All of us should reflect on why exactly are we doing this? Why are we doing this?
—President Obama on Guantanamo Bay
All of us should reflect on why exactly are we doing this? Why are we doing this?
—President Obama on Guantanamo Bay
Mitt Romney returned from a three-week spring break in 1965 to resume his studies as a high school senior at the prestigious Cranbrook School. Back on the handsome campus, studded with Tudor brick buildings and manicured fields, he spotted something he thought did not belong at a school where the boys wore ties and carried briefcases. John Lauber, a soft-spoken new student one year behind Romney, was perpetually teased for his nonconformity and presumed homosexuality. Now he was walking around the all-boys school with bleached-blond hair that draped over one eye, and Romney wasn’t having it.
“He can’t look like that. That’s wrong. Just look at him!” an incensed Romney told Matthew Friedemann, his close friend in the Stevens Hall dorm, according to Friedemann’s recollection. Mitt, the teenaged son of Michigan Gov. George Romney, kept complaining about Lauber’s look, Friedemann recalled. A few days later, Friedemann entered Stevens Hall off the school’s collegiate quad to find Romney marching out of his own room ahead of a prep school posse shouting about their plan to cut Lauber’s hair. Friedemann followed them to a nearby room where they came upon Lauber, tackled him and pinned him to the ground. As Lauber, his eyes filling with tears, screamed for help, Romney repeatedly clipped his hair with a pair of scissors.
I don’t know whether this is true, but the incident was corroborated by five other students. We’ve all encountered people like the Romney in this story, and we’ve all hoped they wouldn’t grow up to be President.
We shouldn’t read too deeply into a string of incidents fifty-years ago.
With that out of the way, the whole article about Romney’s high school days mirrors the way I feel about Romney more generally. I knew guys like Romney. It’s not just that I don’t want them to be President. It’s that I want to see everything they stand for repudiated. I wanted McCain to lose the general election. I’d like to see Romney crushed.
The Obama Campaign’s page about The Life of Julia has certainly made a splash in conservative circles. I doubt I would have noticed it if it weren’t for conservatives trying to mock it and news reports covering conservatives clumsily mocking it. (“Let’s call everybody who’s received federally subsidized small business loan a lazy ward of the nanny state. That’s not going to alienate anybody, is it?”)
But those guys are small players. You expect blunders like drawing attention to effective advertisements from the little-leaguers. The Mitt Romney comes out and says something like this:
I think to have to defend your record by coming up with a cartoon character as opposed to real people suggests that he doesn’t want to talk about his record at all.
Oh Mitt. That was dumb. Now the Obama campaign gets to talk about real people’s stories.1 That’s not going to go well for you at all.
Take a look at The Life of Julia. Have you personally benefited from any of the policies or programs contained within? Or, for those of you who didn’t have those policies in place when we were younger, how could you have been helped?
Hey Obama campaign. Do this one the smart way. Collect real people’s stories. Sync it up with the Life of Julia so that each stage has, say, a few hundred people who benefited from the policy, expect to benefit from the policy, or would have benefited had the policy been in place when they were younger. Consider syncing with Facebook. This one seems like such an obvious step after Romney’s comments that you’re probably already doing it. If you’re not, I’m available for hire as a Social Media Consultant. (I can even have business cards printed so it looks like I have credentials.) ↩
“Julia” is a fictional character created by Barack Obama’s campaign to advertise the litany of government benefits they promise if you just vote for him. This is the exploitation of naive people’s self interest at their finest.
I find this line of attack perplexing. Of course I’m going to vote for the guy who I think will do the best job creating the country I want to live in. Why else would you vote for anybody? Because you’re an edgy rebel and want to vote for the suckier candidate? I think the government should provide certain services. I like sidewalks. I like clean water. I like health codes. I like a functioning court system. I’m happy that somebody is inspecting elevators. And fire departments are brilliant.
“But it’s not free!” HuskerRed might reply. Of course it isn’t free. I pay for it. I’m happy to pay for it. If I need to pay more for the things we need as a society, I’m happy for that.
If you want things that you haven’t earned given to you, vote for Barack Obama. Never mind centuries of a community ethic of hard work and self-reliance. It’s someone else’s money, and you want it now!
I don’t want your money. But a properly functioning society provides some public servants—and we all need to chip in, as appropriate, to pay for them. One of our other great community ethics is that we actually believe in community ethics. We believe that maybe if we get together to do something important, we can accomplish awesome things. We believe that when you’ve done well, you can help the guy behind you. Or at least help up the person you knocked over on the path to success. Everybody contributes. That feels a lot more reasonable than the alternative.
“I have a disproportionate share of the wealth and I want to cut of life-saving services to other people so I can have an even more disproportionate share of the wealth.” I don’t have a lot of patience for that sort of selfish entitlement.
That job’s taken. I voted for a guy who I thought would govern the country competently, who generally shared my vision of what the country should look like, and who would accomplish as much as could reasonably be expected to move that country toward that vision. We elect Presidents—not Emperor Gods. A few people wanted Barack Obama to assume the mantle of Hopefully Benevolent, Vaguely-Omnipotent Ruler of the American Empire may really be struggling with the idea of limited government. Others would prefer that Obama had railed against the Republicans and more moderate Democrats as a symbolic but probably pointless sacrifice. I think the President’s job description includes a lot more boring governance and a lot less sacrificial lamb.
Then there are the guys like PolitiSane writes who likely weren’t impressed with Obama and seem to hope that Obama’s generally moderate competence will turn supporters against him. Perhaps they attributed Obama’s support solely to the funny-tasting Kool Aid and assume that the remaining unappologetic supporters are just the close-minded, die-hard high priests? As it turns out, a lot of us just wanted to elect the best guy. Yes, we got pretty excited this time around. But most of us didn’t come completely unhinged.
I think Obama has done pretty well as a President over his first term, despite a deck stacked against him. I think the economic recovery will help a lot with the second term. And with Obama on the ballot in 2012, we’re likely to see a much friendlier Congress in the first half of the second term than we’ve had the last two years. This is a recipe for a far more productive second term. We’re still not talking unicorns and free puppies. But the wheel of progress spins slowly—and at least it’s going in the right direction.
Uberconservative calls the following quote “the biggest lie of 2008”:
This is part of the whole theory of George Bush that he can make laws as he is going along. I disagree with that. I taught the Constitution. for 10 years. I believe in the Constitution and I will obey the Constitution of the United States. We are not going to use signing statements as a way of doing and end run around Congress.
He attributes the quote to somebody named “Barrack Obama.” I’ll assume he meant Barack Obama (who has only been President of the United States for three years at this point, so maybe it’s time to learn how to spell his name?)
There are two issues here. First, was Obama wrong to include his signing statement on the National Defense Authorization Act. Second, was Obama hypocritical to criticize Bush in the way he did.
The first issue is not terribly difficult. Congress writes and passes laws. The President has the option to sign the law or veto the law. If he signs the bill, the bill becomes law. If he vetoes the law, Congress can override the veto.
The President has no Constitutional power to change the law by appending some statement after his signature. With that said, there is no Constitutional problem with the President writing whatever he wants to write after the law. Take this example of a Bush signing statement appended to the Authorization of Use of Military Force on September 18, 2001. It says, essentially, “I think this bill is really important. Good job Congress.” That’s not a problem.1 Nor are signing statements (like this one from Bush or this one from Obama that say, “Congress, I’m kind of mad at you.” If the President wanted to draw a smiley face after his signature, add a grocery list, or maybe scribble a few couplets, we wouldn’t have a Constitutional issue. (Though somebody would need to have a word with the President who is using important documents as scrap paper.)
The problems arise when signing statements purport to change the law or indicate that the President plans to ignore portions of this law. Take this one, for example. Here Bush directs the Director of Central Intelligence to ignore a portion of the law. Or these two. Here is a Bush statement that radically reinterprets a law to suit the executive branch’s ends. [Here is a statement] that claims that a provision preventing a ship from being decommissioned violates the President’s authority to conduct foreign affairs.
So now we get to Obama’s recent signing statement on the 2011 National Defense Authorization Act. Much of it isn’t a problem. It says a few things. 1) Parts of this law are terrible. 2) I’m glad some changes were made. 3) Here’s how I will exercise the flexiblity provided by the law. 4) I may have to seek some changes in the law.
However, the statement does some of the stuff the problematic Bush signing statements did. Specifically, “Should any application of these [specific] provisions conflict with my constitutional authorities, I will treat the provisions as non-binding.”
Is this a problem? Yes and no. The President is sworn to uphold the Constitution—and there is no problem with ignoring a law that is genuinely unconstitutional. While I would prefer that the President simply refused to sign laws with that problem, on a practical level he’s got to sign something eventually. Whether there is an overreach or not depends in large part on how solid the Presidents’ interpretation of the Constitution is.
That’s where Bush got things wrong. The Constitution is pretty explicit that the executive branch is in charge of negotiating treaties. Obama has taken a pretty reasonable position on that. Bush, on the other hand, adopted a theory of the unitary executive—which is much shakier and is a much larger power grab.
I’ll give Uberconservative some credit. Obama is doing something awfully similar to what he criticized Bush for. He hasn’t made it a regular practice in the way Bush has, he has been much more limited, and he has based his statements on a far more conservative interpretation of the Constitution. But ultimately, it has hindered Congressional intent. However, to Obama’s credit, he is limiting use of the problematic sort of signing statements to cases where they are genuinely called for.
The second issue is whether Obama’s (limited) use of signing statements is horrible and hypocritical. Maybe. Maybe it’s a change in position. Don’t put too much stock in charges of hypocrisy, whether they’re leveled from the right or the left. If issuing a signing statement is categorically bad, it seems like it’s the signing statement we should be upset about, regardless of who is using it. Similarly, if when an anti-gay crusader turns out to be gay, accusing him of hypocrisy (accurate though that maybe) avoids the actual issue. Was the problem that he was gay or that he was anti-gay? Charges of hypocrisy are convenient—because they allow us to judge others by their principles without having to have any principles of our own. I would much rather we just stuck with our own principles and applied them consistently.
There actually is a controversial section at the end of the statement that says, “I still don’t think the War Powers Resolution is constitutional.” Because this doesn’t affect the act being signed, I don’t think it is a real issue. ↩
…if only President Obama had demonstrated sufficient leadership?
This whole Solyndra thing looks bad. It’s embarrassing. But let’s keep it in context.
First, the energy department loan guarantees weren’t supposed to be rock-solid investments. If they were likely to be profitable, the private sector could have handled it just fine. The whole point of the loans were to stimulate a green energy sector to both create jobs, clean up our energy consumption, and ensure that the U.S. is relevant in the world green-energy manufacturing market.
Second, the guys who are most angry about how quickly the Solyndra deal went through are the same guys who were complaining about how slowly the stimulus eked out. If you want the stimulus to have an immediate and rapid effect, you have less time for diligent review. This is a trade off.
Third, the whole point of a bet is that you might lose. The smart money is sometimes wrong. If I bet $200 against your $100 that a fairly-flipped coin will come up heads—you should take the bet. You have an expected payout of 150%. Even though it’s a great bet, there’s a 50-50 chance you’ll walk away with nothing. Losing a bet does not mean it was an inherently bad bet. The energy department has guaranteed $35.9 billion in loans. Check them out. One was Solyndra. Another was Tesla. The loss at Solyndra is roughly 1.5% of the total guarantee.
Fourth, Solyndra got creamed in large part by Chinese competition. We subsidized Solynda. China out-subsidized us. On one hand, it’s too bad our solar panel company got creamed. On the other hand … it was awfully nice of China to buy us all those solar panels.
Fifth, of course Solyndra’s people donated a lot of money to the Obama campaign and had a lot of contacts with the energy department. Is it any surprise that people in the green industry business donated to a democrat? And is it any surprise that people seeking a loan guarantee would have contact with the person they’re hoping will guarantee it? There may be a smoking gun showing serious impropriety. Wake me up when you find it.
It’s too bad about Solyndra. And it’s really to bad about those awkward and now-ironic statements about how awesome Solyndra was. But this is not the epic scandal you are looking for.