Tag Archives: Politics

Auto Sales Up: Dealers Should Thank the U.S. Government (But They Won’t)

The New York Times reported this week that “October was the best month for new-vehicle sales in more than two years, outside of the brief period in 2009 helped by government rebates.”

Sales for the auto industry were up 13.4 percent over all from a year ago.  Sales for General Motors rose 4.2 percent, sales for Ford Motor Company were up 19.3 percent, and sales for Chrysler jumped 37 percent.

General Motors’ vice president for sales, Don Johnson, was confident that the American Auto industry has recovered from the economic crisis that left them on the brink of total collapse less than two years ago; “Signs are there that the recovery continues and that it will be sustained,” said Johnson. “We don’t see a big risk at all of a double dip.”

It looks like federal intervention saved the U.S. Auto industry.  You would think that American auto dealers would be grateful — out of patriotism or self-interest or both.

Think again.

Those U.S. flags they like to wave at auto dealerships don’t mean “thank you.”

Instead of thanking the federal government, auto dealers continue to be  some of the largest contributors to far-right, anti-government Republicans, who rail against the very programs that pulled them from the brink of collapse.

This right-wing, anti-government hypocrisy on the part of auto dealers is especially true here in Orange County, where auto dealerships — like Irvine Auto Center — have often served as staging locations for Tea Party rallies, and where our local  car-salesman-in-chief, auto dealer and Congressman John Campbell, continues to blast the federal government for providing the money that kept his family auto dealership alive.

Sarah Palin Declares Her Independence

palin.flag.01Sarah Palin is not done causing headaches for the leadership of the Republican Party.

In fact, my guess is that she is going to cause them far more pain in the near future than they or the media could ever have imagined.

At this point, politicians and the press are trying to decipher Palin’s motivation for her stunning announcement yesterday that she is resigning as governor of Alaska.

The standard analysis is that she is resigning in order to concentrate her efforts on securing the Republican nomination for president in 2012.  As Bill Kristol told Fox News after Palin’s speech: “We just saw the opening statement of the 2012 campaign.”

Others — including NBC’s Andrea Mitchell — think Palin is stepping away from politics for good.

And some claim that Palin is resigning because of soon-to-be-announced scandals, including an alleged federal criminal investigation into the rebuilding of Palin’s home.

I think they’ve all missed the forest for the trees.

Sarah Palin isn’t done with politics.

But she might well be done with the Republican Party.

Rather than relying on alleged experts (who are not in Palin’s close circle) or taking the supposed word of unnamed sources, I suggest that the best indication of why Palin resigned – and what she plans to do – comes from Palin herself.

In her speech, she specifically states that she is not stepping away from politics.  On the contrary, she repeatedly emphasized that she going to continue to work to “effect positive change,” although it would be from “outside government at this moment in time.” She was, she said, following in the never-give-up tradition of General Douglas MacArthur.  “We’re not retreating,” she said, “we are advancing in another direction.’” (As the New York Times points out, Palin got the author of the quote wrong; it was not said by MacArthur, but by Maj. Gen. Oliver Prince Smith.)

She also was clear about the kind of “positive change” she planned to effect: she was going to continue to fight against “the heavy hand of federal government [intruding] into our communities with an all-knowing attitude,“ fight against “the obscene national debt that we’re forcing our children to pay because of today’s big government spending,” and “protect states’ rights, as mandated in the 10th Amendment.”

As she did during the 2008 campaign, Palin cast herself as the champion of the people: those  “hardworking, average Americans fighting for what’s right” and those people “who still believe in free enterprise and smaller government and strong national security for our country and support for our troops and energy independence and for those who will protect freedom and equality and life.”

In other words, Palin sounded much same as she did during the presidential campaign – and she certainly didn’t sound like a person getting out of politics.

But there was a difference from her speeches during the presidential campaign.

And the difference involves the political party that she supports.

In her resignation speech, Palin said: “I’ll work hard for and I’ll campaign for those who are proud to be American and who are inspired by our ideals and they won’t deride them. I will support others who seek to serve in or out of office, and I don’t care what party they’re in or no party at all, inside Alaska or outside of Alaska.”

Repeatedly referring to her course of action as “unconventional,” “a new direction” and “no more politics as usual”  — and comparing her actions to those of William H. Seward, (Lincoln’s Secretary of State who negotiated the purchase of Alaska  — ”Seward’s Folly”), who took the “the uncomfortable, unconventional but right path to secure Alaska, so that Alaska could help secure the United States” — Palin dropped clue after clue that, like Seward, she too was going to take an “uncomfortable, unconventional but right path” to “help secure the United States.”

I think Sarah Palin told us what she is planning to do.

Yes, she is running for President.

But not necessarily as a Republican.

Sarah Palin has declared herself the leader of a movement, not merely a political party.

It was not a coincidence that Palin gave her speech on the weekend of Independence Day.

She just declared her independence from the Republican Party.

For Memorial Day, 2009: The Lesson of the Four Chaplains, 1943

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When I was child, my father, a World War II Navy veteran, taught me the story of the four chaplains of the USAT Dorchester.

I thought of the four chaplains during the presidential election when I listened to former Secretary of State Colin L. Powell explain why he endorsed Barack Obama for President of the United States.

In stating why he could not support the candidacy of John McCain, Powell referred to the death of U.S. Army Corporal Kareem Rashad Sultan Khan, a 20 year old from Manahawkin, N.J., who was killed in Iraq and to a photograph he had seen of the soldier’s mother pressing her head against his gravestone at Arlington National Cemetery.

The headstone was engraved with the soldier’s name, his military awards (the Purple Heart and Bronze Star), and the Muslim symbol of the crescent and star.

As the New York Times observed, “Powell mentioned Mr. Khan’s death to underscore why he was deeply troubled by Republican personal attacks on Mr. Obama, especially false intimations that he was Muslim. Mr. Obama is a lifelong Christian, not a Muslim, he said. But, he added, ‘The really right answer is, what if he is?’ ‘Is there something wrong with being Muslim in this country? No, that’s not America,’ he said. ‘Now, we have got to stop polarizing ourselves in this way.’ Mr. Powell said that he had heard senior members of the Republican Party ‘drop this suggestion that he [Obama] is a Muslim and he might be associated with terrorists.’ ‘Now, John McCain is as nondiscriminatory as anyone I know. But I’m troubled about the fact that within the party we have these kinds of expressions.’”

General Powell probably thought, too, of the four chaplains of the USAT Dorchester.

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On the night of February 3, 1943,United States Army Transport ship Dorchester was en route from Newfoundland to England via Greenland, when it was hit by torpedoes from a German submarine.

The Dorchester listed sharply to starboard and began to sink almost immediately into the icy water.  The ship was overcrowded and there were insufficient lifeboats or lifejackets for the 904 men on board.

As the Dorchester sank, the  ship’s four U.S. Army chaplains aided the wounded, helped get the men into lifeboats and then gave up their own lifejackets when the supply ran out.

A survivor later explained:

“As I swam away from the ship, I looked back. The flares had lighted everything. The bow came up high and she slid under. The last thing I saw, the four chaplains were up there praying for the safety of the men. They had done everything they could. I did not see them again. They themselves did not have a chance without their life jackets.”

As the ship went down, survivors in nearby lifeboats could see the four chaplains – their arms linked and braced against the slanting deck. Their voices could also be heard offering prayers.

Twenty-seven minutes after the torpedoes hit, the Dorchester was gone.

The four U.S. Army chaplains were:

Lt. George L. Fox, age 42, Methodist.
Lt. Alexander D. Goode, age 32, Jewish.
Lt. John P. Washington, age 34, Roman Catholic.
Lt. Clark V. Poling, age 32, Reformed Church in America.

According to the Four Chaplains Memorial Foundation, the lesson of their sacrifice is “unity without uniformity” and “selfless service to humanity without regard to race, creed, ethnicity, or religious beliefs.”

My father had a simpler lesson to teach me:  We are all Americans.

In a speech on in Fayetteville, North Carolina, near Fort Bragg, Barack Obama said that “The men and women from Fayetteville and all across America who serve in our battlefields may be Democrats or Republicans or independents, but they have fought together and bled together and some died together under the same proud flag, They have not served a red America or a blue America. They have served the United States of America.”

(This post was originally published, in a slightly different form, on October 19, 2008.)

Democrats Should Be Joining the Tea Parties

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Democrats are responding to the growing nationwide phenomena of anti-tax “tea parties” protests by mocking them and by pointing out that they are prompted and run by right-wing organizations.

Neither response is a winning political strategy.

It is pure political stupidity — and bad economic policy — for Democrats to treat the tax protests with derision or contempt.

Rather than mocking the aims of the tea parties, Democrats should follow the lead of presidential candidate Barack Obama, who promised to “provide a tax cut for working families” and “restore fairness to the tax code and provide 95 percent of working Americans the tax relief they need.”

Obama also promised to provide tax relief for small businesses and startups by  eliminating “all capital gains taxes on startup and small businesses to encourage innovation and job creation.”

What Obama recognized – and Democrats already seem to have forgotten – is that working families are in fact being over-taxed while the super rich have gotten a free ride – and that voters will cast their ballots for the party and the candidates who they believe will create a fairer tax code and reduce their tax burden.

And while it is certainly legitimate to point out that the anti-tax tea parties are being manipulated and guided by right-wing groups and talk-show hosts whose agendas are not the same as working and middle class voters, this point is devoid of political impact unless it is accompanied by a commitment to do a better job than these groups of protecting working class and middle class economic interests.

For too long, Democrats – especially in California – have allowed Republicans to dominate and set the terms of the tax debate.

As a result, Democrats have allowed Republicans to paint them as the party of higher taxes – and have allowed the super rich to pretend to defend the economic interests of working families and the middle class while in fact shifting the costs of government to those who are least able to afford it.

Instead of responding to the tax protests with mockery and contempt, Democrats need to insist on talking about the kinds of taxes that the government imposes and who pays them.

We should insist that all taxes be progressive and focused on overturning the Republican’s outrageous favoritism of the super rich.

Especially in the midst of the current recession, we should oppose any increases whatsoever in regressive taxes – such as the sales tax, the automobile tax, and the gasoline tax – that disproportionately hit working and middle class families, unless and until the state and federal tax code is revised to require that the super rich pay their fair share.

Of course these tax protest “tea parties” are a Republican sham — the Republican anti-tax activists not interested in reducing the tax burden on the middle class and working families, but in keeping the Bush tax breaks for the rich — but that does not mean that the underlying middle class protest — even rage — at their tax burden should be ridiculed. On the contrary, it means that the Democrats should insist on seizing the debate and turning it against the Republicans — as Obama did.

Democrats can win the tax debate – if they take the tax protest “tea parties” seriously.

Related posts:

Why I Love Conservative Talk Radio’s John and Ken Show

The Charge of the Democrat Light Brigade: California Democrats Caught in Republican Tax Trap

Why the Republican Anti-Tax Movement Doesn’t Care About the Taxes that YOU Pay

The Charge of the Democrat Light Brigade: California Democrats Caught in Republican Tax Trap

charge-of-the-light-brigade-posters2Half a league, half a league,
Half a league onward,
All in the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.
“Forward the Light Brigade!
Charge for the guns!” he said.
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.
— Alfred Tennyson, The Charge of the Light Brigade.

Like the Russians did to the British at Balaclava in Tennyson’s famous poem, California’s Republicans have set a deadly trap for Democrats that they won’t be able to escape.

When the state’s more than $40 billion shortfall and budget stalemate was resolved last month, it was on condition that several tax increase propositions — most notably Prop 1A — be placed before the voters.  Governor Schwarzenegger has set May 19, 2009, as the date that the voters will decide the fate of these propositions in a special election.

Schwarzenegger and the state Democratic leadership support these tax increase propositions.

The Republicans – who acquiesced in both the budget and its tax increases by permitting the minimum number of their party members to vote for the deal that ended the stalemate – are now likely to oppose them.

Joining the Republicans in urging that voters reject the tax increase propositions will be the state’s powerful and well-funded anti-tax organizations, including the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association and Grover Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform.

As a result, the voters will see an intense, expensive, and high publicity campaign leading up to the May 19 special election that pits Democrats (and their union allies) arguing for higher taxes against Republicans (and their anti-tax allies) calling for no increase in taxes.

Once again, the Republicans will be the party saying no to taxes and the Democrats will be forced to be the party of tax increases.

To most voters, it will not matter that the budget deal was explicitly premised on the state getting the increased revenue from these taxes.

Nor will it matter to the Republicans that they tacitly agreed to these tax increases when they signed off on the state’s budget.

Instead, the Republicans will seize the opportunity of the special election to make amends to the state’s anti-tax forces – which are mad as hell at them for agreeing to the state budget – and to paint the Democrats – once again — as profligate spenders who want to tax Californians to death.

To make matters worse for the Democrats, the propositions that are going before the voters on May 19 are mostly hikes in regressive taxes and state fees – including increases in the state’s income tax, sales tax, gasoline tax and vehicle fees – that hit middle class pocketbooks hardest.

Again, it will not matter to voters that it was the Republicans who insisted that if the state’s revenue is increased, it be increased by the most regressive kinds of tax measures.

Nor is it likely to matter to voters that for decades the Republicans and the state’s anti-tax forces have forced the middle class to bear the brunt of the state’s revenue needs because of Prop 13’s constitutional command not to tax commercial or business property differently than owner-occupied homes, and the Republicans’ steadfast commitment to protecting the rich by opposing any form of progressive taxation.

The reason that these facts are unlikely to matter to voters is that the Democrats have done a terrible job of making these arguments in the past, and specifically failed to make these arguments during the heat of the most recent budget battle.

California’s Democrats should have taken their cue from the Obama campaign and insisted that the state’s already battered middle class be protected from any tax increase.

And like Obama, California’s Democrats should instead have called for balancing the state budget through higher taxes for the very rich who have benefited so disproportionately from both the Bush tax cuts and the financial deregulation that has led to our national economic crisis.

But it’s probably too late to do that now.

The tax trap is set.

And California’s Democrats are riding right into it.

Orange County Republican Mayor’s Racist Email — “You Gotta Laugh”

Los Alamitos’ Republican Mayor Dean Grose recently sent an email to friends that showed a picture of the White House with a watermelon patch imposed as the White House garden under the title “No Easter egg hunt this year.”

watermellon

Image sent in email by Los Alamitos' Republican Mayor Dean Grose

One of the people who received the email was local business woman Keyanus Price, an African American.  She said she was horrified and appalled.

I won’t pretend that I’m appalled.

In fact, I’m delighted.

Once again, Orange County’s Republican officials have exposed themselves as among the most racist, and moronic, politicians in the country.

If I were a Republican, I’d be deeply embarrassed.

But I’m not.

Grose said that he didn’t think the email was racist.  “The way things are today, you gotta laugh every now and then,” Grose said when the email was made public.

Now Grose has said that he’ll resign.

No doubt the Orange County Republican Party will find another brilliant public servant to take his place.

UPDATE

It now appears that Dean Grose is planning to resign only from his ceremonial job as mayor, not from his seat on the Los Alamitos City Council.

Grose is also not planning to resign as a director of the League of California Cities Orange County Division and the Southern California Association of Governments (where he represents the communities of Cypress, La Palma and Los Alamitos).

You can tell Grose what you think of his email by sending him an email of your own:

dgrose@ci.los-alamitos.ca.us

Four Obama Inspired Lessons for California Democrats – Part Two

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Last week I wrote that the Obama campaign should serve as a master class in winning elections for Democrats, but, unfortunately, not enough California Democrats are playing attention to the Obama campaign’s most important lessons.

These Obama inspired lessons are:
1. Blame Republicans and Present a Democratic Solution
2. Use the Internet
3. Expand the Electorate
4. Champion the Middle Class

I’ve already discussed the first two of these lessons, pointing out that during the state budget fiasco, the Democratic leadership failed to place the blame for the crisis squarely on the Republicans, and failed to present a clear Democratic solution to the state’s budget and economic problems.

I also pointed out that although the Internet is a potential game changer for California Democrats – as a less expensive and far more effective alternative to the Republicans’ expertise in direct mail – we have failed to capitalize on this advantage by building effective, informative and user-friendly websites, as well as building membership in Democratic groups on social networking sites such as facebook.

The importance of the Internet and its related technologies was underscored last week when the California Republican convention made improvement in their use of technology a primary objective.  The California Republican Party website now promises that their “Technology Leadership Committee is racing ahead bringing together leaders in California’s tech community to help make our state party the national leader in the use of new and emerging technologies in our operations and communications. The initiative is chaired by David Kralik of Newt Gingrich’s organization.”

This means that California’s Republicans are well aware of the devastating effect that Obama’s edge in technology and Internet use had in the last election, and are racing — and spending money — to catch-up.  Democrats cannot let this happen.

The remaining two Obama inspired lessons are:

3. Expand the Electorate
4. Champion the Middle Class

Let’s tackle them now.

3. Expand the Electorate

si-se-puedeThe Obama campaign succeeded in large part because it expanded the Democratic electorate by bringing far larger numbers of young people, students, and immigrant groups into the process than ever before.  Obama specifically targeted these groups and the result was millions of additional votes.

The California Young Democrats movement is doing a terrific job of maintaining the momentum of the Obama campaign and getting young people involved in the state Democratic Party.

Where we are falling short is in regard to immigrant groups.

Amazingly, here in Southern California, few election campaigns outside of Los Angeles and Santa Ana provided literature, emails, or websites in Spanish.

The website of the California Democratic Party has nothing in Spanish.  The website of the Democratic Party of Orange County has only a single half-page in Spanish.

Neither website has anything in Farsi, Vietnamese, or any of the other languages of California’s immigrants.

This must change.  We need to create Democratic Party literature and web materials in Spanish, Farsi, Vietnamese, and other languages.

We also need to campaign in predominantly immigrant and less affluent neighborhoods.

Despite the fact that so many Mexican immigrants in Southern California live in apartments, our Democratic candidates have tended to campaign only in areas of private homes, entirely ignoring apartment complexes.

While I’m aware of the problem of scarce resources, it seems to me that we cannot continue to fail to campaign directly to hundreds of thousands of potential voters, especially those who tend to vote overwhelmingly Democrat.

4. Champion the Middle Class

Throughout the presidential election, Obama positioned himself as the champion of the middle-class and painted his Republican opponent as the champion of the very rich.

foreclosure_1009_rp25_lrgObama also made middle-class tax cuts a centerpiece of his campaign promises.  The result was millions of votes from the suburban middle-class -– and electoral vote victories in states that had long gone Republican.

The suburban middle-class that tipped the electoral scales for Obama is probably the single most important voting group in California – especially in Southern California.

Yet despite Obama’s lesson, our local Democrats continue largely to ignore the middle-class, and related groups such as homeowners and small business owners.

In fact, I could not find the word “middle-class” anywhere on the websites of either the California Democratic Party or the Democratic Party of Orange County.

How can we expect to win in districts where self-identified middle-class, homeownering voters form the majority of the electorate without talking specifically to them and about their needs?

Five Ways that Obama Should NOT Emulate Lincoln

Much has been made of Barack Obama’s identification with Abraham Lincoln.  Obama choose a line from Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address – “A New Birth of Freedom” — as the theme for his own inauguration speech.  He took his oath of office on Lincoln’s personal bible.

And like Lincoln, Obama has attempted to create a “team of rivals,” placing former opponents from within his party, such as Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton, as well as Republicans, at the center of power in his administration.

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Of course, Lincoln makes a powerful role model for any president, especially in troubled times.

But there are at least five ways in which Obama should not follow Lincoln’s example, and five corresponding ways in which Lincoln should serve Obama as an example of what not to do.

First, do not believe that you can succeed by compromising with those who are set to destroy you.

Like most moderates on the issue of slavery, and unlike the radicals and abolitionists, Lincoln believed that his enemies in the slave-holding South were reasonable men and that he could hold the Union together by compromise.  Although he abhorred slavery, he promised not to emancipate the slaves by force.

Instead, Lincoln held to a policy of gradually ending slavery by containing it within the slave states (and prohibiting it within the new federal territories) and by offering compensated emancipation (along with the removal of freed slaves to Africa) over a period of many years.

The South didn’t buy it – they saw Lincoln as a far more radical and dangerous opponent of slavery than he was – and were unwilling to engage in any compromise themselves.  They had prepared for war and attacked the Union as soon as Lincoln was elected.

Second,  do not fail to prepare for all-out war with your opponents.

Because Lincoln believed that he could win over the slave-holders with a policy of gradualism and compromise, he failed to prepare, as his enemies had, for all-out war  As a result, the first years of the Civil War were a near disaster for Lincoln and the Union.

Third, do not allow yourself to be pressured into making a bad appointment to the Supreme Court.

Lincoln’s first appointment to the Court was Noah Haynes Swayne.  Swayne was a close friend of Supreme Court justice John McLean, who had issued a stirring dissent in the Dred Scott case and was a powerful force in the new Republican Party.  McLean had tried twice for the party’s presidential nomination and was probably instrumental in rallying Republican support for Lincoln in the 1860 presidential election.  When McLean died in April 1861, Lincoln appointed Swayne to take his place, largely on McLean’s recommendation, as well as intense lobbying by Republican members of Congress, railroads, and banks. Swanye wrote little for the Court and is remembered today mostly for his support for the broad expansion of legal privileges for corporations.

Fourth, don’t change vice-presidents.

Lincoln’s first vice-president was Hannibal Hamlin, a senator from Maine.  Hamlin was a staunch opponent of slavery and was supported by the more radical Republicans and abolitionists. For his second presidential election campaign, Lincoln picked a new running mate, Andrew Johnson of Tennessee.  While little is known for certain about the reason Lincoln decided to replace Hamlin with Johnson, the decision was probably made with the hope that a Southern vice-president would help unify the nation at the conclusion of the war.  Johnson, of course, went on to allow the slave-holders and racists in the defeated South to regain power and effectively re-enslave Black people for another hundred years.

Fifth, do not grow a beard.

It worked for Lincoln.  It won’t work for Barack Obama.

Who’s the Girlie-Man Now?

Back in July 2004, when the California legislature was 17 days late in voting on the state budget, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger mocked Democratic legislators by calling them“girlie-men.”

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The Democrats, Schwarzenegger said, were “part of a bureaucracy that is out of shape, that is out of date, that is out of touch and that is definitely out of control in Sacramento… They cannot have the guts to come out there in front of you and say, ‘I don’t want to represent you. I want to represent those special interests: the unions, the trial lawyers.’ … I call them girlie-men. They should get back to the table and they should finish the budget.”

With his political muscles still pumped from his 1.3 million vote margin of victory in the October 2003 recall election, Schwarzenegger made a series of highly publicized appearances across the state, threatening the Democratic legislators who had not approved his budget in language taken from his Hollywood persona: “I want each and every one of you to go the polls on Nov. 2nd,” he told the voters. “That will be judgment day. I want you to go to the polls. … You are the terminators, yes!”

All that now seems as long ago and far away as Schwarzeneggar’s epic Hercules in New York.

With a $42 billion budget short-fall, the worst credit rating in the nation, schools and social services on the verge of collapse, infrastructure crumbling, state offices closed, more than 200,000 state workers on forced unpaid furlough, and no new budget in sight, our Action Hero Governor has gone into hiding.

The blustering larger-than-life Hollywood hero riding across the state with his machismo exploding and his political guns blazing has turned into a pathetically meek mendicant, crouching under his desk and writing letters to Washington begging the president for federal charity.

When Arnold The Terminator arrogantly (and homophobicly) called Democratic legislators “girlie-men” in 2004, he meant to say that they were weak, impotent cowards, incapable of standing up to the special interests in their party for the good of the state.

Now it is the Republicans who are making it impossible for state to pass a budget, throwing a tantrum and holding their breath until the state turns blue.

And it is Arnold, the has-been hero, who clearly lacks the political cojones to stand up to the special interests in his party.

Who’s the girlie-man now?

The Gang That Couldn’t Appoint Straight

During the presidential election campaign, even Barack Obama’s most severe detractors conceded that he was smart, politically savvy, and had put together a team of brilliant advisors and managers.

Everyone expected that President Obama would carry the cool professionalism and political acumen of his campaign into his administration.

What the hell happened?

stooges2

Since the election, the Obama team has become The Gang That Couldn’t Appoint Straight.

Today, both his nominee for Secretary of Health and Human Services (Tom Daschle) and his nominee for Chief Performance Officer (Nancy Killefer) were forced to withdraw their nominations because of tax problems (or worse).  Last week, Obama’s nominee for Treasury Secretary (Timony Geithner) was approved by the Senate only after offering a mea culpa for his own tax issues.  And Obama’s first nominee for Commerce Secretary (Bill Richardson) was forced to withdraw his nomination when it became known that he is under federal grand jury investigation into improper pay-to-play business dealings (or worse).

Who is to blame for this mess?

As the executive director of Obama’s transition team, Obama’s Harvard Law classmate Chris Lu bears much of the responsibility, as does transition team co-director John D. Podesta and personal director Jim Messina (now Deputy White House Chief of Staff), as well as White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, Senior Advisor (and formerly chief campaign strategist) David Alexrod, and Staff Secretary Lisa Brown.

Along with the White House’s expressions of “regret” and “disappointment,” someone (probably from the group named above) should step forward and admit that they had the responsibility to vet these nominees and that they’ve (repeatedly) blown it.

Much of Obama’s post-election popularity – and his political capital – rests on the belief that we finally have a president who is smart enough, engaged enough, and politically savvy enough to navigate the ship of state through the very dark and troubled waters ahead.

With a series of highly publicised botched appointments to several of the most crucial cabinet positions, Obama risks undermining that belief and squandering his political capital before it is even spent.

My concern is not so much with the nominees themselves (and I’m not sure where I come down regarding the seriousness or deeper implications of their tax and other problems), but with the lack of competence and completeness in their vetting by the Obama team.

The danger is that the public will reverse its perception of Obama as having his (and our) act together. That would be very bad for Obama, for Democrats, and for the country.