Monday, August 31, 2009

"Burner Helping House Liberals Hold Firm on Public Insurance Option"

Roll Call:
An organizer for liberal House Democrats says the bloc “isn’t bluffing” as it prepares to take a reputation-defining stand to protect a public insurance option in the health care overhaul.
Darcy Burner, executive director of the American Progressive Caucus Policy Foundation, said the health care debate has rallied traditionally disparate Congressional liberals to hang together, while galvanizing support for their position from an array of left-leaning outside groups. The result, she said, is that Democratic leaders will not be able to clear a package through the House if it does not include the public plan.

“We have never had the Progressive Caucus organized the way it is right now,” Burner said during a Friday roundtable with Roll Call. “This is not the normal scenario. And Speaker [Nancy] Pelosi [D-Calif.] knows it.”

The public insurance provision has sparked a game of rhetorical chicken between, on the one hand, liberals who have pegged it as essential and, on the other, moderate Democrats and some White House officials, who have called it a deal-killer in the Senate and diminished its importance to broader reform.

As an unusually contentious public debate over the reform drive has put Democrats on the defensive over the August recess, liberal leaders have been upping the ante on the public plan to beat back a building perception it would end up getting scrapped in conference negotiations.

Burner said liberals have new organizational muscle to back up their threat. As evidence, she pointed to a fundraising effort coordinated by MoveOn.org and left-wing bloggers that netted about $400,000 in small-dollar donations in just a few days for 60 members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. Those lawmakers signed an Aug. 17 letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius pledging to vote against a bill that doesn’t include a robust public plan.

A twice-failed candidate for Washington’s 8th district seat, Burner joined the caucus’s foundation in April to coordinate just those kinds of campaigns. She said she saw a gap between liberal lawmakers and what should be a ready-made base for them in likeminded grass-roots organizations that were too narrowly focused on electoral politics instead of governing.

An early experiment this spring confirmed for her the potential power of the linkage. She solicited the net roots for questions to put to Progressives that they would answer on the House floor, live on C-SPAN, during the group’s weekly “special orders” session on Thursday nights. Burner said she expected a couple thousand people to participate, but in the first four weeks, 60,000 people weighed in.

Burner said her group is taking other steps to help the caucus sell its position. She is in the process of establishing a political action committee that would support vulnerable incumbent members of the group and screen candidates who could join if successful. And in what will become a typical service, Burner and her still shoe-string staff put together a recess packet for Progressives highlighting the best polling analysis and messaging advice from outside groups.

The group’s organizational strength faces its most serious test this fall, and Burner acknowledged it is incumbent on liberals to convince the White House it will have an easier time getting a bill through the Senate with a public insurance option than getting one through the House without one.

“If Progressives aren’t willing to do the work to make the president do the right thing, it’s unlikely he will,” she said.

"Chamber, labor officials skeptical about a Seattle write-in campaign"

Emily Hefter (Politics Northwest-Seattle Times):
State Sen. Ed Murray is expected to decide this week whether to run a write-in campaign for mayor.
The idea that started floating around the business and labor communities soon after Mayor Greg Nickels conceded the primary election to two political newcomers, Joe Mallahan and Mike McGinn.

But at least two key players in the Seattle political scene are skeptical.

I spoke to Tayloe Washburn, chairman of the Greater Seattle Chamber of Commerce. The political arm of the chamber, the Alki Foundation, has yet to take a position in the mayor's race. (They endorsed Nickels and Seattle City Councilmember Jan Drago the first time around).

But Washburn said: "Generally speaking, it is troublesome for someone to wait until very late in the race to get started. ... Senator Murray is well-known and clearly would bring some attention to a race, but it's very difficult to contemplate anyone, including him, being successful as a write-in candidate."

Not exactly a vote of confidence.

On the labor side, I spoke to Dave Freiboth. He's executive secretary of the King County Labor Council.

Regardless of the candidate, he said he was skeptical a write-in candidate could succeed. Worse, he said, voters might find it "condescending" if they're offered a third choice after they already selected their top two.

"It's kind of saying, 'you voters are so damn emotional, do you know what you did?' That's kind of patronizing. As a voter, I don't want to be treated like that."

Howie P.S.: Some may consider the source and dismiss this report. And they may be right to do so.

"The 800-Pound Gorilla That Wants to Make a Mayor"

Dominic Holden (SLOG):
On election night two weeks ago, union people tried to smile as they surrounded Mayor Greg Nickels at the headquarters of the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 21 in south Seattle. They had been standing around him for years.
In 2001, the local labor council's support is widely credited with pushing Nickels—a reliable vote for 14 years on the county council—past draconian City Attorney Mark Sidran in his bid for mayor, winning by about 3,000 votes. And Nickels didn't forget it. He paid them back handsomely with unfaltering allegiance in their struggles, from backing grocery workers in a showdown over better wages to the main contention of this year's election: the tunnel. (Unions don't want a tunnel so much as they'll take any second freeway through the city for freight traffic. And Nickels turned a citywide vote in 2007 against a waterfront tunnel and a viaduct rebuild into brokering an agreement with state powers to fund a different tunnel that the voters hadn't exactly shot down.) So unions stood by him, loyally. But on primary election night, as returns came in just after 8:00 p.m., Nickels was in third place, and union operatives forced smiles and carefully stood out of view of the television cameras before heading to their cars by 9:10 p.m. Nickels continued to lose by wider and wider gaps in each successive batch of results: The unions' man—the guy beloved by umbrella groups and nurses and Safeway checkers—was a goner.

"Unions are used to having a strong representative in the mayors office," says political consultant Cathy Allen. "Labor is still very strong and one of the determinants of who wins, if not the most determinant."

The two men who remain standing, Mike McGinn and Joe Mallahan, are not so embraced. "We have the same concerns that many in the labor community have," says Adam Glickman, a spokesman for Service Employees International Union, 775 NW (SEIU). McGinn and Mallahan, he says, have "no experience or record."

Rumors surfaced six days after the election that state senator Ed Murray (D-43) was mulling a write-in campaign for mayor; voters started getting calls from polling firms asking if they would vote for him. Who was paying for those calls? All roads seemed to lead to the SEIU, but Glickman refuses to confirm—or deny—whether the SEIU funded it. "We are not recruiting someone but are also not satisfied by the choices and excited by someone of Ed's stature getting in," he says. Some have rumored that the SEIU pledged a sizable contribution to a potential Murray campaign, which seems possible. SEIU chapters have donated over $150,000 to local campaigns so far this year, Washington Public Disclosure Commission records show. But Glickman says, "I'm not going to speculate how much we money we would give."

McGinn's vow to stop a tunnel proposal—his battle cry in the primary election—could make unions dismiss him entirely. "He has made a religion of attacking this compromise that was put together on the viaduct replacement," says David Frieboth, executive secretary of the M.L. King County Labor Council, the AFL-CIO umbrella group of over 175 local unions. Eliminating the tunnel and the viaduct, he says, "could have a devastating impact on industrial capability of unions. The maritime industrial unions are very, very, very concerned about not only his position on the subject but also his unwillingness to work the issue."

Mallahan worked for T-Mobile, a company that was revealed to use strategies to prevent unions from forming—practically a mark of the beast. The unknown, says Frieboth, "is the degree to which his corporate culture really rubs off on him." The Seattle police and firefighter unions, after holding out on endorsing even Nickels in the primary, have announced that they will official give their support to Mallahan. But most unions that loved Nickels—those representing thousands of employees—are still undecided.

The value of a fairly unified labor endorsement cannot be overstated in Seattle politics. More than their organization's name on a mailer and money, support from the labor council brings fleets of door-knocking union workers and phone banks staffed by volunteer union reps speaking to their candidate's virtues. "It was our labor-neighbor campaign" that put Nickels over Sidran in 2001, Frieboth explains, "targeting our membership to get out the vote."

Lacking for a leader, unions see in Ed Murray the hope they saw in Nickels eight years ago. In his 14 years in the legislature (in addition to being a leading lion for gay-rights causes), he has a 96 percent voting record on union issues. "He's got a record, not only how he has cast votes, but how he works with people," Frieboth says. "So he is the known quantity."

More than ever, labor has an intense motivation to influence this election—and the money and muscle to do it. Their members face onerous furloughs (members of 14 city employee unions voted on Friday to take a 10-day furlough to reduce layoffs, and County Council Member Kathy Lambert introduced a bill last week that could reduce raises and limit union negotiations). In addition to keeping their advocates in local government, unions need to demonstrate that they can make or break a candidate, one of the few bargaining chips they've got left.

"These guys are no dummies. They know that the way to keep unions strong is to keep in [office] people who have been there the longest, bottom line," Allen says. "Labor has never faced such a great time when they need to deliver for their long time members," she says. "It is very much the case that they may be able to make a mayor if they get Ed Murray in the race."

"If the SEIU goes into the legislative session and says, 'If you start messing around with cuts we don't like, beware the ballot box then you will be gone,'" says Allen. And she posits that the SEIU is simply beefing up its muscle in city and council races to prepare for defending their state contracts. "This year becomes the proof positive for that assertion next year [in the legislature]," Allen says.

As far-fetched as it sounds, this could be a good year for Murray to run as a write in candidate. All-mail elections, which King County switched to this year, prove better for write-in candidates than ballot-booth voting because people sit down with their ballot, which includes instructions about how to write in a candidate, along with mail pieces and plenty of time.

Murray says he will make up his mind this week. But that may depend on the extent that unions can support him. And that's unknown, even to unions. Whereas unions worked in unity eight years ago, national labor politics have splintered them slightly, Frieboth explains. "For example instead of having a labor council that is the primary convener of the effort, you may have more subgroups that are working amongst themselves." (For example, the police and fire unions are supporting Mallahan.) Glickman confirms that the SEIU would need a broad coalition to get Murray in office. But across the board, union leaders and politicos agree that Murray brings that sort of excitement they need to rally around. "I think that if he were on the ballot, he would be in a strong position to be the endorsed candidate by labor," Frieboth says.

Lakewood, WA Town Hall (video)


oneamerica08, video (01:55)
Highlights from the town hall with Rep. Adam Smith in Lakewood, WA.

Join us for the "Stand Up for Health Reform" rally at Westlake Park at 6pm on Thursday, September 3.

Sully on Chris Wallace

Andrew Sullivan:
When future historians ask how the United States came not only to practice torture but to celebrate it and treat torturers as heroes, a special place in hell among the journalists who embraced and justified it should be reserved for Chris Wallace.

"Bill Moyers disses Dems as 'spineless'"

Patrick Gavin (Politico):
PBS's Bill Moyers issued a tough critique of the Democratic Party on Friday night on HBO's "Real Time With Bill Maher."

Moyers, whose comments focused on the recent health care debate, said that "too many Democrats have had their spines surgically removed."
Moyers, a White House press secretary during the Johnson administration who went on to win over 30 Emmys and countless other awards during his subsequent journalism career, has been a frequent critic of the Republican Party over the years, making his critique of the Democratic Party on "Real Time" more exceptional.

"The problem is the Democratic Party," said Moyers. "This is a party that has told its progressives — who are the most outspoken champions of health care reform — to sit down and shut up. That's what Rahm Emanuel, in effect, the chief of staff of the White House, told progressives when they stood up as a unit in Congress and said, no public insurance option, no health care reforms."

Moyers said that, over the years, the Democratic Party "has become like the Republican party — deeply influenced by corporate money."

"I think Rahm Emanuel, who is a clever politician, understands that the money for Obama's reelection would come primarily from the health industry, the drug industry and Wall Street, and so he is a corporate Democrat who is destined, determined that there would be something in this legislation — if we get it — that will turn off those powerful interests."

Moyers had some advice for President Barack Obama, as well.

"There's a fear that Barack Obama will become the Grover Cleveland of this era," said Moyers. Grover Cleveland was a good man, but he became a conservative Democratic president because he didn't fight the interests. ... I would much rather see Barack Obama be Theodore Roosevelt. Theodore Roosevelt loved to fight. He came into office and railed against the malefactors of great wealth, and he was glad to take them on. ...

"I think if Obama fought, instead of finessed so much, he stood up and declared for what is really the right thing to do and what is really needed instead of negotiating the corners away, instead of talking about bending the curve, and talking about actuarial rates, if he were to stand up and say, 'We need this because we're a decent country', I think it would change the atmosphere."

Moyers said that conservatives have dominated the debate over health care lately. "In the last few weeks, the right wing has been winning the debate. How [Obama] lost control of the narrative, I don't understand. Well, yes, I do. He didn't find the right metaphors, as you were just saying, and he didn't speak in simple powerful moral language. He was speaking like a policy wonk to the world of Washington, not a country of people who are hurting.
"Here's the party that lost and the conservative movement that was discredited over the last eight years .... They're setting the agenda for a Democratic Party that controls the White House, the Senate and the House. Something's wrong in that."

"Anti-war groups turn against Barack Obama after Afghanistan surge"

Telegraph UK:
Anti-war protesters are planning an autumn campaign against President Barack Obama's extension of operations in Afghanistan to coincide with the eighth anniversary of the first bombing of the Taliban. ---There is rising disillusion among liberals and peace activists that a president who built his campaign on his opposition to the war in Iraq now views America's other conflict as a "war of necessity".
Mr Obama has already added 21,000 extra troops to the 38,000 stationed there by George W Bush. In the next few weeks, he is likely to receive requests from the Pentagon for more when Gen Stanley McChrystal, the US commander in Afghanisan, submits a report on the progress of the war.

It is expected to paint a grim picture and offer the president three options for action: increase troop numbers dramatically, increase them less dramatically or leave them as they are.

Some organisations that campaigned against the Iraq war are biding their time or are more inclined to side with the president's argument that a stronger counter-insurgency effort in Afghanistan is in US national interests.

But others have run out of patience, and though they know they will not yet fill city centre streets with protestors, they plan to hold marches and smaller events such as forums with war veterans and troops' families, as well as lobbying members of Congress.

"As progressives feel more comfortable protesting against the Obama administration and challenging Democrats as well as Republicans in Congress, then we'll be back on track," Medea Benjamin of the anti-war group Code Pink said.

Perry O'Brien, president of the New York chapter of Iraq Veterans Against the War, said: "In the next year, it will more and more become Obama's war. He'll be held responsible for the bloodshed."

Though public opinion in the US has not turned against the war as sharply as in Britain, for the first time a majority of respondents (51 per cent) in a recent Washington Post-ABC poll said the war was not worth the fight. Among liberals, strong approval of the war plummeted by 20 per cent.
On Friday the Pentagon confirmed that August was the deadliest month for US troops since the start of the war in October 2001 to remove the Taliban government, which had refused to hand over Osama bin Laden after the September 11 attacks.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Andrew Sullivan on Teddy: "Tainted, flawed and the maker of a president"

Andrew Sullivan
IF THE Kennedy funeral looked a little like a royal one, we should not have been surprised. Three living former presidents attended the rites. The tributes have been pouring in across the political spectrum. Orrin Hatch, the arch-conservative Utah senator, even composed a little song and sang it on YouTube. Among the memorably awful lyrics: “Just honour him/ Honour him/ And every fear/ Will be a thing of the past.”
The iconography of Kennedy’s passing was laden with memories of the Kennedy past: the death in the famous compound at Hyannisport, the family mass in the little room that overlooks Nantucket Sound, the tour through Boston (across the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway), the burial at Arlington next to his two brothers. It felt like a national day of mourning, rather than a 77-year-old pol’s passing.

This is unusual because Edward Kennedy dies not a martyr as Bobby and Jack did, nor as a war hero, like his oldest brother. He died a mere senator, whose career was so long, as George Will noted, that it comprised more than one-fifth of the entire existence of the US constitution.

It is, perhaps, a young country and it holds tight to its legendary families, even in less than glamorous hands. Kennedy, after all, was a failed presidential candidate, a philanderer and drunk, and his most cherished legislative goal – health insurance for all Americans – remained elusive to his dying days (if closer than ever before).

His passionate left-liberalism (far more orthodox than his brothers’) endured through the conservative era of the last quarter century to the fluid ideological wreckage of today.

But he never rose past the position of majority whip, a post he held for only two years, in part because he was also clearly complicit in the death of Mary Jo Kopechne, a woman he left dying in a car he crashed, and whose fate he first ducked rather than reported.

And his memorably vicious attack on Ronald Reagan’s nomination of Robert Bork to the Supreme Court remains as much in the minds of Republicans as his stirring 1980 “The dream shall never die” speech at the Democratic convention resonates with Democrats. This is a mixed legacy, if a thoroughly human one.

So why all the fuss? The answer, of course, is dynasty, one of democratic America’s greatest and most endearing self-contradictions. The country that began by throwing off a monarchy more than two centuries ago immediately plunged into a democratic form of dynasticism. The Adams family produced two presidents in short order and, later, the Roosevelts and Bushes managed two as well.

But the Kennedy dynasty was the first in the modern era to combine tradition with glamour. Dynasties summon up images of fusty old clans with large rural estates, servants and coats of arms. That’s certainly how the sprawling Roosevelt clan appeared and how the Bush clan, summering in Kennebunkport under the auspices of a matriarch just as stern as Rose, still come off.

The Kennedys were different. They gave the world a dashing, witty, young president, a charismatic, assassinated attorney-general, the breathless stylishness of Jackie and the vistas of Hyannisport in the summer and children playing under the desk in the Oval Office. If this was a kind of dynasty, it was more in line with Diana Spencer than with Charles Windsor. It was a dynasty forged as much in Hollywood as in the politics of Boston. And when Hollywood dynasty is linked to actual power, its electoral aphrodisiac intensifies.

This is what the Kennedys meant and what this weekend of mourning really pays tribute to. They were and are a deeply flawed triumvirate – Jack, Bobby and Ted – but they managed to harness a sense of history with destiny, wrapped up in a robust liberalism.

Viewed dispassionately, of course, the Kennedy presidency is not exactly a triumph. It began with the disaster of the Bay of Pigs and careened through the Cuban missile crisis, beset all the while with staggering private misbehaviour in the White House, ties to mafia thugs and an ongoing war of nerves with J Edgar Hoover. Bobby Kennedy began his public career as a pursuer of communists in the government and ended it in that remarkable moral transformation of the 1968 campaign.

Ted Kennedy got his Senate seat after a Kennedy stooge kept it warm for him for a few months (until he was old enough), and lived through Chappaquiddick, a broken, alcoholic marriage and the deaths of two nephews.

And yet the Kennedys’ wit and rhetoric and intelligence and obvious passion – seen through the retroactive prism of tragedy – came to the surface and never really disappeared. They managed that great patrician feat – of seeming to be in touch with the common man because of their privilege, rather than despite it.

Ted pushed the boundaries of this. He offended the white working classes of Boston by his support for bussing African-American schoolchildren into white neighbourhoods.

His old nemesis, The Boston Herald’s Howie Carr, put the point well last week: “Whether it was court-ordered bussing in Boston in the 1970s, or the affirmative-action policies that stymied the careers of so many of his family’s traditional voters, Kennedy never grasped the depth of the blue-collar frustration as he veered left. What infuriated them even more was that so many of them had grown up in homes where on one side of the mantel was a faded photo of the martyred JFK, and on the other, the Pope, with a dried-up Palm Sunday frond between them.”

Yes, that sounds familiar. But, no, it wasn’t the whole truth. The Irish and Italian Catholics of Boston felt much closer to Ted than to many others more conservative than he – their former governor, Mitt Romney, for example, or their current one, Deval Patrick. Kennedy’s travails with the bottle and the boobs won them over; his tragedies brought people closer to him; and his long arduous career proved his mettle.

For Ted achieved what neither Bobby nor Jack did: he worked in the legislative branch tirelessly over a long period of time, doing the dull stuff of politics that changes lives.

His office was legendary for its constituent outreach. You can’t go far on Cape Cod, for example, without bumping into one of his projects. A call from Kennedy’s office had more frisson than anyone else’s and more clout.

He also worked across the aisle, helping George W Bush to pass his No Child Left Behind Act to improve school standards, joining with John McCain to forge a humane immigration reform.

He was a senator able to be fiercely ideological and also fiercely pragmatic, able to develop friendships beyond politics – friendships that are the grease that makes the Senate work. He was a master of parliamentary procedures and the helm of a ship of highly skilled staffers.

He was also, of course, a politician. Despite being a proponent of green energy, he single-handedly prevented the construction of a wind farm off Cape Cod because it might obstruct his sea view. In 2004 he fought hard to remove Romney’s right to appoint a temporary senator if John Kerry were to win the presidency. And yet in the week before his death he urged a return to the appointment of a temporary senator – in order to keep a Democratic vote for healthcare reform intact. He could be partisan and hypocritical, as well as bipartisan and principled.

He was also, I can personally attest, the de facto father of the orphaned children of Jack and Bobby. This was no easy role. One of my oldest friends is one of Bobby Kennedy’s sons, Max.

I saw in Max’s life, in his own successful battle against addiction, the guiding hand of his Uncle Teddy.

Ted couldn’t rescue all of them – David Kennedy, Max’s brother, died of a drug overdose. But he understood the disease of alcoholism that coursed through the family, sensed the danger of fatherlessness among his nieces and nephews and his own struggles against addiction fortified the others. And at every tragedy – Michael’s death while skiing, David’s in a lonely hotel room, John F Kennedy Jr’s plane crash – Ted was the rampart of the clan. He was a father figure in many ways.

His final son was Barack Obama. Kennedy’s endorsement of Obama early in the campaign, his virtual anointing of him with the Kennedy mantle, was a pivotal point in the defeat of that other burgeoning dynasty, the Clintons. Obama was moved to tears by the gesture and he isn’t moved too often. And he was touched in part because of the liberalism that Kennedy unfashionably held to: a firm belief that government must be at hand to help the poor, the marginalised or the needy.

Kennedy’s insistence on what he saw as racial justice and his deepest passion, universal healthcare, framed his legacy. There wasn’t a gay rights bill this compulsive heterosexual didn’t champion. Even if you disagreed with him on some issues, as I did, there was nothing subtle or contrived about his liberalism.

It was a big-hearted sort of politics, an expansively righteous sense of duty and, as such, an integral part of what makes Anglo-American politics work. Conservatism needs a Reagan and Thatcher; liberalism needs its Kennedys. Because we all need myth and we all need royalty – even if it is strained through the sieve of democratic rule.

Enoch Powell once remarked that all political careers end in failure. The strange thing about Kennedy is that his own might end posthumously in success. His anointed son Obama and a Democratic Congress will almost certainly pass a bill this autumn that will expand access to healthcare to all Americans. He fought for this for 40 years; and despite extreme resistance, peaking now, it seems clear that the Democrats have the votes to pass universal insurance, paid by government subsidy, for private healthcare.

It will cost $1 trillion (£614 billion) over the next decade, less than the Iraq war, if more than the United States can afford right now. But the passing of Kennedy will doubtless stiffen liberal spines to see it through.

Republicans believe they are doing to Obama what they did to Bill Clinton in 1993 and 1994. But Obama won a clear majority while Clinton got only 43% of the vote; and this time, business needs reform because of soaring costs as much as the needy; and the insurance and drug companies are eager for all those new clients.

Clinton, moreover, failed to get his bill, rendering him bloodied; Obama will not fail to get his. There is a poignancy in this, whatever you think of the details of the bill. And Kennedy’s passing is a clarion call to finish the dream he worked for for so long.

As The New York Times elegantly put it, Kennedy “was a celebrity, sometimes a self-parody, a hearty friend, an implacable foe, a man of large faith and large flaws, a melancholy character who persevered, drank deeply and sang loudly. He was a Kennedy”.

Maybe it’s my Irish blood or my love for some of his family – but even as I recognise that his vision of politics was different from my own, I am glad he lived and lived long.
He was in the end more than a Kennedy. He was a senator. He worked the hard way, in often unglamorous circumstances, mostly in the minority, but he worked.

Some in dynasties rise high and fall far. Others provide the drop-shadow of their siblings’ drama: the prosaic work of legislating that endures even after the dream has died.

Ted Kennedy, Barack Obama and "The Legacy" (with video)

"At funeral Mass, Obama hails Kennedy as ‘a kind and tender hero’" (Boston Globe), with video (15:14):
Presidents and porters, dignitaries and dishwashers bade final farewell yesterday to Senator Edward M. Kennedy, who was memorialized inside a grand church on a crowded street in a city for which he had a boundless love. He was the “soul of the Democratic Party,’’ in the words of Barack Obama, and “my best friend,’’ in those of his namesake son.
The funeral brought the city to a standstill and the 1,500 mourners inside the steamy basilica to hearty laughter and tears. Rain-soaked onlookers lined the procession routes to wave goodbye as the cortege made its way to the church and, later, to Hanscom Air Force Base, for a flight to Washington and his burial in Arlington National Cemetery.

An array of the nation’s most powerful politicians, Kennedy family members, and diverse celebrities crammed into pews at the Basilica of Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Mission Hill for a two-hour service that was steeped in family lore and Catholic ritual. It began late but simply, with a procession of priests bearing incense and military officers carrying the casket down the center aisle of a silent church to the barely audible commands of “Hup. Hup. Hup.’’

Edward M. Kennedy Jr. left the mourners spellbound when he described a snowy day shortly after he lost a leg to bone cancer when he was 12 years old. His father urged him to coast down a hill in front of their house, but the son, frustrated because he could not climb the icy driveway with one leg, declared he was giving up.

“He said: ‘I know you’ll do it; there is nothing you can’t do. We’re going to climb that hill together, even if it takes us all day,’ ’’ his son recalled from the pulpit, removing his glasses to rub away tears. “Sure enough, he held me around my waist, and we slowly made it to the top. And, you know, at age 12, losing a leg pretty much seems like the end of the world, but as I climbed onto his back and we flew down the hill that day, I knew he was right. I knew I was going to be OK.’’

The funeral was the centerpiece of a solemn day of remembrance that began in the early morning at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Dorchester and ended on a grassy hillside after dusk in Arlington National Cemetery, where Kennedy was laid to rest in a grave next to his two brothers. Just before that, hordes of congressional staff members and everyday Washingtonians had filled the Capitol steps and lined the streets of Washington in a farewell of their own.

In Boston, in the soaring basilica known as Mission Church, President Obama and his wife, Michelle, sat in the first row next to Vice President Joe Biden and his wife, Jill. In the next pew, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton sat beside former president George W. Bush and her husband, the former president. Nearby sat another former president, Jimmy Carter.

“He was given a gift of time that his brothers were not,’’ Obama said in the eulogy. “And he used that time to touch as many lives and right as many wrongs as the years would allow.’’

“We do not weep for him today because of the prestige attached to his name or his office,’’ Obama said. “We weep because we loved this kind and tender hero who persevered through pain and tragedy, not for the sake of ambition or vanity, not for wealth or power, but only for the people and the country he loved.’’

After the eulogy, Obama hugged Kennedy’s tearful widow, Victoria, with one of his hands resting on the casket.

Prior to the service, Obama had walked in drizzling rain from his hotel, the Westin Copley Place, to meet privately with her for about 10 minutes at the Fairmont Copley Plaza.

The funeral capped three days of public mourning and celebrations of Kennedy’s 77 years of living and 47 years as a United States senator.

The funeral service was marked by an extraordinary collection of celebrities from Boston, Washington, and beyond, including singer Tony Bennett, actor Jack Nicholson, Celtics legend Bill Russell, and the ownership trio of Kennedy’s beloved Boston Red Sox. The crowd also included a healthy dose of his current and former staff members, legendary in Washington circles for their legislative prowess, and the kinds of everyday people whom Kennedy befriended through his politics and policies.

As the drizzle became a downpour outside, the church was brightly lighted, and sounds from some of the world’s most renowned musicians rose toward the arched, soaring ceilings and echoed off the marble walls.

Cellist Yo-Yo Ma played a mournful “Sarabande’’ from Bach’s Cello Suite No. 6. The melancholy voice of tenor Placido Domingo filled the sanctuary as he sang “Panis Angelicus.’’ And mezzo-soprano Susan Graham held the congregation entranced with Shubert’s “Ave Maria.’’

At the end, after Kennedy was commended to God by Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley, the congregation sang “America the Beautiful,’’ accompanied by a 3,200-pipe organ, as the casket was wheeled back down the center aisle, guided by some of the senator’s nephews and nieces.

The church, stuffy from the capacity congregation and the gathering storm outside, featured the odd sight of men in earpieces lining the walls and gleaming motorcades parked next to the weathered buildings outside. The church grew quiet when the Kennedy family began streaming down the center aisle.

“A few scant miles from here, the city on the hill stands less tall against the morning sky,’’ said Rev. J. Donald Monan, former president of Boston College and a Kennedy family friend. “And the sea out toward . . . Nantucket is a bit more forlorn at the loss of one of its most ardent lovers.’’

In the homily, the Rev. Mark R. Hession recalled the significance that the Basilica of Our Lady of Perpetual Help held for the senator.

“When critical illness threatened his own daughter, he came to this place daily to pray,’’ Hession said, referring to Kara Kennedy’s successful battle against cancer. “He came here, like generations before him, seeking the healing hand of God. We’re reminded that the most public personalities also live a very personal existence. This church was the place of private prayer for a public man.’’

Kennedy’s grandchildren, grandnieces, grandnephews, nieces, and nephews delivered intercessions that relied on words that Kennedy once uttered: That the nation should stand against violence, hate, and war; that people from all walks of life should be respected; that health care should be a right for all Americans; and, as he famously said at last year’s Democratic National Convention, “The work begins anew, the hope rises again, and the dream lives on.’’

“Lord, hear our prayer,’’ the congregation said after each petition.

The most memorable tributes came from Kennedy’s sons.

Ted Jr. recalled how his father was a storyteller, lover of costume parties, accomplished painter, and loved “everything French - cheese, wine, and women.’’

“He was a mountain climber, navigator, skipper, tactician, airplane pilot, rodeo rider, ski jumper, dog lover, and all around adventurer,’’ his son said. “Our family vacations left us all injured and exhausted.’’

He told of how his father would leave money on the sink for hotel staff who made his bed. He mentioned how his father was recruited by the Green Bay Packers out of college, but chose law school instead. He confided that his father was “a dinner table debater and devil’s advocate.’’

“He even taught me some of life’s harder lessons,’’ Kennedy said, “such as how to love Republicans.’’

Kennedy’s other son, Patrick, a congressman from Rhode Island, spoke of being a young boy who suffered from chronic asthma attacks and throbbing headaches after using his medications every night. On family vacations, a special nonallergenic, nonsmoking room had to be reserved for him. His father would hold a cold, wet towel to his forehead until he could go to sleep.

“Having asthma was like hitting the jackpot for a child who craved his father’s love and attention,’’ he said. “When his light shined on me alone, there was no better feeling in all of the world.’’

He also spoke of the great joy he took in joining his father in the US Congress.

Kennedy was the chubby-faced baby of the family who became a patriarch for a clan that most Americans have seen so often on television that they feel they are part of the family, too.

As Obama said, Kennedy lost two siblings by the age of 16, and saw two more assassinated. His sister, Eunice, died two weeks before he did, he buried three nephews, and he saw two of his own children battle cancer. In one of the few references to his personal foibles, Obama added that Kennedy “experienced personal failings and setbacks in the most public way possible.’’

“It’s a string of events that would have broken a lesser man,’’ Obama said. “And it would have been easy for Ted to let himself become bitter and hardened, to surrender to self-pity and regret, to retreat from public life and live out his years in peaceful quiet. No one would have blamed him for that. But that was not Ted Kennedy.’’
Obama concluded with a final, stirring picture of Kennedy: “The image of a man on a boat, white mane tousled, smiling broadly as he sails into the wind, ready for whatever storms may come, carrying on toward some new and wondrous place just beyond the horizon.

“May God bless Ted Kennedy,’’ he added. “And may he rest in eternal peace.’’
Howie P.S.: Here are two more stories on this theme, "President Obama inherits ‘Legacy’" (Boston Herald) and "For Obama, a sea of inspiration for Kennedy eulogy" (Chicago Tribune). Video (04:21) of guests arriving at the funeral here.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

NY Times: "Two Takes on the Health Debate"


Questions for Tom Daschle, "The Selling of the Policy" (Deborah Solomon):
As a former Democratic senator from South Dakota who wrote a best-selling book on health care, “Critical,” and was a shoo-in for the position of secretary of health and human services until unpaid taxes became an issue, do you get the sense that the Republicans have dropped out of the health care debate?
That is the sense I’m getting. I’m incredibly disappointed. Several years ago I worked with George Mitchell and Bob Dole and Howard Baker to create a bipartisan policy center. I was very optimistic last spring when we issued our proposal that this could be bipartisan, but clearly that’s not the way it’s trending.

Do you think President Obama has done a good job of selling health care reform to the general public?
I think we have to do better at making this issue a moral imperative. I don’t think we’ve succeeded at that yet. I think the more we can bring everybody to an understanding about how this in many respects is the civil rights battle of the early part of this century — it’s a fight for the disabled, it’s a fight for the sick, it’s a fight for equal rights when it comes to health.

With all of his eloquence, why can’t the president convey that message?
I think in part because the organizational strength of the other side has once again surfaced. The other side has socialism, they have fear of government, they have rationing and all these — Scare phrases. The Democrats need better phrases. We do.

What about Better Care? Medicare to Better Care?
We’ve got to boil it down to those themes that really motivate and have emotional value.

What are you doing now?
In my life generally? I work with my wonderful law firm, Alston & Bird.

You’re not a lawyer, are you?
Exactly, no, I’m not. If I have one regret in life, and I don’t have many, it’s that I didn’t get advanced degrees when I was younger.

You don’t need a law degree; you make your own laws.
I do that, and then I advise clients.

It has been reported that you’re a paid adviser to the insurance giant UnitedHealth Group, which opposes your belief that health care reform needs to have a public option. Why do you work with them?
On the left there are those who say that you should never talk to people who differ with you on a high-profile issue. My question to the left would be, whom would they advise these insurance companies talk to? Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin? That’s the alternative. They can talk to Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin, or they can talk to me.

It has been reported that your salary from Alston & Bird last year was $2 million.
I don’t know where that came from. I wish it were $2 million.

Why do you wear red glasses?
When I left the Senate, I felt more liberated to do things that I felt were fun to do.

In February, after you confessed to owing $140,000 in back taxes, you withdrew your nomination for a position in the Obama cabinet, as secretary of health and human services. Did the president push you out?
Oh, no. I have to say I was very pleased and grateful for the support that I got from the president on down. He called me a couple of times that day. He said, think about it and then I will accept whatever decision. Then he called me back later after I indicated that it was my final decision, and he just was calling to see how I was doing.

And how were you doing?
It was a difficult time. I can’t deny that. My whole family left work that day or just chose not to go in and they all came over to the house.

What helped you get through that period?
I’ve got this slogan that my family — they grimace when they hear me say it because I say it too often. But I believe that the windshield is bigger than the rearview mirror.

The Way We Live Now, "The New Old Guard" (Matt Bai):
For all the shouting that has dominated these town hall meetings on health care lately, they have yielded a few important insights. The first is that the town hall itself has probably reached the end of its usefulness in the Internet age; if you’re looking for thoughtful dialogue, you might as well hold your next meeting on the stern of a Somali pirate ship. The second is that we now have a visual sense of the kind of voter who is militantly opposed to Obama’s health care agenda and, more broadly, to the president himself.
The typical anti-Obama activist tends to be white, male and — perhaps most significant — advanced in age. A poll conducted earlier this month by CNN and Opinion Research showed a rather stark age divide when it came to health care: 57 percent of voters under 50 said they favored the outlines of a Democratic plan, but that number was a full 20 points lower among voters over 65. In three Pew Research Center polls going back to April, senior citizens consistently gave Obama’s job performance lower approval ratings than did than any other age group.

Ideologically speaking, this is not what we are accustomed to seeing. Successful Democratic candidates have long relied on oldsters who grew up worshiping Franklin Roosevelt and who cherished their Medicare and Social Security; one of the best-worn Democratic clich├ęs over the years has been the cry that Republicans were plotting to strip seniors of their pills and pensions. If that advantage is eroding now, then it certainly has something to do with the specifics of the health care argument. Suddenly it’s the Democrats in Washington who are talking about rejiggering Medicare to rein in costs, and now Republicans are the ones expertly exploiting fear among the elderly.

And yet Obama’s problems with the aged didn’t start last month. He struggled to connect with seniors in last year’s Democratic primaries, and though a Pew poll conducted several months before the general election gave Democrats a 12-point partisan advantage among seniors, Obama himself never really won them over. He performed about 8 points lower among the oldest voters than he did among the electorate as a whole; by contrast, the last successful Democrat, Bill Clinton, twice ran the same or better among seniors as he did overall.

Most of the conjecture about this phenomenon during the campaign centered on race, the theory being that a lot of voters born into segregated America simply had a harder time embracing the idea of a black president. No doubt there’s some truth to this. (Perhaps that’s the audience Glenn Beck of Fox News had in mind when he posited recently that Obama loathed all white people, which would have come as a surprise to the president’s white grandparents.) But it’s also impossible to extricate race from your standard generational resistance — to know, in other words, whether some seniors opposed Obama because he was black or because he seemed to embody, with his fist bumps and his failure to cover his heart during the national anthem, the further decline of some Rockwellian cultural ideal. Every young presidential aspirant whose candidacy, like Obama’s, seems largely rooted in generational unrest — John Kennedy in 1960, Gary Hart in 1984 — irritates traditionalists, regardless of ideology or ethnicity. It must be hard for older voters not to experience such transitional campaigns, with their implicit indictments of the past, as a rhetorical hand on the back, pushing them not so gently toward the inevitable exit.

More to the point, though, it’s probably time for us to update our notions of elderly Americans and how their worldviews were formed. We are inclined to imagine our oldest citizens as products of the New Deal, voters whose earliest memories engendered a lasting faith in the goodness of government. But conservative theorists like Karl Rove used to say that time was on the side of Republicans where the elderly were concerned, because Depression-era memories would someday give way to a more complicated historical legacy — and perhaps, in this narrow respect, their grand predictions had some validity. If Obama has little of Bill Clinton’s appeal to old folks, it’s probably because old folks now aren’t the same ones who rode volunteer-driven vans to the polls in 1992.

After all, a 70-year-old American today, born in 1939, probably has no personal memory of F.D.R., but he would have lived through the pain of disappearing manufacturing jobs and family farms, and the rapid deterioration of urban neighborhoods and schools, conditions unabated by government experiments in welfare and public housing. Wooed by Ronald Reagan during their prime earning years, these voters may not be nearly as sympathetic to Obama’s vision of activist government as Democrats might have assumed. For these new senior citizens, even the Social Security and Medicare on which they often rely may be viewed less as instruments of beneficent government than as a partial repayment for decades of taxes.

The good news for Obama and his party, of course, is that they still enjoy an enviable level of support among voters just breaking into the work force and among those now drifting into middle age. And that means that if reigning Democrats can manage to get health care policy right this time, and maybe even add some fundamental energy reforms, they might still be able to cement more hopeful attitudes about government for generations to come, much as Roosevelt did in his day. Today’s younger voters might never be as party-affiliated as their grandparents were, but neither may they turn out to be as cynical about their leaders as their parents often seem to be. If the president has his way (which is to say, if the worst nightmares of Republicans come to pass), those voters may someday live out their retirements in Arizona or Nevada, spinning stories for their grandchildren of the days when Barack Obama was twice elected president, when government managed once again to make things better instead of worse and when politicians still bothered with these things called town halls.

"How Can President Obama Regain His Political Footing?"

Topic A (WaPo):
With polls showing that President Obama is losing ground, The Post asked political experts what he could do to regain the initiative. Below are contributions from Scott Keeter, Michael S. Berman, Newt Gingrich, Donna Brazile, Robert J. Blendon, Christine Todd Whitman, Dan Schnur, Ed Rogers, Harold Ford Jr. and Ed Gillespie.
SCOTT KEETER

Director of survey research at Pew Research Center

President Obama had a better honeymoon with the public than either Bill Clinton or George W. Bush. But it's over now. His ratings are approaching his electoral margin.

This summer slump is a product of his own actions and political forces outside his control. Obama campaigned for strong government action on the economy and health care, and most of his voters agreed with this direction. But Obama's efforts to expand the role of government have alienated many of those who did not vote for him but nonetheless gave him high marks when first he took office.

Pew Research's political values survey this spring showed no surge in public demand for more government. Indeed, anti-government sentiment, which had been building for years, was heightened by the financial bailout and stimulus program. Moreover, it was inevitable that Obama eventually would have to take responsibility for the economy, which -- despite a few "green shoots" -- remains grim.

The health-care debate has taken a toll on the president's popularity as well as that of his party. Americans remain ambivalent, desiring most of the major elements in the reform proposals but simultaneously worrying about too much government control of health care. Obama can influence whether and how reform passes, and whether it passes at all will affect his approval rating. Democrats in Congress fear that passing an unpopular health care package will be politically costly, but as Clinton's 1994 experience demonstrated, they have good reason to fear that failure on health care could also be costly.

MICHAEL S. BERMAN

President of the Duberstein Group; former counsel and chief of staff to Vice President Walter Mondale

First, the president should not over-read or over-rely on polls. To get some perspective, check out the Aug. 26 piece by Jeremy Rosner of Greenberg, Quinlan, Rosner Research entitled "A Pollster's Advice: Don't Trust the Polls on Health Reform's Demise."

Second, Obama should show that he understands that people are being asked to accept changes in the health-care system while they are in the throes of actual or potential crisis in their personal financial "systems." And that he has heard the concerns raised by affected Americans nationwide. While the media attention to various town halls was in the best tradition of "if it bleeds it leads," most of the people who came out did so out of a real need and interest to learn more about health-care reform proposals.

Third, invite House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Majority Leader Harry Reid to a meeting, just the three of them, and work through with them a plan for going forward. Work "with" the congressional leadership to come up with a single bill that represents the doable, sans the wish list of every idea for changing health care that has been suggested in the past several decades. And get to that bill before the process kind of stumbles on to it.

Finally, choose a dramatic forum, perhaps a joint session of Congress, to lay out a bill that includes core changes but reflects having heard what is bothering the people he was elected to lead.

NEWT GINGRICH

Former Republican speaker of the House of Representatives

When he returns from vacation, the president's most important assignment should be to take a deep breath and get a long-term view of the country's reaction to his policies.

Since World War II, only Gerald Ford and Bill Clinton have had worse ratings after seven months than President Obama. His economic policies are not creating jobs. His energy tax is unlikely to pass the Senate. There is an overwhelming rejection of his spending policies.

On the international front, Afghanistan is proving much harder than expected. Iran is showing no signs of giving up its nuclear program and North Korea is still unyielding.

In this setting, the left's health program is bitterly dividing the country. Several polls have shown that more Americans expect their personal health-care situation to get worse than to get better under the plan being considered in Congress.

Still, Obama's left-wing advisers want him to undertake the revolutionary act of ramming through massive change for 17 percent of the economy under a narrow budgetary provision. This would be a statement of absolute defiance of the vast majority of Americans.

Obama faces a choice: He can attempt to run a left-wing government against the American people. Or he can govern from the center with a large majority of Americans supporting him. He can have either his left angry or the American people angry. We will know in September which choice he has made.

DONNA BRAZILE

Author and political commentator; manager of Al Gore's 2000 presidential campaign

President Obama must reset the national debate and narrow his focus on passing health-insurance reform with or without Republicans. To do this, the president must convince deficit-weary voters that reform will not send the national debt soaring and that higher taxes on the middle class are not just around the corner.

With everything in his inbox still marked urgent, the president needs to prioritize more and stop trying to do everything at once without also reminding Americans of the sacrifices involved. He should repeat: "Remember, we're all in this together."

Obama must also take a chapter from his campaign and begin to work on the "new politics" that would allow him to reach bipartisan consensus on a host of major challenges.

Much of the real anger we are seeing is economic anxiety that ordinary people are experiencing in this jobless recession. The economy is doing better, according to statistics, but nobody feels it yet. That makes for a lot of fear and worry.

The administration should also keep an eye on the stimulus spending: target funds, track job creation, rebuild the safety net, and eliminate waste and duplicity. With money so tight, no one wants to see the government spending frivolously.

ROBERT J. BLENDON

Professor of health policy and political analysis at Harvard's School of Public Health and its Kennedy School of Government

Most Americans do not see the president's economic policies as having been particularly successful for people like themselves, and this is leading to some skepticism about health-care reform. In fact, recent polls show most Americans do not anticipate any aspect of their health care improving if the president's health-reform proposals were enacted.

To shift this thinking requires two things: The administration's message has to change sharply, focusing on more concrete, practical aspects of reform and how it will improve typical Americans' experiences with health care. Obama needs to present over and over again five specific changes in the legislation that will help the average family, and how they will be paid for. For example, explain why changing the system so families cannot lose their insurance coverage and enacting tough insurance reforms helps families who have coverage today.

Second, the president needs to make a clear decision this fall about whether he supports a public option competing with private insurance. If so, he must explain how it would function in practice. Americans in the political center are turned off by ideological debates. After all these months, they want him to explain if it is essential and then move on to other issues they see as important.

CHRISTINE TODD WHITMAN

Chair of the Republican Leadership Council; governor of New Jersey from 1994 to 2001

If he wants to regain ground on the health-care debate, climate change and the other legislative initiatives he has identified, President Obama needs to start by rebuilding some bridges within his party. The squabbling among Democrats is bitter, with the attacks from the more liberal end of the party on the more moderate "Blue Dog" Democrats reaching a fever pitch. Obama might keep in mind the legacy of Sen. Edward Kennedy and reach out to those Blue Dog Democrats as well as moderate Republicans to find common ground. Kennedy was an ardent partisan with a 90 percent liberal lifetime voting rating from the liberal watchdog group Americans for Democratic Action. No one questioned his commitment to the liberal agenda or his party. Yet few senators have ever authored more bipartisan bills and were known for so consistently reaching across the aisle. The president should refuse to push through legislation on strictly partisan votes and should seek the types of bipartisan compromise he promised to broker.

DAN SCHNUR

Director of the University of Southern California's Unruh Institute of Politics; communications director for John McCain's 2000 presidential campaign

Everyone is drawing political lessons from the life and legacy of Ted Kennedy. But there is one missed opportunity in particular from Kennedy's career that Barack Obama can reflect on to get himself and his administration back on track.

Kennedy famously cited his decision to reject President Richard Nixon's health-care reform package as his greatest regret. Although Nixon's proposal was not nearly as ambitious as Kennedy would have preferred, the senator realized over the years that working with Nixon would have led to significant advancements toward his larger goals.

Fast-forward to today's battle over health care. It's clear that Obama deserves credit for moving the debate forward and achieving consensus on a number of previously intractable issues. Set aside, for now, the brawls about end-of-life counseling and a publicly funded option. If Obama signed a bill that allows individuals who change jobs to keep their insurance, forbids the denial of coverage for preexisting conditions, and deals with a lifetime cap on benefits, people will throw rose petals at his feet.

Important progress can be made now on health care; after the most significant reforms in a generation are signed into law, he can still come back to the negotiating table and continue to move forward.

ED ROGERS

Chairman of BGR Group; White House staffer to Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush

While the president's effectiveness is eroding, the situation is not dire. He can regain the initiative, but an eloquent speech won't do it. I assume he will not convert to conservatism and abandon his flawed plans, but he should cut his losses and get back to reality.

Occasionally all White Houses contort themselves into situations where they begin to say things they know are not true. The more you say such things, the more you have to keep saying them to try and make them true. But the Obama administration needs to face it: The president's energy bill is not a jobs bill! His health-care plans will lead to government bureaucratic decisions about individuals' heath care and will cost a fortune. The deficit is not under control. The administration should not deny the obvious or defend the indefensible. White House officials know they are losing the public debate on these issues and must scale back to what is possible and credible given America's economic circumstances -- or use brute force in Congress to pass unpopular, harmful and vast new programs.

Even if he did use his congressional majorities to win these battles, the president would lose the war by slowing economic growth, only resulting in more political pain for himself and his party. Obama doesn't have any political problems that a couple of years of 4 percent GDP growth won't solve. But he has to want it, and he needs honest policies to achieve it. Now, though, he is on a course that terrifies his political handlers and his party's candidates.

HAROLD FORD JR.

Chairman of the Democratic Leadership Council

Every president faces a time when poll numbers slide. It's easy to advise a president to ignore the numbers and plow ahead. It's not wise for a president to heed that advice blindly. Thankfully, President Obama knows that politics is about the art of the possible.

Obama is battling a stubborn recession, a Republican Congress hell-bent on defeating health reform and a resurgent Taliban in Afghanistan. When he returns to Washington the president should forge a consensus in Congress to pass what "is possible" on health reform, redouble his efforts to stimulate job creation, clearly articulate our mission objectives in Afghanistan, and redefine and revive energy and financial services reform.

First he needs to win on health reform. Obama has been patient, committed and focused on leading Congress to a consensus. At his core, this president is a pragmatist. In the spirit of the late Sen. Ted Kennedy, Obama should work toward winning a compromise here before taking on new reform challenges.

The compromise should be built around insurance reform, such as prohibiting companies from denying coverage based on preexisting conditions, and guaranteeing coverage for every child in America. Such substantive health reform would put us firmly on path to solving the uninsured problem in this country when our economy gets back on track.

ED GILLESPIE

Counselor to President George W. Bush

Barack Obama faces a fundamental decision about the direction of his presidency: Try to muscle through with Democratic votes a much more liberal agenda than many of his voters expected of him, or seek more consensus-oriented policies that attract at least a slice of the House and Senate Republicans by sacrificing core liberal elements of his policies.

If he chooses the former, he risks spectacular failure or a victory that eliminates the "postpartisan" persona that is a critical component of his personal approval ratings. This would make it much more difficult to achieve future legislative goals, in the same way the rushed, forced passage of the stimulus bill has made his health-care policy harder to achieve. And once that critical attribute is lost, it's all but impossible to get back.

To pull his young presidency back from the brink, and protect his greatest asset, President Obama would be wise to tack back to the center and pull his congressional leadership with him. He can then return his focus to the central issue on which voters are looking to him for leadership -- turning our economy around.

Howie P.S.: All the wisdom of the Beltway you could ever want, and more.

"Police and Firefighter Unions Endorse Mallahan"

Dominic Holden (SLOG):
The Seattle Police Officers' Guild (SPOG) and Seattle Firefighters Local 27 have endorsed Joe Mallahan for mayor, union and campaign spokespeople say. The two groups announced this evening that they would hold a press conference on Tuesday to break the news, but firefighters' union president Kenny Stuart confirmed tonight that their endorsement would go to Mallahan.
"We think he's going to be the best mayor of the two candidates for public safety, labor, and for the city of Seattle," Stuart says. "It became obvious to us that his basic values were in line with labor and firefighters as well as his appreciation for workers." The firefighters' union met twice with each mayoral candidate, and Mallahan demonstrated the best understanding of union interests, he says, particularly on providing sufficient staff on the scene of emergency calls.

"Joe demonstrated an ability to understand those issues not just on the surface—he understood the issues to a greater depth that most of the candidates," he says.

Mallahan spokeswoman Charla Neuman says, "I think it is very important for the campaign. They play a huge role to get out the message that Joe is a good manager, and he knows the crucial role that the city plays in helping all the workers that help protect the city."

The blessing of well-respected police and fire unions is a major victory for Mallahan, even though the news isn't terribly shocking—Mike McGinn is the sort of lefty rarely embraced by public safely lobbies. Stuart declined to comment on why they didn't endorse McGinn. But choosing Mallahan is somewhat surprising due to his history as an executive at T-Mobile, which was exposed for trying to prevent unions from forming. Stuart says he asked Mallahan about "about those questions very intently" and Mallahan explained that "he didn’t supervise any of those employees and wasn’t involed in any of those decisions."
SPOG had endorsed several candidates in July for the primary race; however, a mayoral endorsement was notably absent until now. There are about 1,300 employees in the police department, and the overwhelming majority of them are represented by SPOG.

Neuman adds, "We want to help Seattle move forward in an efficient and effective manner so everyone gets what they need from city government, as opposed to the candidate who wants to look backwards and just say 'no tunnel.'"
Howie P.S.: The Seattle Times blog, "Politics Northwest" provides more details: "Seattle firefighter & police unions to endorse Mallahan."

Friday, August 28, 2009

"We Have the Hope. Now Where's the Audacity?"

Peter Dreier and Marshall Ganz (WaPo, op-ed):
On Aug. 25 last year, Sen. Edward Kennedy strode onto the stage at the Democratic National Convention in Denver and announced to a roaring crowd of party followers the beginning of a new generation in American politics.

"I have come here tonight to stand with you, to change America, to restore its future, to rise to our best ideals and to elect Barack Obama president of the United States," he said. Comparing Obama to his slain brother, John F. Kennedy, the senator shouted: "This November, the torch will be passed again to a new generation of Americans. . . . Our country will be committed to his cause. The work begins anew. The hope rises again. And the dream lives on."

Eight months into the Obama administration, many of us retain the hope, but we are wondering what happened to the audacity that is needed to move the country in a new direction. In recent weeks, many progressives have expressed concern that Obama's bold plan to reform health care may be at risk. A defeat on this key issue could undermine other elements of his agenda. We don't believe that the president has changed his goals, but we wonder whether he underestimated the power necessary to bring about real change.

Throughout the campaign, Obama cautioned that enacting his ambitious plans would take a fight. In a speech in Milwaukee, he said: "I know how hard it will be to bring about change. Exxon Mobil made $11 billion this past quarter. They don't want to give up their profits easily."

He explained what it would take to overcome the power of entrenched interests in order to pass historic legislation. Change comes about, candidate Obama said, by "imagining, and then fighting for, and then working for, what did not seem possible before."

Obama observed: "That is how workers won the right to organize against violence and intimidation. That's how women won the right to vote. That's how young people traveled south to march and to sit in and to be beaten, and some went to jail and some died for freedom's cause."

But in the battle for health-care reform, the president and his allies are ignoring his own warning. The struggle for universal medical insurance -- one that Kennedy began pushing more than 40 years ago, and that looked winnable only a few months ago -- is in trouble.

For months the president insisted that any significant reform of the health-care system include a "public option" -- an expanded version of Medicare that would compete with private insurance companies, pressuring them to reduce costs and providing Americans with greater choice. Republicans have made it clear that they won't support any plan that competes with the insurance industry or challenges its runaway costs and irresponsible practices.

Obama would like, but doesn't need, Republican votes to achieve his goal. But seven conservative Democratic senators -- led by Max Baucus (Mont.) and including Blanche Lincoln (Ark.), Kent Conrad (N.D.), Jeff Bingaman (N.M.), Ben Nelson (Neb.), Mary Landrieu (La.) and Arlen Specter (Pa.) -- oppose the public option as well. So by shilling for the insurance industry, they've made it thus far impossible for Obama to take advantage of the Democrats' majority in the Senate.

In the past few weeks, Obama has hinted that he might settle for reform without a public option, thus assuaging the Baucus caucus and the insurance industry but angering many of his progressive supporters.

At the same time, Obama's readiness to compromise hasn't mollified members of the small but vocal right-wing Republican network who, egged on by the conservative echo chamber, have disrupted town hall meetings across the country, warning of "socialized medicine" and other impending catastrophes. This has made it harder for Obama to argue for his proposals and has hurt his standing in public opinion polls.

If the unholy alliance of insurance industry muscle, conservative Democrats' obfuscation and right-wing mob tactics is able to defeat Obama's health-care proposal, it will write the conservative playbook for blocking other key components of the president's agenda -- including action on climate change, immigration reform and updates to the nation's labor laws.

What went wrong?

The White House and its allies forgot that success requires more than proposing legislation, negotiating with Congress and polite lobbying. It demands movement-building of the kind that propelled Obama's long-shot candidacy to an almost landslide victory. And it must be rooted in the moral energy that can transform people's anger, frustrations and hopes into focused public action, creating a sense of urgency equal to the crises facing the country.

Remember that the Obama campaign inspired an unprecedented grass-roots electoral movement, including experienced activists and political neophytes. It deployed 3,000 organizers to recruit thousands of local volunteer leadership teams (1,100 in Ohio alone). They, in turn, mobilized 1.5 million volunteers and 13.5 million contributors. And throughout the campaign, Obama reminded supporters that the real work of making change would only begin on Election Day.

Once in office, the president moved quickly, announcing one ambitious legislative objective after another. But instead of launching a parallel strategy to mobilize supporters, most progressive organizations and Organizing for America -- the group created to shepherd Obama's former campaign volunteers -- failed to keep up. The president is not solely responsible for his current predicament; many progressives have not acknowledged their role.

Since January, most advocacy groups committed to Obama's reform objectives (labor unions, community organizations, environmentalists and netroots groups such as MoveOn) have pushed the pause button. Organizing for America, for example, encouraged Obama's supporters to work on local community service projects, such as helping homeless shelters and tutoring children. That's fine, but it's not the way to pass reform legislation.

One Obama campaign volunteer from Delaware County, Pa., put it this way soon after the election: "We're all fired up now, and twiddling our thumbs! . . . Here, ALL the leader volunteers are getting bombarded by calls from volunteers essentially asking 'Nowwhatnowwhatnowwhat?' "

Meanwhile, as the president's agenda emerged, his former campaign volunteers and the advocacy groups turned to politics as usual: the insider tactics of e-mails, phone calls and meetings with members of Congress. Some groups -- hoping to go toe-to-toe with the well-funded business-backed opposition -- launched expensive TV and radio ad campaigns in key states to pressure conservative Democrats. Lobbying and advertising are necessary, but they have never been sufficient to defeat powerful corporate interests.

In short, the administration and its allies followed a strategy that blurred their goals, avoided polarization, confused marketing with movement-building and hoped for bipartisan compromise that was never in the cards. This approach replaced an "outsider" mobilizing strategy that not only got Obama into the White House but has also played a key role in every successful reform movement, including abolition, women's suffrage, workers' rights, civil rights and environmental justice.

Grass-roots mobilization raises the stakes, identifies the obstacles to reform and puts the opposition on the defensive. The right-wing fringe understood this simple organizing lesson and seized the momentum. Its leaders used tactics that energized their base, challenged specific elected officials and told a national story, enacted in locality after locality.

It is time for real reformers to take back the momentum.

In the past two weeks, proponents of Obama's health-care reform finally woke up. They showed up in large numbers at town hall meetings sponsored by elected officials across the nation.

The president himself used his bully pulpit with more resolve, attending public events and addressing conference calls with religious groups, unions and others to urge them to mobilize on behalf of reform.

What's needed now is a campaign to shift the ground beneath Congress. First, it must concentrate on winning support for a specific bill that incorporates the key principles Obama has been advocating: universal insurance coverage, no denial of coverage for preexisting conditions, the public option and controls on exorbitant drug and insurance industry costs. The Limbaugh lunatics know what they are against. But Obama and his allies have to be clear about what they are for.

Challenging the right wing's framing of the issue, Organizing for America and the activist groups need to recruit volunteers to reach out to friends, neighbors and especially the "undecided" public with the same urgency, energy and creativity that they showed in the election.

Second, the campaign must focus attention on the insurance companies that are primarily responsible for the health-care mess. This means organizing public events across the country that can articulate Americans' frustrations with the current health insurance system and polarize public opinion against the insurance companies and their allies.

Americans who are paying the price of our failure to act -- people who lost family members because they were denied coverage for preexisting conditions, people who can't afford health insurance and fear that a medical emergency would wipe them out, families who went bankrupt and lost their homes because of out-of-pocket medical expenses, and businesses that suffer because of the high cost of insurance for employees -- need opportunities to publicly confront those responsible for their plight. It is time to put human faces on the crisis by contrasting their stories with the insurance companies' outrageous profits and top executives' exorbitant salaries and bonuses.

This requires "movement" tactics, from leaflets, picketing, vigils and newspaper ads to nonviolent civil disobedience -- such as occupying insurance company offices and picketing the homes of executives -- to focus attention on the companies and individuals who are the major obstacles to reform. As long as the real source of the problem remains faceless (or can hide behind seven conservative Democratic senators), the right remains free to demonize "big government" rather than greedy corporations.

Third, the campaign must educate constituents of the Baucus caucus about their senators' political and financial dependence on the insurance industry and other opponents of reform. They need to ask these conservative Democrats: Which side are you on? If they won't support real reform, they should know that a primary challenge is likely.

This strategy could begin to restore the combination of hope and audacity that drives successful reform movements -- and that put Obama in the White House.

Kennedy understood that reforming health care is a moral obligation, and that the responsibility to heal the sick is at the heart of every faith tradition and is required for a civilized society. He was hoping to live long enough to see it happen. Obama and people of conscience cannot allow that victory -- and that tribute to the fallen senator -- to slip away.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Poll from nowhere touts Ed Murray in Seattle mayor's race


Publicola: "Poll Looks Good for Murray, P-I Reports."

Howie P.S.: This is pretty bad, even for the blogosphere. An unsourced, unreleased poll is leaked, unexamined and (jeepers!) touts a write-in campaign for Seattle mayor. This reeks of media manipulation. The candidate, Ed Murray, is a great guy who I have praised previously on this site. But polls are notoriously vulnerable to distortion by the framing of the questions and the sampling techniques. In this case we are told very little about the poll, other than its "results." Credibility-wise, this is bullshit.

Meet Seattle City Council Candidate David Ginsberg (with video)


I first heard about David Ginsberg from Seattle Obama grassroots leader Shanna Sawatzki. Here's how she describes him:
He was a tireless organizer in his High Point community in West Seattle, is a great Democrat and has been a life-long community activist. David is running for City Council, Position 2 in this November's election: DavidGinsberg.org.
Here's his campaign video (02:35).

Professor Sorensen gives a Ted Kennedy history lesson (video)

MSNBC-Hardball, video (08:03).

Howie P.S.: In a Hardball 'first,' Tweety promises not to interrupt his guest.

Woodstock: "You Had To Be There" (why I didn't want to go)

Hendrik Hertzberg:
Going to Woodstock was interesting. Getting out of there was ecstasy.

Four of us set out on the morning of Friday. August 16. 1969--me, fresh out of the Navy; my college friend Phil; and our girlfriends, Karen and Mary. We had spent Thursday night at my sister's farm in Rockland County, not too far from where the festival was to be held.

She and her husband wanted to come with us, but they had a small child and decided to stay home. They waved goodbye to us from their porch as we pulled out in Phil's beat-up Volkswagen bug. We knew we were in for an adventure of some sort.

Why did we go? Partly for the scene, which promised to be out of the ordinary. Partly for the music: it wasn't every day you could see and hear on the same program The Who, Jimi Hendrix, the Grateful Dead, and the many others whose appearances had been advertised. But mainly, we went because of the persistent rumor that Bob Dylan might show up. Dylan supposedly lived in or near Woodstock, an artsy sylvan village. It was on account of Dylan's glamour that the promoters tried to mount the festival in Woodstock, and then keep the name even after the site had to be changed. The fact that there had been no official announcement proved nothing. The mystery tramp wasn't into official announcements. I'm still convinced that two or three hundred thousand of the half million or so people who eventually showed up were drawn by the mere possibility he might sing. Twenty years later, when every beer-sponsored summerfest seems to have Dylan on its schedule, this may seem incomprehensible. But in 1969 the reclusive young composer of "The Times They Are A-Changing," "Blowing In The Wind," "Like a Rolling Stone," etc., was for millions of his fellow citizens the most charismatic creature on earth. His prestige was somewhere between Byron's and Jesus Christ's. So off we went.

The festival began on the New York State Thruway, where every other car was packed with happy, long-haired kids flashing peace signs. On the country roads leading to the site the atmosphere was of a vast medieval gypsy pilgrimage. Besides our tickets, we had low-grade press credentials--not good enough to get us backstage, but OK for getting us into some sort of special parking area. I was representing Win, a tiny anarcho-pacifist biweekly. My friend Phil was representing National Review, for which he would write an article about Woodstock arguing that rock 'n' roll exemplified conservative values in action. Somewhere, perhaps, an impressionable Lee Atwater took note.

We kept driving--slowly, because of the traffic and because by now the running boards and bumpers of the VW were piled high with people catching a ride. We came over the crest of a hill and there, sloping down before us and to our right, was a huge natural amphitheater covered with the biggest crowd any of us had ever seen. We inched down practically to the stage, abandoned the car, made our way to a sport halfway up the hill, sat down, and waited.

We were well-prepared, we thought. We had new sleeping bags and air mattresses, changes of clothes, dozens of sandwiches, jugs of wine and water. The music started--Richie Havens singing "Handsome Johnny," a stirring anti-war anthem, good and loud. The sun shone. The crowd got bigger and bigger.We ate sandwiches and shared some with our neighbors. Everyone was feeling great. Then it rained. Everyone got wet. The music stopped, to forestall the possibility of electrocution. The rain stopped (but everybody stayed wet). It got dark. The music started again--Ravi Shankar. It rained again.

And so on, all night long.

I vividly remember, sometime in the wee hours, Joan Baez's tiny figure spotlighted in the darkness, her pure voice singing a cappella, the crowd calm and still. But most of the time, it wasn't that much fun. Any excursion was a major production. It took an hour to pick one's way through the crowd to the Port-O-Sans and wait in line. It could take another hour to get back, during which, with mounting anxiety, one would become convinced that one's friends were forever lost in the darkness.

Our sleeping bags and clothes got hopelessly soaked and muddied. Our spot was right next to a sort of aisle--a thick, slippery, brown river of boots and muck. As we lay there, trying to sleep, a constant, never-ending stream of people moved back and forth. All night long, without cease, their feet sloshed and stomped and slammed a few inched from our heads. Some of these passer-by were chemically disoriented. Their panic and confusion made them heedless of their steps. The rain, the mud, the unending shuffling and tramping, the constant fear of having one's face trodden on--all this made sleep difficult.

We tried going to the car in shifts to get out of the rain, but with the windows closed it was impossibly damp and stifling inside. Saturday afternoon the weather seemed to clear up. We put on our last dry clothes and began to feel tentatively cheerful. Then it rained again, torrentially. Then the key to the trunk broke in the lock, cutting us off from all our remaining supplies. But the ignition key still worked. As the engine coughed and rattled, we looked at each other, nodded, and got in.

We drove slowly through a Matthew Brady phantasmagoria of tents and mud. Tens of thousands of people were fleeing Woodstock. So many of them climbed onto our VW that there was an ominous crack. The car still moved but couldn't take the extra weight. So two of us trotted along like Secret Service agents, asking would-be riders not to pile on. Everyone was polite and friendly, just as the legend has it.

We spent the rest of the weekend snug and dry at my sister's place, watching reports from the scene on TV. One nagging worry was that Dylan would show up after all and we'd have to spend the rest of our lives wishing we hadn't left. When that didn't happen our contentment was complete.

So there you have it. That's what Woodstock was "like."

Howie P.S.: In this case, the media version was better than the real thing. This may also apply to some other times, "back in the day."