Friday, July 31, 2009

Seattle Times: "Vote Nickels or Mallahan on your mail-in ballot."

Seattle Times Editorial:
AT a time when the incumbent Seattle mayor needs a strong challenger to test his mettle and hold him accountable, candidates opposing him lack the depth, presence or proven political skills to readily defeat him.
Seattle voters, therefore, are left with a more limited mayoral contest than they deserve. For the primary, voters should back Greg Nickels — yes, even with legitimate concerns about his handling of the transportation department — and Joe Mallahan, a T-mobile executive yet to demonstrate why he should hold the city's top job.

If this sounds like damning with faint praise, there is some of that. Both should advance to the general election and both have a pile of work to do.

Nickels has served almost eight years. For many of those years, the city ran smoothly. Potholes were filled. The mayor enhanced the business climate in certain neighborhoods. Civic order, for the most part, was maintained until last year's snow storms.

That's when Nickels and transportation director Grace Crunican not only botched the city response, they revealed a disconnect with businesses and citizens during a busy holiday season.

Nickels can be a bully and a nanny at the same time. He wants citizens to do certain things but doesn't seem able to use the bully pulpit to coax and cajole them toward his goals.

But Nickels also has a record of accomplishment, of leading, of getting things done.

He has demonstrated the skills to focus on a project and see it through, even if Seattleites don't agree with the method, style or substance of certain efforts. For example, the mayor pushed hard — too hard — in 2007 for an expensive cut-and-cover tunnel to replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct and open up the Seattle waterfront. The vision was laudable, the price tag overwhelming, the disruption to downtown unacceptable.

As time went on, Nickels took a different tack. A stakeholders group was formed. Seattle process reigned. In the end, the mayor, King County executive and governor agreed to meet capacity requirements with surface and transit improvements mixed with a different tunnel — a deep-bore tunnel that creates far less disruption during construction.

This editorial page did not support Sound Transit light rail, but Nickels demonstrated an ability to keep his eye on the prize for many years. The system is up and running and becoming part of the city's transportation mix.

Nickels is also the new president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, respected nationwide for his work on the greening of urban America.

Mallahan is the candidate voters are trying to like for want of an alternative. He is increasingly the answer to the question, "If not Nickels, who?"

As a manager at T-Mobile, Mallahan developed compelling leadership qualities. Mallahan has a spotty voting record and limited public-sector experience. While in college he worked for a Bellingham congressman and subsequently as a community organizer in Chicago.

Those experiences, however, are not sufficient for him to climb the mountain from intriguing candidate to the city's top job. Still, it is worth having Mallahan challenge the mayor in the coming months to see what shakes out.

Both candidates should offer thoughtful ways to diminish the presence of street toughs who all but own parts of Lower Queen Anne and Pioneer Square. Streets have not become friendlier under Nickels.

City finances fared better during the recession than those of the county or the state. Voters would blame Nickels if it were not true, so he gets some credit because it is true.

Other candidates — including James Donaldson, Mike McGinn and Jan Drago — are commended for jumping into the race with full vigor. All are better suited to the council.

Nickels is a competent leader with significant flaws seeking an unusual third term. He should tone down the aggressiveness in approach and find new ways to accomplish things.
Mallahan should tell us more, or better yet, show us how he can make the significant leap from competent businessman to mayor of the state's largest city.

Vote Nickels or Mallahan on your mail-in ballot.
Howie P.S.: I agree with this 50%, which is much higher than usual for me with this particular publication.

Sen. Jay Rockefeller on Co-ops: "Unacceptable" (with video)

Crooks and Liars, with video (04:31):

Hold back the jello. Jay Rockefeller was on this morning with Andrea Mitchell and complained about the Kent Conrad "co-op" plan which he said was basically unworkable. He then went on The Ed show and hit it even harder.
Jay is a supporter of the public option and was pissed that the co-op proposal was inserted in the Baucus bill since it was never even talked about during the general election. Isn't it nice that Baucus has killed the public option just to work with Republicans? Conservatives don't even have to win elections to get what they want. That's some deal they have.
Ed: It's not going to work. There's really no successful model out there to support the basis of signing on to a co-op. Would you sign on to a co-op or is that unacceptable?
Rockefeller: That's unacceptable and I can almost prove it. We've been in touch with all the folks that oversee, represent all the co-ops in the country on all subjects and they point out that there are probably less than twenty health co-ops in the country. There are only two that really work that well. One in Puget Sound, one in Minnesota, except for those two, they are all unlicensed. All present health co-ops are all unlicensed, they're unregulated. Nobody knows anything about them, nobody has any control over them and nobody has ever said, which is stunning to me, no government organization or private organization has ever done a study to what effect they might have in terms of bringing down the insurance prices.
They are untested, they are unlicensed, they are unregulated, they are unstudied. Why would we even think about putting them in as a control on this massive insurance industry instead of the public option?
There aren't any co-ops throughout much of the country, but to appease the conservative Dems we're supposed to throw six billion dollars around and hope that the states will try to make them workable.
Is this insane? Watch the whole clip, but you get the idea from this one statement. Kent Conrad's big proposal is a complete sham, but President Baucus is trying to cram that down the throats of the country, which will render all health-care reform useless. All hail bipartisanship!
Howie P.S.: If you are a fan of the Group Health Cooperative here in the northwest (like me), this gets complicated. I still want a public option in the plan and I want to keep my GHC!

Rachel Maddow: "From beer to eternity" (video)

MSNBC-Rachel Maddow, video (12:00).

Howie P.S.: Brown University Professor Tricia Rose joins Maddow to discuss Obama's "Happy Hour" meeting with Gates, Crowley and Biden. Stay tuned for the next video (05:18) from Countdown featuring Joan Walsh and Richard Wolffe as they discuss "right wing racism."

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Susan Hutchison, the Downtown Seattle Association reports: "Did Not Return Questionnaire."

From the story in today's Seattle P-I, "Seattle's downtown biz community rates the candidates."

Howie P.S.: I'm starting to see a pattern here.

Health care reform: "Deal or No-Deal?" (video)

MSNBC-The Morning Meeting, video (10:40).

Howie P.S.: Dylan Ratigan, Karen Finney and Arianna Huffington put Blue Dog Rep. Dan Boren on the hot seat.

Health care: Obama and "the deal"

"Deal moves House closer to health care reform" (Chicago Tribune):
After weeks of fractious debate that threatened to derail President Barack Obama's health care campaign, House Democrats reached a critical but fragile agreement Wednesday that appeared to pave the way for the chamber to vote on an overhaul in September.
The deal, worked out between a set of fiscally conservative Democrats and Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, changes the way a proposed government-operated insurance plan would operate to allay concerns that it could crowd out private insurers.

Brokered with help from the White House, the deal also cuts more than $100 billion from the bill's price tag of more than $1 trillion, according to lawmakers who worked on the pact. And it would exclude more small businesses from a new requirement to provide employees with health insurance.

Democrats on Capitol Hill still face big obstacles in their quest to send Obama the legislation. Those include mollifying liberal lawmakers, who expressed outrage at the deal reached Wednesday.

But the agreement comes at a critical time for the president and his congressional allies.

The fiscally conservative Democrats, known as Blue Dogs, had blocked progress on the legislation in Waxman's committee for more than a week, threatening to leave House discussions in disarray as lawmakers prepared to leave town for their August recess. With an important Senate committee still mired in difficult negotiations on its own bill, momentum on the health care overhaul threatened to stall.

"This will move the bill forward," House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., told reporters Wednesday as news of the House deal broke.

The agreement delays a vote by the full House on the legislation until September, satisfying another demand of many moderate Democratic lawmakers, who wanted time to absorb the details of the complex legislation.

Obama praised the progress Wednesday and called the work of the fiscally conservative Democrats "extraordinarily constructive in strengthening this legislation and bringing down its cost."

The president did not endorse the specifics of the agreement. He is expected to play a role in writing a version of the Senate bill next month.

It appears likely that there will be much more debate about crucial issues at the heart of Wednesday's agreement. One is whether the government should offer its own insurance plan, competing with private insurers.

Under the agreement, House Democrats retained the idea of creating a new government insurance program, a core piece of the party's health care agenda.

But the deal takes steps to ensure that the government plan would not gain competitive advantages over private insurance plans from the federal management of Medicare, the insurance program for seniors that can negotiate low rates for services because of its enormous size.
More-liberal House members protested. Rep. Patrick Kennedy, D-R.I., said the deal "lets insurance companies off the hook" for savings they had already promised the White House they would accomplish.
Howie P.S.: Other Congressional Democrats are now pushing back against "the deal." The NY Times covers Obama's "mini-campaign trip" to Virginia and North Carolina on Wednesday for his health care reform plan.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Are the blue dogs 'blue' or 'green' or just 'yellow'? (with video)

MSNBC-ED Show, video (04:24).

Howie P.S.: Sam Stein (above) says it's "all about the money." Michael Tomasky (UK Guardian), finding no public pressure back home, wonders why they are even Democrats.

mcjoan: "Blue Dogs, White House, and House Leadership Strike a Deal"

mcjoan (Daily Kos):
CNN and The Hill are reporting that House leadership and the White House struck a deal with Energy and Commerce Blue Dogs to allow for E&C mark-up to continue:
In exchange for putting off a floor vote until after Labor Day, the Energy and Commerce Committee may be allowed to continue its markup of the healthcare bill this week even if an agreement has not been reached between committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and seven Energy and Commerce Blue Dogs over the content of the bill.
Asked if House leaders had told Democrats that there will be no House vote on healthcare before Friday, Blue Dog Co-Chairwoman Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (D-S.D.) said, "I don’t think [leaders have] made public statements to that regard, but my understanding is that that would be part of an agreement, if they actually do move forward with an Energy and Commerce markup, that there will be no vote on the House floor until after Labor Day."
I confirmed with a House source that E&C mark-up will resume at 4:00 today, and got some details of the compromise. In addition to postponing the vote on the full bill until after recess, Waxman and the Blue Dogs negotiation a basic outline including raising the small business exemption raised to payrolls of $500,000 or over. It keeps the public option intact, and allows for HHS to negotiate rates for the public option. It keeps consumer protections currently in the bill intact.
The one thing in the agreement that could come back and bite us in the ass later is that it allows states to have the option to set up co-ops. This is in addition to the public option--states will not be allowed to opt out of the public option, and would not be allowed to substitute co-ops for it, but could create them in addition to the public option. It sounds good, but giving any kind of toe-hold to co-ops in the House could be a headache for House negotiators in conference, if the idea can't be killed in the Senate.
The three committee chairs will work through the August recess to work out a single bill that the House will vote on in September. Pelosi is expected to announce the new timetable shortly.
Howie P.S.: Another month, another 14,000 Americans lose their health care. Josh Marshall chimes in on the deal.

Joel Connelly: "Health care reform: Politicians and media pundits totally oblivious"

Joel Connelly (Seattle P-I):
The Clover Patch Cafe on Whidbey Island is far from corridors of power in Washington, D.C., but owner Neil Colburn put out a petition beside his cash register last week.

Its message, directed at Sen. Maria Cantwell: We need health care reform -- including a so-called "public option" -- and we need it now.
"Universal access to health care is such an important issue that I couldn't sit on the sidelines," said Colburn. "I've seen waitresses, on their way home, get into an accident and go bankrupt. I have a cook out right now with an ovarian cyst."

Colburn offered insurance to his employees, but nobody could afford it.

The health care battle in our nation's capital has evolved into a classic Washington, D.C., power game. We hear about "blue dog" Democrats and Republican senators telling conservative groups that this is the issue that will break President Obama.

The struggle within Democrats' ranks is "fascinating," D.C. commentator Cokie Roberts effused Monday on National Public Radio. Roberts is a creature of the capital: Both her parents served in Congress. She has a brother who's a heavyweight lobbyist. She is married to a former White House correspondent with the New York Times.

"They are totally oblivious to the rest of us," Shirley Viall, a Whidbey resident retired community health planner at the University of Washington, said of talking heads in the other Washington.

During an island weekend, and back in the Emerald City, I've talked health care while doing everyday errands. The "finding" is that a lot of folks, from the pregnant pet groomer to the grocery store worker, are gambling that they won't get sick.

"My son has been hit by the hard times: In his new job, he couldn't afford the co-pay," Viall said. "He's just keeping fingers crossed that he stays healthy. Of course, he has no dental coverage or eye coverage."

The Longview Daily News, on Sunday, carried an engrossing story about Allen Heck, the young man who ran into the Cowlitz River and saved a 9-year-old girl, losing his own life in the process.

Heck had diabetes, which kept him from a dreamed-of career in the Army. The story picks up:

"Heck had just been released from the hospital four days before he drowned, one of many hospitalizations in recent months. Because he was so sick, he could not hold a steady job. He'd find work only to lose it after some complication or overexertion landed him back in the hospital.

"Heck fought for two years to get some sort of disability designation because he couldn't come close to affording his treatment and medicine."

Allen Heck ended his life, at age 20, $200,000 in debt.

The Republican National Committee is targeting Heck's congressman, Rep. Brian Baird, D-Wash., with negative ads for supporting health care reform.

Rep. Cathy McMorris-Rogers, R-Wash., last Saturday gave the Republican response to President Obama's weekly radio speech.

She served up arguments heard when Medicare neared final passage in 1964. Of the Democrats' pending plan, McMorris-Rogers said: "It's a prescription for disaster -- one that will put Washington bureaucrats in charge of your family's personal medical decisions."

She offered political placebos: The country needs universal care, and cooperation.

Dr. Abraham Bergman, a Seattle physician, has worked on public health issues for more than 40 years. He persuaded Sen. Warren Magnuson to sponsor a law that banned flammable children's pajamas. He championed the National Health Service Corps, which put docs in rural places like our Methow Valley. He helped craft legislation that brought health care to Indian reservations.

Over coffee this week, Bergman ticked off names of Republican lawmakers who helped these causes. Indian health could not have passed Congress without Barry Goldwater. Colorado Sen. Peter Dominick became an improbable champion of the health service corps. Bob Dole helped move the Women Infants and Children supplemental feeding program.

"Where are the statesmen?" Bergman asked.

Good question, paired with another: Where is the Fourth Estate?

"The media are obsessed with who's up and who's down: It's a horse race, it's a sound bite. Just tell us the score back in Congress," Bergman lamented.

In such a rarefied environment, Bergman fears, special interests stand to get the uranium mine while Americans who work hard and play by the rules get the shaft.

"As long as large profits are to be made in the health system, we are not going to get a satisfactory solution," he added. "It's greed. Any plan is likely to be conciliatory to the insurance and pharmaceutical industries, and their job is to make money.

"The big players can spend money on ads and how elections are decided. It's very discouraging when you see the need, when you see the people."

He's right, of course -- unless ordinary Americans join the big dogs in this hunt. As if we don't have enough hot air over us, members of Congress will be flying home for August recess in just over a week.
Of course, we'll see politician-designed health care events. But will we have listening?An Eastside friend, Collin Jergens, took it upon himself to scope out the upcoming recess.

"I figured that I would be one of those annoying constituents who tried to bend the ear of their representatives," Jergens said. "Yet after fairly methodical searching of the Web sites of both senators and, more important for the health care debate, Congressman Reichert, I can't find any mention of constituent meetings in the state scheduled for August."

ED Show: "Health care reform fighting for its life" (video)

MSNBC-ED Show, video (13:29).

Howie P.S.: ED is fired up. Sen. Jack Reed, Rep. Earl Blumenauer and author Maggie Mahar ("Money-Driven Medicine") join ED to read the tea leaves.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Countdown: "Democrats weak despite numbers" (video)

Countdown, video (06:35).

Howie P.S.: Howard Dean subs for Olbermann and talks with Rep. Chris Van Hollen about the prospects for a public option in the health care reform bill. In the next segment, former insurance executive Wendell Potter blows the whistle on the industry's business practices. Dean also talks with author Phillip Longman on "Why the public option works."

"Dean slams Finance Com’tee plan, says real health care reform is about industry vs. people, not Dem vs. Rep' (video)

Daily Kos, video (05:11).

Howie P.S.: Dean was Rachel Maddow's guest last night. mcjoan has the transcript and offers commentary.

Howard Dean to host 'Countdown'

Burlington Free Press (vt. Buzz):
Keith Olbermann is on vacation this week. MSNBC announced the "Countdown" guest hosts, including former DNC Chairman Howard Dean.

Dean is set to take the anchor chair on Tuesday and Wednesday.

The former Vermont governor posted the news on his Facebook page:

"Howard Dean will be guest hosting for Keith Olbermann on 'Countdown' this Tuesday and Wednesday at 8 p.m. on MSNBC."

See more on this story from The New York Observer.

"Countdown" airs at 8 p.m. (Eastern) Monday-Friday on MSNBC.

Monday, July 27, 2009

"The Future of Universal Health Care, as of Now"

Robert Reich:
Every day that goes by without a vote in the House or Senate on universal health care makes it less likely that major reform will occur, because (1) opponents have more time to stir up public anxieties about it; (2) Democrats up for reelection next year come ever closer to the gravitational pull of the midterms, and grow increasingly worried about voting for a bill that could be a political liability in a year when unemployment may well reach double digits and the electorate is restless and unhappy; and (3), as a result of the first two, proponents increasingly have to rely for support and cover on industries like Big Pharma and insurance, as well as physician specialists and equipment suppliers, none of whom have any interest in fundamental reform but all of whom see possibilities for making more money out of whatever bill emerges.

In other words, next fall we get something called "universal health insurance" that still leaves millions of Americans uninsured and doesn't substantially slow the meteoric rise of health-care costs. That would be a tragedy.

What should be done now to avoid this?
First, the House must enact a bill before August recess even if the Senate is unable to -- and the House bill should include the four key elements that have already emerged from House committees: (1) a public plan option, (2) a mandate on all but the smallest employers to provide their employees with health insurance or else pay a tax or fee (so-called "pay or play"), (3) a requirement that every individual and family buy health insurance, coupled with subsidies for families up to 300 or 400 times the poverty level in order to make sure it's affordable to them; and (4) a small surtax on the top 1 percent of earners or families to help pay for this subsidy ("tax the wealthy so all Americans can stay healthy.")

Second, the President must tell Congress in no uncertain terms that all four elements are necessary. I believe he should also signal his openness to capping the amount of tax-free health care that individuals or families may receive from employers -- so long as the cap does not erode the tax-free benefits of individuals or families in the bottom 80 percent of the earnings distribution. This is the only funding mechanism that may be able to garner sixty votes in the Senate, and the only one that the Congressional Budget Office has so far said would temper the rise in long-term healthcare costs.

Third, the President should make clear to Big Pharma, private insurers, and other interest groups now supporting the effort that the final bill must contain mechanisms for forcing them to come up with the cost savings each has promised. Otherwise, those savings cannot be assumed -- and they won't be "scored" by the Congressional Budget Office -- thereby making it difficult for waivering members of Congress to vote for the bill.

Fourth, the President should commit to visiting, during the recess, all states of waivering Senate Democrats and even a few moderate Republicans (read Maine), in order to take the case for universal health care directly to their constituents. He or the Vice President and cabinet members should do the same in the congressional districts of all Blue Dog Democrats and other waivering House Democrats.
Finally, you, dear reader, must contact your senators and representatives and explain why you want genuine reform -- incorporating the four elements listed above. Mobilize and energize others to do the same, especially residents of Blue Dog states, including Montana where Senate Finance Chief Max Baucus resides. And if you're able and willing I'd urge you to descend on Washington the moment Congress returns from recess. There is nothing quite as persuasive to a member of Congress as real live constituent demanding real reform.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Goldy asks Dean: "Is the public option a “slippery slope” to single-payer?" (with audio)

David Goldstein, with audio (01:04), link below:
It was hot last night at Seattle’s Town Hall, both literally and figuratively. Outside, advocates of a single-payer healthcare system were chanting and leafleting. Inside, as Gov. Howard Dean spoke about healthcare reform, the crowd was only slightly less boisterous.
Though friendly and receptive as Gov. Dean took the podium, when it came time to take questions from the audience it quickly became apparent that the many of those inside shared the sentiments of those on the street, with some of the questioners filibustering their opportunity at the mic to take an uncompromising stance in favor of single-payer, and opposed to anything less. It was apparently a familiar scene for Gov. Dean, who had just arrived from a similar engagement in Portland, OR, where several single-payer advocates had to be removed from the audience after disrupting the proceedings.

Gov. Dean, a licensed physician and former presidential candidate and DNC Chair, is on tour promoting his new book “Prescription for Real Healthcare Reform,” but for many true believers, Gov. Dean’s prescription—take a public option and call me in a decade—isn’t real enough. What plays out is the sorta classic confrontation between idealism and pragmatism that so often undermines reforms coming from either end of the ideological spectrum, leaving those in the mushy middle so firmly in control. And it’s the kinda confrontation that the insurance industry and big pharma are counting on to stave off reform for another generation.

As Gov. Dean repeated throughout the Q&A, he’d personally prefer a single-payer system, as it’s the only reform that can guarantee universal coverage while quickly providing the level of savings needed to get our healthcare costs under control. But as he also repeated, polling consistently shows that the general public just isn’t there yet, let alone the laggards in Congress, so while single-payer shouldn’t necessarily be taken off the table, it would be unrealistic to expect it to move any further… at this point in time.

And here’s where that confrontation between idealism and pragmatism really comes into play. Public option opponents on the left dismiss the proposal as mere half-measures, while public option opponents on the right attack it as a slippery slope to single-payer. And they’re both right. The question is, will the lack of enthusiasm for the public option from idealists on the left ultimately play into the hands of the pragmatists on the right in their efforts to scuttle any substantive reforms at all?

As I’ve argued before, the public option is a slippery slope to single-payer, if implemented and executed correctly. Now some might characterize this admission as cynical and dishonest, but good policy done right is inherently a slippery slope toward better policy. As it should be. And it’s a slope we slide down only with the approval of a majority of voters.

So after he finished signing books I asked Gov. Dean whether he believed the public option would be a slippery slope to single-payer. I wanted him to say yes, and I sensed that he wanted to say yes as well. But he’s too smart for that… and too pragmatic. Instead, he enunciated what I think is the most rhetorically effective response I’ve ever heard to the right’s slippery slope argument, a response that totally undermines their objection, even without denying it:

This will be the change that the American people want at the pace that they want it. So the opponents have no right to make that argument. The Republican ability to make that argument assumes that they know better than the American people, that they’re so smart that the American people have no right to make up their own mind.

That’s what this bill is about. This bill is not about whether to have a single-payer or a public option or a private system; this bill is about whether the American people get to choose for themselves, or whether congressmen take it upon themselves to override the will of the American people and do something different. It’s a straight up vote between whether you’re in favor of the health insurance industry, or whether you’re in favor of your constituency. Everybody’s going to have to make that vote, and we’ll be watching.

The same could be said to the uncompromising advocates of a single-payer system.

I may not live to see the bottom, but I still believe that the public option will ultimately set us down that slippery slope to single-payer, and my sense is that many of its proponents believe the same, whether for pragmatic reasons, they’re willing to publicly say so or not. If given the choice, many Americans will flock to the public option, and if private insurers simply aren’t able to compete, I’m alright with that.

It is ironic, after all, that those who insist there is no fundamental right to basic health care, also tend to be those who insist that there is a fundamental right to selling private health insurance.

Of course, there isn’t. And if the single-payer advocates can be as patient as they are passionate, I’m confident the American people will ultimately prove them right.

Howie P.S.: Dean's short answer can be translated to "yes" if that's what the population wants. As Howard Dean's Unofficial #1 Fan in Seattle, I feel guilty for not going Friday night. But Goldy has given us a great report.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Rachel Maddow on Obama's Happy Hour Invitation (video)

MSNBC-Rachel Maddow, video (14:17).

Howie P.S.: Obama reaches out to Gates and Crowley to create a "teachable moment." Princeton professor Melissa Harris-Lacewell joins Maddow to discuss this incident.

Seattle Times Knocks Hutchison---Endorses Jarrett, Hunter

Seattle PI (Strange Bedfellows):

The Seattle Times on Friday endorsed Eastsiders Fred Jarrett and Ross Hunter for King County executive in next month's primary.

In giving the nod to Jarrett, a Democratic state senator from Mercer Island, and Hunter, a Democratic state representative from Bellevue, the county's last remaining daily newspaper spurned Seattleites and current County Councilmen Dow Constantine and Larry Phillips. Fairview Fannie also took a swipe at the frontrunner in the race, Susan Hutchison.

Yes, voters know Susan Hutchison's name better from her many years as a news anchor on KIRO-TV, but name familiarity is no substitute for the skills needed to run a troubled government. Citizens know less about her views on complicated issues because she worked diligently during the campaign to minimize what voters learned about her.

Friday, July 24, 2009

"Obama ignites racial profiling debate" (video)

MSNBC-ED Show, video (07:52).

Howie P.S.: Stephanie Miller, Carlos Watson, Michael Medvid and Georgetown professor Michael Eric Dyson join ED.

Muni League: Mallahan "Outstanding"

Joel Connelly (Seattle PI):
T-Mobile executive Joe Mallahan was the lone Seattle mayoral hopeful rated "Outstanding" in the Seattle-King County Municipal League's much-watched candidate ratings, coming in one category above the "very good" rating given incumbent Mayor Greg Nickels.

Nickels has bounced around over the years between "Outstanding" and "very good." The higher rating for Mallahan - a political neophyte - is highly unusual.

Three other front-rank mayoral candidates received lower ratings.

City Councilwoman Jan Drago and Sierra Club activist Mike McGinn were rated as "good," while former Seattle SuperSonic James Donaldson was given a lower evaluation of "adequate".

All four Democrats seeking the officially non-partisan job of King County Executive - Dow Constantine, Fred Jarrett, Ross Hunter and Larry Phillips - were rated as "very good." Former KIRO-TV anchor Susan Hutchison, who leads in the polls, was a notch lower at "good."

A trio of Seattle City Council candidates won the coveted "Outstanding" rating.

Seattle City Council president Richard Conlin, who always aces the Muny League's evaluations, received an "Outstanding." Challenger David Ginsberg was evaluated as "adequate."

In the race to succeed Drago, leaving the council after four terms, former prosecutor Sally Bagshaw was rated as "Outstanding." Opponents Dorsal Plants and David Bloom were given ratings of "Good."

The other open seat - now held by Councilman Richard McIver - saw a wide variance in ratings.

Businessman and three-time council candidate Robert Rosencrantz received the coveted "Outstanding." Wedgwood activist David Miller and former mayoral aide Jordan Royer were rated "Very Good."

Down a notch, at "Good," were Seattle Dept. of Transportation official Bobby Forch and Sierra Club activist Mike O'Brien.

Rusty Williams, son of the late Councilwoman Jeanette Williams, was rated as not qualified.

The Muny League did not give an advantage in what's shaping up as the hottest race involving a council incumbent.

Councilman Nick Licata was rated as "very good," along with challengers Jessie Israel and Marty Kaplan.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Salon: "Obama's speech: Reviews are in"

War Room (Salon):
Unless you've been living under a rock, you probably know by now that Wednesday night, President Obama delivered a major, nationally-televised speech on healthcare. Obama was trying to generate support for his push to reform the nation's healthcare system.
Did he succeed? It might depend on who you ask. Here's a variety of responses to the speech from across the political landscape:

Ben Smith: "The appearance was striking by its absence of a move that’s long characterized Obama’s political career: When in trouble, go big. Faced with a crisis of confidence or with a political furor, he’s repeatedly shown an ability to rise above the storm, and to broaden the playing field, as when he turned a flap over his pastor into a meditation on race in America ... Now, facing his hardest test as President, Obama chose to go small."

Howard Fineman: "I’ve been covering Barack Obama for a few years, and it’s usually crystal clear what he is up to. Not last night. This is the first time I’ve asked myself: What was THAT all about?"

Digby: "Howard Fineman says that Obama failed to hit it out of the park in his press conference because he didn't sound enough like Ronald Reagan. He was like, totally, boring. I guess the honeymoon really is over. They're responding to him like they used to respond to Clinton. They prefer the president to speak like a six year old as Bush did or an addled elder comedian like Reagan. It's more fun ... Luckily, if actual Americans were listening they likely learned something tonight. Just as they did with Clinton, they like information and explanations that don't insult the intelligence and prefer it when the president speaks to them as if they aren't in some sort of remedial classroom."

New York Times: "...he sounded cerebral as he delved into policy specifics for nearly an hour and tried to link them to the concerns of ordinary Americans."

Wall Street Journal: "Mr. Obama worked to paint the health-care status quo as the least acceptable option. But he acknowledged the skepticism that many Americans feel about the overhaul effort, which Republicans are calling a risky and expensive scheme."

Paul Krugman: "I found Obama’s health care presentation so impressive — so much command of the issues — that it had me worried. If I really like a politicians’ speech, isn’t that an indication that he lacks the popular touch? (A couple of points off for “incentivize” — what ever happened to “encourage”? — but never mind.) ... Seriously, it’s really good to see how much he gets it."

Jonathan Cohn: "Tomorrow's headline will probably focus on the length of Obama's professorial answers, the small bits of news in his press conference*, and the fact that he seemed genuinely pissed off about what happened to his friend, Henry Louis Gates, in Cambridge the other day. But the most striking thing to me was Obama's willingness--in that question about doctors and a few others--to speak candidly about his health plan, even if that meant giving openings to some of his critics."

Bill Kristol: "So on health care, I’d be surprised if the president changed any minds, because he never seriously tried to address criticism of his proposal on the merits."

Tom Shales: "As usual, Obama turned in an admirably effective performance at the news conference, even if it did seem a little too tidy -- and even rehearsed -- for nearly all the reporters to fall in line and stick with the matter at hand rather than pursue their own little butterflies as in many administrations past."

Chris Cillizza: "But, from his opening statement on, it was clear that part of Obama's goal in the press conference was to directly rebut charges leveled against him and his health care plan by Republicans."

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

CORRECTED START TIME--"Howard Dean: ‘Prescription for Real Healthcare Reform’"

Town Hall Seattle
Friday, July 24, 2009, 7 – 8:30pm
Great Hall, enter on 8th Avenue

Americans have pondered how to reform healthcare since the days of Harry Truman. But little has changed except that healthcare costs have soared, health-insurance companies have grown, and millions of Americans lack health insurance, or pay for coverage that doesn’t protect them from serious illness. In his new book, Howard Dean’s Prescription for Real Healthcare Reform, the physician (and former Democratic National Committee Chairman, presidential candidate, and six-term governor) argues that all Americans need the option to participate in a public health-insurance program, much like Medicare. The book, co-written with Faiz Shakir and Igor Volsky, also explains President Obama’s healthcare plan; how other countries handle healthcare; which special interests are standing in the way of progress, and why; and how healthcare reform will help American businesses prosper. Presented by the Town Hall Center for Civic Life and the Future of Health Lecture Series, with Elliott Bay Book Company.
Tickets are $5 at or 800/838-3006, and at the door beginning at 6 pm. Town Hall members receive priority seating.

Valerie Jarrett: "Fighting for health care" (video)

MSNBC, video (06:01):
Senior White House Advisor Valerie Jarrett discusses why President Barack Obama is using a live primetime address on Wednesday to win the support of the American people for his health care plan.

ED show on health care reform: "Follow the money" (video)

MSNBC-ED Show, video (04:09).

Howie P.S.: Dave Livinthal of the Center for Responsive Politics joins ED to discuss how "pay to play" is at work in Congress today. If you keep watching, you can hear ED give Obama some political advice in his next segment, "Health care showdown."

"Howard Dean on the Politics of Health-Care Reform" (with audio)

TIME, with audio:
Before he was governor of Vermont, chairman of the Democratic National Committee or a presidential candidate, Howard Dean was a family doctor. But don't expect him to weigh in on the health-reform debate in a soothing bedside manner. He's packing plenty of vitriol for both critics of President Obama's health-care proposals and the special interests jockeying for seats at the negotiating table. The former governor talked to TIME about his new book, Howard Dean's Prescription for Real Healthcare Reform, political wrangling over bills circulating in Congress and why bipartisanship is for suckers.
TIME: How optimistic are you that both houses of Congress will pass health-reform bills before the August recess, as President Obama is pushing for?
Dean: I'm very hopeful the House will pass a bill. I think it's going to be very hard for the Senate. The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee passed a very good bill. The Senate Finance Committee has been unable to reach a bipartisan agreement, which doesn't surprise me. Frankly, I think the Republicans have no interest in reaching one. I've long believed the Democrats are going to be on their own.

What are the potential pitfalls if the Democrats are on their own?
I think it's a very good thing. I think the Republicans have correctly diagnosed that the way to stop Obama is to stop the health-care bill. They're determined not to have a bill. In the long run, we're going to have to do this on our own. (See the top 10 health-care-reform players.)

But even if Congress passes the health-care-reform legislation that Obama wants, it will take years to implement. Can the Democrats change things fast enough that health care won't be a liability for Obama if and when he runs for re-election?
Absolutely. Put in guaranteed issue and community rating at once, so people cannot be turned down for insurance in the private sector, nor can they have their insurance taken away because of an illness. He'll get huge credit for that and there's no budgetary cost.

What specific experiences as a doctor shaped your views on health care?
In the public emergency rooms in the Bronx where I went to medical school and in my office. I once had a young woman who came to me who turned out to have diabetes and was dropped by her insurance company as soon as the renewal date came up. I've never forgotten that.

We hear a lot about "bending the curve." What are the most effective ways to lower the overall costs of American health care?
First, you've got to integrate payment and provision of care. Everybody talks about preventive medicine, but almost nobody does it because there's no payback. A private practitioner invests money in preventive care and the hospital benefits. They're not connected. Second, pay people — particularly primary-care providers — for taking good care of patients without rewarding doctors for doing more and more and more. That's what the system is currently based on. The more you do, the more you get paid, which is an incentive for inefficiency. (Read "Cutting Health-Care Costs by Putting Doctors on a Budget.")

But switching our whole health-care system away from this "fee-for-service" model would be incredibly complicated, no?
That's absolutely not true. There are already great models — Medicare is one. When Medicare pays hospitals, they pay by disease, not by how long people stay there. Consequently hospital stays have dropped dramatically. I would disagree that this is gonna be a tough transition. I think it's going to be a very good transition. If there's a public option, it will force the transition.

Do you think everyone should be allowed to participate in the public plan?
Initially, absolutely not. You can't transition this too fast. You've gotta be careful. If you dump the entire private sector into the public option immediately, I think you'd have chaos, and that's not what we want. (Watch TIME's video "Uninsured Again.")

In your opinion, what is missing from the House and Senate HELP bills?
I'm not going to answer your question. If you do have the public option, the rest will sort itself out. So I resolved not to criticize the House or the Senate bills over other matters like taxation and things like that.

In your book, you talk about how someone's age determines his attitude toward having health insurance. You say the federal government should provide free coverage to everyone under 30. That's pretty radical.
It's incredibly cheap. Statistically, only two expensive things happen to people under 30: one is a malignancy and the other is an accident. Everything else is mostly preventive maintenance and it's very inexpensive. But this is not what's going to be passed. I'm a very big fan of Obama's bill.

The last thing I want to say is I don't see this as a vote between the Democrats and the Republicans and the liberals and conservatives. This is about whether you're going to vote for the insurance companies or whether you're going to vote for what your constituents want. And we'll be watching.

"Mallahan goes after Nickels at Seattle Times meeting" (with video)

(Part 1 Mayor 3/4)
Seattle Times, with video:
In today's webcast Seattle Times editorial board meeting, candidate Joe Mallahan won the award for taking the most negative tack against two-term Mayor Greg Nickels.

The candidates for mayor appeared before The Seattle Times board for its endorsement meeting. City Councilmember and mayoral candidate Jan Drago was not there because of the council's Transportation Committee meeting. She heads that committee.

Drago met later with some members of the editorial board.

Mallahan, a T-Mobile executive and political rookie, said Seattle is "crying out" for a more open and accountable administration. He said Nickels has been "a bit starry-eyed when dealing with people and corporations of great wealth."

Mallahan has spoken strongly against Nickels since he declared his intention to run and wrote his campaign a $200,000 check. He says the mayor has failed Seattle on basic services.

While other candidates tried to woo the editorial board members with their differing views on the Alaskan Way Viaduct tunnel project and plans to reduce youth violence, Mallahan went after the mayor. He said the mayor doesn't "seem to grasp" his mistakes and that he's created a "culture of information hoarding at City Hall."

He didn't even give Nickels credit for the light-rail line, which opened this weekend after 20 years of work by Nickels and other leaders. Sure, Mallahan said, it opened, but it was "seven miles short and two years late."

Howie P.S.: If you have the "luxury" of spending the time to watch/listen the whole meeting, you may reach the same conclusion as I have as to who is the best candidate to challenge the incumbent.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Howard Dean comes to Seattle this Friday @ 7:00PM

Town Hall Seattle:
Howard Dean: ‘Prescription for Real Healthcare Reform’---
Friday, July 24, 2009, 7 – 8:30pm
(Great Hall, enter on 8th Avenue)

Americans have pondered how to reform healthcare since the days of Harry Truman. But little has changed except that healthcare costs have soared, health-insurance companies have grown, and millions of Americans lack health insurance, or pay for coverage that doesn’t protect them from serious illness. In his new book, Howard Dean’s Prescription for Real Healthcare Reform, the physician (and former Democratic National Committee Chairman, presidential candidate, and six-term governor) argues that all Americans need the option to participate in a public health-insurance program, much like Medicare. The book, co-written with Faiz Shakir and Igor Volsky, also explains President Obama’s healthcare plan; how other countries handle healthcare; which special interests are standing in the way of progress, and why; and how healthcare reform will help American businesses prosper. Presented by the Town Hall Center for Civic Life and the Future of Health Lecture Series, with Elliott Bay Book Company. Tickets are $5 at or 800/838-3006, and at the door beginning at 6 pm. Town Hall members receive priority seating.

"House Committee Approves Kucinich-Sponsored Measure to Keep Single-Payer Option Alive" (with video and audio)

Democracy Now! with video and audio:
On Capitol Hill, Democratic leaders say they’re open to paring down a healthcare reform bill in order to sway “conservative” Democrats who’ve threatened to oppose the measure that would create a government-run public insurance option. We speak with progressive Democrat, Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio). A House committee recently approved his amendment that would allow individual states to adopt a single-payer system.

"Hutchison - a partisan non-partisan?"

Neil Modie (Strange Bedfellows):
Susan Hutchison has never run for elective office as a Republican, but not for lack of trying.
In late 2005 and early 2006, the former KIRO TV news anchor traveled the state, ardently wooing state and local GOP leaders to seek their backing for what she hoped would be her campaign for the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate.

In the end, she chose not to run, perhaps for multiple reasons. For one thing, many party officials felt she wasn't qualified to seek the office. For another, most GOP leaders and money had already lined up behind the far better-credentialed Mike McGavick, who became the nominee but lost to Democratic Sen. Maria Cantwell.

That aborted non-candidacy was one of numerous occasions on which Hutchison, now running for the now nonpartisan office of King County executive, demonstrated her partisan Republican ties.

Yet in a TV interview over the weekend, Hutchison insisted once again, as she has on other occasions, that she has never been affiliated with a political party. This time it was on KING-5's "Up Front" program, which aired Sunday.

When asked whether she is a Republican, Hutchison replied, "You know, it's interesting how this issue keeps raising its head because this is a nonpartisan race, and I'm running because I'm a nonpartisan. I've never affiliated with a party; you know we don't register (to vote by party) in this state."

That brought a guffaw Monday from an influential Republican Party leader, who attended GOP meetings at which Hutchison sought party endorsements for her hoped-for Senate campaign in 2006. The official requested anonymity.

"She wanted to run and she was very partisan, and for her to say she is a nonpartisan is just ridiculous," the party leader said.

Members of the Reagan Wing, a right-wing faction of the party, begged Hutchison that year to become a candidate, but party movers and shakers showed scant enthusiasm for her.

The Republican official who asked for anonymity said it would be reasonable for Hutchison to argue that her GOP ties are a red herring now in her campaign for a nonpartisan office, but that for her to say she is a "nonpartisan" and has "never affiliated with a party" is not true.

Hutchison's campaign consultant is San Francisco-based Dresner Wickers & Associates, which on its Web site calls itself "the go-to political consulting firm for Republican candidates, ballot initiatives and major trade organizations."

The four Democratic elected officials running for county executive have been eager to expose Hutchison's Republican leanings because King County tilts strongly Democratic. A SurveyUSA poll done for KING-5 shows Hutchison leading her rivals by a wide margin, perhaps thanks in large part to her 20 years as a TV anchor.

Hutchison was one of the most prominent backers of a 2008 ballot measure that made King County elective offices nonpartisan. She admitted publicly last week that she probably wouldn't be running for county executive if it were still partisan.

Many Republicans backed the measure, arguing, as Hutchison has, that most county issues having to do with buses, sewers and the like aren't partisan in nature. Democrats labeled it a GOP scheme to sneak more Republicans into countywide offices by removing party labels from the ballot.

In January 2006, after party leaders poured cold water on Hutchison's hope of running for the Senate, the Republican State Committee met to elect a new party chairwoman, Diane Tebelius. Hutchison asked to address the committee afterward even though she wasn't a member.

Tebelius initially refused, GOP sources said, but relented at the insistence of some of the party's conservatives. Hutchison then spoke to the group privately, apparently to promote her prospects for a potential future candidacy.

Later the same year, Hutchison chaired the Republican Party's 11th Legislative District caucus at which it chose delegates to the party's state convention. She doesn't live in the 11th District but was invited to be a "guest chair" there, according to a party leader.

Hutchison has contributed thousands of dollars to Republican candidates and causes – including the 2004 Bush-Cheney campaign and the 2008 presidential campaign of Mike Huckabee -- and has never donated money to a Democratic candidate.

She gave $1,000 in 2005 to ChangePAC, the campaign fundraising arm of the Building Industry Association of Washington, or BIAW, the homebuilders' conservative, political hardball-playing Olympia lobby that spends heavily trying to elect conservative candidates. Dresner Wickers, Hutchison's campaign consultant, has done extensive work for the BIAW.

Hutchison received an endorsement Sunday in response to her "Up Front" appearance, from Dale Foreman of Wenatchee, a former state Republican chairman, state House Republican leader and the lead lawyer in the state GOP's failed attempt to overturn the 2004 election of Democratic Gov. Chris Gregoire.

"Susan Hutchison has been a solid supporter of conservative candidates," Foreman wrote on the "Up Front" blog, "but she is thoughtful person and not just another political hack."

Howie P.S.: This prompts me to ask:
Susie, how else are misleading us about yourself?

"Specter Blasts Sestak's Voting Record" (video)

Political Wire, with video (01:02):
The Pennsylvania Democratic primary for U.S. Senate has already turned nasty.

Sen. Arlen Specter (D-PA) unleashed a blistering web ad attacking Rep. Joe Sestak (D-PA) for having the "worst voting record in Pennsylvania." He also accused the former Naval officer of being "AWOL" for Pennsylvanians.


Deanie Mills (TPM Blog):
When George W. Bush took office in January of 2001, Talking Points Memo did not exist.

Huffington Post did not exist. did not exist. (Update: did exist, as of May of 2000, the first that I know of.)

Keith Olberman did not yet have a political program on MSNBC.

Rachel Maddow did not yet have a political program on MSNBC.

That Ed guy for sure didn't yet.

However, FOX news, Rush Limbaugh, and many of the other Lords of the Right-Wing Air dominated discourse, drove the political narrative, and basically provided a controversy-free platform for anything and everything the Republican president wanted to do with his Republican congress.

In fact, they made it their business--or I should say, busine$$--viciously attacking anyone who DARED oppose their god and savior, Bush, and his wondrous disciples, Wolfowitz, Cheney, Rumsfeld, et al. To disagree even on minor points was to indulge in "Bush-Bashing."

Most people don't remember this, but Bush's first few months in office were so unremarkable that most pundits didn't think he'd last past a first term. Once he and his minions had rammed through massive tax cuts for all their buddies and benefactors, Bush drifted along, musing about Star Wars and privatizing Social Security, while his evil twin, Karl Rove, moved into the West Wing and set about politicizing the entire government.

Once 9/11 happened, the Lords of the Right-Wing Air freaked out along with their paranoid political bosses, sketching nightmare scenarios, shoving wars and rumors of wars down the country's collective throat with nary a voice, except for maybe Al Franken, to stop them.

(Rembember, Rush Limbaugh is a Big Fat Idiot and Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them?)

When I first started prowling around, looking for sympathetic sites other than just the DNC, it was during the presidential campaign of 2004, and Talking Points Memo was just getting cranked up. HuffPo didn't exist yet. Buzzflash was already out there, along with a few others, like Media Matters. Keith Olberman had gotten underway.

And of course, Jon Stewart, God bless him.

(This is by no means meant to be a comprehensive list, believe me, and I'm not providing links and specific dates because this is just an opening, not the point of the post. I'm getting there. Bear with me.)

As their first term waned, Bush/Cheney and their wars and their spying on Americans had finally awakened a sleeping giant, and the pushback came very near to unseating him that November.

(Stealing Ohio helped. But I digress.)

By 2006 the outrages had spiraled damn near out of control. From New Orleans to Abu Ghraib, there was virtually no part of this planet that had not been royally screwed by that administration in one way or another, and the Internet became, for those of us to the left of the aisle, what talk-radio and television had been for the right in the 90's.

In 2007, when the presidential campaign got underway, opposition to All Things Right-Wing was in full-throated howl, and during the contentious contest between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, I noticed a trend among not just pundits and pollsters and pontificators, but also among politicians--of underestimating Obama.

In the beginning, they positively sneered.

While everyone acknowledged his public speaking gifts, they also mocked them, claiming that his inspirational speeches were "just words" and that he was basically a brash young upstart.

It wasn't racism so much as it was the classic, "Go away, kid. Ya bother me."

I saw it, from the beginning, as a generational showdown. In her final column for Newsweek, Anna Quindlan mentioned something her grown son had said regarding baby boomers in various careers: "You guys just don't quit."

What he meant was that baby boomers were clutching the levers of power in their cold, dead hands, so to speak, and were not letting go so that the next generation could step up and take their places. You see the truth of this in the Sunday morning news talk shows--most of the people sitting around a given table on-set are 50 and over.

Quinlan said she didn't want to be one of those people, so she was letting go so that some bright young voice could take her place. (Although I haven't noticed Newsweek's moving in that direction as of yet.)

Obama's methods of running a campaign were revolutionary, 21st century stuff--that is common knowledge now, and is being mimicked in elections all over the world.

But all through it, time and time again, he was not taken seriously. Even after he finally won the nomination, McCain and his people spoke of him in derisive, dismissive terms.

And when Obama won with a powerful mandate, there was this massive sort of clanking of the old gears of government, oiled by the grumblings of a whole set of congresspeople and senators and governors and lobbyists and--most especially--columnists and op-edders and pundits and pontificators...who just could not seem to believe it.

(So entrenched was this view that the lunatic fringe even invented a scenario where he didn't DESERVE to have the office he'd won in such a hard-fought way, because, after all, he's not REALLY one of us, is he? Not a REAL American, like Sarah Palin. It was all apparently some kind of gigantic conspiracy involving doctors, nurses, and state officials in Hawaii to cover up his fake birth certificate because they somehow knew that the little black baby with a white mama and a father who left town would somehow grow up to be president more than 40 years later.)

But what makes Obama's job so much more difficult, actually, is that Democrats, unlike Republicans, do not march in lock-step with a top-down directive on What to Believe Today.

Instead, they're as likely to shout at each other as they are to right-wingers.

I turned on the "Ed Show" the other day and he was practically spitting in his excitement over health care, saying that if it did not get passed with a public option, that we would need to "form a third party" because this one was too conservative for liberals like him.

I'm not arguing his point one way or the other. I'm simply using it as an example of the broad spectrum of points of view within the Democratic party. Some "Blue Dogs" are actually conservative enough to be Republicans; some moderates can swing either way, and some liberals are just as rabid in their all-or-nothing ideals as the right-wingers are of theirs.

What that means is that, on any given day, you can turn on Glenn Beck over at FOX news and see Obama raked over the coals for being weak on national security or being dictatorial on his domestic plans, and then switch over to Rachel Maddow and see him attacked for being "too much like Bush" in matters of national security or too weak in implementing his domestic program.

Opposite criticisms for the same policies!

In my memory, I've never seen a president under such an assault of constant criticism from all sides, on one thing or another, in all the years I've been following politics. (I have a journal I kept in high school where I was fretting over something LBJ had done, so that's been a while.)

The most amazing thing of all, to me, is that this 24-hour barrage of criticism, complaint, and counterargument has led to a sort of hyper-speed, where time seems to whip past so fast it's in a basic blur. We're all connected, all the time. Texts and Tweets and e-mails and constantly-changing news sites like Huffington Post are now just a touch away on the phones that fit in our pockets, and no matter whether it is a straight news site like the New York Times or a political site like Firedoglake, we are invited to express our opinions on a given matter.

And what that means is that, four months into a brand-new administration, one that inherited such a staggering plethora of constant crises both here and overseas, not seen since FDR took the oath, it seems that, on any given issue, if Obama has not YET fulfilled a campaign promise or brought about a historic and legendary piece of legislation or turned the economy completely around--well then, he's just a failure.

Josh Marshall poked fun of that mindset right after the election when, after 18 months of 24/7 campaign coverage, he took a week off with his family, and returned with a headline that said something like, "OBAMA IS A FAILURE," joking that, in a week's time, he'd already been pronounced DONE by the hyped-up pundits coming down from an adrenaline-rushed campaign-combat high.

So, really, it took the Republicans no time at all to be pronouncing his entire presidency a dismal failure--even before that first, arbitrary 100-day deadline had passed.

In that time, Obama signed a cascade of landmark legislation dealing with every kind of issue you can name, but they passed in a blur with little notice before the next big controversy.

Some say he has brought this on himself by insisting on time constraints for so many of the staggering problems facing this nation.

I mean, geez, it's so cruel and unusual, the punishment visited on congress--why, under Bush, they only had to work three-day weeks. NOW they've actually got to show up some weekends! The horror! The horror!

So he gets criticized for moving too slowly on some issues, too quickly on some, for doing too much and not doing enough, for being too weak and too strong on the same issues, and time and again, I read these snide op-eds or blogposts about how he's already blown it.

They're even claiming that the poor hapless voters who put their trust in this man are somehow already suffering from "buyer's remorse."

(Oh yeah. IF ONLY we'd put John McCain and Sarah Palin in office instead! I hear that all the time, don't you?)

It has been said that Obama plays chess while the rest of us play checkers; this is true, but inadequate to explain his methods completely. There are two articles I've seen today that provide a whole new perspective on Obama's method of governing.

One really strikes a nerve on how Obama represents a next-generation way of looking at things. (Not for nothing that whenever he gives a speech in a foreign country, he bypasses the rulers in the audience and speaks directly to the nation's young people.)

It's by Matt Bai, who has done several major pieces on Obama for the New York Times Magazine, and it's called "The Shuffle President."

In it, Bai examines what he calls the typical "dramatic narrative" of any incoming president, one in which the new guy comes in with a new agenda, and proceeds to tackle his biggest, signature issue first, which he (or someday, she) concentrates the majority of their "political capital" on one major legacy, for better or for worse. For Bush, it was tax cuts. For Clinton, it was health care. That kind of thing. Those issues define a president, and conventional wisdom is that if they fail in that first big thing, then the rest of their presidency will be a wash. (I could argue that Clinton's presidency accomplished a great deal, but that's another post.)

Obama has, of course, done no such thing. He's fought for climate change legislation, health care, finance regulations, public stimulus plans, ending one war and redesigning another, and so on. All of which has brought on a firestorm of criticism for doing too much, too fast.

Bai says such an outlook may be outdated:

Some of this itinerancy must be attributed to the sheer scope of the wreckage Obama inherited. When you've got failing banks and corporate giants, two ongoing wars, melting icecaps and mountainous health care costs, it's hard to see what gets pushed to the margins. It's also true, though, that Obama's style reflects, whether he means it to or not, a cultural shift on the importance of narrative. Americans acclimated to clicking around hundreds of cable channels or Web pages experience the world less chronologically than their parents did. The most popular books now -- business guides like "Good to Great" or social explorations like "The Tipping Point" -- allow the casual reader to absorb their insights in random order or while skimming whole chapters.

Once we listened to cohesive albums like, say, Bob Dylan's "Highway 61 Revisited," which kicked off with the snare hit of "Like a Rolling Stone," almost like a starter pistol, and worked its way toward the melancholy postscript of "Desolation Row." Now your iPod might jump mindlessly from "Desolation Row" to "Tombstone Blues," or from Dylan to Rihanna. The shrink-wrapped record has given way to the downloaded single. Wasn't this one reason for all the tributes to Michael Jackson? It's not that "Thriller" was really as singularly awesome as so many of us thought it was in high school. It's more that we know there may never be an album that epic again.

Obama is the nation's first shuffle president. He's telling lots of stories at once, and in no particular order. His agenda is fully downloadable. If what you care most about is health care, then you can jump right to that. If global warming gets you going, then click over there. It's not especially realistic to imagine that politics could cling to a linear way of rendering stories while the rest of American culture adapts to a more customized form of consumption. Obama's ethos may disconcert the older guard in Washington, but it's probably comforting to a lot of younger voters who could never be expected to listen to successive tracks, in the same order, over and over again.

Bai acknowledges the risks in this approach--and poll ups-and-downs reflect that. Some Americans, and their elected representatives, struggle to keep up--as does an exhausted White House staff. And some accomplishments, like the landmark Lilly Ledbetter Act, pretty much get quickly covered up with the next bill that gets signed or speech given.

But there may be more of a method to Obama's attention-deficit madness than most people grasp. E.J. Dionne cut through the clutter pretty decisively in this piece in the Washington Post, "Why Obama Likes His Odds."

Again, this is a generational thing--not in terms of years, but in terms of congress, literally:

It was not the soaring rhetoric that is Barack Obama's signature, but he recently offered the sound bite that may define his presidency: "Don't bet against us."

There are reasons to believe that his confident words -- they were about health-care reform but have broader application -- were not the bombast of a bluffer exaggerating the strength of his hand. They reflect the high cards that Obama holds and has only now started to play.

Of course, no one ever thought passing a health-care bill would be easy, and the effort hit some bumps last week over costs and how to cover them.

But Obama doesn't quite see things the way his more nervous Democratic allies do because he missed the years in Washington during which his party was beaten down. Many Democrats had their perceptions of political reality shaped by the failure of Bill Clinton's health proposal, the 1994 Republican revolution and the GOP's triumphalism during President Bush's first term.

That world, however, turned upside down in 2005 -- the year Obama arrived in Washington. Bush's power dissolved in the failure of his Social Security privatization proposal, the Hurricane Katrina backlash and rising disillusionment with the Iraq war. By the end of 2006, less than two years after Obama's arrival, Democrats had seized control of both houses of Congress.

The paradox is that Obama's limited experience under Republican sway makes him more comfortable than many of his allies are with wielding the power that comes from large Democratic majorities.

And it's real power.

Dionne makes an excellent point in his piece, that Democrats were pretty much battered and bruised under 12 years of Republican abuse. When you have a respected Democratic congressman who left two legs and an arm in the jungles of Vietnam and ran the Veteran's Administration under President Jimmy Carter--Max Cleland--get attacked in political ads for not being patriotic enough, and DEFEATED because of it, then you have only a HINT of the kind of battering Democrats in congress were accustomed to when they first tentatively took over in 2006.

Some of them have not held positions of power for many years, and some of them never have. Some are still intimidated by right-wingers who once pummeled them in the polls.

"The only things fellow Democrats...have to fear are the fears and insecurities bred into them when they were a battered minority," writes Dionne. "Obama is free of those doubts because he never knew them."

There are other ways Obama is often underestimated. The fact that he is willing to listen to all points of view--even encourages this--is often mistaken as a sign of some kind of weakness, as if he has no core values of his own and must try on others to see if they fit.

There is no weakness in considering all points of view, adopting those that are the most pragmatic and workable, and discarding those that are not. But in the end, it is one man who makes the decisions, and it's a mistake to think that he somehow lacks the strength of character to stand by those decisions.

Much has been made of how the Obama administration studied the Clinton health-care plan and analyzed what went wrong in implementing it, but Clinton's is not the only presidency Obama has looked at. In a piece in the Washington Post, Ceci Connolly examines how the Obama administration actually STUDIED LBJ's shepherding of Medicare through congress in 1965.

Most people wouldn't see much similarity between the Ivy League-educated, urbane, soft-spoken Obama and the crude, loudmouth, ornery Texan--but actually, there are similarities. Both came out of the U.S. Senate and both understood how congress worked, and how to "work" congress to get things done.

Since getting back from his overseas trip, Obama has put on a full-court press behind and in front of the scenes, inviting scores of congresspeople and senators to the White House for arm-twisting sessions, giving speeches and press conferences and YouTube addresses and, as he proved today, moving swiftly to capitalize on mistakes made by the opposition.

When South Carolina's dimwitted senator, Jim DeMint, made the mistake of chortling on-mic that if the Republicans could "shut down" Obama on health care, it would be his "Waterloo" and would "break him," Obama was quick to respond in a rapid-fire soundbite, that health care was not about HIM, not about politics, but that it was "breaking American families."

Look at headlines on blogposts or op-eds, and already they're talking about how Obama is "struggling," how this is make-or-break time, how the plan is "unraveling" and how this titanic battle could bring down the ship of state.

It makes good drama. Makes a good story. I used to tell good stories for a living. I understand the power of sustaining suspense, of keeping the reader breathlessly turning pages until the big climax.

We are a nation who loves our heroic narratives and our high drama, whether it be so-called "reality TV" or sports or the latest political contest. We like competition and suspense. We like to see the good guy win and the bad guy stomped.

And in recent years, we like to express our opinions, loudly and often. That's fine. It's democracy as it was meant to be.

But none of that, ultimately, has a whole helluva lot to do with President Obama and how he governs. Like most pragmatists, he understands that the perfect is the enemy of the good, and that in any compromise, everybody is going to be a little bit disappointed. The more set in your views, the more disappointed you will be.

But he didn't run for president so that he could spend the next four years running for president, as Bush did, and four years after that trying to lock in Republican power in all three branches of government.

He ran to govern.

Governing is tense and messy but good governing gets results. Those who underestimate Barack Obama do so because they are writing a dramatic narrative in their heads that he does not fit, and so they dismiss him.

But Barack Obama has thrown out that old construct and shuffled the entire medium, hurling it into a fresh, new, 21st century story, a story in which all the senses are engaged at all times, the action is fast, the results, unexpected.

In that story, history is respected, but not relived.

It's kind of like the difference between, say, an old Vaudeville variety show...and Cirque de Soleil.

Groundbreakers, trendsetters, and visionaries are always underestimated when they first burst onto the scene, whether it be in science, the arts, or politics. Throughout history, such men and women have even been imprisoned or put to death because they and their way of looking at the world are so different from most.

This is because people fear change, even when the old way made them miserable. Most of the rage we observe nowadays on blogs and talk shows and so on are simply a mask to cover fear.

There is a lot in the world today that we fear, and a great deal of expectation we've put on the shoulders of one skinny guy. It's easy to think it's just too tough for ANYONE to solve and that, ultimately, all is lost, that any time he makes a mistep, he's about to be hurled into the abyss, and along with him, our hopes and dreams.

We underestimate him and his team, though, at our own peril. He's proved that time and again. Those who do underestimate Obama often compare him to other presidents, in other times, at other points in history.

It might be smarter to compare him to HIMSELF. Where he's been. How far he's come. What he's accomplished so far. What he's working to accomplish in the future.

And how those same people sneered at him when he first ran for president.

Back when I was barely a teen and the Beatles burst onto the scene, I would spend every dime I could earn babysitting for 50 cents an hour on Beatles records and Beatle's memorabilia.

After about six months of this, my mother put her foot down and forbade me to buy anything else Beatles-related. Not records. Not magazines. Nothin'. Not even with my own money that I had earned babysitting in the neighborhood.

Her reasoning?

"They're just a fad," she declared. "A silly fad. Six months from now they'll be gone and somebody else will take their place. You are not wasting another dime of your money on those stupid Beatles."

Now, last week, my husband and daughter and I, on a company trip to Las Vegas, took in the unimaginably wonderful Cirque de Soleil show, LOVE, based on the Beatles, their history, their time, and their music. It was two hours of a fabulous phastasmagoria of color and light and sound and that glorious music. The specially-built ampitheater was sold out, on a weeknight, and it's been, what? Several years now, since the show opened.

I'm not very good at arithmetic, but I'd say it's been about 45 years since my mother pronounced the Beatles "a fad."

Nope, I wouldn't bet against Obama, either.

Howie P.S.: A milder version of the above: "Chuck Todd is right the media, "created this drama that Obama's struggling to get health care reform done" (video). Ezra Klein (WaPo) urges bloggers to stay the course:
...this is the clearest indication we've gotten that the White House sees conference committee as the focal point for its efforts. But that's the message. The audience for this call -- which I was not originally invited to, but was able to listen in on -- was mainly progressive bloggers, and so the underlying argument was that liberals should have some faith that a disappointing draft out of the Senate Finance Committee is not the end of the process, and they should not lose heart.