Healthcare Summit

Ever notice that often–way too often, I think—Democrats are acknowledging good points Republicans make, but it’s never the other way around.  Play the game the way they play, Dems.

911 Call Costs $300

Is this our future?  No, it’s the present.

“Tracy residents will now have to pay every time they call 911 for a medical emergency. But there are a couple of options. Residents can pay a $48 voluntary fee for the year, which allows them to call 911 as many times as necessary. Or there’s the option of not signing up for the annual fee. Instead they will be charged $300 if they make a call for help.”

Tom Friedman’s column is titled “The Fat Lady Has Sung.”  While he thinks Obama’s problems are not all about how he communicates, he has failed to offer a compelling narrative.  Of course, it not at all certain that he has an attentive audience.

I am under no illusion that this alone would solve all his problems and ours. It comes back to us: We have to demand the truth from our politicians and be ready to accept it ourselves. We simply do not have another presidency to waste. There are no more fat years to eat through. If Obama fails, we all fail.

It’s true all over.  A week ago, many in my neighborhood were complaining about the lack of plows to remove the snow.  But Saturday when my state delegate and senator—David Bulova and Chap Petersen—had a town hall meeting, my wife recognized no one there from  our neighborhood.  I hope she was wrong. (I’m out of town for the week.) 

‘Open, Honest’ Debate

From today’s Post story about the administration new communications strategy I was struck by this quote…

One thing for sure that people want is for us to have honest, open debate," said senior adviser David Axelrod.

..mostly because it echoed something I wrote in a letter to my local state representatives after many of my neighbors went apoplectic about the lack of snow removal around here after last week’s big storms.

I urge you to have honest and frank discussions with your constituents about how your vision for our communities informs your decisions, the cost of services and how the tax structure can be used to address our needs.

I’d like to see just one Democrat have the guts to have an honest discussion with folks about what a new tax structure could mean for our standard of living.  The party is petrified of the subject.

The full letter is here.

Obama’s New Communication Strategy

The Post says the administration has a new communications strategy.

First, they said, is a return to the disciplined messaging that was a hallmark of the 2008 campaign…

Second, White House advisers promise a quicker, more aggressive response to GOP attacks on the president and his policies….

A third change is a return to the backdrops for Obama that aides considered so effective during the presidential bid….

Finally, aides said it was recognized inside the West Wing that Obama has strayed from his most successful message of the campaign: that he would be a change agent in Washington.

Which means the administration has abandoned its original strategy, which was to be slow, passive, boring and an agent of the status quo.  Gee, I’m sure glad the administration has re-thought that plan.

Demand Question Time

A bi-partisan group has started a campaign to make the president’s unscripted conversation with Republican legislators last week in Baltimore a regular thing.  It’s not a bad idea, though I fear it will become one if it becomes a regular thing.  Both sides will try to game it and therefore de-nude it of any value, though I have confidence that Republicans will figure out a way to do that better than Democrats will.  Though the president seems to have gained the upper hand at the session, GOPers will not continue to do it if they feel they’re losing the PR battle, especially if the Administration thinks they don’t have to prepare for it.  If it continues, you can be sure that Republicans will look to ask questions that are designed more to embarrass the president than to discuss ideas.

The site is slow at the time of this posting.  I had a hard time getting to the petition, and once I signed it I got an internal error.  Let’s hope it’s because many people are trying to sign the petition.

Dems: What? Plan the Message!?

Presidential advisor David Axelrod tells Mike Allen of Politico that the give and take between the President and GOP lawmakers last week was not scripted from the President’s point of view.

“There was not one minute of prep here — I guarantee it. He left here for Baltimore on the helicopter, and we didn’t have any discussion about Q & A. It was thoroughly spontaneous, at least from our end.”

Gee, I’d been shocked if Democrats ever gave a thought to message prep.  I guess they think they’re smart enough to wing it.  You think?  No, I don’t either.

Taxes & Reconciliation

The headline on an AP story yesterday blares:  Obama budget would impose host of tax increases.  The stories initial paragraphs outline the scenario:

The budget proposal released Monday would extend Obama’s signature Making Work Pay tax credit — $400 for individuals, $800 for a couple filing jointly — through 2011. But it would also impose nearly $1 trillion in higher taxes on couples making more than $250,000 and individuals making more than $200,000 by not renewing tax cuts enacted under former President George W. Bush. Obama would extend Bush-era tax cuts for families and individuals making less.

…In all, Obama would increase taxes on some businesses and wealthy individuals by a total of about $1.4 trillion over the next decade, while cutting taxes for middle-class workers and other businesses by about $330 billion. The bottom line: Tax receipts would increase by about $1.1 trillion over the next decade.

I wonder if the Dems are smart enough to repeat this mantra:

We are following the intent of the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts, which were designed by George Bush and the Republican majority in Congress to expire next year.  We are simply following their wishes, except that we are extending the tax cuts for middle income Americans.

Oh, and by the way, these tax cuts were passed through a budget reconciliation process that Republicans are now decrying as undemocratic.

Dems, repeat and repeat and repeat.

A Tepid, Insincere Speech

Can we give up the lie that Barack Obama is a great speaker? As I watched the SOTU speech last might, I think I see two reasons that Obama’s rhetoric, while enhanced by his beautiful baritone voice, doesn’t resonate as much as it could. One is visual and one is verbal.

Note that in most sentences, the last couple of syllables drop in pitch, almost to the point that he seems to swallow the last words. That’s not a critical flaw per se, but when it becomes the dominant trajectory of his sentences, it borders on boredom. Speakers should mix up their inflections to keep the speech lively and varied. It reminds me of a child who, when asked if he did something bad, drops the ends of his sentence as he loses confidence in his argument. Obama sounds as if he doesn’t quite believe what he’s saying or loses his assuredness. Hopeful speech should sound hopeful in its inflections, meaning the ends of sentences should soar, not sink.

Second, only once in the entire speech did he look at the audience at home. In fact, his body is mechanical in its back and forth between the two teleprompters. This reliance on the words in front of him instead of those in his heart is becoming the stuff of ridicule. But most important, he fails to connect with the home audience. In fact, his side to side head moves makes it obvious to everyone that he’s reading. He might as well read from the script on the lectern.

I give him credit for saying he’s opposed to extending the Bush tax cuts for people making more than $200,000 and for taking on the Supreme Court. (Although wouldn’t it have been more effective if he looked directly at them and said, “The decision is wrong and we will overturn it.”) The fighting tone some credit him with sounds to me like the empty words of the class intellectual, who will, at the first sign of a real fight, fold as Obama has so often in the first year.

Where is Obama’s Larger Message?

Newsweek’s Joe Klein reminds us how memories get muddled.  Ronald Reagan, the man conservatives love to love, in fact recognized that his early tax cuts were a mistake and that he actually raised taxes two years after being elected.

[S]ince deficits do matter — and since Reagan’s so-called supply-side cuts blasted an enormous hole in the budget — the President had to come back in 1982 with the largest peacetime tax increase in American history: the Tax Equity and Fiscal Responsibility Act, which raised $37.5 billion, or 1% of gross domestic product (GDP), per year. He also signed a $3.3 billion gasoline-tax increase. The next year, he signed another whopping tax hike, designed to save Social Security.

But still the Reagan deficits got out of hand and Presidents Bush I and Clinton raised taxes, and as Klein put it, “Somehow the economy not only survived, it prospered.”

I thought about this after reading Tom Friedman’s Friday column in the New York Times.  He argues that President Obama has lacked an overall theme to his change agenda.

He has not tied all his programs into a single narrative that shows the links between his health care, banking, economic, climate, energy, education and foreign policies. Such a narrative would enable each issue and each constituency to reinforce the other and evoke the kind of popular excitement that got him elected.

Without it, though, the president’s eloquence, his unique ability to inspire people to get out of their seats and work for him, has been muted or lost in a thicket of technocratic details. His daring but discrete policies are starting to feel like a work plan that we have to slog through, and endlessly compromise over, just to finish for finishing’s sake — not because they are all building blocks of a great national project.

What is that project? What is that narrative? Quite simply it is nation-building at home. It is nation-building in America.

“Nation building” is not a winning phrase for the president, in my opinion.  It makes us sound like a third-world country (even if we are becoming one). 

But he does need a larger message.  My guess is it’s not that he can’t outline one; he’s afraid to articulate it.  We have not raised federal taxes in this country since 1993.  That alone is not a reason to.  But since then we have skewed the tax system so badly that not only have income disparities grown, but we are losing ground – in healthcare, education, infrastructure.

As I grew up in the 50s and 60s, life was pretty good in this country.  Most folks felt a better life was around the corner.  Not anymore.  We are not necessarily the greatest land of opportunity.

Actually, some other advanced economies offer more opportunity than ours does. For example, recent research shows that in the Nordic countries and in the United Kingdom, children born into a lower-income family have a greater chance than those in the United States of forming a substantially higher-income family by the time they’re adults.

If you are born into a middle-class family in the United States, you have a roughly even chance of moving up or down the ladder by the time you are an adult. But the story for low-income Americans is quite different; going from rags to riches in a generation is rare. Instead, if you are born poor, you are likely to stay that way. Only 35 percent of children in a family in the bottom fifth of the income scale will achieve middle-class status or better by the time they are adults; in contrast, 76 percent of children from the top fifth will be middle-class or higher as adults.

…As a result of economic growth, each generation can usually count on having a higher income, in inflation-adjusted dollars, than the previous one. For example, men born in the 1960s were earning more in the 1990s than their fathers’ generation did at a similar age, and their families’ incomes were higher as well. But that kind of steady progress appears to have stalled. Today, men in their 30s earn 12 percent less than the previous generation did at the same age.

The main reason today’s families have modestly higher overall income than prior generations is simple: More members of the household are working. Women have joined the labor force in a big way, and their earnings have increased as well. But with so many families now having two earners, continued progress along this path will be difficult unless wages for both men and women rise more quickly.

My mother didn’t work when I was growing up,  Neither did most of the women in our middle class neighborhood.

We will never go back to those good ol’ days.  But Joe Klein argues, we needn’t go that far back to the future.

An antitax fetishism has overwhelmed both parties. Along the way, despite the melodramatic rhetoric, the actual rate of federal taxation has wobbled a bit, from a high of 20.9% of GDP in 2000 to a recession-driven low of 17.7% last year, but averages out to just under 19% from 1980 to today. If the not-so-onerous Clinton tax rates are restored when the economy recovers, the federal Treasury would be enriched by nearly $300 billion per year.

Why does this matter now? Because we are in the midst of a debate over how to fund a health-care-reform plan — and the idea of raising taxes, even just a little bit, to pay for it is causing heart failure among our legislators. They are looking for somewhere between $30 billion and $35 billion per year. If the bill isn’t properly funded — if working-class families don’t receive large enough tax credits to help pay for their newly mandated health insurance, if they’re forced to pay thousands of dollars in new out-of-pocket expenses — Republicans will use "socialized" health care as a bludgeon against Democrats in 2010 and 2012.

…It is a national scandal that we’re nowhere close to having a reasonable discussion about taxes. A Reagan-size increase probably would be unwise right now, given the shaky economy. But the conversation will become unavoidable next year, when the Bush tax cuts expire. A restoration of the Clinton rates would go a long way toward paying down the Bush deficits and the assorted Bush-Obama federal bailouts and creating some breathing space if health reform costs more than expected. One hopes that Democrats, and fiscally responsible Republicans, will locate the backbone between now and then to do the right thing.

No, Obama’s big theme isn’t I’m going to raise taxes.  But in defense of higher taxes he needs to make a red,white and blue argument for fairness, something we’ve lost in the past 30 years.  Ronald Reagan made it OK to be greedy.  It seems with the populist anger against the obscenely wealthy, now is a good time to make that larger argument for justice, a fair, living wage for a fair day’s work, and a level playing field that rewards work and frugality.  Once the recession eases, we need to raise taxes not only on the super rich, but the well-to-do also, many of whom will be considered middle class ($100,000 and up). I would gladly pay them if I thought we’d have true healthcare reform, better transportation systems and a vibrant middle class, which is what makes this country great.

It is the common good argument, one that Obama hesitates to make, being perhaps afraid of the rich white men on Fox News
and on talk radio.  He’s begun to fight back against right-wing extremists.  Now he needs to make the case to the rest of us.

I’m a Republican…and I’m a Mac

Humor can be most effective in political advertisements, especially when it’s used to ridicule your opponent.  I think it can be most effective when used against the right-wing extremists and when there is intentional misinformation.  But just a simple spoof of the Apple vs. PC commercials is catchy, too.  Note that they use a woman as the Democrat and a smarmy white guy as the Republican. (Thanks to Political Wire.)