Jonathan Alter is an award-winning author, reporter, columnist, radio host and television producer and analyst. He is the author of three New York Times bestsellers: “The Center Holds: Obama and His Enemies”(2013), “The Promise: President Obama, Year One” (2010) and “The Defining Moment: FDR’s Hundred Days and the Triumph of Hope (2006), also one of the Times’ “Notable Books” of the year. Since 1996, Alter has been an analyst and contributing correspondent for NBC News and MSNBC, appearing on-air two or three times a week.
After 28 years as a columnist and senior editor at Newsweek, where he wrote more than 50 cover stories, Alter is now a twice-monthly columnist for the Daily Beast and the co-host, with his wife, Emily Lazar, and two of his children, Charlotte Alter and Tommy Alter, of “Alter Family Politics,” which airs Thursdays at 10:00 a.m. on RadioAndy on SiriusXM, 102. He has also written for The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Washington Monthly, Rolling Stone, The Atlantic, The New Yorker, Vanity Fair, The New Republic, Esquire, Bloomberg View and other publications.
He is an executive producer of “Alpha House,” a 21-episode half-hour political comedy created by Garry Trudeau and starring John Goodman that is available for viewing on Amazon.com. He is at work on a full-length biography of former President Jimmy Carter and is co-directing a HBO documentary about the lives of legendary journalists Jimmy Breslin and Pete Hamill.
ARC OF HISTORY
If Dems Lose Again, Obama’s Legacy Is Gone Forever
Even as Barack Obama’s stellar reputation as a president is secure, his tangible legacy is at grave risk in the coming election.
It’s one of this autumn’s pleasant surprises. Two years after Donald Trump’s election as president and 10 years after his own, Barack Obama is gracefully re-entering our consciousness, reminding us of what we have lost and may yet recover.
The contrast between Obama and Trump—decent vs. despicable; incisive vs. ignorant; honest vs. humbug; classy vs. clownish—is now the critical subtext of the 2018 campaign. With Obama’s current approval ratings more than 20 points higher than Trump’s, the aching memory of his presidency will help energize Democrats in the midterms.
But Obama’s return is also a reminder that some of his admirable qualities—modesty, prudence, deliberateness—have inadvertently helped Republicans endanger everything he built.
If Obama’s reputation is secure, his legacy is not. Many of his accomplishments in office are in danger of being wiped out in November. The personal stakes for him and his place in history are high.
As he campaigns around the country, Obama seems to have two immediate goals: First, to help elect Democrats up and down the ballot—to check Trump in Congress but also to rebuild the Democratic Party at the state level so that after the 2020 census it can undo some of the gerrymandering that has so often hindered his party.
Second, and related, Obama hopes to educate the public about the origins of our present ills, not just Trump lying about his birth certificate (which Obama still downplays) but a Republican Party that grew increasingly radical and obstructionist long before its new hero entered politics. And the former president wants to remind voters that the so-called “economic miracle” we keep hearing about is just another of what are now more than 5,000 confirmed lies by Trump since he took office; the economy today is creating roughly the same number of jobs than it did in the last two years of the Obama presidency—and fewer, in fact, than in 2014.
Obama’s arguments are welcome, but they raise the question of why he didn’t make them more aggressively when he was in office. Michelle Obama, whose post-election book tour means she won’t be stumping this fall for candidates who have invited her into their districts (she will work instead on voter registration and turnout), famously told the 2016 Democratic Convention, “When they go low, we go high.” In hindsight, this looks noble but a tad naive. When they went low, why didn’t her husband at least ridicule them, as he did so mercilessly to Trump at the 2011 White House Correspondents’ Dinner?
The answer is that as the first black president, he thought it was important not to sound strident or excessively partisan. And he didn’t want to demean his office and risk his reputation by descending to Trump’s level. Even now, he’s reluctant to mention Trump’s name, for fear of becoming a useful foil for the president. If Democrats fall short, historians may fasten on his reluctance to mix it up more when he had the chance.
To understand why so much is on the line this fall, it helps to briefly review Obama’s eight years in office:
His first year as president was historic. After the 2008 financial collapse threw millions out of work and threatened another Great Depression, Obama stabilized and then re-regulated (through Dodd-Frank) the banking system and—largely forgotten—also offered help for underwater homeowners. His $787-billion stimulus package and simultaneous bailout of the auto industry (which ended up costing the taxpayers nothing) revived the cratering economy. It included middle-class tax cuts and huge new spending on green energy, medical research, and scores of other important investments. And in early 2010 he achieved what had eluded every Democratic president since Harry Truman—universal health care coverage. Amazingly, all of this money was spent without scandal.
But when the Republicans took the House in 2010—the most fateful midterm election in the history of the Democratic Party—Obama’s ability to move legislation through Congress ended after only two years. From then on, just about all he could do on the domestic side was issue executive orders, which have been easy for Trump to reverse. The GOP united to block comprehensive immigration reform (an idea many conservatives had favored under Bush) and any new stimulus (including critical infrastructure spending) to hasten the recovery, which then—not coincidentally— remained anemic for four more years. Beyond that, Republicans developed a habit of reflexively rejecting everything the president proposed, even if they had recently favored it.
Obama’s key mistake after the Great Recession was to go along with Republicans and elite opinion when they prematurely changed the subject to deficit reduction. In 2011, the Tea Party, anticipating Trump, hijacked the GOP and moved it to crazy town by shutting down the government and nearly defaulting on the national debt—all in the name of fiscal responsibility they were faking, as proven by their unanimous vote in 2017 to slash taxes and balloon the deficit that Obama had cut in half.
Obama managed to get reelected in 2012 but he did so without engaging in the party-building activities necessary to retake the House. He had several international successes: killing Osama bin Laden, winding down wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, delaying Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons with a deal that worked, helping save millions of Africans from dying of AIDS and Ebola. Obama policies in Syria and Libya could be chalked up as failures, but the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal was a huge long-term advance for the American economy (not to mention an effective check on China) and the U.S. led the way in securing the Paris Accords on Climate Change, which eventually included every country in the world.
Citizens of Good Will, You Must Help Save America in These Midterm Elections
If the GOP keeps the House, Trump will proclaim it a validation, and the next two years will be far worse. It’s time to stop wringing hands and start ringing doorbells.
Let’s imagine it’s November 7 and the Republicans have the night before lost 20 seats in the House of Representatives, but still maintain control. Feeling vindicated, President Trump immediately fires Jeff Sessions, Rod Rosenstein, and federal prosecutors in New York, and Rosenstein’s replacement fires Robert Mueller.
The president is emboldened to move as the nation’s first authoritarian president against law enforcement, the press and anyone else who stands in his way. Relieved Republicans on Capitol Hill kill Obamacare, gut remaining environmental protections, bring back water-boarding, and build Trump’s wall.
“If Republicans win, that’s the ballgame,” former Vice-President Walter Mondale, a normally unflappable guy, told columnist Albert Hunt last month. “If Trump can claim ‘the public has spoken, and they are for me,’ we’re in real trouble.”
According to the conventional wisdom, this won’t happen. The combination of a natural tilt toward the out-of-power party, greater enthusiasm on the Democratic side, and Trump’s horrific performance in office will add up to a blue wave, or something close to it. Trump will be checked.
This is probably right. Probably. The consensus among experts is that the Democrats have about a 60-70 percent chance of winning the 23 House seats necessary to wrest control of the House from the Devin Nuneses of the world. I don’t know about you, but I don’t like those odds. Remember how wrong the Labor Day polls were in 2016? Remember how sure we all were after the Access Hollywood tape that Trump was toast?
Winning—and saving the republic—requires victories in more than half of the seats currently declared “toss-ups.” That won’t be easy, especially since the Koch Network and a tiny band of other GOP mega-donors are investing more than $100 million in Republican candidates after Labor Day, neutralizing the financial advantage Democrats have built in several races. Republicans are already way ahead in financing critical state legislative contests (which also helps their House candidates) and, inexplicably, in cutting-edge digital advertising.
Read more at the link above…
The Case for Censure
Censure the president
By Jonathan Alter – July 18 at 6:15 PM
Jonathan Alter is an MSNBC analyst and columnist for the Daily Beast.
Sixty-four years ago, the U.S. Senate censured the bullying demagogue Sen. Joseph R. McCarthy of Wisconsin for conduct that “tended to bring the Senate into dishonor and disrepute.” McCarthy lingered in the Senate for another 2 ½ years., but the censure essentially ended his early-1950s “Red Scare” reign of intimidation and character assassination.
Now President Trump, with his craven performance opposite Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, has brought his office into dishonor and disrepute. In doing so, Trump has presented a gift to congressional Democrats who dread campaigning on impeachment for the midterm election in the fall. The promise to censure Trump if Democrats retake the House would likely appeal more to voters than vowing to undo the 2016 election through impeachment.
For all the bipartisan condemnation of what has been called the “Helsinki humiliation,” censure isn’t part of the discussion. It should be.
The Senate will not be a fruitful place to look for it. Timid Senate Republicans remain too frightened of their constituents to sanction their president. Under the most common reading of the rules, censure in the Senate would take 60 votes — a high bar unless special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation turns up five-alarm evidence involving the president.
The House, by contrast, requires only a simple majority to approve a motion of censure. If Democrats take that chamber this fall, they could censure Trump as early as January. He would obviously use it to try to rally his base. But even if the vote were largely symbolic, a resolution officially condemning Trump on national security and other grounds would be worth the trouble.
Censure would provide at least some measure of accountability for Trump, and it would be a repudiation-by-proxy of Putin. Along with strengthened sanctions against Russia, censure would send a strong message to the world that the U.S. president’s assault on NATO and capitulation to the Kremlin do not reflect the policy of the full U.S. government.
Censure, by either the Senate or the House, is not specifically mentioned in the Constitution, and it has no legal force. But its rare use — only two dozen or so times in the nation’s history — makes it an especially stinging reprimand. Among presidents, only Andrew Jackson has been censured (for withholding key documents about the Bank of the United States), though his censure was later expunged. In 1998, when President Clinton was embroiled in a sex scandal involving a White House intern, many Senate Democrats favored voting for censure and moving on. But the Republican-controlled House was hellbent on impeaching him, instead. Republicans paid a price for that overreach, as today’s Democrats may well note.
In Trump’s case, censure would not be a substitute for impeachment but a possible precursor to it. At a minimum, advocating censure would be a movement-building effort that would bring tone and focus to the amorphous “Check Trump” themes that Democratic candidates will use before the midterms. It would embed Helsinki in the campaign and help keep that ghastly episode fresh even after attention shifts elsewhere.
Read more at the link above…
Democrats Are Primed to Win Big, Reclaim the House, and Save Our Democracy. Here’s How They Could Blow It.
This election will either legitimize Trump’s rule or upend it. There’s no time or money to waste on divisive primaries or contests far removed from competitive House seats.
GOP Rep. Charlie Dent of Pennsylvania announced this month that he was resigning from Congress and told Republicans: “Big wave coming—get off the beach.”
Dent is probably right. A little more than six months before the midterms, predictive models point to Democrats winning control of the House of Representatives. A strong history of pick-ups by the party out of the White House, disgust with President Trump, good results in special elections, 46 Republican retirements (compared to 20 Democrats), and an energized Democratic base all augur well.
The question isn’t whether the odds favor flipping the House, but whether Democrats should bank on it. And the answer—for anyone who cares about protecting American democracy—is an obvious no.
Six months is a lifetime in politics. Trump’s popularity won’t recover by fall, but a deal with North Korea and a couple of other breaks could shift the momentum just enough to protect vulnerable Republican seats. And the recent history of midterms strongly favors Republicans, who took the House in 2010. In 2014, turnout fell to 37 percent, the lowest in 70 years, with the steepest falloff among Democrats.
Most Democrats get it; they’re focused and girded for battle, with a bumper crop of young and exciting candidates, including a record number of women. But too many others wring their hands watching cable news without educating themselves about which seats in their states are in play and what they can do to flip them. And a remnant of lefties are still living in Jill Steinland—acting as if the midterms are in the bag and they can indulge in expensive primary fights over minor policy differences that drain resources from the constitutionally critical task at hand.
Are Democrats in danger of once again forming a circular firing squad? The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) is so worried that it’s pressuring weaker candidates in some districts to drop out in favor of well-funded moderates with a better chance of winning in November. California, where a half dozen seats are flippable (one quarter of those needed to gain control), is a particular concern because the state’s “top two” primary system means a large field of Democrats could split the vote and leave two Republicans running against each other in the general election.
QUID PRO QUO
The Opening Argument in the Trial of Donald J. Trump
03.18.18 9:02 PM ET
For Trump, the motive for the crime was to use any edge he could to win the election, even if it was clearly illegal, and to complete business deals with the Russians if he lost.
Trump-Russia Isn’t About the Cover-Up. It’s About the Crime.
In Watergate, it was the cover-up, not the crime. But in Russiagate, that stands to be turned on its head. We already know a lot—and we can be sure Mueller knows more.
Recall the Watergate cliché that the cover-up is worse than the crime. That may have been true then. While it was never established that President Nixon knew in advance about the break-in at the Watergate complex, he was forced to resign after proof emerged that he used the CIA to obstruct the FBI investigation.
In the Russia scandal, special counsel Robert Mueller has credible proof of obstruction of justice—i.e., the cover-up. But in a highly politicized climate, where “memos” and insults are weapons of distraction, that won’t likely be enough. Even if Democrats take control of Congress in November, most Republicans—like most juries in run-of-the-mill criminal cases—will demand significant evidence of an underlying crime as a motive for the obstruction before turning on President Trump, much less voting in the Senate to remove him from office.
Read more at the link above…
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