Posts Tagged Barack Obama

President Barack Obama and Jon Stewart: The reckoning (not really)

Jon Stewart interview President Barack Obama; July 21, 2015

It’s an unlikely double case of “senioritis,” Jon Stewart commented in his recent interview with President Barack Obama.

Jon is leaving The Daily Show in two and a half weeks, and some sort of national neurosis seems to have shifted Obama into his lame-duck period a bit early. I’m trying very hard to pretend that none of this is happening.

Whether speaking the truth about President George W. Bush when seemingly no one else would, or keeping Democrats from getting complacent in the Age of Obama, Jon has been, as Obama himself put it, a “gift to this country.”

He should know. Obama has been on The Daily Show numerous times both as a senator and president, and is in fact the first sitting president to appear on the program. Some may consider that a cynical ploy to win favor with the young voters that seem to listen only to Jon (and, until recently, Stephen Colbert), but regardless it’s been pretty entertaining.

Yet like most of those interview, this final installment wasn’t a love fest. Jon’s first two interviews with Obama as president were pretty awkward, and this time he started with a ribbing about the first 2012 presidential debate (where Obama’s appraised poor performance took precedence over Mitt Romney’s pigheadedness), and engaged in a more serious discussion on the VA toward the end.

Despite all of the enthusiasm of the 2008 election, it seems like criticizing Obama has become an initiation right for the liberal club over the past seven years. Maybe old Bush-era habits are hard to break, or maybe the Left has become a collection of gutless hipsters that can’t be associated with anything too popular.

Over the years, Jon Stewart has repeatedly shown how to do this right. He criticizes constructively and when he believes it is warranted, not simply attacking Obama and other leaders for not following a narrow ideological path. And his job is actually to make fun of those leaders, what’s everyone else’s excuse?

I spent most of college watching Obama make his way to the White House, and most of the time since watching him try to steer the country in the direction of progress. Things haven’t gone perfectly, but looking back I’d say it wasn’t exactly a fiasco either. All along the way, Jon Stewart has been there to help us make sense of everything, by not blowing it all out of proportion.

For what it’s worth, I’m proud that Barack Obama is my president, and no matter who is in office, I hope there will always be someone like Jon Stewart to make fun of them, although Jon himself is irreplaceable.

Because no matter who is sitting behind the desks in the Oval Office and a tiny studio in Hell’s Kitchen, meetings like this are probably good for the country.

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Crimea conundrum

It’s Friday, which means conservatives are decrying President Barack Obama for harming the country.

Actually, they do that every day.

Russia’s annexation of Crimea has made the President for accusations that he is weak from, among others Senator John McCain and former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.

Obama has already called for sanctions, and is working with European nations to present a united diplomatic front in the face of Russia’s aggression.

Yet some seem to think more drastic action is necessary. The question is: what kind of action?

If the recent history of Republican foreign policy is any indication, the American people probably won’t like where they want to go.

Prominent conservatives can call Obama all the names they want, but their record is far from laudable.

The war in Afghanistan is just winding down, and I’m pretty sure Obama didn’t start it.

Neutralizing Al Qaeda was a legitimate military goal, but the Bush Administration allowed its military adventure in Central Asia to drag on through its two terms without making any serious attempt to end it.

That’s an example of gross foreign-policy incompetence. It’s a testament to this country’s short memory and political partisanship that one of the main architects of the bungled Afghan war is still considered a credible source for criticism of the current President.

In general, the kick-ass-because-America method of military intervention rarely produces the desired results. Did we ever find those weapons of mass destruction in Iraq?

Even smaller-scale interventions tend to become massive embarrassments. Ronald Reagan’s invasion of Granada wasted resources and accomplished nothing, while his support of the anti-communist Contras in Nicaragua set the stage for one of the biggest scandals in American presidential history.

These types of interventions only succeed if there is a clear goal, and there really isn’t one here.

Yes, Putin’s annexation of Crimea violates the sovereignty of Ukraine. However, the U.S. doesn’t have a clear interest here, which makes choosing a course of action difficult.

There’s no physical U.S. presence to be defended, or concrete issues to serve as bargaining chips. The U.S. wants Russia out of Crimea simply to maintain the international balance of power, and because it’s the right thing to do.

Would it be worth going to war with Russia over a piece of land that most Americans probably can’t locate on a map?

I’d wager most people would answer “no,” but subjectively, diplomatic solutions like sanctions seem inadequate with Russian troops walking the streets of Sevastopol.

That’s where the conservatives come in. They’re always looking for opportunities to bash the President, and people’s confused feelings about Crimea have created the perfect opportunity.

So, yes, Crimea is a problem that needs to be dealt with. But blaming Obama isn’t a solution.

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Reforming the healthcare reform debate

The most painful part of today’s passage of a bill that will allow people to keep their health insurance plans–regardless of whether they meet the standards of the Affordable Care Act–isn’t watching President Obama capitulate to more Republican pressure. It’s listening to everyone complain about it.

Obama was wrong to say that people could keep their plans in all circumstances but this, along with the constant criticism of Healthcare.gov, is getting out of hand.

The President should have been clearer about the law, and the people handling its rollout should have made sure the website worked. They didn’t. It’s not that big of a deal.

People like to point to the constant political strife in Washington as the nexus of this country’s problems, but the strife runs much deeper than that.

The Affordable Care Act (or Obamacare) is a very middle-of-the-road policy, which is why no one likes it. Liberals don’t like it because it’s not a single-payer system. Conservatives don’t like it because Obama created it.

Everyone else seems to be disgruntled because it requires them to change policies or pay more money. Never mind that they’re getting more coverage.

“Healthcare reform” means just that. It’s about providing access to healthcare for the maximum number of people, and implies no guarantee that certain people won’t be inconvenienced by a change of the status quo.

That big-picture reality applies to people’s ideas about healthcare reform as well.

Many liberals decry Obama for not enacting a single-payer system, and instead delivering millions of customers to the insurance companies. But where were these people when the Affordable Care Act was being drafted?

Did they stare down conservative opponents of the law, or just criticize the President for not doing what they wanted?

Two years after the passage of Obamacare, people are still complaining about the lack of a single-payer system. Yes, that would be fantastic. But the time to advocate for it was when the law was being drafted.

The biggest problem with Obamacare may just be that it is the President’s signature domestic policy. It makes it too easy for people to criticize the man and abandon the policy in the process.

Supporters of healthcare reform need to be for healthcare reform, not their own specific idea of healthcare reform. They need to stop throwing their hands up and shaking their heads every time a setback occurs. The ship will never get anywhere if everyone jumps off.

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On Syria and being confused

As I write this, President Obama appears committed to launching a limited military strike against the Assad regime in Syria, in response to the regime’s use of chemical weapons against its own people. The fact that this seems inevitable is troubling.

While the President does have some latitude to use military force without consulting Congress (especially since Sept. 11), but this is not supposed to be the default.

People seem to realize that; there’s been plenty of unease expressed regarding an attack on Syria. However, unease isn’t the same as discussion, or action.

Thanks to the Internet, the idea that Americans should pay attention to Syria has almost become a self-parody. People advocating for a frank discussion about Syria are characterized as elitists and blowhards while the rest of the country continues to analyze Miley Cyrus’ VMA performance.

Regardless, now is an appropriate time to decide what to do with Syria. And that won’t be an easy decision.

On the one hand, the Assad regime has been oppressing its people, something the United States cannot abide. The Obama Administration claims it has intelligence showing that Assad ordered the chemical attacks, and that a limited intervention to enforce international statutes banning chemical weapons is justified.

On the other hand, no one outside the White House has seen the intelligence, although select members of Congress were briefed on it. It’s also unclear what effect the attacks will have: until now, the U.S. has avoided taking sides in Syria’s civil war because the situation is so ambiguous.

Americans are also weary of being drawn into another Middle Eastern war. The United Kingdom, United Nations, and the Syrian people are also opposed to U.S. intervention.

Clearly, there’s a lot to talk about, and Americans should be eager to talk about this.

People often complain that Obama leaves Congress and the electorate out of the loop when it comes to foreign policy, that only finding out after the fact that a terror suspect has been blown up by Hellfire missiles isn’t good enough.

This time, the White House is keeping the People in the loop. Obama is telling us what he plans on doing, not what he’s already done. Secretary of State John Kerry implored the people to examine the Administration’s evidence in his speech earlier today.

I’m not saying that bombing Syria is right or wrong; I’m saying that the country needs to have a discussion about whether it’s right or wrong.

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The 2012 election is over… Now what?

Obama victory speech 2012If anyone actually reads this, sorry for the missed posts. It’s been a busy week.

I was very pleased by the results of Tuesday’s election, but they do put the country in an interesting place. As Jon Stewart pointed out, Obama is still president, the Democrats still control the Senate, and the Republicans still control the House, so America’s billionaires apparently wasted their money. So how do we keep from repeating the mistakes of the past four years?

Bipartisanship seems to be the key, and it is, but not all the time. If both parties put aside their differences, forgot the ugliness of this decidedly ugly campaign, and compromised to create practical policies, it would be a major achievement for rationality. However, it might not solve every problem.

I’m a fan of Matt Taibbi, but when he wrote, on the morning of the election, that there was essentially no difference between the candidates, I had to disagree.

“When push comes to shove, we all should know most Americans want the same things, but just disagree on how to get there, which is why it should be okay to not panic if the other party wins,” Taibbi wrote on the morning of November 6. That’s true, but sometimes Americans disagree. What then?

The vitriol and plain bullshit slung by both politicians and the media in this election was awful, not just because it made compromise harder, but because it obscured real issues that Americans genuinely disagree about.

Could a woman really believe that Romney had her interests in mind, even after he talked about banning abortion, or after his “binders full of women” comment? If one of the two main presidential candidates make a threat to one’s rights a part of his platform, there is no reason to assume that he will not act on that. Otherwise, why bother having elections?

So the solution to America’s problems isn’t blind compromise. Politicians and their constituents should stop the name calling, and generally recognize their opponents’ humanity, but both sides have the right and obligation to try to enact their policies.

Some might argue that this is what caused the ongoing deadlock in Washington: both parties pushed to get what they wanted done, and tried equally hard to obstruct their opponent.

However, we just had an election, where the majority of the country chose a Democratic president, that seems to point things in a certain direction. The Democrats shouldn’t ignore the Republican constituency, but the Republicans need to acknowledge that, in the White House and Senate races, they lost.

After a major Republican upset in the 2010 midterm elections, Mitch McConnell said that, “The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.” Someone really needs to call the Republican party on this counterproductive behavior.

When Mitt Romney is accusing President Obama of being anti-coal, and the President is accusing the former governor of being a corporate raider, some people think that all the parties care about is defeating each other. However, we need to remember that this all started with the Republicans and, now that they’ve lost the presidential race, they need to be stopped from continuing to obstruct the functions of government.

A maxim of journalism is that there are always at least two sides to every story. That’s true, but not every side is equal. In politics, compromise is important, but the job of politicians is to serve the people, and the people have spoken.

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Mitt Romney: Do as I say, not as I do

map of the Middle EastI was finally able to vent my near-homicidal rage against television journalists and concentrate on the issues (imagine that!) in the final presidential debate Monday night. As usual, I was left wondering if Mitt Romney actually hears the words that come out of his mouth.

Twice, the former Massachusetts Governor told President Obama that, “Criticizing me is not a foreign policy.” That seems like a noble statement, except Romney spent almost the entire debate criticizing the President while offering only a vague phantasm of what he would actually do if he wins on November 6.

Romney criticized nearly every aspect of Obama’s foreign policy, from the drone strikes that killed al Qaeda’s leadership, to his use of economic sanctions on Iran, to when he “skipped Israel” during a trip to the Middle East.

Obviously, debates are all about criticism, but if Romney wanted the President to say something constructive instead of just attacking, why didn’t he?

Instead, Romney went for semantics. He said he would put tougher sanctions on Iran, and label China a “currency manipulator,” which is apparently more severe than actually prosecuting China for trade violations, as Obama has done.

When asked what he would do if Israel decided to attack Iran’s nuclear weapons facilities, Romney begged off saying he wouldn’t answer a hypothetical question like that. Instead, he used the time to attack Obama… again.

Perhaps it was because Romney didn’t know how long it would take Israeli planes to reach Iran: earlier in the debate, he said Syria was an important ally for Iran because it gave the latter access to the sea. Iran has its own coastline, and the two countries do not share a border (Iraq is in between).

So much for building a foreign policy on ideas instead of criticism. Obama, on the other hand, gave specifics, as he always does. He outlined the aforementioned cases against China, and reminded Americans who was responsible for eliminating their arch enemy, and a dictator that even the Republicans’ favorite president, Ronald Reagan couldn’t take down.

With regards to Iran, Obama, said he would put every option on the table. That sounds a lot more presidential than Romney’s “answer.”

Conservatives probably have their own criticisms regarding Obama’s policies, but what I want to emphasize here is Romney’s “do as I say, not as I do” mentality. If attacking your opponent doesn’t help build a foreign policy, then stop wasting time attacking your opponent. It goes both ways.

Romney doesn’t seem to think the laws of language apply to him; he thinks that he can say one thing and have it mean something else. That is one of many reasons why he is unfit to be our president.

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It’s all about the presentation

As President Barack Obama and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney stepped away from their podiums on Wednesday night, I was satisfied with the President’s performance. It was only when the post-debate coverage started that I became nauseous.

The mistake I made was apparently listening to what the candidates were saying more than their mannerisms. The general consensus is that Obama looked like he was asleep, while Romney was fired up and confident.

That may be true, but what Romney actually said doesn’t amount to much. At the beginning of the debate, moderator Jim Lehrer said he wanted the candidates to explain their positions in detail. Obama did that, and Romney did not.

Obama gave a detailed account of his work over the past four years, including a surprisingly long string of legislative victories (from Obamacare to the repeal of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell”) and an explanation of what he will do in the next four, if reelected.

The President talked about investing in education and the green energy industry as ways of improving America’s position in the international community, while growing the economy. He also discussed an ongoing effort to reduce the deficit by $4 trillion over the next ten years. Whether you agree with his policies or not, you can’t say the man didn’t explain himself.

Romney refused to go into details. He said he wouldn’t cut taxes by the rich by $5 trillion, he would reduce the deficit, and that he would or would not do many other things, but he never explained how.

In fact, Romney seemed quite evasive about answering questions on his policies, at least to this viewer. When Lehrer questioned him about federal funding for education, Romney went off on a tangent about Obama’s green energy funding, without even mentioning schools or teachers.

Romney may have been more aggressive, but what he was saying utterly lacked substance. This debate was supposed to be an opportunity for candidates to introduce and elaborate on their plans for the next for years, but all Romney did was attack Obama. We still don’t know any more about his plans for this country than we did on October 2.

Obama made his share of mistakes too: he filled in some of the blanks of Romney’s vague policies to make himself look better, and he really was lacking energy. Still, does that negate outright lying and evasiveness? Does the fact that Romney continued to quote the “$716 billion Medicare cut” number, even though it was debunked during the party conventions, not matter because Obama didn’t smile enough?

People may be disappointed with the President’s performance, but that is no reason to give the win to Mitt Romney. At the very least, it’s a tie, between a man who impulsively says “$716 billion of Medicare cuts and $90 billion to green energy” regardless of their truth or context, and a man who says rational, sensible things in a less-than-exciting manner. I know who I’m voting for.

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