear the determination in the voice of a young field organiser who’s working his way through college and wants to make sure every child has that same opportunity. (Cheers, applause.) You’ll hear the pride in the voice of a volunteer who’s going door to door because her brother was finally hired when the local auto plant added another shift. (Cheers, applause)

You’ll hear the deep patriotism in the voice of a military spouse who’s working the phones late at night to make sure that no one who fights for this country ever has to fight for a job or a roof over their head when they come home. (Cheers, applause.)

That’s why we do this. That’s what politics can be. That’s why elections matter. It’s not small, it’s big. It’s important. Democracy in a nation of 300 million can be noisy and messy and complicated. We have our own opinions. Each of us has deeply held beliefs. And when we go through tough times, when we make big decisions as a country, it necessarily stirs passions, stirs up controversy. That won’t change after tonight. And it shouldn’t. These arguments we have are a mark of our liberty, and we can never forget that as we speak, people in distant nations are risking their lives right now just for a chance to argue about the issues that matter – (cheers, applause) – the chance to cast their ballots like we did today.

But despite all our differences, most of us share certain hopes for America’s future.

We want our kids to grow up in a country where they have access to the best schools and the best teachers – (cheers, applause) – a country that lives up to its legacy as the global leader in technology and discovery and innovation – (scattered cheers, applause) – with all of the good jobs and new businesses that follow.

We want our children to live in an America that isn’t burdened by debt, that isn’t weakened up by inequality, that isn’t threatened by the destructive power of a warming planet. (Cheers, applause.)

We want to pass on a country that’s safe and respected and admired around the world, a nation that is defended by the strongest military on Earth and the best troops this – this world has ever known – (cheers, applause) – but also a country that moves with confidence beyond this time of war to shape a peace that is built on the promise of freedom and dignity for every human being.

We believe in a generous America, in a compassionate America, in a tolerant America open to the dreams of an immigrant’s daughter who studies in our schools and pledges to our flag – (cheers, applause) – to the young boy on the south side of Chicago who sees a life beyond the nearest street corner – (cheers, applause) – to the furniture worker’s child in North Carolina who wants to become a doctor or a scientist, an engineer or an entrepreneur, a diplomat or even a president.

That’s the – (cheers, applause) – that’s the future we hope for. (Cheers, applause.) That’s the vision we share. That’s where we need to go – forward. (Cheers, applause.) That’s where we need to go. (Cheers, applause.)

Now, we will disagree, sometimes fiercely, about how to get there. As it has for more than two centuries, progress will come in fits and starts. It’s not always a straight line. It’s not always a smooth path. By itself, the recognition that we have common hopes and dreams won’t end all the gridlock, resolve all our problems or substitute for the painstaking work of building consensus and making the difficult compromises needed to move this country forward.

But that common bond is where we must begin. Our economy is recovering. A decade of war is ending. (Cheers, applause.) A long campaign is now over. (Cheers, applause.) And whether I earned your vote or not, I have listened to you. I have learned from you. And you’ve made me a better president. And with your stories and your struggles, I return to the White House more determined and more inspired than ever about the work there is to do and the future that lies ahead. (Cheers, applause.)

Tonight you voted for action, not politics as usual. (Cheers, applause.) You elected us to focus on your jobs, not ours.

And in the coming weeks and months, I am looking forward to reaching out and working with leaders of both parties to meet the challenges we can only solve together – reducing our deficit, reforming our tax code, fixing our immigration system, freeing ourselves from foreign oil. We’ve got more work to do. (Cheers, applause.)

But that doesn’t mean your work is done. The role of citizens in our democracy does not end with your vote. America’s never been about what can be done for us; it’s about what can be done by us together, through the hard and frustrating but necessary work of self-government. (Cheers, applause.) That’s the principle we were founded on.

This country has more wealth than any nation, but that’s not what makes us rich. We have the most powerful military in history, but that’s not what makes us strong. Our university, our culture are all the envy of the world, but that’s not what keeps the world coming to our shores. What makes America exceptional are the bonds that hold together the most diverse nation on Earth, the belief that our destiny is shared – (cheers, applause) – that this country only works when we accept certain obligations to one another and to future generations, so that the freedom which so many Americans have fought for and died for come with responsibilities as well as rights, and among those are love and charity and duty and patriotism.
That’s what makes America great. (Cheers, applause.)

I am hopeful tonight because I have seen this spirit at work in America. I’ve seen it in the family business whose owners would rather cut their own pay than lay off their neighbours and in the workers who would rather cut back their hours than see a friend lose a job. I’ve seen it in the soldiers who re-enlist after losing a limb and in those Seals who charged up the stairs into darkness and danger because they knew there was a buddy behind them watching their back. (Cheers, applause.) I’ve seen it on the shores of New Jersey and New York, where leaders from every party and level of government have swept aside their differences to help a community rebuild from the wreckage of a terrible storm. (Cheers, applause.)

And I saw it just the other day in Mentor, Ohio, where a father told the story of his eight-year-old daughter whose long battle with leukaemia nearly cost their family everything had it not been for healthcare reform passing just a few months before the insurance company was about to stop paying for her care. (Cheers, applause.) I had an opportunity to not just talk to the father but meet this incredible daughter of his. And when he spoke to the crowd, listening to that father’s story, every parent in that room had tears in their eyes because we knew that little girl could be our own.

And I know that every American wants her future to be just as bright. That’s who we are. That’s the country I’m so proud to lead as your president. (Cheers, applause.)

And tonight, despite all the hardship we’ve been through, despite all the frustrations of Washington, I’ve never been more hopeful about our future. (Cheers, applause.) I have never been more hopeful about America. And I ask you to sustain that hope.

I’m not talking about blind optimism, the kind of hope that just ignores the enormity of the tasks ahead or the road blocks that stand in our path. I’m not talking about the wishful idealism that allows us to just sit on the sidelines or shirk from a fight. I have always believed that hope is that stubborn thing inside us that insists, despite all the evidence to the contrary, that something better awaits us so long as we have the courage to keep reaching, to keep working, to keep fighting. (Cheers, applause.)

America, I believe we can build on the progress we’ve made and continue to fight for new jobs and new opportunities and new security for the middle class. I believe we can keep the promise of our founding, the idea that if you’re willing to work hard, it doesn’t matter who you are or where you come from or what you look like or where you love. It doesn’t matter whether you’re black or white or Hispanic or Asian or Native American or young or old or rich or poor, abled, disabled, gay or straight. (Cheers, applause.) You can make it here in America if you’re willing to try.

I believe we can seize this future together because we are not as divided as our politics suggests. We’re not as cynical as the pundits believe. We are greater than the sum of our individual ambitions and we remain more than a collection of red states and blue states. We are, and forever will be, the United States of America. (Cheers, applause.)

And together, with your help and God’s grace, we will continue our journey forward and remind the world just why it is that we live in the greatest nation on earth. (Cheers, applause.) Thank you, America. (Cheers, applause.) God bless you. God bless these United States. (Cheers, applause.)

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/nov/07/barack-obama-speech-full-text

The Case for Obama: Why He Is a Great President. Yes, Great

By Jonathan Chait, New York Magazine, 10/31/12

I decided to support Barack Obama pretty early in the Democratic primary, around spring of 2007. But unlike so many of his supporters, I never experienced a kind of emotional response to his candidacy. I never felt his election would change everything about American politics or government, that it would lead us out of the darkness. Nothing Obama did or said ever made me well up with tears.

Possibly for that same reason, I have never felt even a bit of the crushing sense of disappointment that at various times has enveloped so many Obama voters. I supported Obama because I judged him to have a keen analytical mind, grasping both the possibilities and the limits of activist government, and possessed of excellent communicative talents. I thought he would nudge government policy in an incrementally better direction. I consider his presidency an overwhelming success.

I can understand why somebody who never shared Obama’s goals would vote against his reelection. If you think the tax code already punishes the rich too heavily, that it’s not government’s role to subsidize health insurance for those who can’t obtain it, that the military shouldn’t have to let gays serve openly, and so on, then Obama’s presidency has been a disaster, but you probably didn’t vote for him last time. For anybody who voted for Obama in 2008 and had even the vaguest sense of his platform, the notion that he has fallen short of some plausible performance threshold seems to me unfathomable.

Obama’s résumé of accomplishments is broad and deep, running the gamut from economic to social to foreign policy. The general thrust of his reforms, especially in economic policy, has been a combination of politically radical and ideologically moderate. The combination has confused liberals into thinking of Obamaism as a series of sad half-measures, and conservatives to deem it socialism, but the truth is neither. Obama’s agenda has generally hewed to the consensus of mainstream economists and policy experts. What makes the agenda radical is that, historically, vast realms of policy had been shaped by special interests for their own benefit. Plans to rationalize those things, to write laws that make sense, molder on think-tank shelves for years, even generations. They are often boring. But then Obama, in a frenetic burst of activity, made many of them happen all at once.

Bipartisan panels of economists had long urged Medicare to reform its payment methods to curb perverse incentives by hospitals and doctors to run up costs as high as possible; Obama overcame fierce resistance in Congress in order to craft, as part of Obamacare, a revolution in paying for quality rather than quantity. He eliminated billions of dollars in useless subsidies to banks funneling (at no risk) government loans to college students. By dangling federal public-education grants, Obama unleashed a wave of public-school reform, over the objections of the most recalcitrant elements of the teachers union movement. And he forced Wall Street to accept financial regulations that, while weaker than ideal, were far tougher than anybody considered possible to get through Congress.

It is noteworthy that four of the best decisions that Obama made during his presidency ran against the advice of much of his own administration. Numerous Democrats in Congress and the White House urged him to throw in the towel on health-care reform, but he was one of very few voices in his administration determined to see it through. Many of his own advisers, both economists steeped in free-market models and advisers anxious about a bailout-weary public, argued against his decision to extend credit to, and restructure, the auto industry. On Libya, Obama’s staff presented him with options either to posture ineffectually or do nothing; he alone forced them to draw up an option that would prevent a massacre. And Obama overruled some cautious advisers and decided to kill Osama bin Laden.

The latter three decisions are all highly popular now, but all of them carried the risk of inflicting a mortal political wound, like Bill Clinton’s health-care failure and Jimmy Carter’s attempted raid into Iran. (George W. Bush, presented with a similar option, did not strike bin Laden.) In making these calls, Obama displayed judgment and nerve.

A year ago, I wrote about the pervasive disillusionment felt by Obama’s supporters. It is a sentiment that has shadowed every Democratic president since Franklin Roosevelt, and evenRoosevelt provoked long bouts of agony and disillusionment among his supporters. All were seen by many Democrats at the time as failures, weaklings, or unprincipled deal-makers. It’s true that all of them, including Obama, have made terrible errors. What this tells us, though, is that we need some realistic baseline against which to measure them.

Obama can boast a record of accomplishment that bests any president since Roosevelt, and has fewer demerits on his record than any of them, including Roosevelt. The only president that comes close in gross positive accomplishment is Lyndon Johnson, whose successes were overwhelmed by his failures to such a degree that he abandoned his reelection campaign. The immediacy of the political moment can — and usually does — blind us. (In the aftermath of September 11, 2001, the wide and even bipartisan sentiment prevailed that George W. Bush was exactly the right sort of person we would want to have as president at that moment.)

The sense among Obama’s wavering supporters that he has failed rests upon a two-part indictment. The first and most potent is that he has presided over a weak economy. This line of attack on Obama became inevitable starting on approximately September 14, 2008, when the U.S.financial system imploded. The economists Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff have established that financial crises wreak vastly deeper harm than regular recessions. Financial crises freak out consumers, and they freak out political elites in a way that creates a panicked stampede toward exactly the wrong sorts of policies (like reducing short-term deficits) that in turn makes the crisis even worse.

This panic has impeded Obama’s recovery measures. But the fact remains that, by the standards of a financial crisis, the United Statessuffered through a relatively shallow trough and has enjoyed a fairly rapid recovery. (Here is a chart laying out the comparison between theUnited States and other comparably afflicted economies.) Obama managed to stabilize the financial system and, through the stimulus, avert a total collapse in consumer demand.

But while Americahas suffered less since 2008 than other victims of a financial crisis, it has suffered. Obama’s notable success in containing the damage has not redounded to his benefit for another, even more historically durable reason: Voters tend to blame or credit incumbent politicians for the state of their lives utterly regardless of responsibility. This is not even limited to things like the economy, where politicians can affect the outcome. Voters reward or punish incumbents based on the weather or the success of local sports teams. Mitt Romney’s campaign theme attempting to assign all blame to Obama for the state of the economy is a clever manipulation of this long-standing form of irrationality. In 2004, Romney dismissed any attempt to blame George W. Bush for the decline of jobs under his watch as “poppycock.” In his most condescending tone, Romney explained that of course outside forces were to blame — those outside forces being the vastly milder 2001 recession — and that attempting to hold Bush responsible for the economic record of his term was sheer stupidity. Now Romney has made that very theme the central basis of his presidential campaign.

The second indictment of Obama is that he failed to redeem the broader vision of trans-partisan governance he campaigned on. The reason this happened is that the Republicans’ leadership in Congress grasped early on that its path to returning to power required Obama to fail, and that they could help bring this about by denying his initiatives any support. In a meeting before Obama’s inauguration reported by Time’s Michael Grunwald, the House Republican leadership instructed their members on exactly this strategy. GOP Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has followed the same strategy. GOP House members and senators have admitted, some of them publicly, that their leadership prevailed upon them not to negotiate with Obama.

Partisan strife between Congress and the president has gone on for decades. In the past, members of Congress often opposed the president’s agenda, but they also believed that the voters would punish them if they failed to show accomplishments, and so they carefully balanced their substantive opposition with a sense of political self-preservation. What makes the Republican opposition different is that it rests upon a novel, and probably true, insight. Most Americans pay little attention to the details of policy. They rely upon a broad heuristic — if something has touched off an ugly and protracted battle, it is probably bad, but if both sides agree on it, it is probably good. Even many Sunday political talk-show chatterers and other blowhards use the same basic thought process. And so, as McConnell actually said out loud, “if the proponents of the bill were able to say it was bipartisan, it tended to convey to the public that this is O.K., they must have figured it out.” McConnell, in keeping with his Bond-villain habit of boasting openly about his nefarious intentions, actually announced in a prepared speech that his top political priority was to make Obama a one-term president.

The Republican strategy is perfectly clear and not even very well hidden. Yet many of us don’t accept it as a reality because it does not feel true. We instinctively hold the president, not Congress, responsible, another finding political scientists have measured. The hunger to attribute all outcomes to the president is so deep that the political elite take it on faith. Bob Woodward, who is justly famed as a reporter but whose opinions are interesting only as a barometer of Washington establishmentarianism, blamed Obama because Republicans turned down an extraordinarily favorable budget deal. “Presidents work their will — or should work their will,” Woodward declared, “on the important matters of national business.”

How can a president “work his will” in such a way as to force autonomous members of the opposite party controlling a co-equal branch of government to sacrifice their own calculated self-interest? It is a form of magical thinking, but a pervasive one. Which is exactly why the Republican strategy — making Obama’s promise to transcend partisanship fail by withholding cooperation — has worked.

Whether this strategy succeeds in its ultimate goal — returning the GOP to power in 2013 — depends on the election. In an unusual way, the success of Obama’s first term hangs in large part on his reelection bid, as a President Romney would probably kill his grandest achievement of providing health insurance to those Americans too sick or poor to acquire it in the marketplace. So any evaluation of Obama’s term before the election must be provisional.

What can be said without equivocation is that Obama has proven himself morally, intellectually, temperamentally, and strategically. In my lifetime, or my parents’, he is easily the best president. On his own terms, and not merely as a contrast to an unacceptable alternative, he overwhelmingly deserves reelection.

http://nymag.com/daily/intel/2012/10/barack-obama-is-a-great-president-yes-great.html