Michael Maiello's picture

    The President Owns Everything

    I keep seeing "President Obama's Bipartisan Deficit Reduction Committee" references in headlines and news articles.  I also see left leaning commenters lament the political disaster this is.  On one hand, I can see this from Obama's point of view.  Sure, he formed the committee and picked its members so it is, in that sense, "his."  But he formed the committee and chose the members so that they could put together a proposal for the rest of us to contend with.  It's "Obama's" in the sense that he hired these people.  But it's their work.  That's a subtle but reasonable distincting.  Those of us who work for other people are probably willing to agree that to some extent our bosses are responsible for what we do.  But do we believe our bosses "own" our work or do we like to take credit for our own accomplishments?

    Obama seems like a great manager.  He's knows he can't do everything.  He's willing to delegate.  Everything that happens within Obama's administration does not necessarily have the stamp of Obama on it.  He's aware, for sure (Whereas Bush just seems neglectful and not always in charge) and he takes responsibility, but all of this is less personality driven than things were in the Clinton years.

    The Obama approach is probably closest to how you should effectively run a big operation.  The Clinton approach is probably closer to how you should run a start-up.  But whatever its merits, the Obama approach has an optics problem since people don't pay a lot of attention to the news.  The President winds up owning everything.

    With health care, Obama seemed to employ the classic managerial technique of assigning the problem to the constituency that needed to buy-in.  It certainly stands to reason that a Congressionally designed plan would merit wide Congressional support.  He got a bill passed and of course his name is stuck to it, but it deviates sharply from what his supporters expected Obama healthcare to look like.  He delegated it, they mangled it and he owns the result.

    He owns Afghanistan, Iraq, the deficit commission, and TARP and the stimulus.  Of those, only two were formulated by his administration with the stimulus being a direct response to TARP and the economy he inherited and the deficit commission a direct response to having to do the stimulus in the first place.  Sheesh!

    What's funny is that the one thing he doesn't own has the best branding.  He doesn't own "The Bush Tax Cuts."  This is hilarious in a way since the only reason these things are expiring is that the Bush White House set them to expire.  Obama probably should have branded this better.  Let them expire but force congress to vote on the Obama Tax Cut For The Middle Class.  Revert to 90s tax rates for income over $250,000 per couple and tax an additional percentage off each bracket below that.  Then at least we'd be debating the Obama Tax Cuts, which has a nice ring to it.

    It seems to me that in the ultimate triumph of hope over experience tha Obama is delegating ever more problems to presumably responsible parties who, in the end, don't turn out to be responsible and who leave the President holding the bag for, well... cruddy policy.

    I think it's time for less quiet management and more charisma.  Were the President running an organization where, more of less, everyone shared the same goal of progress (even if they define it differently) he could continue to delegate the way he has been.  But he's now running an organization where the Senate Minority Leader's goal is to keep him from winning a second term in office.

    It's amazing what these people are going to stick the President with, if Obama lets them.  Obama had better start defining his own presidency.  If the release of Bush's memoirs have shown us anything it's that everyone but Kanye West has forgotten that any of that ever happened.


    Nice post. I think the "start-up" company comment is worthy of a lot of discussion. When I look at this sad sack Administration I can't imagine them designing a product and rolling it out. There is a theory that cabinet officers don't "sell", it's the President who sells. But it seems to me that he has no one to help with the heavy lifting who has any "gravitas". I also think the administration is becoming risk averse--a position that is antithetical to a start-up company. You could make the argument that HR was in fact too big a risk and it backfired. But even so, that is no reason for the President and his cabinet to now give the impression that they are think tank instead of a hot shot new company.  

    I wonder what the real risk is anymore.  I can sympathize with their feeling coming into office that they didn't want to take a radical posture, that change is a gradual process and all of that.  But when your opponents are going to call you a crazed lunatic socialist no matter what you do, it should take some of that fear away.  The President is now dealing with opponents who see shades of Stalin behind local governments arranging for garbage collection.  I say go ahead and give them something to really cry red about. 

    Great post Dextor. I like te part of getting Bush's name out of it, but I also think we have been ridiculously passive about messagie. How about this:

    For those of you middle class folks who want to preserve tax cuts for the richest among us, take a look at how your hard work stacks up next to theirs---

    A person making $250,000 a year is taking in

    $120 an HOUR.

    $960 a DAY,

    $4,807 a WEEK,

    and $19,230 a month.

    A person making $1,000,000 a year is taking in

    $480 an HOUR.

    $2,764 a DAY,

    $11,056 a WEEK,

    and $76,923 a month!

    Are these people really worth so much more than you are? If their tax cuts created jobs we would be overwhelmed with jobs right now! Giving the middle class more money to create demand is the best use of a tax cut. Why should the middle class sponsor more debt for people who make more money in a month than most people do in a year.

    No they do not CVille. But they do not feel rich. Oh and here is the smallest violin playing just for them.

    CVille, I couldn't agree with you more. But Democrats have not been able to rebut the notion that the rich create jobs. The tax cut beneficiaries include, for example, hedge fund partners many of whom are just making bets on currency, bond rates, etc. But on the  whole the target "rich" population is too amorphous, the myth of job creators too entrenched to fight.(I hate myself for saying that) Agreeing to the tax extentions for the rich is all the more reason for Obama to take an angry populist stance against a particular slice of the "rich", the bankers. Put a face on the rich. I think that most people would already agree that banks are either playing trading games with the money we've already given them or just sitting on it. They are not lending it to the consumers or small businesses who could be creating jobs. They are the target. 

    " But he formed the committee and chose the members so that they could put together a proposal for the rest of us to contend with.  It's "Obama's" in the sense that he hired these people.  But it's their work.  That's a subtle but reasonable distinct[ion]."

    Maybe, but anyone knowing anything knew what Bowles and Simpson would want.  That might signal that he's willing to compromise on social safety nets, and if so, it'l kill him politically, as may drawing out the wars.

    Obama may like delegating, but why can't he delegate to more of the Right People?  He doesn't even invite progressives to join in: look at his Cabinet, for crying out loud.  Any progressive who got criticized, he cut loose fast.

    Tell me why he won't choose Joseph Stiglitz or Simon Johnson to replace Summers.

    Excellent point, Stardust.  Why not Dean Baker instead of Erskine Bowles for that committee.  I suspect it's because Simpson had not intention of being the Republican co-chair with such a formidable opponent on the other side of the argument.

    But heck, he should have gone way more extreme.  Grover Norquist on one side, Paul Krugman on the other.  At least the issues would be laid bare.

    Or Ron Paul and Krugman, anyway. 

    I wouldn't mind hearing what tax policy reform they talked about, although all I've read is that it's a non-starter.  Simon Johnson was on a panel recently, and all three of the panelists made a good case for reform, though in different directions, obviously.

    What's your take on the meaning of the hurry-up presser, and the White House signaling that they weren't notified or prepared to comment in advance?  Smells like Old Fish to me...

    My take on a question like this is probably not all that well informed as I don't know the nuts and bolts of political PR.  But I suspect they wanted to release a document for a few reasons:

    1)  To stave off criticism that this was all done "behind closed doors."  They can now argue that you saw their original ideas in early November and the evolved version in early December and so you were privy to the process, thank you very much.  It's a BS argument but I bet they'll make it.

    2)  To release a document that's extreme so that whatever the commission agrees to seems moderate by comparison.

    3)  To take over the discussion early so that Congress and the President has no choice but to take up whatever the commission finally proposes.

    Thanks, Destor; I agree except for #2.  That wouldn't have required hurrying, IMO.

    The first ad in this string aired on my network television set last night; it's being shown massively, according to the newspaper coverage.  It will certainly cause many, if not most, Americans to think in the wrong way about debt, and why government exactly needs to spend more money, well, right now. 


    "The $6 million campaign by the Washington, D.C.-based Peter G. Peterson Foundation aims to promote bipartisan solutions to the federal fiscal crisis.

    The foundation's founder and namesake was U.S. commerce secretary under Republican President Richard Nixon, and a former chairman and CEO of the now-defunct Lehman Brothers. Peterson served on the Bi-Partisan Commission on Entitlement and Tax Reform after a 1994 appointment by Democratic President Bill Clinton."

    Read more: http://www.kansascity.com/2010/11/10/2416943/fictional-candidate-focus-of-ads.html#ixzz150JwGeU7

    Right. And if Obama is such a bloody reader, may I recommend "Henry V" by a well known English playwright.


    I'd recommend two others instead (I think many dagbloggers would get a lot out of both of these as well):

    on process/method: The Fireside Conversations: American Responds to FDR During the Great Depression, Lawrence Levine and Cornelia Levine (for an idea of how a President can communicate effectively with the public using the bully pulpit and how that can deeply effect individual citizens; this also recommended to those at dag and elsewhere who ridicule the idea of things perhaps going very differently and much better for this Administration if the President were to use the bully pulpit effectively)


    on agenda/policy substance: Freefall, Joseph Stiglitz (for lots of a grist for a popular and helpful direction on economic policy)

    As to how he frees himself from the deficit-reduction trap he seems to have set for himself...it's going to take someone a heck of a lot smarter than me to figure that out.

    Never read the first but second the rec on Freefall, which is also really readable.  Damned depressing though as Stiglitz makes the answers seem so clear and they are not out there in the mainstream discussion at all.

    The first just came out a couple of months ago.  I found it deeply moving and powerful reading the letters from ordinary citizens, many of them semi-literate.  This, it seems to me, is what it means for a President to really connect with ordinary citizens who are desperate for the dignity, hope, and sustenance that can come with a paycheck for doing honest work.  Untold numbers of Americans found spirit-sustaining supplies of both stemming directly from Roosevelt's willingness to act. 

    I also found some of the hate letters very funny. 

    That is truly the most fundamental and "litmus-y" question one could ask about Obama and his suspect relationships with Wall St. 

    Many better economists have asked; a couple have even been invited to the White House for tea or whatever.  I thought Krugman was tamed afterward, though he's gained some mettle back recently.  Many in the blogosphere ask, "Why can't he have a Team B of economists, the let them duke it out?" 

    I think the answer is IN about his relationship to Wall Street: he believes in papering over the systemic bank balance sheets well enough to get through this term, and is crossing his fingers that the next meltdown won't happen on his watch.  Trouble is, he's likely wrong.

    Let's demand they put the 'Bi' back in Bi-partisan.  As I read this today, my heart grew heavy and my anger raged:  "the salaries of two senior staffers, (of the bi-partisan debt commission), Marc Goldwein and Ed Lorenzen, are paid by private groups that have previously advocated cuts to entitlement programs. Lorenzen is paid by the Peter G. Peterson Foundation, while Goldwein is paid by the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, which is also partly funded by the Peterson group." WTF?! Why does this make me want to scream and abandon all support I have left for this President? Because he's now been 'played' by the opposition every single time on every single issue he's dealt with over the past two years.  I've been a big Obama supporter until now, even when I disagreed with him, I gave him the benefit of the doubt, because I believed he was thoughtful and working hard to fix tough problems, most of which were not of his making. This one should have been a slam-dunk for Dems, but it's turned into another "Lucy pulled the football away" and Charlie Brown once again lands on his back frustrated and regretful for having trusted Lucy yet again.  Grrrr.

    People really have to stop thinking OBAMA is the one getting played again and again. He's still a lock for reelection, even as the country heads further and further down the toilet. He's doing just fine thank you very much.

    And I've been driving down the passing lane of a three lane road for the past hour and no one has hit me yet.

    Nice analogy. If I were being more nuanced, I might have said something along those lines.

    Wish I understood your metaphor, Oxy, but it was my impression that you and few others here at Dag were finally twigging to this all being sponsored, authored, and okayed by Obama, not that it was a welcome realization.  ;o)

    (Ack! I just deleted the rest lest I go too far.  But some days it seems as though we might need some more honest, to the point rhetoric in order to wake each other up.)

    Okay, if you say so, but if Obama isn't the one getting played, who is? (I don't want to hear that it's the middle class or the American people; we're spectators, not actors in this drama.)

    That depends on whether you think it is a play, where the script is already written, or a sports contest, where the outcome is contested. Sometimes I think it is like pro wrestling, where the outcome is prearranged, but the contestants can improvise with folding chairs and kabuki grimacing.


    I'm not sure what you mean by that. Politics isn't a spectator sport... or something.

    Too many metaphors ... waking and pretending I reach ... a conclusion. (Sorry, Sondheim.) Wait, Pro-wrestling is fake? Jeez, next thing you'll be sayin' there ain't no Santa Claus. (sigh) If only there were no former Senators chairing the debt commission.



    Shoot, couldn't make my image joke work.  Go here:



    And speaking of messaging, why are programs that we all contribute to our entire working lives:  Social Security, Medicare, and Unemployment Compensation, called "Entitlements" as though they are government charity?  


    If it means I am entitled to receive benefits that I paid for, I think it should be re-named.  The general populace comprehends "Entitlement" to mean undeserved.

    Yes, I think that is precisely why those aiming to demolish what is left of the security net in this country, whether in the name of budget balancing for its own sake as their Holy Grail, or growing political domination by the Right, have worked hard to make "entitlement" the term of choice.  I would be amazed if the word had not been tested in focus groups and public opinion surveys ad nauseum to confirm that it works in just that way.

    "WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama's top adviser suggested to The Huffington Post late Wednesday that the administration is ready to accept an across-the-board, temporary continuation of steep Bush-era tax cuts, including those for the wealthiest taxpayers.

    That appears to be the only way, said David Axelrod, that middle-class taxpayers can keep their tax cuts, given the legislative and political realities facing Obama in the aftermath of last week's electoral defeat.

    "We have to deal with the world as we find it," Axelrod said..."  --from Huffpo

    Brilliant.  Why the flip not let the cuts expire, then have the fight for tax cuts for those making under $250,000 or whatever number?  Have the damed fight, show who is who??????  I swear to god, these folks are lame.  What happened to the Obama Brilliant Campaigns?  Guess what: That's exactly what this issue could be!!!

    "We have to deal with the world as we find it," Axelrod said.



    We wanted them to stand up to the MINORITY, and they didn't.  Now they won't stand up to ONE house of Congress's  SIMPLE majority.  The truth is that the excuses are lame.  

    Is this really about the uber-rich being in charge?  I'm starting to think so.


    When they had a Super-Majority, Dems were told by the Republicans that a Super Majority wasn't enough, and they actually needed a Super-Duper Majority (90 votes) to get anything passed because a Super Majority is actually a Minority ... and so the Dems shrugged their shoulders and sat back down and BELIEVED THEM.

    Obviously being in congress is depriving some villages of their idiots.

    It's at least that too many Dems are cowardly and spineless because a) they don't really give a fig about US; b) they care about re-election (power, revolving doors being more financially rewarding after more than one term); or c) they really got a good look at the lives of the uber-wealthy, and have realized they are just one tiny notch away from being One of Them, so it becomes easier to justify their excuses for selling the American public out in the name of some sort of 'rationality' that we find odious and immoral and unethical, not to mention long-term destructive to the nation!

    Pretty Rumsfeldian quote from Axelrod (the worst communications expert on the planet, by the way):  "You don't go to war with the military you want...la la la..."

    It seems to be past time for us to shake Obama's tree, and our Congresspeople's trees.  For too long we've pretended that the White House strategies were all that could be supported since there were some Blue Dogs and few cross-over Republicans.

    IMO, those who believe polls, self-identification of political postions (i.e., Progressive, conservative, centrist, la la la...) are entriely missing the point: politics aren't static!  Remember how many indies and R's voted for Obama after McCain was so entirely dumbstruck and speechless about the Wall Street Meltdown?  What case could exemplify the movement of political voting any better than that? 

    And now the White House has knuckled again.  And will extend the wars for more years, sort of under-cutting those hapless Dems who gave him a pass in the name of his 'wanting to exit well.'  Phooey.

    And good point, CVille, on the bogus 'entitlements' term.  Yell back about it: We paid for oour saftey nets and then some!

    Not a turncoat,  I think a cave in on extending tax cuts for the rich would be "revolting". I think Obama is counting upon gradual economic improvement, people growing more favorable toward the health care law, and the tea partiers making asses of themselves. This isn't the crusader you or I want or voted for, but maybe we probably shouldn't be surprised. And his strategy doesn't leave much room for error--i.e., head on collisions. But my metaphor was weak in that it implied a risk taker, which Obama isn't.

    I cut O slack in this regard. And I know there are a zillion other options. But given that this Congress will pass no further stimulus for two years, having tax rates go up would be contractionary and therefore antithetical to Dems' re-election chances. Doesn't matter what better stimuli to create jobs--isn't going to happen. What's missing for me is the rest of the story--"now that we've caved to these assholes yet one more time, do we have anything at all we're willing to fight them on.?"     

    I'm perplexed by your 'not a turncoat' sentence here.  But at the very least, you seem to be conceding the same turf as Obama, and not addressing the issue I brought up (and in fact, am going crazy about):

    Let the Bush tax cuts expire at the end of the year.  In the lame-duck session, get onto the floor a tax cut for the middle and poor classes.  Have the fight!!  Republicans want to be seen (or Blue Dogs) opposing some small relief for working families??  The polling in September shows it's a win-win for Dems that way.  Can someone not show the Deficit Hawks that a $700 billion cut to the Treasury over ten years is stoopid? 

    This one is such a no-brainer I can't imagine it.  Here's the polling:



    Hey there. Meae Culpae, I hadn't focused on your end-of-year lapse and fight it out on the floor option--which is where my emotions are. But from the accounting side I'm seeing the contractionary effects of not extending the tax cuts as bad for recovery and thus harmful to O's re-election chances. Disclaimer, this is speculative and I flunked statistics.

    But It seems that a deal for a two year extention, kicking it into the next election, is possible now. Whereas the new Congress is completely unpredictable and might kill all extentions out of spite, blaming it on Democrats and throwing contractionary effects into the mix. I could be wrong on this but it seems that a lackluster recovery also hurts "establishment" Republicans and gives further ground to the tea rabble. So the non-contractionary option is better for old-GOP'ers, to borrow a phrase, gives them the incentive to deal now and leaves Obama the leverage to limit it to two years. 

    This kind of thinking is really disgusting, Oxy Mora.  

    So what you're saying is that tax cuts for the rich are good for the economy. Accordingly, why not drop their rates even further, down to 10% marginal rate? Drop corporate tax rates as well? Hell, let's just adopt the whole GOP agenda. They're obviously right about what works. Right?

    They're disgusting.

    ... but right!

    Awesome. the country is so not screwed if this is representative of thinking in the Democratic party base.

    Well, I gave myself indigestion just writing the above. Frankly, I'd like to kick some GOP ass right about now. And if Obama doesn't show some fight on SS and take a tougher stance on the banks, I'm all in for a challenge in the primary. But my opinion is that having any or all of these tax rates go up during the next two years is inimical to recovery and therefore to Obama's chances for re-election.

    Right. And by extension, lowering tax rates for the rich would help the economy even more. As would lowering corporate tax rates (which increase personal income for the rich). So let's meet all the GOP's demands for lower taxes on the rich and on corporations by agreeing on temporary cuts - to 0% on all incomes over 250.000, and on corporate profits. That will be great for the economy. And be bi-partisan. We could time them to expire, just as for the Bush tax cuts, just before the '12 election. That way no one will let them really expire and they will be extended ad eternam. Which... will be great for the economy. Right?

    See, I look at this 'thinking', and I don't think the left has become intellectually bankrupt. I look at this kind of thinking and I realize there is no left... left.

    Sorry to harsh your mellow, Oxy, but I don't know how else to react to this kind of stuff.


    Please don't say it again; it makes me want to commit hara kiri.  When Dems buy into this framing of economics, it makes it clear that the lines between the parties are far too blurred to be effective at communicating smart economics, not to mention what's good for the country. What?  The Dems are now Hoover?

    Hoover wanted to balance the budget and mistakenly raised taxes in a contracting economy.

    He pulled back massive governmental spending and raised taxes, wanted to balance the budget when recovery was just taking off, if I understand the history.  Please don't think of letting these Bush tax cuts expire as 'raising taxes': it's just about letting them return to '90s levels, when job growth was pretty decent.

    Well, these guys seem to remember. Oddly, speaking of things forgotten,  I remember when supporting unions was a stated priority for this administration. Anyone else remember that?


    With 1 out of 5 workers that are either compleatly out of work or struggling with under employment,  keeping the Bush tax cuts isn't going to mean anything to them.  Letting the tax cuts expire don't make any difference in their lives unless some of the taxes collected is used for job creations.  It is not going to inspire them to go the polls and vote next time unless there is someone runing that will look out for their needs.  

    But scaring the hell out ot the older voter that cuts maybe made in SS and medicare, might wake them up to the fact that maybe they supported the wrong  political party.    

    I have not been watching much news.  The political ideas that are now being talked about is too depressing.  It makes me feel bad the rest of the day after watching the republicans take the upper hand with cutting all the programs out in order the wealthy can continue to remain a parisite on our economy.     

    Momo, during the midterms the demographic that had the biggest move towards the GOP were the elderly. And that move was credited to the GOP campaign hammering Dems for their 500 billion dollar Medicare cuts. I.e. the GOP are posing as the defenders of Medicare. And notice how this insane Commission is extremely careful about not suggesting explicit cuts in Medicare. The GOP knows it is suicide to even go there. But they seem to think that they can get Social Security cuts. And they think they can do so in a way where those currently receiving SocSec benefits will be on the side of reform. I.e. they will pose as the saviours of SocSec: by reducing the benefits of future  recipients they will be able to preserve the privileges of current recipients. That's why they propose to do it by raising the retirement age down the line, it will keep the whole boomer generation on their side, while they screw the younger generations. In other words, another 'wedge issue' move.

    I don't want to sound like an annoying git, but you people are MUCH too sanguine about the ability and ... the willingness ... of this administration in opposing the attack on Social Security.

    Pew Research Center, Sept. 13, 2010:


    Check out age 18-29....wondering how many were strong Obama supporters...

    You know, if I had a pension, I could see myself supporting it as well.  Since I'd have a fixed source of income already, I'd be happy to take 1/3rd of my Social Security money and go for a higher return and take some risk.  But these kids don't have pensions.  If they're lucky they have 401(k) plans.  If they ahve 401(k) plans, they should want everything else to be guaranteed as a hedge.  They are financially illiterate.

    Go four-times-table yourself, so-called "Dextor."

    You would think that it is the Republicans who control the White House, the House and the Senate, from what we are reading lately.  There surely is a lot of sentiment in the country that the federal government is spending piles of money.  But the issue for most people, I believe, is who it is being spent on and with what results for the people who are hurting most right now!  Was this election a mandate to:

    *continue tax cuts for people who are by median income standards, if not in all cases their own, already wealthy

    *let the screwup big bankers walk away with enormous bonuses and in some cases profits, while letting the taxpayers clean up their messes (they will continue to do this in future meltdowns unless and until they are broken up) and continue to skate with zero accountability; and

    *gut what is left of the safety net in the name of deficit reduction

    Sure.  Right.  That's what it was about.  To ask this question is to answer it.  Unbelievable. 

    So far Obama has largely conceded defining the meaning of this election to the House Republicans and their allies, instead of defining it himself.  He needs to snap out of it soon, get up off the mat, and get in there.  Unless, in the end, he is ok with that agenda, particularly if by locating himself slightly to the left of the Far Right, Road-to-Serfdom GOP agenda he thinks he can ensure himself re-election. 

    If he does cave on SS, chances of him facing a credible primary challenge or a more credible third party challenge, or even both, go up considerably.  For better or worse.  Vast swaths of the public--and I don't mean just the Democratic party base which the GOP spin machine will single out--have about had enough violence done to their pocketbooks, values and such hope as they allowed themselves to invest in Obama's candidacy.  

    That was the real message of the election.  It's unfortunate that the President so far doesn't seem to have heard it, or misunderstands what is meant by that and not meant by that.  The extent of the tone deafness, of the disconnect with the public, seems to me to be severe at this point, and not getting better.  

    I came across this, which I think many here will find worth a read for the survey data presented alone, from Katrina vanden Heuvel and Robert Borosage, "The Post-Midterms Game Plan for Progressives":


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