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

THE OBAMA PRESIDENCY:

The President delivers the Weekly Address

IN FOCUS: STATS

  • 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

THE HEADLINES….

  • 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, MyFoxTwinCities.com. 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

POLITICAL QUOTES

  • 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

HISTORIANS & ANALYSTS’ COMMENTS

  • 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)

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December 6, 2009: President Obama Focuses on the Economy, Max Baucus Scandal and Sarah Palin at the Gridiron Dinner

THE OBAMA PRESIDENCY:

The President at West Point

IN FOCUS: STATS

  • 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

THE HEADLINES….

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  • Sarah Palin speech: The view’s better from inside the bus than under it: The lines began forming Saturday morning outside the Sioux Falls Barnes & Noble bookstore, fully 35 hours before former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin was to arrive there to sign her new book, “Going Rogue.”… – LAT, 12-6-09
  • What Sarah Palin had to say at Saturday’s Gridiron dinner: Look at it this way, Sarah Palin told a Washington journalists’ dinner Saturday night: If Joe Biden had lost, he’d be peddling a book today titled, “Going Rogaine.” Biden, of course, is now vice president (and with a head of thinning hair), while Palin, the former Alaska governor and 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee, stopped in Washington Saturday to promote her book, “Going Rogue,” and entertain the Gridiron Club, a group of veteran Washington reporters and bureau chiefs at their annual winter dinner…. – McClatchy Newspapers, 12-6-09
  • Obama: Efforts aimed at economy’s long-term health: The U.S. is emerging from an “economic storm,” President Barack Obama says, pledging new ways to put people back on the payroll after a painful recession. Readying a job creation proposal he plans to send to Congress in the coming week, the president said in his radio and Internet address Saturday that he’s focused on building an economy “that continues to make real the promise of America for generations to come.”…
    In a Washington speech Tuesday, Obama is likely to endorse expanding a program that gives people cash incentives to fix up their homes with energy-saving materials, according to administration officials….
    “So that we don’t face another crisis like this again, I’m determined to meet our responsibility to do what we know will strengthen our economy in the long run,” Obama said in his address. AP, 12-5-09
  • Senate debates health care, rejects GOP amendment: Senate Republicans failed Saturday to eliminate $42.1 billion in cuts to Medicare home health care service in the health care bill. The 53-41 vote shot down a motion offered by Sen. Mike Johanns, R-Nebraska, that would have sent Majority Leader Harry Reid’s sweeping $848 billion reform plan back to committee with instructions to remove all home health care cuts. Johanns objected to the cuts, saying that the services “help some of the most vulnerable Americans.”… – CNN, 12-5-09
  • Baucus Nominated Girlfriend for Post, Aide Says: A spokesman for U.S. Sen. Max Baucus says the Montana Democrat was in a romantic relationship with the woman he nominated for U.S. attorney…. – AP/NYT, 12-5-09
  • Obama shifts Copenhagen travel plans to boost climate change deal: US president bows to international pressure to join other world leaders in crunch negotiating sessions. Barack Obama has bowed to international appeals for America to demonstrate commitment to action on global warming, and said he will join other world leaders for the crunch negotiating sessions of the Copenhagen climate change summit.
    The White House, in a statement from the press secretary, Robert Gibbs, last night said Obama would adjust his original travel schedule… “The president believes that continued US leadership can be most productive through his participation at the end of the Copenhagen conference on December 18th,” the statement said. “There are still outstanding issues that must be negotiated for an agreement to be reached, but this decision reflects the president’s commitment to doing all he can to pursue a positive outcome.”… – Guardian UK, 12-4-09
  • Climategate? What Climategate? Congressional Democrats are Climategate deniers: The scandal involving leaked or purloined emails from the Climatic Research Unit at Britain’s University of East Anglia finally reached Capitol Hill this week, but not in the way you’d expect. Democratic committee chairmen ignored the evidence of scientific skullduggery at the influential research unit, even as its head Phil Jones stepped aside this week to make way for an investigation.
    Senator Barbara Boxer, chair of the Environment Committee, did rouse herself to comment on the emails, saying their release should be treated as a criminal matter. “You call it ‘Climategate’; I call it ‘Email-theft-gate,'” she said. “Part of our looking at this will be looking at a criminal activity which could have well been coordinated.”… – WSJ, 12-4-09
  • Palin arrives to cheering crowd at Fort Hood: A cheering crowd has greeted former Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin at Fort Hood in Texas. About 1,250 fans showed up to get signed copies of Palin’s book, “Going Rogue.” Because of limited space, only about 250 people were allowed in the food court building to see the former Alaska governor…. – AP, 12-4-09
  • Senate preserves long-term care program: The Senate on Friday turned back a Republican effort to eliminate a long-term care insurance program to help seniors and the disabled, saving the plan once championed by the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy in its health overhaul bill. But the vote exposed the difficulties Democratic leaders face in persuading their own moderates to remain united behind sweeping legislation they hope to deliver to President Barack Obama. Eleven Democrats voted with Republicans, who warned that the new program would turn into a drain on the federal budget. Republicans fell short in a bid to strike the long-term care plan on a 51-47 vote. They needed 60 votes to prevail…. – AP, 12-4-09
  • Obama, lawmakers target bailout fund for jobs bill: President Barack Obama’s options for spurring job growth may be limited by out-of-control budget deficits, but he is warming to moves by his congressional allies for a jobs-boosting bill. Taking his defense of the economy on the road, the president scheduled appearances Friday in Pennsylvania to showcase innovative businesses following Thursday’s White House jobs forum. That event combined cheerleading and brainstorming as Obama exhorted more than 100 CEOs, academics, small business and union leaders and local officials to focus on new ways to get businesses hiring again…. – AP, 12-4-09
  • Allegedly green Obama lights National Christmas Tree, leaves them on: It was Barack Obama’s first time. But tonight for the 86th year in a row, a U.S. president turned on the lights of the national Christmas tree, a 40-foot Colorado spruce near the White House. Claiming to be technologically challenged, the BlackBerry-loving, 48-year-old president asked his daughters, Sasha and Malia, to help press the ceremonial button that lit up the tree planted on the Ellipse way back in 1978. In those days Obama was only 17 and an aging Vice President Joe Biden was already in the second of a gazillion terms as a senator from Delaware. “Watson, come here!” the 44th president exclaimed. No, just kidding. He actually exclaimed, “It worked!”… – LAT, 12-3-09
  • Senate Democrats push ahead on health bill: They pass an amendment requiring insurers to cover women’s preventive care and screenings, and reject McCain’s bid to restore proposed cuts in what Medicare pays out… – LAT, 12-3-09
  • Senate Breaks Health Stalemate; First Votes Today: At the end of a third day of Senate debate over sweeping health care legislation, Democrats and Republicans said Wednesday night that they had broken an impasse over the seemingly simple question of how and when to vote on the first amendments. But even as lawmakers announced an agreement to begin voting Thursday, Democrats accused Republicans of stalling debate and obstructing the legislation…. – NYT, 12-2-09
  • Obama shifts White House spotlight to unemployment: President Barack Obama turns his attention on Thursday from Afghanistan to the battle against unemployment which has sapped his popularity and may shape his political future. Obama is hosting a forum with business leaders at the White House to discuss how to boost jobs after U.S. unemployment hit a 26-year peak of 10.2 percent in October. But the gathering has been dismissed by critics as a public relations exercise. The president’s public approval ratings have dipped as joblessness has grown, alarming members of his Democratic party who face congressional elections next year. Republicans say his economic recoveries policies have failed to deliver…. – Reuters, 12-2-09
  • Obama rejoining economic debate with jobs summit: Under pressure from Republicans and an impatient public to fix the sputtering economic recovery, President Barack Obama is refocusing on this politically potent issue by talking job creation with business and labor leaders at the White House…. Administration officials are hoping Thursday’s jobs forum, an Obama trip to Pennsylvania on Friday and a major economic speech on Tuesday will help counter Republican critics who contend the administration’s economic recovery efforts have failed and its oversight of the $787 billion stimulus package has been inadequate…. – AP, 12-3-09
  • Old Clemency May Be Issue for Huckabee: When Mike Huckabee, a former Southern Baptist minister then serving as governor of Arkansas, granted clemency to Maurice Clemmons nine years ago, he cited his age: Mr. Clemmons was 16 when he began the crime spree for which he was sentenced to more than 100 years in prison… – NYT, 12-1-09
  • Palin reaches the 1 million mark: Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin’s memoir ‘Going Rogue’ has sold more than one million copies after debuting only two weeks ago, her publisher Harper Collins tells CNN….- CNN, 12-1-09
  • Tempers rise as Senate moves toward health vote: A Republican senator asserted Tuesday during a rancorous floor debate that President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul will shorten the lives of America’s seniors by cutting Medicare. “I have a message for you: You’re going to die sooner,” said Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., an obstetrician- turned-lawmaker…. – AP, 12-1-09

ELECTIONS 2010, 2012….

POLITICAL QUOTES

The President delivers the Weekly Address

  • Obama Pledges to Put More Americans Back to Work: In his weekly radio and Internet address, the U.S. president said Saturday he will ‘focus every single day’ on building the economy and getting people into productive jobs. VOA, 12-5-09
  • Weekly Address: President Obama Says Employment Trends Are Improving; But Remains Focused on Job Creation Remarks of President Barack Obama As Prepared for Delivery Weekly Address Saturday, December 5, 2009: History tells us this is usually what happens with recessions – even as the economy grows, it takes time for jobs to follow. But the folks who have been looking for work without any luck for months and, in some cases, years, can’t wait any longer. For them, I’m determined to do everything I can to accelerate our progress so we’re actually adding jobs again….
    And that’s exactly what I’m working to give them. In the coming days, I’ll be unveiling additional ideas aimed at accelerating job growth and hiring as we emerge from this economic storm.
    And so that we don’t face another crisis like this again, I’m determined to meet our responsibility to do what we know will strengthen our economy in the long-run. That’s why I’m not going to let up in my efforts to reform our health care system; to give our children the best education in the world; to promote the jobs of tomorrow and energy independence by investing in a clean energy economy; and to deal with the mounting federal debt…. – WH, 12-5-09
  • 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

HISTORIANS & ANALYSTS’ COMMENTS

  • Historians comment on Obama role as consoler in chief: In the days ahead, Obama must master those moments to sustain support for the war in Afghanistan, says Jerald Podair, a history professor at Lawrence University in Appleton, Wisconsin. “Grief is the one part of a president’s job that cannot be spun. It must be personal and come from the heart,” Podair says. Yet the cool and cerebral Obama is not known for opening his heart, Podair says… … If Obama bungles a public occasion for mourning, he can permanently damage his ability to lead, some historians say…. – CNN (12-4-09)
  • Max Boot: Despite some questions, Obama’s Afghan policy is sound Given time, his strategy should work. But will there be time, and what about ‘winning’?: President Obama’s Afghanistan policy raises some serious questions (more on those in a moment), but to see why it has a decent chance of working, it helps to visit the town of Nawa in southern Afghanistan’s Helmand River Valley. I was there in October and found that 1,000 Marines who had arrived during the summer had already made substantial strides. When the Marines got there, Nawa was practically a ghost town…..
    At the same time, our troops must work to build up Afghanistan’s security forces. Yet another missing element in Obama’s speech was the lack of a specific commitment to expand the Afghan security forces, but there is little doubt that this is our only responsible exit strategy. Before the Afghans can take the lead, however, our troops must first reduce the enemy’s toughest strongholds. That process begins in Marjah. – LAT, 12-3-09
  • Andrew J. Bacevich: Obama’s folly: Rather than trying to salvage Bush’s policy in Afghanistan, the president should show real courage and just pull the plug. Which is the greater folly: To fancy that war offers an easy solution to vexing problems, or, knowing otherwise, to opt for war anyway?
    In the wake of 9/11, American statecraft emphasized the first approach: President George W. Bush embarked on a “global war” to eliminate violent jihadism. President Obama now seems intent on pursuing the second approach: Through military escalation in Afghanistan, he seeks to “finish the job” that Bush began there, then all but abandoned.
    Through war, Bush set out to transform the greater Middle East. Despite immense expenditures of blood and treasure, that effort failed. In choosing Obama rather than John McCain to succeed Bush, the American people acknowledged that failure as definitive. Obama’s election was to mark a new beginning, an opportunity to “reset” America’s approach to the world…. – LAT, 12-3-09
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