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Category: White House

Michelle Obama – Mom-in-chief

michelle_obama_inauguralNo one could tell this story better than Melissa Harris-Lacewell, a mother and associate professor at Princeton. Michelle Obama’s greatness (yes, I said greatness) lies in her ability not to outshine her husband, Barack. She is easily as bright, if not brighter, than Barack is. Yet she has held back. Think of the uproar that would occur if Michelle Obama began to take the lead on any issue. The Right would go nuts.
From The Nation:
With Mother’s Day approaching I want think about Michelle Obama’s assertion that her primary role as First Lady is “Mom-in-Chief.”
Many progressive feminists were distressed with Michelle’s assertion of motherhood as her primary role. They hoped she would seek a more aggressive policy agenda. After all Michelle Obama is a graduate of Princeton University and Harvard Law School. She spent her career as an effective advocate for urban communities in their fraught relationship with powerful institutions. She is smart, capable, and independent. She maintained her own career and ambitions throughout Barack’s early political career and even during his election to the U.S. Senate.
Truth is, some of us who were in the orbit of the Obamas ten years ago believed Michelle, not Barack, was the real star of the couple. So while I don’t think anyone expected her to commute to a 9-to-5 job in D.C; many hoped that she would take on an independent political role in the Obama administration.
Instead, Michelle has crafted a more traditional role for herself. She is highly visible, but she has taken on relatively safe issues like childhood literacy, advocacy for women and girls, and support of military families. Even her White House garden is framed more as an initiative for healthy eating and quality family meals than as a statement of commitment to local foods as an effort against global climate change. (more… )

A Liberal Inaugural Address

In his first Inaugural, President Barack Hussein Obama delivered one the most eloquent descriptions of liberalism in history.
Many will focus on the calls for unity, to depict the speech as non-ideological. but make no mistake. President Obama is calling for unity to move America in a liberal direction.
The most critical passage:

What the cynics fail to understand is that the ground has shifted beneath them – that the stale political arguments that have consumed us for so long no longer apply. The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works – whether it helps families find jobs at a decent wage, care they can afford, a retirement that is dignified. Where the answer is yes, we intend to move forward. Where the answer is no, programs will end. And those of us who manage the public’s dollars will be held to account – to spend wisely, reform bad habits, and do our business in the light of day – because only then can we restore the vital trust between a people and their government.

Some will interpret the emphasis on effectiveness, as moderate or centrist. But it is not.
Size matters not to liberalism. Liberalism is premised on effective government, with an emphasis on both words, since America does not work without active government.
In stressing the importance of what government “must do,” Obama offered an implicit yet ringing denunciation of Reagan’s Inaugural screed: “government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.”
Beyond the importance of active government, Obama also offered the liberal vision of what he expected active government to help accomplish:

The state of the economy calls for action, bold and swift, and we will act – not only to create new jobs, but to lay a new foundation for growth. We will build the roads and bridges, the electric grids and digital lines that feed our commerce and bind us together. We will restore science to its rightful place, and wield technology’s wonders to raise health care’s quality and lower its cost. We will harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories. And we will transform our schools and colleges and universities to meet the demands of a new age. All this we can do. And all this we will do.
Now, there are some who question the scale of our ambitions – who suggest that our system cannot tolerate too many big plans. Their memories are short. For they have forgotten what this country has already done; what free men and women can achieve when imagination is joined to common purpose, and necessity to courage.

Obama also reiterated his liberal belief the prosperity must be shared widely, not concentrated at the top:

The success of our economy has always depended not just on the size of our Gross Domestic Product, but on the reach of our prosperity; on our ability to extend opportunity to every willing heart – not out of charity, but because it is the surest route to our common good.

Regarding international matters, Obama embraced the liberal internationalist view that ultimately we must promote humanitarian ideals with multi-lateralism and our own example, not at the point of a gun:

As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals. Our Founding Fathers, faced with perils we can scarcely imagine, drafted a charter to assure the rule of law and the rights of man, a charter expanded by the blood of generations. Those ideals still light the world, and we will not give them up for expedience’s sake.
And so to all other peoples and governments who are watching today, from the grandest capitals to the small village where my father was born: know that America is a friend of each nation and every man, woman, and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity, and that we are ready to lead once more.
Recall that earlier generations faced down fascism and communism not just with missiles and tanks, but with sturdy alliances and enduring convictions. They understood that our power alone cannot protect us, nor does it entitle us to do as we please. Instead, they knew that our power grows through its prudent use; our security emanates from the justness of our cause, the force of our example, the tempering qualities of humility and restraint.
We are the keepers of this legacy. Guided by these principles once more, we can meet those new threats that demand even greater effort – even greater cooperation and understanding between nations. We will begin to responsibly leave Iraq to its people, and forge a hard-earned peace in Afghanistan. With old friends and former foes, we will work tirelessly to lessen the nuclear threat, and roll back the specter of a warming planet.
We will not apologize for our way of life, nor will we waver in its defense, and for those who seek to advance their aims by inducing terror and slaughtering innocents, we say to you now that our spirit is stronger and cannot be broken; you cannot outlast us, and we will defeat you.
For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness. We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus – and non-believers. We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth; and because we have tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation, and emerged from that dark chapter stronger and more united, we cannot help but believe that the old hatreds shall someday pass; that the lines of tribe shall soon dissolve; that as the world grows smaller, our common humanity shall reveal itself; and that America must play its role in ushering in a new era of peace.
To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect. To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict, or blame their society’s ills on the West – know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy. To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history; but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.
To the people of poor nations, we pledge to work alongside you to make your farms flourish and let clean waters flow; to nourish starved bodies and feed hungry minds. And to those nations like ours that enjoy relative plenty, we say we can no longer afford indifference to suffering outside our borders; nor can we consume the world’s resources without regard to effect. For the world has changed, and we must change with it.

Starting tomorrow, the rhetoric matters less than the policies.
But it is quite relevant to observe that Obama starts his presidency on the highest of notes, with stunning approval and public goodwill, on the basis of the liberal vision he continually offered the voters during the campaign, and reiterated with dazzling poetry and sturdy prose today.

It’s Not About People, It’s About Policy

The Nation’s Chris Hayes and Open Left’s Chris Bowers recently lamented that Obama’s picks for his administration are not coming from the ranks of the progressive movement. (Hayes since has qualified his initial lament.)
I argued the opposite earlier this month on the LIberalOasis Radio Show, that Obama had earned the “benefit of the doubt” when putting together the team he feels is best to execute his policies, and if we were to criticize Obama, it should be reserved for “matters of policy, not personnel.”
Because what’s most important now is to solve the myriad of crises in the economy, environment and health care, and to make a clean break with neocon foreign policy, and we in the grassroots need to keep our eye on the ball.
This week’s developments further prove the point.
While Obama turned to some economic officials, most notably Larry Summers, who are not known for liberal policymaking, he did so while announcing that he intends to immediately sign legislation launching a:

…two-year, nationwide effort to jumpstart job creation in America and lay the foundation for a strong and growing economy. We’ll put people back to work rebuilding our crumbling roads and bridges, modernizing schools that are failing our children, and building wind farms and solar panels; fuel-efficient cars and the alternative energy technologies that can free us from our dependence on foreign oil and keep our economy competitive in the years ahead.

Clearly, the past ideological inclinations of the people do not automatically dictate the policies.
Because that’s major. While who carries out that policy objective — so long as they are competent and trustworthy — is minor.
Might these people eventually steer Obama in a bad policy direction? Or may Obama choose a bad policy direction on his own? Perhaps.
But that’s the point where criticism is merited. Not now.

Rove Resigns in Disgrace

I joined NPR’s “Bryant Park Project” podcast earlier today to offer a liberal perspective on Karl Rove’s resignation in disgrace. Click here to download the podcast.

The Empathetic Presidency Returns

Over at Huffington Post, I have a piece about the significance of Bush’s visit to tornado-devasted Greensburg, which was originally posted at the Campaign for America’s Future blog.

Forgettable SOTU, Heartening Response

There’s no need to debunk Dubya’s State of the Union point-by-point.
His political capital is nil. His credibility is shot.
He offered no proposal that will rally the public to his side. He failed to reclaim control of the domestic policy agenda.
Despite the attempts to assert himself on energy, health care, education and the budget, he did not move the debate. He did not force Democrats to alter their approaches.
Dems have the public support to draft legislation with free hands, and dare Dubya to veto popular bills that address long-standing problems.
While the SOTU confirmed Dubya’s lame-duck status on the domestic front, it offered no reassurance on the international front, as he continued to signal intentions to expand the war into Iran.
He struggled to craft a dark neocon worldview to justify an expanded war, as his dots fail to connect.
He sought to win intellectual points for noting the basic difference between Sunni Al Qaeda and Shiite Iran.
Then, he arbitrarily lumped them in together for maximum scare effect: “The Shia and Sunni extremists are different faces of the same totalitarian threat.”
Then after pairing the two, he painted a scenario of Sunni and Shia attacking each other if we left Iraq:

If American forces step back before Baghdad is secure, the Iraqi government would be overrun by extremists on all sides. We could expect an epic battle between Shia extremists backed by Iran, and Sunni extremists aided by al Qaeda and supporters of the old regime. A contagion of violence could spill out across the country — and in time, the entire region could be drawn into the conflict.

Which, of course, is the path Bush’s policy of occupation has already put us on.
Sen. Jim Webb, in the Democratic response, did a nice job countering that vision:

…this country has patiently endured a mismanaged war for nearly four years.
Many, including myself, warned even before the war began that it was unnecessary, that it would take our energy and attention away from the larger war against terrorism, and that invading and occupying Iraq would leave us strategically vulnerable in the most violent and turbulent corner of the world…
…The President took us into this war recklessly. He disregarded warnings from the national security adviser during the first Gulf War, the chief of staff of the army, two former commanding generals of the Central Command, whose jurisdiction includes Iraq, the director of operations on the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and many, many others with great integrity and long experience in national security affairs.
We are now, as a nation, held hostage to the predictable – and predicted – disarray that has followed.
The war’s costs to our nation have been staggering. Financially. The damage to our reputation around the world. The lost opportunities to defeat the forces of international terrorism. And especially the precious blood of our citizens who have stepped forward to serve.
The majority of the nation no longer supports the way this war is being fought; nor does the majority of our military. We need a new direction.
Not one step back from the war against international terrorism. Not a precipitous withdrawal that ignores the possibility of further chaos.
But an immediate shift toward strong regionally-based diplomacy, a policy that takes our soldiers off the streets of Iraq’s cities, and a formula that will in short order allow our combat forces to leave Iraq.

Again, nicely done. Though a key thing missing is a renouncement of permanent military bases and permanent occupation.
That’s critical to mention, because it explains how Democrats can make diplomacy work — that we can’t have good-faith negotiations with all parties in the region if they think our objective is domination of the region.
Otherwise, Dems can be knocked for using “diplomacy” as a naive, meaningless buzzword.
That criticism aside, last night was the begininng of a favorable contrast of foreign poiicy visions.
And that’s no small thing.

Blogosphere Reaction to the SOTU

Lots of takes from the blogosphere over in The Wire, in the right-hand column.
Also, check out my pre-SOTU post, on behalf of Campaign for America’s Future, over at The Huffington Post.