Tilting at Windmills

September/October 2011 The Monkey Wrench Gang… All the take that’s fit to print… Corporate jetting to the Hamptons

By Charles Peters

The hand he was dealt

Liberals’ anger at Obama during the default debate was based on the fact that they actually seemed to think he had the power to do what they wanted him to do. In fact, he did not. The only cards he held were the power of the veto and the Senate Democrats’ ability to reject any Republican legislative proposal. They were no better than a pair of deuces in the poker game he had to play. All he really had was bluff—because to avoid default he had to not merely defeat or veto a bill, but rather get one passed by both houses. To do that, he had to win the support of at least eight to ten Republicans in the Senate and thirty to forty in the House. The votes were never there for a bill liberals would like. The moderate Republicans needed to provide those votes simply do not exist. They are, alas, an extinct species.

If Obama had tried to avoid default by following Bill Clinton’s suggestion that he invoke a never-before-asserted presidential authority implied by the Fourteenth Amendment, his sure and certain fate would have been the same as Clinton’s—impeachment by House Republicans.

The Monkey Wrench Gang

Chuck Todd, NBC’s White House correspondent, recently filling in for Chris Matthews on Hardball, expressed “shock” and seemed to think that it was outrageous for Senator Chuck Schumer to question whether Republicans are “slowing down the recovery on purpose,” so they can win in 2012.

I did not find it at all shocking. In fact, I think it is true of many Republican leaders. You will recall that in October 2010, Senator Mitch McConnell, the Republican Senate leader, told the National Journal that “the single most important thing for us to achieve is for Obama to be a one-term president.”

When Obama was inaugurated, Rush Limbaugh said, “I hope he fails.” As recently as July 23 of this year, he declared, “Helping Obama hurts the country.” Grover Norquist, the man behind the no-tax-increase pledge signed by 95 percent of Republicans, said this way back in 2003: “We will make it so that a Democrat cannot govern as a Democrat.” And can anyone have any doubt that Eric Cantor, Karl Rove, and Roger Ailes would stop at nothing short of indictable felony to defeat Obama?

Not quite guilty

I will concede there are some innocents who sincerely believe the Tea Party line. But it’s hard to give similar credit to the Republicans who so steadfastly refused to raise the debt ceiling even though they had voted for Paul Ryan’s budget, which, as columnist Matt Miller was first to point out, “[r]acks up over $5.4 trillion in fresh debt over the next decade.”

Status symbol

During the recent embarrassment of Anthony Weiner, I was impressed by much of the praise for his wife, Huma Abedin, but not by Robin Givhan’s in Newsweek: “When Abedin posed for Vogue in 2007, she established herself as a Washington power personality. Last year, she made a return appearance in her wedding gown: a succinct pronouncement that her social currency had only risen in value.”

The drunks still have the car keys

Evidence that the financial industry has not reformed comes from a recent story buried on an inside page of the Wall Street Journal, in which Gregory Zuckerman describes how Morgan Stanley suffered tens of millions of dollars in losses, “in a high-stakes game of chicken over inflation.”

Zuckerman writes, “The trades are a reminder of the risks banks still take, even after the financial crisis.” I wish the Journal ’s editorial page and its ideological allies shared the reporter’s insight.

Massey, still at large

I keep asking when the Department of Justice is going to indict Massey Energy officials like Don Blankenship for their role in causing the Upper Big Branch Mine disaster.

The latest revelation by the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration of the company’s criminal behavior, reported by the Charleston Gazette’s Ken Ward Jr.: “Massey Energy covered up safety hazards at its Upper Big Branch Mine by pressuring mine foremen and safety examiners not to record methane spikes and inoperable explosion-prevention equipment in official records.”

Quittin’ time

Recently, the survival of Cathedral Pharmacy, a local small business, was threatened after CVS Caremark, the manager of the prescription drug program for many federal employees, suddenly stopped allowing its prescriptions to be filled by Cathedral. Arguing that the move was an obvious attempt by CVS Caremark to benefit its chain of pharmacies by driving a competitor out of business, Cathedral sought a temporary restraining order to gain time to make its case for a permanent
injunction to save its business.

When I saw that this seemingly modest request was denied by U.S. District Judge Richard Leon, I was curious, so I read the entire Washington Post story about the case. One of the few clues I could find was this quote from Judge
Leon: “It’s after 7, the air conditioning in the building is off, it’s 78 degrees in here, and I’ve heard all I need to hear.”

All the take that’s fit to print

The report of President Obama’s July 10th press conference in the New York Times illustrates how even the highestquality journalism tends to emphasize the reporter’s “take” on the facts as distinguished from the facts themselves.

With the headline “Obama Grasping Centrist Banner in Debt Impasse,” it begins, “President Obama made no headway in an attempt to forge a crisis-averting budget deal, but he put on full display his attempt to reposition himself as a pragmatic centrist willing to confront both parties and address intractable problems.”

The reporter, Jackie Calmes, began her fifth paragraph, “Mr. Obama’s remarks were among the clearest expressions yet of a repositioning effort that has been underway since the midterm elections last November,” and her sixth with, “Seeking to shed the image of a big government liberal …”

Not only is this too much “take,” it merely parrots the conventional wisdom of the moment—which, by the way, I happen to think was wrong. From the very beginning Obama has sought to present himself as a president of all the people. Remember his campaign speeches? And the effort he made trying to win Republican support for his attempts to reform Wall Street and health care and stimulate the economy? All of these programs were inadequate in the eyes of most liberals.

Follow the money

“Profits thrive in weak recovery,” reports another headline in the Wall Street Journal. Yet, as you know all toowell, the resulting corporate wealth is not being invested in ways that create new jobs. Where is all the money going? One clue is provided by a New York Times survey of what happened to executive salaries in 2010: “the final figures show that median pay for top executives was $10.8 million, a 23% gain from 2009.”

The top earner, Phillippe Dauman of Viacom, took home a nifty $84.5 million.

Living on a jet plane

Charles Peters is the founding editor of the Washington Monthly and the author of a new book on Lyndon B. Johnson published by Times Books.


  • POed Lib on September 22, 2011 9:28 PM:

    OK, they would have impeached him. And, so? In many ways, that would be the very best thing that could happen. There is nothing more clarifying than when the Repukeliscum pull the velvet glove off and just do the naked power play. They would have lost HUGE for 2012.

    Don't throw Obama into that briar patch, you repukeliscum!!

  • Steve on September 26, 2011 4:10 PM:

    I'm with @POed Lib here.

    What we have is nothing more than a slow-motion impeachment circus anyhow. I find it hard to believe that thing could get any more stupid.

  • Craigie on October 05, 2011 11:41 PM:

    Since the federal Grad PLUS loan was introduced in July 2006, law schools have had no incentive to restrain annual increases in their gross sticker price. Unlike with Stafford loans, the Grad PLUS loan has no annual maximum borrowing limit, except cost of attendance minus any other financial aid (generally zero at law schools).

  • Reference Librarian on October 10, 2011 9:16 AM:

    Impeachment? On what grounds? The Constitution is quite clear: "The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors." Obama should have said "Look if the House thinks protecting the full faith and credit of the United States and insuring that laws requiring spending are duly executed is a "high crime" they're welcome to bring their case to the country."