December 14, 2009: President Obama Receives his Nobel Peace Prize, Christmas & Health Care


The President delivers the Weekly Address


  • Obama Gives Himself a ‘Solid B-Plus’: So what grade does President Obama give himself after nearly a year in office? “A good solid B-plus,” he said, answering a question from Oprah Winfrey during a television special that aired on Sunday evening…. So what would make the year better? “If I get health care signed, we tip into A-minus,” Mr. Obama said…. – NYT, 12-13-09
  • HEALTHCARE Q & A A look at the Senate’s healthcare compromise: Senate Democrats, as an alternative to creating a government-run insurance plan, proposed creating a nationwide plan that would be operated by a nonprofit. Here’s a closer look at the idea… – LAT, 12-14-09
  • Poll: More Israelis than not like Obama: Forty-one percent of Israelis have favorable feelings toward President Obama, with 37 percent expressing an unfavorable opinion of the U.S. president, according to a New America Foundation poll. The poll of 1,000 Israelis also found that 42 percent of Israelis believe Obama “supports Israel,” with 55 percent feeling that statement does not describe Obama. The finding that 41 percent of Israelis have a favorable opinion of the president contrasts with a Jerusalem Post poll over the summer, often cited in the media, which found that just 4 percent of Israelis believed Obama’s policies are “pro-Israel.”… – JTA, 12-10-09
  • Obama approval rating below 50 percent: Support for President Obama has dropped below 50 percent for the first time in a CNN poll despite high marks for his recently announced Afghanistan policy. 48% of Americans questioned in a CNN/Opinion Research Corp. national survey released Friday said they approve of the job Obama is doing as president — a drop of 7 percentage points from a survey last month. 50% said they do not approve…. – CNN, 12-5-09
  • Unexpected drop in jobless rate sparks optimism: Two years of steep job cuts all but ended last month, unexpectedly pulling down the unemployment rate and raising hopes for a lasting economic recovery. Federal figures released Friday showed that the rate fell from 10.2 percent in October to 10 percent…. And the so-called underemployment rate, counting part-time workers who want full-time jobs and laid-off workers who have given up their job hunt, also fell, from 17.5 percent in October to 17.2 percent…. – AP, 12-4-09


  • Long-Term Care Is Latest Issue in Health Care Debate: Embedded in sweeping health legislation passed by the House and being debated on the Senate floor is a major new federal insurance program for long-term care… Advocates for older Americans and people with disabilities see the program as a long-overdue effort to address needs that will explode as baby boomers age. It is meant for people with severe disabilities who want to live in the community, though the benefits could also be used to help pay for nursing home care or assisted living. But critics say that the program is unsustainable and that it could ultimately create serious fiscal problems for the government…. – NYT, 12-14-09
  • Recession Is Over, White House Adviser Says Yet Romer Says While Wall Street Recession is Over, Main Street Recession is Not: President Obama’s top economic adviser Lawrence Summers today for the first time predicted that job growth would begin as early as this spring. “I believe that, as do most professional forecasters, that by spring, employment growth will start to be turning positive,” Summers told ABC’s “This Week.” It’s the first time the White House has predicted job growth on such a short timetable…. – ABC News, 12-13-09
  • Oklahoma senator plans to rain on climate talks: The final week of the United Nations climate change summit boils down to a battle between President Obama and the self-described “skunk at the picnic.” Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., who has called global warming a “hoax,” plans to travel this week to Copenhagen. He’ll stay just long enough — as few as three hours, he says — to tell heads of state that the Senate will not pass an energy bill that would limit greenhouse gas emissions. “We know (the bill) is never going to go to a vote,” Inhofe said in a recent interview. “It’s dead. It’s gone … I’m not going to allow them to think America is going to do something it’s not.”… – USA Today, 12-13-09
  • Protesters at White House Oppose Afghanistan War: A crowd has gathered in front of the White House to protest President Barack Obama’s plan to send more troops to Afghanistan. Many say they are disappointed with the president and didn’t expect him to escalate the war when they voted for him last year. They gathered Saturday in Lafayette Park. Rally organizers say about 100 peace activists organized the protest. Speakers were to include former U.S. congresswoman Cynthia McKinney and former Sen. Mike Gravel…. – WJLA, 12-12-09
  • Obama dog Bo has own Christmas stocking: Bo, the White House dog, has his very own Christmas stocking. First lady Michelle Obama made the revelation in an interview with Oprah Winfrey for her “Christmas at the White House” special, scheduled to air Sunday night on ABC. Winfrey’s company, Harpo Productions, released excerpts of the interview on Friday.
    Asked which members of the Obama family have a stocking, Mrs. Obama named President Barack Obama, herself, daughters Malia and Sasha and said “of course” the family’s Portuguese water dog has one too. This will be the first Christmas for the puppy, which the Obamas got in April. She did not give any details about what might be going into Bo’s stocking, but said Santa loves Bo…. – AP, 12-12-09
  • Houston Is Largest City to Elect Openly Gay Mayor: Houston became the largest city in the United States to elect an openly gay mayor on Saturday night, as voters gave a solid victory to the city controller, Annise Parker. Cheers and dancing erupted at Ms. Parker’s campaign party as her opponent, Gene Locke, a former city attorney, conceded defeat just after 10 p.m. when it became clear he could not overcome her lead. Twenty minutes later, Ms. Parker appeared before ecstatic supporters at the city’s convention center and then joked that she was the first graduate of Rice University to be elected mayor. (She is, by the way.) Then she grew serious.
    “Tonight the voters of Houston have opened the door to history,” she said, standing by her partner of 19 years, Kathy Hubbard, and their three adopted children. “I acknowledge that. I embrace that. I know what this win means to many of us who never thought we could achieve high office.” NYT, 12-12-09
  • GOP filibuster ends, spending vote today Democrats in the Senate mustered the strength to advance the $1.1 trillion bill: The Democratic-controlled Senate yesterday cleared away a Republican filibuster of a huge end-of-year spending bill that rewards most federal agencies with generous budget boosts. The $1.1 trillion measure combines much of the year’s unfinished budget work – only a $626 billion Pentagon spending measure would remain – into a 1,000-plus-page spending bill that would give the Education Department, the State Department, the Department of Health and Human Services, and others increases far exceeding inflation.
    The 60-34 vote met the minimum threshold to end the GOP filibuster. A final vote was set for this afternoon to send the measure to President Obama…. – AP, 12-12-09
  • House Approves Tougher Rules on Wall Street: The House approved a Democratic plan on Friday to tighten federal regulation of Wall Street and banks, advancing a far-reaching Congressional response to the financial crisis that rocked the economy.
    After three days of floor debate, the House voted 223 to 202 to approve the measure. It would create an agency to protect consumers from abusive lending practices, set rules for the trading of some of the sophisticated financial instruments that fueled the crisis, and take steps to reduce the threat that the failure of one or two huge banks or investment firms could topple the entire economy…. – NYT, 12-11-09
  • Obama Defends ‘Just War’ at Oslo: President Barack Obama accepted the Nobel Peace Prize Thursday with an embrace of armed might in the service of a “just war,” a sharp change in emphasis from his past rhetoric criticizing the foreign policy of the Bush years…. Mr. Obama made a muscular defense of American action against enemies, and recognized the existence of “evil” in the globe and the inherent fallibility of human impulses — core principles of a more traditionally conservative foreign policy.
    At the same time, Mr. Obama stuck to the kinds of commitments that earned him the peace prize in the first place — the cause of international engagement over unilateralism, not only with institutions Washington has spurned in the past, such as the United Nations, but also the “evils” themselves. He cited Richard Nixon’s meeting with Mao after the horrors of China’s Cultural Revolution and Ronald Reagan’s engagement with the Soviet Union as efforts that moved the world toward peace and oppressed peoples toward freedom.
    The president acknowledged the conflict at the heart of his speech, which combined advocacy for peace and diplomacy with advocacy of “just” war.
    “We must begin by acknowledging the hard truth that we will not eradicate violent conflict in our lifetimes,” he said, evoking the horrors of war and triumphant scenes of peaceful protest. “There will be times when nations — acting individually or in concert — will find the use of force not only necessary but morally justified.”… – WSJ, 12-10-09
  • Pelosi backs Medicare buy-in plan in Senate health-care deal Speaker says expansion has appeal, but she still prefers a public option: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi endorsed a proposal Thursday that would allow people in late middle age to buy insurance through Medicare, helping to sustain an idea that sprang unexpectedly from the Senate this week. But the California Democrat reiterated that she would prefer to create government-sponsored coverage for Americans of all ages, and questions linger in the Senate about the politics and policy of expanding Medicare by allowing people ages 55 to 64 to buy into the federal insurance program for the elderly…. – Washington Post, 12-11-09
  • Big spending bill riles Republicans Senate to take up $1.1-trillion measure: Capitol Hill Democrats are promoting a spending bill that will increase the deficit while giving domestic programs their third major boost this year — and awarding lawmakers with more than 5,000 back-home projects. The House passed the $1.1-trillion measure — combining $447 billion in operating budgets with about $650 billion in payments for federal benefit programs such as Medicare and Medicaid — by a 221-202 vote. The Senate immediately voted to begin debate; a final vote is likely this weekend. No House Republican voted for the bill. Some 28 Democrats opposed the measure, chiefly moderates and abortion opponents…. – AP/Detroit Free Press, 12-11-09
  • Obama to give $600 million to health centers: President Barack Obama said on Wednesday he will allocate nearly $600 million from the $787 billion economic stimulus plan to help create jobs at 85 community health centers….
    The White House said nearly $600 million would awarded to help pay for major construction and renovation projects at 85 community health centers across the country and assist networks at the centers to move to electronic records. – Reuters, 12-10-09
  • Obama’s jobs package draws fire from left and right: Black legislators chide the president for not doing more to reduce the high unemployment rate among African Americans, while Republicans warn about rising deficits…. – LAT, 12-10-09
  • Senate Democrats See Room for Hope on Health Care Bill: Senate Democrats said on Wednesday that they were not sure exactly what was in a deal that the majority leader said would surmount a disagreement over a proposed government-run health plan. But they voiced guarded optimism that it would ultimately help them pass major health care legislation. Rank-and-file Democrats said the preliminary agreement — reached among a group of 10 senators, 5 liberals and 5 centrists — suggested that they would be able to resolve some seemingly intractable differences over the public plan, insurance coverage for abortions and other disputes, including how to pay for the nearly $1 trillion bill…. – NYT, 12-10-09
  • Senate may drop public option PRIVATE-SECTOR ALTERNATIVE Reid says he is optimistic about bill after deal: Democratic Senate negotiators struck a tentative agreement Tuesday night to drop the controversial government-run insurance plan from their overhaul of the health-care system, hoping to remove a last major roadblock preventing the bill from moving to a final vote in the chamber. Under the deal, the government plan preferred by liberals would be replaced with a program that would create several national insurance policies administered by private companies but negotiated by the Office of Personnel Management, which oversees health policies for federal workers. If private firms were unable to deliver acceptable national policies, a government plan would be created. In addition, people as young as 55 would be permitted to buy into Medicare, the popular federal health program for retirees. And private insurance companies would face stringent new regulations, including a requirement that they spend at least 90 cents of every dollar they collect in premiums on medical services for their customers…. – WaPO, 12-9-09
  • Obama preparing new push to add jobs, tackle deficit Debate over bailout money Redirecting TARP funds to small firms proposed TOOLBOX President Obama plans to outline Tuesday a major push to tackle one of the biggest threats to the economy and to his administration: the soaring unemployment rate. WaPo, 12-8-09
  • Liberal Senators Press for Expansion of Medicare: In return for concessions on their proposal for a new government-run health insurance plan, liberal Democratic senators pushed Monday for expansion of Medicare and Medicaid and more stringent federal regulation of the insurance industry.
    Liberal and centrist Democrats are trying to work out a deal on the proposal for a public option, which has become the most divisive issue in the debate over President Obama’s effort to offer affordable health insurance to all Americans…. – NYT, 12-7-09
  • On health care, Reid likens GOP to civil rights opponents: Republicans trying to slow action on the Democrats’ health care plan are using the same tactics as the lawmakers who once tried to block progress on civil rights and women’s rights, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Monday. “History is repeating itself before our eyes,” the Nevada Democrat said as he opened the day’s debate on health care. While congressional analysts thought that comparing GOP strategists to the senators who tried to thwart historic civil rights movements was misplaced, they agreed with Reid that the Republican effort to slow the health care bill is well-rooted in U.S. Senate history. The GOP today controls 40 of the Senate’s 100 seats, which means that under Senate rules, the party needs only one more vote to keep blocking legislation indefinitely. McClatchy Newspapers, 12-7-09
  • Man Arrested for Throwing Tomatoes at Sarah Palin, Police Say The incident happened during a book signing at the Mall of America in Minnesota: A man was arrested for allegedly throwing two tomatoes at Sarah Palin from the second floor balcony during a book signing event at the Mall of America in Minnesota, reported. Neither tomato came close hitting the former 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee, but did hit a police officer in the face, the station reported…. – Fox News, 12-7-09
  • Senate healthcare talks pick up pace: Obama heads to the Capitol to rally Democrats. An antiabortion amendment is expected to be turned back early this week…. – LAT, 12-7-09
  • Palin signs books in primary caucus state: Hundreds of Iowans turned out Sunday at a Sioux City bookstore where Sara Palin signed copies of her book, “Going Rogue.” She found a most receptive audience in Iowa’s most conservative corner, and some said they hope she came not just to sell books but to greet GOP voters who would like to see her in the White House…. – UPI, 12-7-09
  • Kennedy Center honors Springsteen, De Niro, others: “I’m the president, but he’s The Boss.”… With those words, President Barack Obama greeted Bruce Springsteen Sunday night at a White House reception before the iconic rocker was lauded with Kennedy Center Honors along with Robert De Niro, comic genius Mel Brooks, jazz pianist and composer Dave Brubeck and opera singer Grace Bumbry… – AP, 12-6-09

ELECTIONS 2010, 2012….

  • McCain, Distanced From Race, Raises Senate Voice: Senator John McCain, facing a possible primary challenge, is more visible now than at any time since losing his 2008 White House bid.
    Yet at the age of 73, one year after his defeat by President Obama, Senator John McCain of Arizona is trying to make the most of the platform where he has always been most comfortable, the United States Senate.
    The Republican Party’s leadership vacuum has given Mr. McCain an opening, and he is charging through it, tacking right on some issues and loudly embroiling himself in battles with the White House and Democratic leaders over health care, stimulus spending, foreign policy and the style of the Obama presidency. He is more visible now than at any time since the end of his presidential campaign.
    “Let’s do what the president said last October a year ago,” Mr. McCain said the other day at one of what has become a geyser of appearances on the Senate floor, in Capitol hallways and at news conferences. “Let’s all sit down together, Republicans and Democrats, with C-Span in the room, and negotiate so that the American people can see what’s going on here.”… – NYT, 12-14-09
  • It’s Coakley vs. Brown No surprises as voters send front-runners to US Senate showdown: Attorney General Martha Coakley easily captured the Democratic nomination for the US Senate Tuesday night and took a giant step toward smashing the state’s political glass ceiling, as she parlayed her straightforward style and strong appeal among women into an overwhelming victory against a trio of male opponents. Discuss
    Rolling up large margins in nearly every community across the state, Coakley became the first woman nominated by a major party for the US Senate in Massachusetts. She will face Republican state Senator Scott P. Brown, who easily won his party’s nomination Tuesday, in a Jan. 19 special election to fill the seat held for 47 years by the late Edward M. Kennedy…. – Boston Globe, 12-8-09


  • Weekly Address: President Obama Applauds Important Step Forward on Financial Reform Remarks of President Barack Obama As Prepared for Delivery Weekly Address Saturday, December 12, 2009: That’s why I announced some additional steps this week to spur private sector hiring. We’ll give an added boost to small businesses across our nation through additional tax cuts and access to lending they desperately need to grow. We’ll rebuild more of our vital infrastructure and promote advanced manufacturing in clean energy to put Americans to work doing the work we need done. And I have called for the extension of unemployment insurance and health benefits to help those who have lost their jobs weather these storms until we reach that brighter day…. – WH, 12-12-09
  • Text Obama’s Nobel Remarks: Following is the transcript of President Obama’s speech at the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony in Oslo on Wednesday, as released by the White House: …And yet I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge the considerable controversy that your generous decision has generated. (Laughter.) In part, this is because I am at the beginning, and not the end, of my labors on the world stage. Compared to some of the giants of history who’ve received this prize — Schweitzer and King; Marshall and Mandela — my accomplishments are slight. And then there are the men and women around the world who have been jailed and beaten in the pursuit of justice; those who toil in humanitarian organizations to relieve suffering; the unrecognized millions whose quiet acts of courage and compassion inspire even the most hardened cynics. I cannot argue with those who find these men and women — some known, some obscure to all but those they help — to be far more deserving of this honor than I.
    But perhaps the most profound issue surrounding my receipt of this prize is the fact that I am the Commander-in-Chief of the military of a nation in the midst of two wars. One of these wars is winding down. The other is a conflict that America did not seek; one in which we are joined by 42 other countries — including Norway — in an effort to defend ourselves and all nations from further attacks.
    Still, we are at war, and I’m responsible for the deployment of thousands of young Americans to battle in a distant land. Some will kill, and some will be killed. And so I come here with an acute sense of the costs of armed conflict — filled with difficult questions about the relationship between war and peace, and our effort to replace one with the other…. – NYT, 12-10-09
  • Obama urges major new stimulus, jobs spending: President Barack Obama called for a major new burst of federal spending Tuesday, perhaps $150 billion or more, aiming to jolt the wobbly economy into a stronger recovery and reduce painfully persistent double-digit unemployment. Despite Republican criticism concerning record federal deficits, Obama said the U.S. has had to “spend our way out of this recession” with so many people out of work but insisted he was still mindful of a need to confront soaring deficits. More than 7 million Americans have lost their jobs since the recession began two years ago, and the jobless rate stands at 10 percent, statistics Obama called “staggering.” “We avoided the depression many feared,” Obama said in a speech at the Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank. But he added, “Our work is far from done.”… – AP, 12-7-09
  • McCain: ‘I’m Proud Of’ Palin, Thought Book Was Fair: Asked about his pick for vice presidential candidate during an appearance on “Meet the Press,” the Arizona Republican sounded more like an adoring father than a man frightened by his own creation. “I think that Sarah Palin has earned herself a very big place in the Republican political scene,” McCain said. “I’m proud of her. I am entertained every time I see these people attack her, and attack her and attack her. ‘She’s irrelevant!’ — but they continue to attack her. “We had a wonderful relationship, Todd [Palin], Sarah and I,” McCain added. “I just saw her recently. And I’m very proud of her. And we need a vigorous discussion and debate in the Republican Party. She’s going to be a big part of that discussion and debate in the future.” “You thought her book was fair?” asked host David Gregory. “Oh sure, yeah,” said McCain. “I enjoyed her book.”… – Huff Post, 12-6-09
  • President Obama’s remarks at National Christmas Tree, as provided by the White House: THE PRESIDENT: Thank you. (Applause.) Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, Washington, D.C. (Applause.) I want to, first of all, thank Secretary Salazar for not only the kind introduction, but the extraordinary work he is doing in preserving the incredible bounty and natural resources of this country. I want to thank all those involved in helping to organize this great event. Thank you to….
    …Randy Jackson, and all the performers putting on an incredible show. I told Sasha we’re not on American Idol — (laughter) — no singing. (Laughter.)
    I also want to thank Neal Mulholland, Jon Jarvis, and Peggy O’Dell from the National Park Service for being with us, and all the Park Service employees who’ve worked so hard to put this event together — give them a big round of applause. (Applause.) And I want to thank my outstanding Vice President and his gorgeous granddaughters — Joe Biden. Stand up, Joe. (Applause.)
    In 1923, the Washington, D.C. Public Schools wrote a letter to the White House asking if they could put up a Christmas tree on the South Lawn. And First Lady Grace Coolidge said they could use the Ellipse. (Laughter.) And in the eight decades since -– in times of war and peace, hardship and joy –- Americans from every corner of this nation have gathered here to share in the holiday spirit.
    Tonight, we celebrate a story that is as beautiful as it is simple. The story of a child born far from home to parents guided only by faith, but who would ultimately spread a message that has endured for more than 2,000 years -– that no matter who we are or where we are from, we are each called to love one another as brother and sister.
    While this story may be a Christian one, its lesson is universal. It speaks to the hope we share as a people. And it represents a tradition that we celebrate as a country –- a tradition that has come to represent more than any one holiday or religion, but a season of brotherhood and generosity to our fellow citizens.
    It’s that spirit of unity that we must remember as we light the National Christmas Tree –- a tree that will shine its light far beyond our city and our shores to every American around the world.
    And that’s why tonight our thoughts and prayers are with the men and women who will be spending this holiday far from home –- the mothers and fathers, the sons and daughters of our military who risk their lives every day to keep us safe. We will be thinking of you and praying for you during this holiday season.
    And let’s also remember our neighbors who are struggling here at home -– those who’ve lost a job or a home; a friend or a loved one — because even though it’s easy to focus on receiving at this time of year, it’s often in the simple act of giving that we find the greatest happiness.
    So on behalf of Michelle and Malia and Sasha and my mother-in-law, Mama Robinson — I want to wish all of you a very Merry Christmas. May you go out with joy, and be led forth in peace.
    And now, to the serious business of pressing the button and lighting this beautiful tree. (Applause.) So, guys, come up here. I need some assistance. I’m technologically challenged and I might not get this right. So we’re going to do a countdown, starting from five. Everybody has got to help me out here. Five, four, three, two, one — ho! (Applause.) It worked! LAT, 12-3-09


  • Julian Zelizer “Youth is a Double-Edged Sword for the President Obama is the fifth-youngest president of the United States”: “Ideally, what you get from a young president is seeing beyond the status quo,” says Julian Zelizer, a historian at Princeton. He adds: “Youth creates a level of freshness—someone who will look at ideas in a different way and who is not confined to old, stale answers to problems.” And a young president often is seen as having an advantage in stamina and emotional energy that can help in tackling problems that older leaders wouldn’t touch. Today, for example, Zelizer says that Obama is attempting to get beyond the decades-old debates of baby boomers on Vietnam, abortion, civil rights, and other issues as he tries to usher in a new era of activist government and deal with long-term issues such as stimulating the economy and overhauling the healthcare system. Of course, with less than a year on the job, it remains to be seen how effective he will be. “On the negative side,” Zelizer says, “inexperience is a problem.” A young president inevitably requires on-the-job training… Adds Zelizer: “Experience matters—you can’t get around it. People who’ve gone into battle before are more ready for the next battle.” – US News, 12-7-09
  • Robert Dallek warns … Obama’s risking failure: U.S. history is littered with war blunders President Obama would be wise to note that bad advice often precedes momentous wartime decisions. As President Obama moves ahead with his expansion of the war in Afghanistan, history suggests that he has a better chance of being wrong than right. Judging from the experience of Woodrow Wilson, Harry Truman, John Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon and George W. Bush, miscalculations about war and peace are all too common. Despite receiving counsel from the best and the brightest in each of their generations, these presidents received poor advice that each should have resisted…. – USA Today (12-9-09)
  • Julian E. Zelizer: Obama should heed the lessons of Vietnam: …During his recent speech at West Point, President Obama rejected the lessons that these kinds of stories tell us about Afghanistan. The president, saying that the comparison with Vietnam relies on a “false reading of history,” pointed to three differences.
    The first is that the U.S. is now part of a broad international coalition. The second is that in Vietnam the U.S. faced a “broad-based popular insurgency” whereas today, according to most polls, a large number of Afghans support foreign assistance. Last, Obama added, is that today Americans are responding to a very real threat that began with the vicious attack on 9/11.
    Clearly, Obama feels defensive about this analogy and hopes to undercut liberal critics who are frustrated and disappointed with his decision.
    In trying to separate himself from the experience of Johnson, however, Obama did not give an accurate account of what many commentators have been saying recently, and he downplayed crucial aspects of the 1960s that do in fact offer warnings for today…. – CNN, 12-8-09
  • Garry Wills turns against Obama: I did not think he would lose me so soon—sooner than Bill Clinton did. Like many people, I was deeply invested in the success of our first African-American president. I had written op-ed pieces and articles to support him in The New York Times and The New York Review of Books. My wife and I had maxed out in donations for him. Our children had been ardent for his cause.
    Others I respect have given up on him before now. I can see why. His backtracking on the treatment of torture (and photographs of torture), his hesitations to give up on rendition, on detentions, on military commissions, and on signing statements, are disheartening continuations of George W. Bush’s heritage. But I kept hoping that he was using these concessions to buy leeway for his most important position, for the ground on which his presidential bid was predicated…. – New York Review of Books (12-2-09)
The 2009 Kennedy Center HonoreesPresident Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama with Kennedy Center Honorees in the Blue Room of the White House, Dec. 6, 2009. From left; First Lady Michelle Obama, Mel Brooks, Dave Brubeck, Grace Bumbry, Robert DeNiro, Bruce Springsteen, and President Barack Obama. (Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson)

History Buzz Special: Hanukkah 2009, History & Obama

EVAN VUCCI / Associated Press, Rahm Emanuel is flankedby Rabbi Abraham Shemtov(left) and Rabbi Levi Shemtov.



  • In the Nation Emanuel lights nation’s menorah: White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel lit the National Menorah yesterday in celebration of Hanukkah. The ceremony marked the 30th anniversary of the first National Menorah lighting in 1979. President Jimmy Carter attended that ceremony…. – Philly Inquirer, 12-14-09
  • Maccabean era correspondence discovered: Some 2,200 years after the Maccabees’ revolt, historians and archaeologists are uncovering new information about their era.
    This year’s biggest discovery is a correspondence between Seleukes IV, whose brother and heir was Antiochus IV Epiphanes of the Chanukah story, and one of Seleukes’ chiefs in Judea found on parts of an ancient stele.
    Professor Dov Gera of Ben-Gurion University, who studied the stone’s inscription, said it confirms the account by the Jewish historian Josephus regarding the tightening grip of the Greek-Syrian empire over its subjects’ religious practices.
    “[The text reveals] Seleukes appointed one of the members of his court as an official to oversee worship in the area and equate religious services throughout the empire,” Gera said. “Such an appointment might have been considered by the Jews to be offensive.”… – Jewish Telegraph Agency (12-10-09)
  • A Senator’s Gift to the Jews, Nonreturnable: The canon of Hanukkah songs written by Mormon senators from Utah just got a little bigger. Senator Orrin G. Hatch, a solemn-faced Republican with a soft spot for Jews and a love of Barbra Streisand, has penned a catchy holiday tune, “Eight Days of Hanukkah.” The video was posted Tuesday night on Tablet, an online magazine of Jewish lifestyle and culture, just in time for Hanukkah. NYT, 12-9-09
  • DAVID BROOKS: The Hanukkah Story: Tonight Jewish kids will light the menorah, spin their dreidels and get their presents, but Hanukkah is the most adult of holidays. It commemorates an event in which the good guys did horrible things, the bad guys did good things and in which everybody is flummoxed by insoluble conflicts that remain with us today. It’s a holiday that accurately reflects how politics is, how history is, how life is…. – NYT, 12-10-09


  • Statement by President Obama on Hanukkah: Michelle and I send our warmest wishes to all who are celebrating Hanukkah around the world. The Hanukkah story of the Maccabees and the miracles they witnessed reminds us that faith and perseverance are powerful forces that can sustain us in difficult times and help us overcome even the greatest odds.
    Hanukkah is not only a time to celebrate the faith and customs of the Jewish people, but for people of all faiths to celebrate the common aspirations we share. As families, friends and neighbors gather together to kindle the lights, may Hanukkah’s lessons inspire us all to give thanks for the blessings we enjoy, to find light in times of darkness, and to work together for a brighter, more hopeful tomorrow…. – WH, 12-11-09
  • Obama Issues Hanukkah Message in Hebrew: The White House is facing complaints in Israel that its Hanukkah party does not live up to the standards set by President Obama’s predecessor, George W. Bush. But with the Jewish festival of lights set to begin at sundown on Friday, President Obama has outdone Mr. Bush in at least one respect – he issued a Hanukkah message in Hebrew.
    The English version of the greeting sends “warmest wishes to all who are celebrating Hanukkah around the world,” from Mr. Obama and his wife, Michelle. It recalls the ancient story of the Maccabees, the Jewish rebels who triumphed in battle and rededicated the temple in Jerusalem – a reminder, the message says, that “that faith and perseverance are powerful forces that can sustain us in difficult times and help us overcome even the greatest odds.” Hebrew Message NYT, 12-11-09
  • Israeli President Shimon Peres broadcasts YouTube Chanukah message: “Dear Friends: Yesterday I blessed my Arab citizens because they had their holiday which is called Eid-el Adha, a holiday of good will. Tomorrow, I am going to bless my Christian citizens; they are going to have Christmas. But now, it’s time of Chanukah, our own holiday; full of light, full of optimism, full of hope. Not that everything is so easy and promising, but it’s a clear declaration that finally light will win the day.
    We are going through a difficult period of time. There are many dangers, the Iranians; there are many difficulties, like the negotiations of peace, but I am in charge of optimism. I have the right to be one. Most of the things we have hoped for came true. We continue to hope they will come true as well. We would like to be a contributing people, we can be a contributing people; not only in science and technology, but also in peace and promise. The greatest of them is that all children, ours, the Arabs’, the Christians’ will arrive to a day when their mothers do not have to worry about their safety, which means peace. Light and peace are the two things on which Jewish heritage are based. Thank you. Happy Hanukkah, Chag Chanukah Sameah.” – You Tube
  • A Very Emanuel Chanukah: Rahm Emanuel had a serious message about mutual responsibility to make, in a pithy, punchy speech before he helped light the “national menorah” this evening on the Ellipse in front of the White House. Still, the White House chief of staff being Rahm couldn’t resists a couple of one-liners. Rabbi Levi Shemtov, who directs American Friends of Lubavitch, rushed in a thanks to the performers before calling Emanuel to the stage.
    “The U.S. Air Force Band, the Three Cantors and Dreidl Man,” Emanuel said after taking the microphone, “sounds a little like the title of a Fellini movie.” Emanuel went on to make the lessons of Chanukah a paradigm for the collective responsibility for those not able to defend or care for themselves — Tikkun Olam. “Standing up for what is right, even when it is hard, is not a job for some other people, some other time,” he said. “It is a job for all of us.” And still, expounding on the holiday miracle, he couldn’t resist a dig at his former habitat, Congress. “The oil lasted longer than anyone expected, kind of like the health care debate,” he said… – JTA, 12-13-09


  • CHANUKAH Heroes or rabble-rousers? The real story of the Maccabees: In 165 BCE, a group of warriors led by Judah Maccabee and his band of brothers ushered in a new era in Jewish history when they routed the soldiers of the Greek-Syrian empire and rededicated the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. That victory, and the miracle of the menorah that followed, is celebrated every year by Jews around the world at Chanukah. But if the same thing had happened today, would contemporary Jews hail the Maccabees as heroes?
    The place in Jewish history of the Maccabees — a nickname for the first members of the Hasmonean dynasty that ruled an autonomous Jewish kingdom — is much more complex than their popular image might suggest. “Historically it was much more complicated, as there were Jews on both sides,” Jeffrey Rubenstein, professor of Talmud and rabbinics at New York University, said of the Maccabee uprising. “Nowadays, historians look at the conflict more in terms of a civil war than a revolt.”… – JTA, 12-10-09
  • Improving on the Latke: Joan Nathan, a well respected cookbook author and expert in Jewish foods, said she’s not surprised at the widespread resistance to making a traditional treat more healthful. When once asked to come up with baked latkes that tasted as good as fried, she tried. “But I ended up throwing all the recipes in the garbage,” she said.
    Another reason for the fried latke’s persistence: oil isn’t just a cooking ingredient, it’s central to the eight- day celebration of Hanukkah. After winning back their land in battle, the Jews needed to light a menorah as part of a rededication of their Temple. Although they only had enough oil for one day, the oil, miraculously, lasted for eight… – NYT, 12-10-09
  • At Hanukkah, Chefs Make Kitchen Conversions: On holidays like Hanukkah, which begins this year on the night of Dec. 11, gentile chefs with Jewish spouses bring epicurean interpretations to simple dishes, but also enjoy culinary traditions they’ve taken to heart.
    Even since their divorce, the Austrian chef Wolfgang Puck, a Roman Catholic, continues to hold a charity Seder at his restaurant Spago in Los Angeles with his business partner and ex-wife, Barbara Lazaroff, who is Jewish. “The food is so similar,” Mr. Puck said. “My grandmother made potato pancakes, but they were rösti with cooked potatoes and then fried with onions. We had semolina dumplings like matzo balls.”… = NYT, 12-9-09


  • Tevi Troy “Washington Fuss Over White House Hanukkah Party”: In an opinion article published by JTA, the Jewish news agency, Tevi Troy, a former Bush administration liaison to Jewish groups, warned that the Obama White House had given Jewish Americans “a number of reasons to fear that it takes its votes for granted.” Mr. Troy cited as examples the administration’s call for a freeze on Jewish settlements in the West Bank and the decision to honor Mary Robinson, the former president of Ireland, who has been accused by some Democratic lawmakers of anti-Israel bias. Mr. Troy said the reduced guest list created “a nagging sense that there may be a studied callousness at work here.” – NYT, 12-11-09
  • Aaron Zelinsky: Judah the Maccabee’s Five Lessons for Barack Obama: Tonight is the first night of Chanukah. Modern celebrants (including Senator Hatch) focus on the miracle of the Menorah, which tradition tells us stayed lit for eight days on a single day’s oil. However, Chanukah is also the political story of a few determined Maccabees leading an uprising against the much stronger Seleucid Empire.
    Though the events Chanukah commemorates took place over 2,000 years ago, the historical story of the Maccabees provides useful lessons for our modern era. From the Seleucids, we see how not to fight a guerilla insurgency. From the Maccabees, we learn how to rally a people and a nation.
    Here are Chanukah’s five geopolitical lessons…. Huffington Post (12-11-09)
  • Gil Troy: This Hannukkah, Let’s Teach Our Children How to Give: For the last few years I have lamented that Jews were preparing to celebrate Hanukkah, our festival of lights, during a particularly dark period. I am happy to say that this year was actually pretty good. Yes, the Iranian nuclear threat – to the United States not just to Israel – still looms. Yes, the crash, recession, and Madoff scheme crushed many individuals – and charitable foundations that do holy work. Yes, the high unemployment rate in the United States is a reminder of the misery many individuals are experiencing even during this holiday season. Yes, Islamic extremists declare war on the West, yet many Westerners, deny and dither, afraid to respond too assertively. And yes, Palestinian rejectionists get a free pass in the world court of public opinion while Israel is condemned for engaging in self-defense…. – 12-11-09
  • Tevi Troy: Op-Ed: Obama must beware of the Chanukah snub: Officials in the Obama administration have decided that they will be cutting the guest list in half for this year’s Chanukah party at the White House. The Jerusalem Post, which first reported this development, suggested that this will be politically harder for Obama the Democrat than it would have been for Bush the Republican. As one of President Bush’s advisers for many of his Chanukah parties, I can assure you that it would not have been easy in the previous White House, either… – JTA, 11-23-09
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