Democratic Message Discipline

Democratic Party message discipline, as exemplified by defenses on Bain Capital and private equity.

President Bill Clinton

Cory Booker

Ed Rendell

Deval Patrick

Harold Ford Jr.

Let’s be clear. While these high level Democrats – most of whom are currently or have been in the past top-level surrogates for President Obama – are saying something different from the President’s re-election campaign, this is not an example of a lack of message discipline. Or rather, the lack of discipline is coming from the Obama campaign. These Democrats, as leading elected and former elected officials, know that private equity is a crucial piece of the funding infrastructure for the Democratic Party. These gentlemen will not bite the hand that feeds them. The Obama campaign is breaking with what is clearly the party’s orthodoxy on private equity and it isn’t even doing so that convincingly. But it has been enough to shake out the party stalwarts, even the Big Dog himself, to say that Obama is wrong and Bain is good and proper. It’s pretty sickening to watch.

Will Bunch on Obama’s Kill List

Will Bunch makes a very powerful and provocative point regarding President Obama’s radically reduced definition of civilians by making “all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants.” Moreover:

Counterterrorism officials insist this approach is one of simple logic: people in an area of known terrorist activity, or found with a top Qaeda operative, are probably up to no good. “Al Qaeda is an insular, paranoid organization — innocent neighbors don’t hitchhike rides in the back of trucks headed for the border with guns and bombs,” said one official, who requested anonymity to speak about what is still a classified program.

Bunch writes:

As for the morally indefensible position that any male killed in such an attack is “probably up to no good,” isn’t the Obama administration saying the EXACT same thing that George Zimmerman said about Trayvon Martin?

Ponder that for a moment.

Actually, the similarity with Zimmerman is even greater than I first thought. What he said to the Sanford police dispatcher was that Trayvon Martin “looks like he’s up to no good.” Thank God Zimmerman didn’t have drones, huh?

To be clear, when Zimmerman says this it is racist and outrageous. When President Obama and his security apparatus adopt this as policy, it is just as racist and outrageous.

Donovan taking credit for NV legislation?

In an op-ed in the Las Vegas Review-Journal which is largely about refinancing tools, HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan gives the Obama administration a heavy does of credit for a recent drop in Nevada foreclosure filings.

Too many homeowners in Nevada are still underwater or struggling to meet their mortgage, but the state has made real progress. Thanks to tools this administration has provided, foreclosure filings throughout the state have fallen 67 percent since last April.

Unfortunately it looks like the Obama administration is claiming credit for something they have zero right to. Last November, after Nevada passed an anti-robosigning law, foreclosures dropped 88%. The law made robosigning illegal, making it functionally impossible for banks to foreclose on the overwhelming majority of homeowners. That had less than nothing to do with the Obama administration.

Foreclosure filings in Nevada plunged in October during the first month of a new state law stiffening foreclosure-processing requirements.

Slightly more than 600 default notices were filed against homeowners through Oct. 25 in the state’s two most-populous counties, Las Vegas’s Clark County and Reno’s Washoe County. That was down from 5,360 in September, or an 88% drop, according to data tracked by, a real-estate website that tracks such filings. Default notices represent the first step in processing foreclosures.

Nevada’s state Assembly passed a measure that took effect on Oct. 1 designed to crack down on “robo-signing,” where bank employees signed off on huge numbers of legal filings while falsely claiming to have personally reviewed each case. Banks suspended their foreclosure filings one year ago and have gradually restarted them after those and other improper foreclosure-processing practices surfaced.

Among other steps, the Nevada law makes it a felony—and threatens to hold individuals criminally liable—for making false representations concerning real estate title. Individuals are also subject to civil penalties of $5,000 for each violation.

Foreclosures stopped because banks in Nevada can’t prove that they have a right to foreclose on Nevadans without running risk of going afoul of this law. Felonies are serious things and most bankers and their attorneys don’t want to go to jail for fraudulently foreclosing on someone. That’s the biggest reason foreclosure filings are down in Nevada and it has nothing to do what little the Obama administration has done on housing.

Obama’s kill lists

Lots of pixels are justifiably spilled today following a long, detailed article in the New York Times about the Obama administration’s use of kill lists, drone attacks, and other extrajudicial tactics for fighting perceived enemies. Except, of course, we find out that in this case enemies include any military age men in an area where we think Al Qaeda or other terrorists are operating and we can’t prove after the fact that they weren’t in fact terrorists. I highly recommend reading Glenn Greenwald, Charles Pierce, Scarecrow, Digby, David Dayen, and Marcy Wheeler.

I don’t have a lot to add beyond what the folks linked above have written. It’s all just so painfully outrageous and infuriating that this is being done in our name, let alone by a Democratic constitutional law professor, let alone by a Democratic constitutional law professor who used to oppose these things as a candidate for higher office. I will say this: if Mitt Romney wins in November, Democrats will at least go back to opposing things like extrajudicial killing, rendition, indefinite detention, warrantless wiretapping of Americans, and on and on and on.

OFA & Teachers’ Unions

Stephanie Cutter is OFA’s Deputy Campaign Manager. She tweeted:

@stefcutter FACT CHECK: Romney off on Obama’s relationship with teachers’ unions; it’s anything but cozy: //

The article she links to is an AP fact check that outlines how Mitt Romney is wrong to say Obama is cozy with teachers’ unions. From the article:

ROMNEY: “President Obama has been unable to stand up to union bosses — and unwilling to stand up for kids.”

THE FACTS: Several of the core tenets of the Obama administration’s signature education initiative, the Race to the Top competition, are policies first heralded by Republicans and are in opposition to the steadfast positions of teacher unions on topics like school choice and merit pay for teachers.

At its annual meeting last year, the National Education Association, the country’s largest teachers union, sent a message to Obama that it was “appalled” with Education Secretary Arne Duncan’s practice of focusing heavily on charter schools, supporting decisions to fire all staff and using high-stakes standardized test scores for teacher evaluations, along with 10 other policies mentioned.

“Obama has taken on teachers unions unlike any previous Democratic president,” said Tom Loveless of the Brookings Institution. “Because of that his support among union members, although it is still there, is rather tepid.”

And again, this is an article that Cutter linked to approvingly.

Of course, Cutter is absolutely correct. Obama is not cozy to teachers’ unions. But the fact that the campaign is openly campaigning on the lack of support for workers shows they think unions are totally captured punks who won’t stop their support of Obama, even in the face of public humiliation like this. And, of course, OFA is right.

Following pressure by pro-worker progressives on Twitter, Cutter has responded with this:

Pres. fights for unions/teachers b/c he believes in them-Mitt dishonest about being beholden to them MT@nitalovesmiles LAME.Explain yourself

Well Cutter certainly did a poor job expressing this. The article Cutter linked to does a pretty good job of showing how the administration’s education policies demonstrate real differences with teachers’ unions. These are differences manifested in concrete policy choices and frameworks for how they think about education. President Obama may way make the occasional good speech to a union audience, but his administration’s actions, especially around teachers’ unions, don’t really come close to his rhetoric. As is so often the case with this President, you are forced to ask, “Who am I going to believe: him or my lying eyes?”

When I read the fact check, I didn’t say, “Wow this is bad reporting,” I said, “Yep, that’s about right.” Staying within the GOP frame is not bad politics here (though it may be that too), it’s that the administration doesn’t have the policy record supporting statements outside the GOP frame.

A different sort of Third Way

Matt Stoller, again writing at Naked Capitalism, makes this observation about narratives from the left and right about President Obama:

There are two broad narratives about Barack Obama from American elites.  On the right, there’s a racist narrative about Obama’s socialist Kenyan origins, with offshoot dishonest arguments about his policies.  He’s anti-corporate!  He’s gone on a government spending frenzy!  He’s going to cut the size of the military!  These are not true.  On the Democratic side, there’s an equally dishonest set of arguments.  He’s not bold enough!  Congress is holding him back from his progressive instincts!  We haven’t made him do what we know he wants to do!  The real Obama is hidden behind a racist veneer on the right, that he’s a Kenyan socialist, and a fake narrative on the left, that he’s not bold enough.  The third narrative, which you can find on this blog, is that Barack Obama is a great deceiver, with a charming and cool demeanor that mask his ruthlessness and bank-friendly neoliberal ideology.  It’s hard to talk to this third narrative, because Democrats overwhelmingly approve of Obama, and Republicans simply cannot countenance the idea that their socialist enemy is as friendly or even more friendly to corporate power than they are.

The occasion for Stoller’s observation is the promotion of former TARP Special Inspector General Neil Barofsky’s new book, Bailout, which is due out next month. The post cites Barofsky’s book, as well as Inside Job director Charles Ferguson’s new book, Predator Nation: Corporate Criminals, Political Corruption, and the Hijacking of America, as key pieces getting at this largely rare narrative on Obama. I’ve yet to read either book, but given who the authors are I expect they should both be well argued and effective at raising up this narrative to the level of discussion in national circles.

Brutal swing state housing poll for Obama

Cross posted at AMERICAblog

Campaign for a Fair Settlement, a liberal housing group which formed to pressure state Attorneys General like California’s Kamala Harris to not agree to a bad robosigning settlement deal, has released a poll that paints a brutal picture of how voters in swing states view President Obama’s handling of the housing crisis. The poll also shows that voters think the President hasn’t done enough to hold banks accountable and that criminal behavior by Wall Street has driven the crisis. The poll surveyed independent likely voters in Pennsylvania, Florida, Arizona, Nevada and North Carolina, all of which are states which have been devastated by the foreclosure crisis. From the poll release’s key findings.

  • The percentage of independent likely voters who disapprove of Obama’s handling of the housing and mortgage crisis ranged from 48% in Pennsylvania to 70% in Nevada, while those approving ranged from 21% in both Nevada and Arizona to 34% in North Carolina.
  • The percentage of independent likely voters who say Obama has not done enough to hold banks accountable for their role in the housing collapse ranged from 60% of respondents in both North Carolina and Florida to 73% in Nevada.
  • The percentage of independent likely voters who say that the economic crisis results at least in part from criminal actions by Wall Street executives ranged from 64% of independent voters polled in North Carolina to 76% in Pennsylvania.

The poll data is viewable here.

David Dayen notes that the problem is even more stark when you look at the partisan breakdowns within the poll:

Where this really shows up is in the partisan breakdown. There’s a partisan split in the polling, with Democrats generally supportive of the President and Republicans opposed. But independents are strongly negative on this question, worse than the overall numbers, from a 26-48 split in Pennsylvania, to 34-56 in North Carolina, to 28-49 in Florida, to 29-52 in Arizona, to a whopping 21-70 in Nevada.

The takeaway from this is pretty clear: the housing crisis could be a very big issue in the 2012 presidential election. The voters who will likely swing the swing states identify serious failings by the Obama administration and if they are convinced to vote on these issues, things would be pretty bad for the President.

In the statement, Nish Suvarnakar, campaign manager for Campaign for a Fair Settlement, says, “Obama can help homeowners, his campaign and the overall economy by more aggressively pursuing banks’ criminal acts and supporting meaningful solutions for underwater homeowners.” The Obama administration hasn’t done the work it has needed to do on housing and has ignored pressure from the left to take real policy actions, but perhaps they’ll be responsive to political pressure. If voters who care about housing policy and bank accountability exist as a bloc which can swing the election, the Obama campaign would be remiss to ignore them. Criminal indictments of bank executives for fraud and criminality relating to the foreclosure crisis would be a big step in the direction of showing the administration takes peoples’ concerns seriously. It’s unlikely that another milquetoast (or worse) program will convince people he’s serious – it’s time for the handcuffs to be broken out. Short of that, I’m not sure how the President will convince these swing voters in these key swing states that he should be trusted to better address the housing crisis in the future.

Obama on Same Sex Marriage

I’ve been traveling for work, so I haven’t had the opportunity to write about President Obama’s decision to evolve already and personally come out in support of marriage equality.

This is a tremendous step forward for equal rights in America. What the President of the United States thinks on an issue such as marriage equality has big impact on its progress in the political sphere. Already other Democratic elected officials have come out in favor of marriage equality since Obama’s announcement. As an issue position, it also will mean a lot to hundreds of thousands of gay Americans to know that this President now thinks they are deserving of equal rights as straight Americans.

Of course, while this is a hugely important step, it’s just one step, not the final destination of realized marriage equality in America. The President still needs to be pressured to take steps using executive power to further marriage equality – one example being the need to push forward an executive order banning contracting to companies which discriminate based on sexual identity. Additionally, the President needs to be pushed off of his bizarre and wrong stance that marriage equality should be determined in a state-by-state basis. Likewise, the administration should stop defending DOMA.

President Obama’s decision to finally (again) support gay marriage is an historic step and should be celebrated, but it is only a transitional victory. The transformative change of actually having marriage equality in America has not been achieved. I hope that President Obama becomes an active participant in the fight for marriage equality now that he personally supports it.

Simple Answers to Easy Questions

At Newsweek Peter Boyer and Peter Schweizer ask:

Why Can’t Obama Bring Wall Street to Justice?

Because he doesn’t think they did anything illegal.

President Barack Obama, October 6, 2011:

The financial sector is very creative and they are always looking for ways to make money. That’s their job. And if there are loopholes and rules that can be bent and arbitrage to be had, they will take advantage of it. So without commenting on particular prosecutions — obviously that’s not my job; that’s the Attorney General’s job — I think part of people’s frustrations, part of my frustration, was a lot of practices that should not have been allowed weren’t necessarily against the law, but they had a huge destructive impact.

This has been another addition of Simple Answers to Easy Questions.

Robert Fitch on Obama

Yves Smith has a post at Naked Capitalism which focuses around a speech by Robert Fitch about President Obama and what we know about him based on his time as an organizer in Chicago. The speech was given in November 2008 to the Harlem Tenants Association. Fitch, an academic and a journalist, goes particularly hard at the underlying premise of Barack Obama, namely that we should strive for a post-partisan America that goes beyond the ideologies of liberalism and conservativism. Fitch says that ideology actually matters and is important:

The haves and the have-nots have different and opposing interests—landlords wantto get rid of rent stabilization; tenants have an interest in keeping it. Workers want to save their jobs; bosses want to save their capital, which means cutting workers. In pursuing theiropposing interests, the have-nots are forced take up the weapons of the weak—demonstrations, direct action; filling the jails with conscientious objectors; taking personal risks. Who benefits when one side gives up without a struggle? The Haves or the Have nots? Frederick Douglass reminds us: “Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did. It never will.”

These are real differences and anyone who glosses over them in pursuit of placid agreement is asking that we ignore a lot of reality.

Fitch’s larger point is that when politicians like Obama ask us to put differences aside and pursue a Third Way, it almost always means that those pushing the Third Way are doing so at the expense of the needs and interests of our society’s have nots.

When the Third Way advocates insist that we share a common good; when theyrefuse to recognize that the interests of the oppressed and the interests of the oppressors don’t exist on the same moral plane; when they counsel us to stop being partisans of those interests—they’re not being non or post partisan; they’re siding with the powers that be.

The entire Fitch speech is worth reading. It’s not flattering, but given what we’ve seen out of the Obama administration on housing, on banking, and on not reining in Wall Street, Fitch does seem to be fairly prescient.