Thursday, December 24, 2009

Kudos to the Senate for Approving its Healthcare Reform Bill

My congratulations to the U.S. Senate and particularly the Democrats for passing healthcare reform legislation. The House and Senate must reconcile their differing bills but hopefully that will occur rapidly.

Is this imperfect legislation? You bet it is. For the left, the Senate bill has no public option. Liberals fear that insurance companies will continue to rake in the profits with insufficient cost controls and competition, particularly now that 30 million more Americans will need insurance. Conservatives fear that the legislation will give rise to another government bureaucracy and entitlement program and lead to greater deficits. All of these concerns have some legitimacy but the alternative was that this great country would continue to limp along without universal or near universal healthcare for its citizens and that the current healthcare system, which almost all consider inadequate, would remain in effect with no end in sight.

I truly believe that twenty years from now most Americans will view this healthcare reform as having been the right and the smart thing to do and wonder why so many opposed it so vigorously.

Yes, there will be bumps in the road and perhaps worse. Costs need to be contained. But the notion that a country as wealthy, developed and powerful as the United States should still have a healthcare system that has excluded so many from being able to afford decent healthcare and limited so many more through exclusions such as pre-existing conditions is absurd. Today there are still naysayers when it comes to Social Security and Medicare but very few. Yes, Social Security has expanded far beyond the original conception but most recognize its significance in providing a safety net for senior citizens and having a stabilizing impact on the economy. And yes, Medicare costs need to be controlled but few dispute that the program has been a life saver for countless older Americans who otherwise would have quickly deteriorated in health. Has each of these programs somewhat reallocated wealth among Americans? Yes. But what community — be it a family, a tribe, a religious organization or a polity — doesn’t reallocate wealth to at least some extent to best serve the collective interests of that community? I don’t know of any.

Will this society have to make some choices as we move forward as to the allocation of healthcare dollars and the availability of medical procedures? I should think so. Critics rant about death panels but how is the allocation of healthcare dollars handled under the present system, for no one should delude him or herself into believing that we don’t currently limit access to certain medical procedures. In the present system those with wealth can select any treatment, even if it means going overseas, but those without the means either can’t afford costly procedures, or find themselves at the mercy of insurance company bureaucrats who decide which medical procedures are necessary and appropriate, or must find charities to support them. Talk of death panels is nothing but a scare tactic. But there will be a need for effective public policy that defines the allocation of scarce medical resources just as today there are policies governing kidney and other organ transplant processes because of their scarcity.

There is always room for improvement and we are likely to see changes in this legislation not only before it is finally promulgated but also before its major provisions go into effect in 2014.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

On Obama At Almost One Year In Office

On his way to the presidency, the economy collapsed. Obama campaigned on healthcare reform, attacking global warming, realigning America’s relationships with allies and the world, ending American involvement in the Iraq war, preserving civil liberties while fighting global terrorism, and many other issues. But an economic meltdown of the magnitude that eventually gripped America and the world wasn’t part of his planning until after he had essentially secured his party’s nomination and the full scale of that meltdown wasn’t really apparent until after the election, even if economists and politicians eventually backdated its beginnings.

Obama had no choice but to try to deal with the economy and he has, with mixed success. In many ways he has continued the policies of his predecessor in focusing more on rescuing the banks and Wall Street than on directly assisting consumers, the unemployed and the rest of Main Street. More of trickle economics or a recognition that, whether one is a devout capitalist or not, the credit markets were a key to stimulating economic activity and that meant focusing on the institutions with the greatest and most immediate impact on credit?

But Obama refused to divert all of his attention and energies toward righting the economy. Some might argue that even if he had it would not have improved things more than they have improved; that the depths of the meltdown were such that considerable time would have to pass before businesses not only started to make profits but also decided to re-employ workers. Others argued that the federal government should have stayed out of the picture entirely and let market forces work, whether or not that might take unemployment to 20% or not. In any case, the economy seemingly continues to limp along and my own view is that Obama’s fall in popularity to under 50% is primarily a function of the stalled economy.

Obama chose to pursue other policy objectives that had been more central to his successful presidential campaign of change. He vowed to close the Guantanamo Bay detention camp, pursue his policy objectives in the area of healthcare reform, and move aggressively to mobilize the world against global warming. Many, even among supporters, cautioned that he was spreading himself too thin. He and his staff rejected that notion and pressed forward.

This weekend, Obama and his allies seem prepared to claim success in two major areas, the fight against global warming and healthcare reform legislation. But has Obama succeeded? Will his achievements turn around declining popular support for his presidency? And what do the current outcomes in these two areas and others tell us about Obama, his style, and his presidency?

I’ve been as critical as others over Obama’s failure to provide more overt, passionate leadership on the issues he himself has either chosen to highlight or, in the case of the economy, has been required to address. His approach seems to have been to let Congressional supporters carry the ball, shape the legislation, and negotiate compromises, with the White House providing pressure here and there in the backrooms. Then when enough support appears to have been garnered for a particular bill, Obama has emerged, embraced it and celebrated its passage. This appeared to be his approach to the stimulus package and appears to be his approach to healthcare legislation.

In a well written news analysis in today’s (December 20, 2009) The New York Times entitled “Obama, Denied Full Victory on Two Issues, Takes Validation,” Peter Baker discusses Obama’s pursuit of his objectives vis-a-vis global warming and healthcare reform, and refers to comments made by Rahm Emanuel:

‘In an interview, Mr. Emanuel said the developments showed that Mr. Obama “sets out the North Stars for us” in terms of broad and ambitious goals, but is willing to let his staff and allies haggle over the specifics. “He doesn’t negotiate the ends,” Mr. Emanuel said. “He’s very open to discussing alternative routes.”’

He doesn’t negotiate the ends? On first blush, and maybe second, that sounds ridiculous!

But, if we don’t take Emanuel’s comment about the ends literally, it may be that Obama’s approach has made more sense than the one I and many others have thought he should follow. I felt he should have been using the bully pulpit from the outset and all along to set forth his model for healthcare legislation, to mobilize public support, assert his framework for legislation, pressure others to join in, negotiate compromises and show leadership. But would that approach have achieved Obama’s objective or would he still have failed to obtain the support of the 58 Democrats and two independents in the Senate needed to break a Republican filibuster? And if the latter, and I suspect he would not have succeeded in bringing Lieberman or Nelson to his side, might Obama have looked so weak that the current coalition might have unraveled further? Hard to say. But now that the Senate bill has seemingly taken shape and its provisions are being publicly explained, I have to say I’m impressed with many of its provisions although I am somewhat concerned about cuts to Medicare.

The outcome at Copenhagen is even less impressive, however. First reports suggest that the breakthrough was extraordinarily limited and that, as often is the case, the devil is in the details, which were certainly not worked out in a three page agreement. At least, however, something positive emerged if only a non-binding agreement on broad principles that included India and China among the participants. But Obama’s second trip to Scandinavia within a month’s time is no more likely to win him increased support than his first to receive his Nobel Prize for Peace. While, unlike his severest critics, I support his efforts to fight global warming and pursue a "just peace," I don’t think events in Scandinavia moved either prospect very far, if at all, along.

Despite finding myself wanting more from Obama, I nonetheless believe that the economy he inherited has extracted a heavy price in his popularity and ability to focus attention on other issues. While I think the stimulus money has not been spent fast enough and in some instances was directed toward pork rather than in ways more likely to prime the pump, under the circumstances I believe the President has played an important role in helping to avoid further economic deterioration and in turning things in a more positive direction.

I am, however, angry and frustrated over the news that Wall Street profits are booming again while at the same time unemployment hovers nationally at 10% and remains above 12% in California. I don’t begrudge Wall Street and I much prefer it be profitable than in dire straits. But what is alarming is that Wall Street profits are booming, the firms are running to return TARP money in order to loosen the controls placed on them, and they seem once again to be readying themselves to pay out enormous bonuses, while the taxpayers who underwrote Wall Street’s survival and recovery are not only not getting a share of the profits but are continuing to find themselves unemployed and facing foreclosure in large numbers. This is not right in my book. Does that make me a socialist? No. In fact, I believe in preserving private property. But these banks and firms should be paying back not just the dollars given them but a percentage of the earnings flowing from those taxpayer “investments.” As well, financial regulatory reform, which Obama is pursuing, is vital so that we minimize the likelihood of a repetition of this meltdown. American taxpayers cannot afford banks and other economic entities that are “too big to fail.” To rein in such entities is not socialism but rather a responsible regulation of capitalism so that it does not destroy itself and take the rest of society with it.

Frankly, I believe in private property. At heart I am more a pluralist than a liberal or democrat. I believe that freedom and liberty are best protected in a society where power is divided and no one group or social institution is able to dominate all others. And I believe that private property helps support centers of power apart from the government, a necessary condition for pluralism to thrive. But limits on the private accumulation of wealth and its deployment are as necessary to maintain pluralism and the freedom and liberty which flows from it as are limits on government.

Obama needs to redouble his efforts to help the economy improve. This doesn’t necessarily mean another stimulus bill or diverting unspent or returned TARP money toward easing unemployment. It does mean assuring that the existing stimulus money is spent quickly but prudently, that Wall Street shares its new riches that might never have been accumulated but for taxpayer financial support, and that the President not divert his attention in too many other directions. A return to real economic growth, a significant diminution in the unemployment rolls, including those not counted because they have given up hope of finding work, and a decline in our mounting debt whether owed to China and others or to future generations, will strengthen America, restore a belief that we are moving in the right direction, and, as a consequence, improve Obama’s standing among the electorate.

As President Obama approaches one year in office, I remain a supporter. Has he made mistakes? Absolutely. Has he spread himself too thin? Yes. Has he regrettably reversed himself on some positions that he took in the campaign? Yes. Has he unavoidably compromised on some positions he took in his campaign in order to build a necessary coalition to secure more limited objectives? Thank goodness yes. Would I like to see him display more passion and spontaneity in his public appearances and pronouncements? Indeed. But, overall, I give him high marks. You should too!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Whither Public Higher Education in California?

The University of California’s 32% increase in student fees is breathtaking and shocking as have been the recent fee increases adopted at the California State University. Students and others have reacted with anger and frustration in protesting these actions. But exactly what are the alternatives so long as Sacramento continues to reduce funding for these two outstanding institutions of higher education and even the public, while holding these institutions and the community college system in high esteem, is not disposed to pay higher taxes to support them.

The Los Angeles Times published an editorial on the subject today which offers no meaningful alternatives. Below is its editorial. Under that is my critical letter to the editor taking The Times to task for its suggested alternatives.,0,6386749.story
UC on the brink
Another increase in 'fees' hits students hard, but the system itself may now be at risk.

Sorry to say, the University of California Board of Regents took the easiest route possible out of its crushing financial dilemma Thursday by placing the burden squarely on the shoulders of students. We can't help wondering whether the regents understand that the nearly one-third increase in undergraduate tuition -- it's time to dispense with the euphemism of "fees" for UC students -- could prove the tipping point for the nation's greatest public university system, including its star campus, UC Berkeley, the top-ranked public university in the world.

UC is still cheap, relatively speaking, though its tuition is higher than average for public colleges. Even tuition of more than $10,000, which will start next year at UC, compares well with the $26,300 average at private universities and colleges. But that's more than twice what it was a decade ago, meaning it grew at four times the rate of inflation. And room and board at UC costs another $14,000 or so, about the same as at private schools.

UC has long drawn the best and brightest from all the socioeconomic strata in California, especially among the middle class, whose incomes were too high for financial aid at private universities. But private schools have pumped up their merit-based scholarships in recent years to attract top students. Once those awards are figured in, there's not much difference between UC and a private college except that UC also has been reducing class offerings to the point where students are finding it hard to get into courses they need. And as Times staff writer Larry Gordon reported, some private colleges already are using the cutbacks to recruit students away from the state's public universities.

A 32% higher price for bigger classes and less chance of a seat in desired courses won't sound like a bargain to many potential students. This isn't just a matter of easing up on families, many of whom face their own financial crises these days. UC's ability to draw top academic talent is at stake, and with that, its prestige. We all know that once prices are raised, they seldom reverse course, but the regents should not see this increase as a permanent UC entitlement. The board should consider this an emergency increase, to be lifted as soon as possible.

Some kind of fee increase was inevitable. The state's budget ax has fallen heavily on UC, and families had to expect to share some of the pain. But there were ways to soften the blow, including by greatly expanding plans to recruit and enroll more out-of-state students, who pay higher tuition, and brokering a deal with Sacramento to temporarily reduce overall enrollment without losing funding. Such measures would be easy to calibrate up or down as future needs demand, and they are more likely to be reversed in better times than the newly approved tuition increase.

Copyright © 2009, The Los Angeles Times

Letter to the Editor:

I'm sorry, but which of your insightful editorial board members drafted your "UC on the brink" editorial in today's (Nov 21, 09) Los Angeles Times? Your reasoning and logic are impeccably poor.

I was waiting for your alternatives to the tuition increase and they are lame or worse. Increase the number of out of state students? My gosh, that is ridiculous. First, why should non-Californians be awarded choice seats in University of California classes ahead of California residents? Does that seem fair by any standard to you? I note the Letter to the Editor in today's edition, "What the 'C' in UC stands for", which makes a similar point regarding foreign students. Nothing against foreign or out-of-state students but since tuition, even out of state tuition, doesn't really pay the full costs of a student's education, California would be subsidizing the student's education, but this time it would be someone who comes from outside California. Second, I assume, or should I, that you know that after a year most out-of-state students establish residence and pay the lower in-state tuition. So, increasing out-of-state admissions as a fundraiser is foolhardy from a fairness and an economic planning perspective.

Your other alternative is a short term reduction in the student population. That is less ridiculous and, in fact, is part of the way the California State University has sought to cope with the budget fiasco. But, since the theme in your editorial is that students are bearing the burden alone, decreasing enrollment of students doesn't change that one bit. They still end up in the cold. So, again, the logic of your argument is lacking.

I don't claim to have clear alternatives. I bemoan what is happening to California's two outstanding four-year institutions of higher education. But your focus on solving the problems or at least limiting the pain should be on Sacramento and the bankrupt legislative system, including the two-thirds vote needed to increase taxes. The Legislative Analyst is now predicting a $21 billion deficit through fiscal year 2010-2011 and unless Sacramento does something differently funding for UC and CSU may continue to decline.

By the way, students are not the only ones bearing the brunt of this economic and budgetary meltdown. UC and CSU employees, including faculty, staff and administrators, have been furloughed for most if not all of the current fiscal year. And, of course, ultimately the State of California and its dear citizens, residents and others, will pay the price of a diminished higher education system. According to recent data, over 60% of Californians feel strongly in favor of California's tripartite system of post-secondary education but these same Californians are unwilling to pay more to sustain the system. Shame on them, although with over 12% unemployment in California their current mood is at least somewhat understandable, but unfortunately that attitude may signal that there are no likely solutions to the fiscal crisis. If Californians are unwilling to support their public system then Sacramento will not increase taxes and will likely not increase or even restore full funding, and the quality of higher education in California will continue to spiral down.

Friday, October 2, 2009

My View of President Obama After Chicago’s Dismal Showing in Copenhagen

A close friend and loyal reader of my blog sent me an opinion piece by Tim Reid, a Washington based writer for the TimesOnLine, a London based news publication, entitled “Obama’s Olympic failure will only add to doubts about his Presidency.” Reid wrote that Chicago’s dismal showing was a stunning humiliation for Obama. He further claimed that “There has been a growing narrative taking hold about Barack Obama’s presidency in recent weeks: that he is loved by many, but feared by none; that he is full of lofty vision, but is actually achieving nothing with his grandiloquence.” After commenting critically of Obama’s lack of success in building a bipartisan coalition in the healthcare reform battle, his seeming equivocation over a war strategy in Afghanistan, and the absence thus far of positive results vis-à-vis Iran’s nuclear program, Reid concluded that the perception is that “Obama’s soaring rhetoric — which captured the imagination during last year’s election — is simply not enough when it comes to confronting the myriad challenges of the presidency. His spectacular Olympic failure will only add to that.” Reid's commentary

My friend invited my reaction and here are my mixed feelings.

Yes, I sometimes think Obama is trying to tackle too many things at once and not really succeeding at any of them. But then I try to put things in perspective and when all is said and done he still impresses me.

Healthcare is one big mess and I have been critical of Obama for not taking the lead but, rather, giving it to Congressional committees as he did with the stimulus package. But I’m not sure taking the lead would have truly avoided the obstacles inherent in trying to bring change to such a monumental and central public policy issue and part of the economy. There are entrenched interests and they are not going to roll over. There are those of us, including me and perhaps a majority, who don’t like paying increasing premiums but are concerned about unduly rocking the boat. And what about Medicare? Untouched? Unscathed? Well, first the President said absolutely yes, it would not be touched. Then Medicare Advantage was going to be axed. Meanwhile payments to hospitals and physicians were going to be further curtailed. Oops. What’s that all about? Straight talk? Not really. But, the point is that changing healthcare is an incredibly difficult chore. Some Republicans claim they favor some incremental changes in certain areas but haven’t really offered anything meaningful and seem not to want to take a bite out of the insurance industry itself. So, yes Obama is not sailing through on this central issue but, then, which previous president did on this subject matter?

On Afghanistan, that is indeed a conundrum. Yes, Obama’s silence and implied equivocation may not paint him in a positive light as a confident leader who has no doubts. But what should we do? It isn’t as if George W. Bush faired any better in his war policies — a mess in Afghanistan and a long war not of necessity in Iraq whose outcome we really don’t yet know other than American troops are slowly leaving. Will the Shia majority be able to govern in relative peace? Will the Sunnis accept minority status or will large elements return to rebellion as American forces continue to exit? Will Kurds be able to live in stable peace with the Arab Iraqis? I wish I knew the answers. But back to Afghanistan. A fine mess. No success for Bush and Cheney in finding Osama. Growing deterioration and instability in neighboring and vital Pakistan on their watch. Some conservatives, like George Will, breaking ranks and suggesting American interests are not to be served by continuing to make war in Afghanistan. A surge? It is not as if the situation, terrain, tribal makeup or character of the central government are truly analogous to Iraq at the point a surge was implemented there. Heck, I’m not sure what to do and if I’m not sure how can I fault Obama? ;-)

The Middle East? No, Obama is not persuading the Israelis to abandon settlements or growth in settlements but which President has truly succeeded in bring both sides to the bargaining table and making something happen?

Iran? Tell me George W. or Bill Clinton or the great Ronald Reagan, for that matter, succeeded in bringing Iran either to its knees or back into the international community. Bush failed miserably. The jury is out on whether Obama’s approach, however it is described, brings any greater success. I don’t know how the world, including Israel, keeps Iran from developing nuclear weapons in the next 10 years.

Neither Clinton nor George W., nor their predecessors, succeeded in reining in North Korea so it’s difficult to fault Obama for not at this point succeeding.

The economy? Yes, unemployment continues to increase, far more in California than in the nation as a whole. Not good. And it isn’t clear how much the stimulus stimulated, whether it is still an ongoing process or a failure. All the loans and payouts to banks and other industries don’t sit well for any of us, nor does enormous governmental ownership, but I don’t hear anyone except perhaps Glenn Beck, and I don’t watch or listen to him, saying that propping up the banks, as opposed to the stimulus bill, was a waste and that the government should have stood idly by and let capitalism work its “magic,” invisible hand and all. Oh, I forgot, Michael Moore may be claiming that but I put him in the same box as Glenn Beck. I mean, there were other voices and I don’t claim to understand liquidity and all that, but it seems to me that the majority of voices with some expertise in economic matters believed that some rescue efforts to stave off an even worse collapse in the credit markets and elsewhere were required.

So, does that mean I give Obama an A grade? Absolutely not. But I don’t think he is failing either. He is struggling but that’s because the issues in front of him — the economy that experienced a meltdown, a lengthy war in an effort to keep a country from once again providing sanctuary to al Qaida in incredibly rugged terrain amongst a traditionalist population that has never accepted foreign domination, and an effort to reform a healthcare system that requires at least some reform given the huge numbers of uninsured and the uncertainty of retaining coverage when one’s health deteriorates — are enormous. Yes Chicago was voted out in the first round in Copenhagen but I don’t think that was because of Obama. I think it was despite Obama. Does that mean no one fears Obama? I grant that most successful leaders succeed in exercising power in part through fear. But I think it’s too early in Obama’s presidency to gauge whether his strategies and tactics will work in that manner. And fear does not necessarily mean fear of being invaded, bombed or otherwise assaulted. It is often far more subtle than that.

I still support Obama and his efforts. He has disappointed some of his more ardent, liberal supporters with his tendency to seek an elusive consensus. I am not among them. But despite his electoral victory and some polls that suggest most Americans want a public option in healthcare reform, I don’t think there is a clear consensus among Americans on any of the three key issues I identified above: how to heal the economy, reform healthcare, and manage the war in Afghanistan. He must lead and not simply govern by poll results, but he also must avoid losing touch with the sentiments of the vast number of Americans. I’m still in his corner.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Possible Reasons I Never Warmed Up to Teddy

I’m not quite sure why, but I never fully warmed up to Ted, perhaps because I was literally there when he first ran for office. Then too, beyond Chappaquiddick itself I never fully connected with him. I’m not sure what was happening in my life at that moment but I never engaged at the time of his 1980 attempt to push Carter out of the way for re-nomination, something that in retrospect seemed absurd given Kennedy's own past and that Carter was a sitting president, albeit unpopular in many ways. Perhaps my relative distance from it all was because I was in my first year of being a practicing lawyer at a big law firm.

In any case, for me Ted lacked the most endearing qualities of his brothers, John’s charisma, charm and gentle humor, and Bobby’s late blooming but authentic love affair with the poor and destitute. Ted seemed more an institutionalized Kennedy which over the years of his Senate service seemed to become even more the case. His failed marriage and his own drinking (on top of Joan’s) hardly served him or his image well. It wasn’t until after the trial of his nephew that he seemed to find a new beginning of sorts with his new wife, albeit after 30 years in the Senate. And, admittedly for me, the 1990’s belonged to the Clintons, not the Kennedys. John Jr’s death and fairly lackluster political pursuits by other Kennedys, culminating in Caroline’s abysmal run for Senate, further dimmed the Kennedy legacy. Ted continued to contribute, and I appreciate him for those contributions, but his time had passed. It was, indeed, time for a new generation of leadership, as his brother John had exclaimed in 1960, and Ted threw his considerable weight and influence behind Obama.

My Thoughts on Ted Kennedy

My thoughts on Ted Kennedy are reflected in a very well-written article in today’s Los Angeles Times by Janet Hook entitled “Tragedy, Scandal, and a Will to Persevere” and in an email I wrote to Hook in response.

Immediately below is my email. Hook’s article is below that.


Thanks for a well written piece this morning in the Los Angeles Times on the meaning of Ted Kennedy to so many Americans, or should I say the meanings. Unlike many, and in contrast to Larry Sabato’s observation, I remain ambivalent rather than having my mind made up. I neither love nor hate Ted Kennedy.

I was a 19 year old college student at Brandeis University on the outskirts of Boston in 1962 when Ted ran for his brother’s Senate seat. I can still recall his Democratic opponent’s charge that if his name had been Edward Moore his candidacy would have been a joke. As a young political science major, I too thought that nepotism and dynasty were trumping competency, although both his primary and general election opponents also owed their successes to family names.

You have nicely chronicled Ted’s history through the 1990’s that made few of us admirers, even liberal Democrats which I certainly was through those decades and still am. We respected the tragedies that had befallen his family and him but Chappaquiddick represented behavior that was totally inexcusable. I admit that I forgave Bill Clinton his flaws and transgressions relating to the Lewinsky affair, while also condemning them, but I have never been able to do the same toward Ted Kennedy over Chappaquiddick. Chappaquiddick still remains the pivotal event for me in leaving me unable to elevate him to the stature of either of his brothers, not to say I idolize either of them.

But I certainly acknowledge and applaud Ted’s legislative accomplishments and success at refocusing his energies in later years, apparently attributable in large part to his re-marriage. I was admittedly personally disappointed although not entirely surprised by his and Caroline’s endorsement of Obama at a critical time in the Democratic presidential campaign. At the same time, I agree with many who feel Kennedy’s absence in the healthcare debate has been and will continue to be a major loss for the President. Ted had emerged as a powerful voice for liberal policies but able to work with Republicans and others at fashioning workable compromises. We are in danger of losing those kinds of public figures.

Thanks again for your article.


Tragedy, scandal, and a will to persevere

For many of those mourning Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, what gives special meaning to his life is not only his legislative accomplishments but his resolve through a lifetime of headlines and hardship.

By Janet Hook

August 29, 2009

Reporting from Washington

For many of those mourning Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) during his funeral and burial today, what gives special meaning to his life is not only his record of legislative accomplishments but his perseverance through a lifetime of scandal and hardship.

For others, however, no record of achievement will compensate for Kennedy's mistakes and personal failings.

The 1969 Chappaquiddick episode -- in which he fled the scene after his car went off a bridge, carrying Mary Jo Kopechne to her death -- was arguably the most unforgivable of the blemishes on his career.

Perhaps more than for any current figure on the political stage, "people have their minds made up about Ted Kennedy," said Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia's Center for Politics, who has written a book on political scandals.

Few dispute that although Kennedy never fully overcame his weaknesses, he didn't stop trying to achieve important goals in spite of them.

Kennedy was overshadowed and undervalued early on in comparison with his older brothers.

And more than once, his personal problems hobbled his efforts at public service.

"You can think of at least five points in his career when he could have quit," said Geoff Garin, a Democratic pollster who has worked with Kennedy over the years: Chappaquiddick, the 1964 plane crash that nearly killed him and left a legacy of chronic back pain, a failed presidential bid in 1980, revelations of drunken carousing that emerged from the 1991 rape trial of his nephew.

Then there were the tragedies -- the assassinations of his two brothers, the cancer that two of his children battled, and the death of his nephew, John F. Kennedy Jr., in a plane crash.

Even as Kennedy pressed on with his Senate career, he never escaped from himself.

A decade after it happened, Chappaquiddick undercut Kennedy's 1980 fight with incumbent Jimmy Carter for the Democratic presidential nomination.

The day after Kennedy died -- 40 years after Chappaquiddick -- one of the hottest topics searched on Google was "Mary Jo Kopechne."

Conservative talk-show hosts, bloggers and activists showed little restraint in resurrecting the event.

"Perhaps Kennedy's major accomplishment was escaping indictment for manslaughter over the Kopechne affair, thanks to his family's connections," said conservative lawyer Larry Klayman.

Hadley Arkes, a professor of jurisprudence at Amherst College, wrote in the conservative National Review Online that Chappaquiddick "must mark his character forever."

"The crisis over Kopechne was entirely about himself: his layers of negligence, his utter absorption in his own interests, and saving his public position," Arkes wrote.

The negative judgments only hardened after the 1991 incident at his family's Palm Beach, Fla., compound that led to the rape trial of his nephew William Kennedy Smith.

Trial testimony described the senator waking his son and nephew to go drinking in the middle of the night.

A young woman who had joined the group in a bar and returned to the compound lodged the rape charge against Smith.

Smith was acquitted, but Kennedy's approval rating in the Gallup poll plummeted to 22% and he was forced to sit out a major debate he might otherwise have dominated: the questioning of Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas during his confirmation hearings over allegations of sexual harassment leveled by Anita Hill.

It was a five-alarm political fire, and past time for Kennedy to acknowledge his personal failings with fresh candor.

"I am painfully aware that the criticism directed at me in recent months involves far more than honest disagreements with my position," Kennedy said in a speech at Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government.

In 1992 he remarried, to Washington lawyer Victoria Reggie, and his new wife was widely credited with helping Kennedy achieve a more settled, sober life.

When he ran for reelection in 1994, he faced a tough challenge by Republican Mitt Romney, later governor of Massachusetts, who was buoyed by questions about the senator's judgment and by a strong anti-Democratic political tide.

Kennedy won by the narrowest majority of his Senate career, but he still drew 58% of the vote.

That helped him make his final years in the Senate among his most productive on the issues dearest to him, such as health and education.

And his record in the Senate, and his ability to reach across the aisle and work with Republicans, brought a measure of forgiveness there.

GOP stalwarts John McCain of Arizona and Orrin G. Hatch of Utah, for example, both spoke at the memorial service for Kennedy in Boston on Friday night.

"Working in his Senate office, I was always struck by the contrast between the passionate Kennedy haters on the conservative Republican side, and how much affection, trust and confidence that so many of his Republican colleagues had," said Bill Carrick, a longtime Kennedy advisor.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

The President Needs to Provide Real Leadership in the Healthcare Debate

I am not impressed with President Obama’s leadership of late. For the second time in a matter of great national concern, he has stepped back from the front lines of crafting challenging legislation and left things to Congressional Democrats. He first did this on the stimulus bill, letting House Democrats craft the legislation. That was a mistake. He is doing it again with respect to healthcare legislation and this time it has been a disaster.

During the Democratic primary campaign, Obama at one point compared himself to President Ronald Reagan as a transformational president. Obama was not endorsing Reagan’s policy preferences but, rather, seemingly embracing Reagan’s leadership style which Obama saw as providing overall policy guidance while leaving the details to others. This seems to be precisely what Obama has been doing.

President Obama has continued to articulate abstract principles regarding his approach to healthcare but has avoided the nitty gritty. Yet, it is precisely this nitty gritty that many of us are searching for. We want a clearer picture of Obama’s healthcare approach. How is a public option going to function? How will it be financed? Will it drive the private healthcare sector to extinction? Is it the precursor to a single payer system? Is a public option consistent with the President’s assurances that those who are content with their current healthcare insurance can keep it? How will Obama’s approach actually save money while expanding coverage to so many who are uninsured? Will Medicare pay even less to physicians and hospitals than at present and will that endanger the Medicare system, something of particular concern to seniors?

The talk of death panels is a distraction. But the fact that some critics have come up with absurd arguments should not cloud the fact that many remain legitimately confused about the specifics of President Obama’s healthcare plan. The President needs to do more than shed his tie. He needs to roll up his sleeves and delve into the nitty gritty of healthcare reform, and take ownership of his own plan. He must stop looking toward Congressional Democrats to lead the charge in crafting essential legislation. The President, albeit in consultation with legislative leaders, needs to talk in specifics, not merely in generalities, and explain the details of his healthcare program. If he refuses to do that, he may fail even if the Democrats pass legislation. For he will leave the American people bewildered and that will not help Obama or the Democrats.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Sarah Palin’s Irresponsible Decision to Resign as Governor

Sarah Palin announced today that she would not only not seek re-election as Governor of Alaska but that she intended to resign at the end of this month. Unfortunately, I suspect many of her supporters will somehow find her decision and explanation quite reasonable or better. Within the space of about 15 minutes following her announcement, Pat Buchanan managed to stumble from first fully understanding her decision to not seek re-election but feeling puzzled about her decision to immediately quit to, when next quizzed on MsNBC minutes later, finding both decisions sensible. William Kristol, Weekly Standard editor and a Palin supporter, commented that “Everybody I’ve talked to thinks it’s a little crazy,” but then stated “maybe not,” asking rhetorically “what is she going to accomplish in the next year as governor.” But I found Palin’s decision to resign her post shocking and her explanation pure Sarah Palin, rambling and lacking in any clarity.

Palin claimed that resigning now would be in the best interests of her state. She didn’t argue, as many of her critics would, that resigning now would help Alaska because she simply has been a poor governor. No, she claimed that lame duck governors often waste their states’ resources by hitting the road, going on political junkets and the like while drawing paychecks and that she would be saving Alaska those expenses. Huh? What logic is that? How about simply pledging not to go on political junkets or otherwise waste state resources and remaining in the governor’s office to provide leadership to her state through the end of her term? Surely it didn’t take resigning to best conserve state resources. And some “lame duck” leaders actually develop spine during that period in office, being willing to make tough decisions without fear of offending various sectors of the electorate.

And then Palin turned to a sports metaphor in a further attempt to explain or justify her decision, comparing herself to a point guard on a basketball team under attack by a full court press who drives through a full court press but knows when to give up the ball so the team can win. Palin’s decision to abandon office is not even remotely analogous to the basketball player she described. The guard who gives up the ball to another teammate who may be open for an easier shot at the basket isn’t quitting the team! Quite the opposite. She is typically leading the team and remains doing so. A more fitting description of Palin’s actions may be found in former President Harry Truman’s statement about political leadership? “If you can’t stand the heat get out of the kitchen.” That appears to me to be a far more apt description of what Sarah Palin did today.

Some speculate that Palin has decided to exit politics and return to life as a private citizen. She noted today that her family approved of her decision and that her son Trig needed her and that she needed him even more. Some speculate that she may want to escape the political criticism she has increasingly experienced as Alaska governor. She has been under increasing political pressure, including a considerable decline in her support at home although still over 50% and an apparently highly critical piece in this month’s Vanity Fair, which I have not yet read. If her decision was based on a desire to abandon public life and return to private life, then quitting as governor without further delay might make some sense, at least on a purely personal level, although leaving such a major political post long before the expiration of her term, after having vigorously sought it and even run as the vice presidential candidate of the Republican Party, seems bizarre and certainly an abdication of the responsibilities she agreed to discharge.

But her other comments today strongly suggested that she has no intention of leaving the political stage. Rather, she spoke of working from the outside and that her decision was a sign of “no more politics as usual.” Most believe, myself included, admittedly without knowing, that Palin will seek higher office and will likely pursue the Republican Party’s presidential nomination in 2012. If that is her plan, resigning the governorship at this point is irresponsible and hopefully even those who lean in her direction will recognize it as such. Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty has announced that when his term as governor expires in 2010 he will not seek re-election. That appears linked to his presidential ambition. And that makes sense. Were Palin to have served out her current position until 2010 and not sought re-election, that too would have made good sense and would have been responsible. Few of us appreciate politicians who run or re-run for an office, pledging to remain for the full term, only to jump ship early to pursue a presidential nomination and essentially abdicate their responsibilities after re-election by turning their attention to seeking the nomination.

But, if it is part of a strategy to seek, or to consider seeking, higher elective office, for Palin to resign her gubernatorial position at this juncture and to abandon the leadership role she promised to provide her state, particularly for the reasons she gave, is irresponsible. It shows poor judgment and the absence of leadership qualities. I sincerely hope that voters in and out of Alaska of all political persuasions take note of this decision and remember it in the next year or two if Sarah Palin turns her sights toward the presidency. However, it is likely that Palin’s supporters will find this to be a shrewd, wise and courageous decision. That is too bad.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Is Obama already a transformational figure? I think so.

In writing about President Obama's speech today at Cairo University, The NY Times noted: "While the message touched upon a litany of challenges, it boiled down to simply this: Barack Hussein Obama was standing at the podium as the American president."

That made me think: had I been asked to guess a few years ago, before I had ever heard of Barack Obama, which country on the face of the globe a rising politician named Barack Hussein Obama was seeking to lead, based upon his name I might have guessed some Muslim country or even an African country with a Muslim presence. Never would I have chosen the United States of America.

Yes, I supported Hillary Clinton. And no, I don't agree with every policy that Obama is currently pursuing, although far more than not. And yes, in many respects, Obama is another American politician, mixing promises to various groups with flip flops on some positions he long ago had seemingly embraced.

Nonetheless, his election as President of this country does represent a profound change, not only generational but also in reflecting the demographic and ethnic changes in this great country.

I have in recent years suggested that this 21st century will not be America's century. That America's half century was the second half of the 20th century. To me, the tragic events of September 11, in a dark and troublesome way, may in retrospect come to symbolize, together with other events, the beginning of the decline in America's hegemony. The bankruptcy of General Motors may also come to symbolize that movement from America's dominance to the emergence of China and other Asian countries as the new engines of development on the planet. Only time will tell and I shall not be around long enough to see what actually happens.

But Obama's emergence and election to lead the United States, whether you like his policies or not or even him as a person, reflects to me that America is continuing to change, to evolve, to adapt, and to grow. He may indeed be a transformational figure, perhaps with respect to the policies he espouses, but more so as a figure who bridges a transition from America as a nation dominated by its Caucasian majority and led in the main by white males to a far more pluralistic country in terms of ethnic mix led by leaders from all the various sectors, be they African-American, females, Hispanics or others. He is the first African-American president but he is the son of a Caucasian mother and an African (not African-American) father, able to call upon his own rich life experiences to provide that transitional leadership.

For me, Obama as President gives me more hope than I've had in recent years that the United States will adapt to circumstances in this 21st century and at least remain a force to be reckoned with, hopefully a progressive and wise force, and a nation that continues to grow and prosper, even as other countries around the globe, particularly in Asia, emerge as major if not dominant actors on the world stage.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Jerry Brown: Not Again Please

Below is an email I sent to Los Angeles Times columnist George Skelton in response to his column on Jerry Brown, "Once and future governor?", that appeared on Monday, April 20, 2009 at,0,2315392.column.

Dear George,

I offer you my initial reaction to your “Once and future governor?” in Monday’s April 20, 09 Los Angeles Times edition.

I came to California in 1969 at 26 years old to teach at a state university. I voted for Jerry Brown the first time he ran for Governor. As I recall, but you would no doubt recall far more accurately, Brown ran as more or less a traditional liberal Democrat. But once in office we were exposed to the ‘real’ Jerry Brown, or what we thought at the time was the ‘real’ Jerry Brown. With “small is beautiful” as one of his themes, he became Mr. Gadfly (yes, some preferred the title Mr. Moonbeam but for me Gadfly fit far better). He criticized everything while embracing little, challenged all while remaining distant, non-committal and aloof. He seemed to prefer it that way, surrounding himself with some unusual people and some very usual ones, like Gray Davis.

I came to dislike and distrust Jerry Brown and still do. Perhaps he has an underlying philosophy; he certainly has sought to suggest as much but he has never really delivered. His was initially more an aura, of mystery, Zen philosophy, and austerity, than that of a person with a concrete and consistent view of the world, although he seemed to be willing to adopt some identifiable views such as, if I recall correctly, a deep opposition to the death penalty.

But I found him even then and certainly over the years to be a political chameleon. His ‘style’ remained fairly consistent but not his views or positions. And it became impossible to identify the ‘real’ Jerry Brown; there didn’t seem to be one. As he has moved from one political position to another, leader of the Democratic Party in California, if I recall correctly, big city mayor of Oakland, occasional Presidential candidate, and now Attorney General, he has tended to transform himself from one persona to another, advancing plans, agendas and programs often quite at odds with his previous stances, bent or positions.

I understand and accept that people, including politicians, change over time. Surely that has been true for me. But Brown’s changes seem mercurial, superficial and tactical. I decided years ago I would not vote for him again and that remains the case.

In my view, we do not need Jerry Brown as Governor again. While I did not support Obama initially, I supported Hillary, I hesitatingly accepted him as standard bearer once he won the nomination and am glad I did. He is no panacea, but he is a breath of fresh air. His youth concerned me but less so now. We need new leadership in California as well. I do not mean to suggest that youth necessarily begets fresh ideas or that elder individuals are stuck in the past. I’d like to think I bring wisdom and insight to my current position as a lawyer. But I think Jerry Brown will end up simply offering us more Jerry Brown and I think we’d be better off moving on. And, no, I don’t mean to Diane Feinstein. If this state cannot find its way to identifying and selecting new leaders, we’re in real trouble. Oops, we’re already in real trouble, aren’t we!

I hope as the ‘campaign’ for the next Governor of California moves forward you will offer more of your own personal views of the candidates. There is nothing wrong with giving candidates a chance to express themselves through your column but, given your years of political experience, I hope you take a very critical look at all of them. While I have often not agreed with your views (and have written you before to comment), I have come to appreciate your perspective on events and enjoy reading your column.

Donald A. Newman
Long Beach, CA

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Do We Care Whether Fineman's Establishment is Mumbling that the President May Not Have What it Takes? Not I!

Newsweek's Howard Fineman penned an article on March 10, 2009, entitled "A Turning Tide?" on the newsmagazine's webpage whose sub-title read: "Obama still has the approval of the people, but the establishment is beginning to mumble that the president may not have what it takes." The article may be found at I found the article rather lame but, then, I am not a particular fan of Howard Fineman.

My critical email response to Mr. Fineman follows:

Dear Howard,

By way of introduction, I’m a 66 year old Brooklyn-born Californian, Princeton educated political scientist turned attorney whose love of politics remains strong, Hillary Clinton supporter who voted for Obama, and a blogger at I remember you as a young pup on “Washington Week in Review” but I admittedly found the program most stimulating during the Peter Lisagor era.

Your March 10, 2009 column, “A Turning Tide?”, was most distressing not because of your assertion that the so-called Establishment, as you define it, has begun to question Obama’s mettle but because you essentially merely repeat the criticisms, which you yourself describe as contradictory, rather than address whether or not they make any sense.

Yes, Obama is seeking to govern from the center. That surely is no surprise to anyone who followed his campaign, which you did. Given his attempt to straddle the center, it is also not surprising that almost no one is quite content with him since the political center is notoriously not the home of ideologues who tend to mass toward the right and left of the spectrum.

So, some want him to spend much more to stimulate the economy, such as Paul Krugman. Others want him to nationalize certain big banks or even eliminate them, such as Alan Greenspan and Senator Shelby. Still others purport to believe that the marketplace provides the solution to our economic woes and therefore advocate no further government support for General Motors or Citigroup, such as John McCain. But should we really care what your Establishment folks think at this juncture?

What seems very clear to many of us is not only that no one has a monopoly of wisdom in the present situation, not even your friends at MsNBC, Olbermann and Matthews, but that few seem even to know what they are talking about. There is much unchartered territory here and the three sides to your Establishment have proven themselves inept in terms of effectively governing this country and leading it in a positive direction or even, in the case of the media, constructively and knowledgeably commenting upon events.

Unfortunately, it isn’t as if America has an alternative elite standing in the wings ready to try its hand at the levers of power. Surely the Republicans don’t meet that standard. I for one would like to fire all the bank executives and mortgage leaders who led us into this debacle. But who is left to lead? Their subordinates who were often equally culpable and who probably drew up the blueprints for the bank CEOs? Legislators who permitted the sub-prime disaster to occur despite the nation’s prior experience with the savings and loan debacle? Indeed, Geithner, claimed by the Administration as a “must have” when he was drowning in his tax misconduct, was surely very much part of the problem so it shouldn’t be too surprising that he has provided no leadership to date.

I’m distressed by some aspects of Obama’s leadership, most notably his penchant to leave to the Congressional Democrats responsibility to design the specifics of his major legislation. I recall during the campaign when Obama praised Reagan as a transformational president, a view that left me, a Hillary supporter, cold, but in addition he also seemed to hold Reagan up as a model for his own leadership style when he praise Reagan for providing the grand designs and leaving to others the task of filling in the details. If Pelosi and Reid are left to fill in the details, Obama’s presidency will not succeed. But the notion that the Establishment is able to determine that Obama lacks what it takes to be a successful president after the first 50 days of his presidency would be laughable were it not dangerous, given the influence some in your Establishment still wield over the body politic.

While I expect you will claim that you were merely reporting the mood of the Establishment in your commentary, you can and must do much better. I don’t ask that you become a partisan. Leave that to your appearances on MsNBC, such as they are. But step forward and analyze what you report, in this case the vacuous thinking of those to whom you attribute the notion that Obama lacks what it takes. I don’t know whether President Obama will succeed but I surely don’t think I or others can meaningfully decide that based upon events to date. Apart from his continuing popularity in the polls, he continues to show grit, determination, calmness under pressure and a sense of direction. Perhaps rather than merely reporting what your Establishment thinks, you ought to be noting to us and to its members that these so-called leaders have already shown us that they lack what it takes to guide this nation.

Borrowing from your buddy Keith, someone I find far too shrill and narcissistic and not someone you should be spending so much time with, “thank you for your time, Howard.”

Donald A. Newman
Long Beach, CA

Saturday, January 31, 2009

An Early Report Card on Obama: B+

Some of Obama’s personality traits that benefited him in the primaries and the general election — his cool, calm demeanor, his reflective, controlled response to questions, his effort to straddle the middle and build consensus — are still benefiting him. He does not seem to get rattled despite unforeseen developments. In contrast to his immediate predecessor who almost always mangled words in his remarks and often did not seem to have a clear focus or direction, Obama speaks well if sometimes haltingly and he seems to stay on message most of the time.

But despite all the hoopla leading up to his inauguration, I think some of the magic that surrounded him to that point has slipped away. His poll approval ratings remain strong, and that is good. He will need high ratings to carry him through his singularly most important task, guiding the government and the nation through this incredibly wretched economic collapse.

I did not find his inaugural address inspiring. In contrast to the soaring rhetoric and cadenced style he had brought to bear on frequent occasions during the election process, I found his inaugural delivery, particularly the first half that was focused on the economy, to be a bit lackluster. He was too matter of fact and his speaking lacked uplifting emotion. Perhaps he purposefully intended not to bring his charisma to bear but I found it disappointing. He seemed to regain his stride in the second half of his address, where he focused on foreign affairs, and at its conclusion. But overall I was disappointed.

After months of sharing the spotlight with the outgoing president and making a point that there can only be one president at a time, to his credit Obama hit the ground running upon assuming office. He and his staff obviously had prepared the groundwork to issue various executive orders on issues such as closing Gitmo, the use of funds in international programs which provide birth control assistance, and limiting lobbyists in his Administration. He also quickly signed his first piece of legislation which overturned a Supreme Court decision that had imposed a very restrictive statute of limitations on wage discrimination claims. And he has kept himself in the public eye day after day talking about the need for a government stimulus package and seeking to bring Republicans on board in support of his favored legislation.

But there have been enough unanticipated distractions, some of which should have been anticipated, that, while not derailing Obama’s ambitious plans, have slowed them down and caused concerns. Not in any particular order, Obama’s designation for secretary of commerce, Governor Bill Richardson, was forced to withdraw from consideration because of an ongoing investigation of possible wrongdoing. He had made a splash and earned the enmity of the Clintons and many of Hillary’s supporters when he opted to support Obama rather than Clinton after he ended his own campaign for the nomination. He, like Senator Kerry, seemed to covet the secretary of state position but it turned out he couldn’t even survive the nominating process to become secretary of commerce. This was a personal flame out for Richardson but also a mark against Obama’s transition team for not having better gauged the seriousness of, and acted earlier on, the matter. Next Obama and his team had to weather the mini-scandal surrounding Timothy Geithner, initially seemingly everyone’s pick for secretary of the treasury, after it emerged that Geithner had failed to pay certain payroll taxes until after he had been picked for Obama’s cabinet or shortly before. Instead of cruising into office as a consensus All-American, Geithner won Senate approval but only after many had remarked about his bad judgment and the irony that in his new position he will oversee the Internal Revenue Service. This was another black and blue mark for the Obama team and its leader. The latest pratfall involves Tom Daschle, Obama’s pick for secretary of health and human services, who apparently recently filed amended tax returns to report $128,000 in back taxes and roughly $12,000 in interest. Daschle apparently failed to report income from the use of a car service provided him by a friend and business associate as well as income from consulting.

Rather than the agent of change, Obama has appeared to be the ‘same old same old’ Washington politician when it has come to the selection of his cabinet. Whether these embarrassments have been the result of poor vetting on the part of Obama’s transition team or poor judgment on the part of the nominees, or both, they run the risk of bringing Obama back down to earth too early in his Administration.

Obama’s idealism has also taken a beating in the area of lobbyists in government. Obama issued an executive order on day one establishing strict rules intended to bar former lobbyists from joining Obama’s Administration to work at agencies they recently lobbied. No sooner had the order been promulgated than exceptions were being made, first at the Department of Defense where William Lynn was chosen as deputy secretary of defense after having served at Raytheon, a major defense supplier, and then at the department of the treasury, where a former Goldman Sachs lobbyist, Mark Patterson, was being chosen as chief of staff to Geithner. Several Obama aides apparently justified the exception for Lynn on the ground that he was “uniquely qualified” for the job. But wasn’t that the same rationale Obama used to justify his continued support for Geithner after his failure to pay taxes came to light? What exactly does “uniquely qualified” mean anyway? It suggests that no one else could do the job better. And that, as we all know, is hogwash. More importantly, the cynics have already started to criticize Obama for failing to live up to the standards he just set within a week of his setting them.

Obama’s effort to put in place a major stimulus package by mid-February, while still on target, is suffering from the limits to bipartisanship. The President has shown strong leadership not only in remaining focused on obtaining a stimulus package but also in making major overtures to the Republican minority in an effort to craft a bipartisan approach. He should be commended for this effort. Indeed, he may still succeed in obtaining considerable Republican support for a Senate stimulus bill. But the first vote in the House was completely along partisan lines. No Republicans voted for the measure. Even ten Democrats dissented. And many feel the bill was too much the product of the very partisan House Democrats, filled with earmarks and funds for activities that would questionably stimulate the economy in short order.

Obama may be in danger of losing momentum on the stimulus effort. He must again get out in front of the legislation, assure that the ultimate legislation is not merely a vehicle for the advancement of Democratic Party interests, and try to build a currently non-existent consensus that the mixture of tax reductions and government spending in the final legislation is the best way to quickly stimulate the economy. Obama cannot afford to see this project get bogged down in legislative horse trading or fall prey to withering debate on the relative merits of greater tax cuts versus public works expenditures. He must hammer out terms with a coalition of Democratic and Republican senators and then have the Democratic majority in the House pass it if no Republicans there will support it. If the bill represents a bipartisan effort in the Senate continued full scale Republican opposition in the House will matter less.

Obama began with bold steps on the international front, appointing two talented negotiators as his special envoys to the Middle East and Afghanistan. The President also projected a fresh image of America in its relationships abroad by placing his first telephone call to a foreign leader to Mahmoud Abbas, President of the Palestinian National Authority, and offering his first television interview to Al-Arabiya, a Saudi-owned cable network. These were positive steps done in a decisive manner. Unfortunately, heavy lifting follows. Obama will need to figure out what to do with those held at Gitmo as he moves forward in closing the base. And Obama will have the even more challenging task of designing America’s approach toward Afghanistan in an effort to strength opposition to the Taliban and stabilize the region without turning Afghanistan into his Iraq.

Overall, I give Obama a B+ to date. He has acted with relative clarity, decisiveness and boldness in his first ten or eleven days in office. At the same time, problems with those he has nominated to his cabinet, a less than uplifting inaugural address, his inability despite great efforts to fashion a bipartisan approach to a stimulus bill in the House and a lack of success thus far to do so in the Senate, and some quick deviations from his high minded anti-lobbyist rules within days of its promulgation, have joined to keep him from realizing an A or A- thus far. More later!