2012: Sarah Palin is the Next Hillary Clinton

•December 7, 2009 • 6 Comments

For my final blog (hahaha… right now I know jealousy is stirring with many of you), I will suggest an unlikely similarity between two seemingly opposing political figures, who on the surface appear to possess only one similarity: their gender.  Although their political views are obviously quite juxtaposed, I would argue that both these women, one of whom attempted a run for the presidency, and the other of whom will likely attempt one in the near future, face a major obstacle in reaching the nation’s highest office (beyond, perhaps, their similarity as women): their status as highly controversial figures in American society.

            Hillary Clinton, at least before she became Secretary of State, normally evoked strong emotions from people.  Most people either hate her or love her.  Her role as a former first lady, and the stigma that comes with being the wife of former President Clinton further emboldened opposition against her.  In reality, I don’t think Clinton is really that radical of individual; rather, the time she has spent in the public spectrum has created strong opinions about her policies and ability to lead.

            Similarly, I think we find deeply held and strong opinions concerning the figure of Sarah Palin.  Some herald this former Alaskan governor as the future of the Republican party and the face of the reenergized conservative movement in America.  Others find her strongly conservative views repulsive and narrow-minded.  Furthermore, many understand this “working-class mom” (as she likes to paint herself) to be unintelligent, as evidenced by certain remarks made during the 2008 Presidential election cycle.  All this aside, it is undeniable that Sarah Palin, like Hillary Clinton, is a controversial figure.

            And so, I suspect that 2012 will be a difficult (and perhaps unsuccessful) year for Sarah Palin.  Her tendency to stir strong emotions in people will bring both motivated supporters and determined opposition.  Furthermore, her strongly conservative views might alienate the crucial independent voting bloc, thus threatening the party’s chances for a White House bid.  She will probably make a strong showing in the primaries, but to obtain the nomination will be both an immense challenge, and a perhaps ill-advised outcome for the Republican party.

Greenstein likes to jump the gun

•December 5, 2009 • 1 Comment

A few blogs ago, I offered some criticism and analysis of Greenstein’s take on President Bush. In it, I suggested that we must be careful in analyzing these most recent presidents, for there is much we may not yet understand (especially considering the fact he wrote the chapter before Bush was even reelected). Now, Greenstein decides to write a chapter on Obama to discuss his governing as President even before he is President, which is a bit difficult to do in my opinion.

That being said, and at the risk of hypocrisy and irony, I will now examine Greenstein’s take on Obama, and hopefully identify a few misperceptions of Greenstein’s that may further reveal the need for historical perspective, although I readily admit Greenstein appears to be right on many matters concerning Obama.

First public communication. Greenstein correctly lauds Obama’s oratory skills. Obama is a very gifted communicator, and successfully used this to his advantage during the campaign. But, I would propose that Obama has perhaps utilized his skills to a fault. His repeated nation-wide campaigning for support of policy measures and appearance on late night talk shows has upset many, and some view this latter measure as un-presidential, thus hurting Obama’s public communication skills. Thus, Greenstein’s presumptuous analysis is a bit off-base on this matter.

Second, organizational capacity. Greenstein offers little insight into Obama’s actual managerial skills, merely noting that the President assembled a national security team that would prevent group-think. This team is highly professional, and the debate over the war in Afghanistan proves the seriousness with which Obama considers both sides of the argument. This, along with Obama’s impressively organized campaign, and what I feel is a general sense of organization in his administration, contributes to a positive organizational capacity.

Third, political skill. This one, in my opinion, is a bit difficult to judge definitively at this point in time. Obama definitely tries to make overtures to people on both sides of the aisle. Furthermore, I think that he understands there will be serious political implications for his actions, and he tries to tailor his decisions accordingly. But we do see in Obama a failure to always accurately perceive these implications. As Mark pointed out before, expending political capital on Guantanamo Bay by setting an unattainable deadline was probably a mistake. And I would suspect that Obama underestimated the extent of the backlash against health care reform. And who knows what will happen with Afghanistan? On this issue, Greenstein is only able to dwell on Obama’s short time in the state legislature and Senate, and he paints Obama’s skill in a largely positive light.

On policy vision, Greenstein argues that Obama contains a clear vision that understands the political realities he is surrounded in. For the most part, I would agree with this assessment. Obama clearly defines his vision, and is not afraid to do so to the American people through major addresses. He also understands political realities, and shows a ready willingness to compromise and consider both sides. But, as I mentioned earlier, accurately perceiving implications is not always easy, and not always something Obama gets right.

Fifth, cognitive style. Greenstein is right on this. Obama is extremely intelligent and analytical. He actively considers both sides of the issues, and attempts to make decisions based on both strategic and political considerations (i.e. Afghanistan).

Finally, emotional intelligence. Greenstein is largely right, but Obama does exhibit emotion and frustration at times, most notably in his administration’s earlier exchanges with Fox News (for example, when he refused to grant the network an interview, despite the fact every other major cable news outlet got an interview). But the vast majority of the time, it is clear Obama is able to remain emotionally composed.

A blog on… Surprise! Afghanistan!

•December 2, 2009 • 3 Comments

So… hopefully by now we all know that our President gave an important speech on Afghanistan, a country which is currently dominating speculation on his foreign policy.  As many analysts and politicians alike have noted, the President’s approach appears to be one of compromise and seeking the middle ground.  His rapid increase of 30,000 troops represents a number 10,000 less than that requested by General McChrystal, but still angers much of his Democratic base.  At the same time, he alienates his traditional opposition with the assertion of a set timetable, one which will be governed by benchmarks, but which will also apparently commence regardless of the situation on the ground.

            I find that there is far too much to discuss on this issue.  The idea of a timetable, the cost, the broadcasting of our long-term strategy, and the number of troops all lend could lend themselves to lengthy discussions.  So, I will instead discuss the politics of Obama’s decision.

            As much as I would like Obama’s Afghanistan decision to be removed from politics, we all know the reality is his decision is mired heavily in politics.  As I previously mentioned, his path of compromise successfully angered both sides, and leaves the President with few allies.  I am not sure if this is brilliant or insane.  If it works, the President will likely go down in history for his ability to critically analyze the situation and address it properly.  If it fails… well… both sides will say, “I told you so.”  (and of course the reality is, it will probably fall somewhere between complete victory and utter failure). 

            So did the President make the right decision to adopt a politically moderate approach, which each opposing side views as a strongly liberal or conservative approach?  I am wary that he did so.  Although I deeply appreciate his resolve to put forth a centrist stance, as it is more true to the way he portrayed himself in the election, I am wary that his intentions were overly political, and not sufficiently strategically focused. In part, I would like to discover that I am wrong, and to ultimately realize that Obama’s decision was based overwhelmingly on strategy.  But, in retrospect, I do not think this is a question which can truly be answered at this time, as we will likely fail to understand the President’s motives until we gain sufficient historical perspective.

Is Greenstein a bit presumptuous?

•December 1, 2009 • 1 Comment

In our beloved textbook, Greenstein examines the latter President Bush, asserting that after September 11, the former president underwent something of a transformation, as his he excelled in public communication, and skyrocketed in approval polls.  Greenstein ends the chapter by observing the usual traits, a few of which I will briefly question.

            As Mark rightly noted in an earlier blog, we must be careful in drawing foregone conclusion about the most recent presidents, because really, history is still being written about their time in office.  It is difficult to fully grasp the legacy these presidents leave, due to our relative historical proximity to their time in office. 

            Greenstein’s chapter on Bush underscores this need.  This edition was published in 2004, only midway through the Bush presidency, and thus, there was no chance to view his time in office from a removed, historical perspective.  While Greenstein’s observations seem to hold true for some aspects of Bush’s remaining time in office, others seem a bit out of place.  Greenstein argues that in the post 9/11 era, Bush effectively used public communication and rhetoric, especially in his particular style of “stump speaking,” which “undoubtedly contribute[d] to his sustained high approval ratings.” 

            Although Greenstein readily recognizes Bush’s often divisive rhetoric, his analysis is a bit premature.  As Bush proceeded into his second term, we know that his ratings dropped to some of the lowest experienced by modern presidents.  We see him lose arguably any ability to persuade the public, and it is clear that he lacked could not maintain the eloquent speech he exhibited in the few years after 9/11.

            Similarly, Greenstein discusses Bush’s political skill in a favorable light.  Although this is more subject to debate, and perhaps a result of increasingly antagonistic political opposition, Bush’s second term would likely suggest a different picture, as least in some regards.

            On the other side of the spectrum, Greenstein does draw some accurate conclusions that seem to hold true throughout the remainder of Bush’s presidency.  In particular, I think Greenstein accurately portrays Bush’s emotional intelligence.  His willingness to stay quiet and to avoid rebuttals to Obama’s frequent criticisms demonstrates his capacity to control his emotions.

             Concluding though, I think the Bush chapter highlights the need to take Greenstein’s analysis in light of its historical proximity, especially as we discuss the most recent Presidents.

Deficit Difficulties

•November 28, 2009 • Leave a Comment

Over the past few days, as I have enjoyed too much food and too little homework, I was again bombarded the all-too familiar far-right rhetoric that my extended family tends to uncritically embrace.  This, combined with a few lovely episodes of largely baseless and hawkish commentary espoused by Glenn Beck made me again appreciate my thoughtful and analytical political science friends at Whitworth.

            But, over the course of the past week, I noticed a recurrent theme in the political concerns I encountered.  Glenn Beck, citing a New York Times article which I read earlier in the day, ranted about the nation’s increasing deficit, and the coming cataclysmic effects of our problems.  Then on Thanksgiving, my grandpa and aunt complained about the deficit for a bit, noting some fear-evoking statement about the fact that the profit from the top 150 Fortune 500 companies couldn’t pay off the national debt for the next 150 years, or something similarly ridiculous.  Naturally, Glenn Beck and my relatives immediately identify Obama as the reason for this financial madness and debt.  Finally, in the past few days I have read a few articles that identify Dubai as a possible harbinger of the problems national debt poses, and the possibly horrendous global effects, which further piqued my interest on the matter.

            With this in mind, and because I in part share similar concerns in regards the nation’s tendency to borrow, I thought it would be appropriate to briefly discuss the President, national debt, and the budget.  As my grandpa pointed out, our generation will be the one footing the bill for this spending.  (I am not going to discuss the merit of this spending, as the combination of wars, economic crisis, domestic programs, and the lowering of taxes all arguably play a role in the current difficulties this nation faces).  Therefore, we must consider its implications, and how to deal with these debt issues.

            First, and perhaps most importantly, we notice in Article I, Section 8, of the Constitution that the power over money and national debt is explicitly granted to Congress.  Therefore, I would suggest that debt is first and foremost a Congressional issue, and not a Presidential one.  I would suspect that this is a common misconception.  Although the President is obviously heavily involved in matters of money because of the legislation he proposes (depending of course, on who is President), and the money required to finance the executive’s many agencies.  But, as American citizens, we ought to call on our legislators and immediate representatives to balance our national budget and to work vigorously towards reducing national debt, or we may face the consequences of higher taxes as the U.S. foots an increasing interest bill year after year.

            Second, I think the President does still play an important role in this matter.  As I previously mentioned, the President’s role as head of the executive branch does require a certain amount of financial oversight that pertains to the many departments and agencies over which he administrates.  Thus, the President can work towards lesser spending by submitting smaller estimated budgets to Congress.  This of course, would likely require the ending of certain programs and shrinking the size of some agencies, which inevitably stirs controversy as particular constituencies find their interests pushed aside.  Furthermore, proposed legislation must be fiscally responsible.  This is both an obligation for the executive and the legislature, but under Obama, who has been especially vigorous in proposing health care, we must remember that reform must include sustainable finances.

            The above are obviously primarily theoretical suggestions, and not so much a commentary on what specific measures the Congress and the executive must take to tackle this deficit.  But this burgeoning deficit is a problem that requires action in the immediate future, and I hope our representatives on both sides of the aisle are up to the task.  Finally, I would like to note that this blog is not an endorsement of a particular political perspective, because both sides of the political spectrum are quite at fault in contributing to this problem, and so I reiterate that both sides must address the problem.

A Vain Appeal

•November 23, 2009 • 1 Comment

Earlier today, I read an article in the Wall Street Journal entitled “Obama Calls for More U.S. Exports to Asia,” and I casually brushed it aside, believing it to be a mere political appeal to the people, rather than a substantial policy idea.  Later, I happened upon Mark’s post, in which he notes the President’s rather unskilled and perhaps inexperienced approach to closing Guantanamo, and the need for the President to “follow through with commitments.”

            And so I would like to express similar sentiments concerning politicians, and above all, the nation’s most visible politician, our President.  First, I will briefly address the article I read earlier today.  In it, the Wall Street Journal cites Obama’s weekly radio address to the nation, in which he suggests the need for a 5% increase in exports to Asia, a measure which would hypothetically result in the creations of hundreds of thousands of jobs.  Not to be overly cynical, but I tend to think that such an appeal merely makes a nice sound bite, for the President to use later when it becomes politically opportune to do so.  Obama recognizes (I hope) the reality and real practicality of such a proposal: Americans simply cannot compete with the manufacturing China and other Asian nations put out, and arguably, they do not want to.  Our consumer and service oriented economy has allowed for many Americans to live a comparatively luxurious lifestyle, and to compete on a manufacturing level with the cheap labor of other nations would obviously require a drastic alteration of current living standards.

            Bearing this in mind, Obama’s failure to follow through on Guantanamo (which means at the very least, he is not haphazardly closing the prison), and his aversion to abiding by other political promises (for example, his bipartisan efforts seem quite sparse lately), would convince me of the truth underlying the title of Mark’s post: “Politics as Usual.”  Our President came into office promising change, and perhaps on some levels, he has brought some change.  But on the character of Washington in general, we see no change (and this is no surprise, really).  Obama is following the similar patterns of his colleagues and predecessors, an unfortunate occurrence.  The President should set an example of expressing the truth and inspiring grounded trust, based on his ability to follow through on promises.  Unfortunately, political realities are otherwise, and foreseeing any change in this D.C. culture would likely be naïve and wholly unrealistic.

Obama and Carter

•November 18, 2009 • 3 Comments

A look at former (and still kickin’) President Carter, and our current President, yields some interesting parallels.  First of all, both men come from relatively unknown backgrounds to capture the national election.  In order to do this, each campaigns largely on personal appeal.  Carter was apparently “fuzzy” on the issues, but used his big smile and morality to secure the vote of many Americans.  Although Obama was probably a bit less imprecise in articulating his political views, few would deny that he held (and arguably continues to hold) celebrity status.  This inevitably drew many potential supporters to his side who voted for the President based on personal appeal.

            We also can glimpse a bit of a populist mentality in each President.  Carter tried to portray the image of a common man, walking in the inauguration parade and attempting to resurrect the “fireside chat.”  In Obama we also witness a populist approach, although his mentality tends to manifest itself differently.  I would argue Obama attempts to emanate a sense of intellectual superiority, which is dissimilar to the “common man” approach Carter takes.  But Obama, during his short tenure in office, has repeatedly appealed to the American people for support through town hall meetings, speeches, and late night TV interviews, providing the sense that he is a president of the people, a populist.

            But at this point, that is where the similarities stop, and the rest remains to be seen.  It is completely possible Obama may follow in Carter’s footsteps if he fails to enact his central legislative policies, and if little progress occurs in Afghanistan and in U.S. relations with a host of other nations.  Conversely though, I suspect Obama innately possesses more political tactfulness than his high-minded predecessor, and will ultimately avoid the disgrace and unpopularity Carter experienced.  The current President demonstrates a willingness to actively engage the legislature and recognize political realities, an ability Carter obviously did not possess.  But the President must be careful; I think he is realizing the extent of his political and social capital, and reacting in a manner like Carter (i.e. “Crisis of Confidence” speech) would further reduce his popularity.  In the end though, I am relatively certain our current President will use his intelligent mind to avoid the same pitfalls Carter fell into.