147 posts categorized "headlines"

October 05, 2011

New Focus: Occupy Wall Street

Like all of you, I have been watching the events unfold across the country under the general rubric "Occupy Wall Street."   Rarely am I ever mistaken for a street-level activist--and for good reason, but I confess to being very inspired by what I see.  And so, without claiming any mantle of leadership or authority, I will devote the next round of Frameshop posts to Occupy Wall Street (OWS).

Long-time readers of Frameshop will also note that it has been some time since the site content has been updated.  I have been very active both writing and commenting via Twitter (#JeffreyFeldman) and have opted over the past few years to post my original work on The HuffingtonPost. Also, I have been fortunate to find a new audience via regular appearances on CBC television.  Altogether, I chose to transition Frameshop from a day-to-day source of engagement with politics to a resource for those looking to understand issues deeper via the past work on the site.  

But current events have drawn me back to the work of wrestling with the language and ideas at the heart of American politics. In a nutshell: We're back.

To new readers joining us from Twitter, HuffPo and CBC--welcome!  To familiar faces who have been with us all along--welcome back!

As always, I apologize in advance for any technical glitches on the site. My blogging habits have evolved over the past year and, frankly, I'm not sure if Typepad has evolved with me.  So far it seems good, and the clarity of the old site design still seems to make sense to me.  I may make some changes, however, as we move forward and will be sure to let you know along the way.

Also, to those who know me and my writing habits: type edits are always appreciated when caught by readers with better eyes for detail than myself. Please feel free to note edits in the comments. All I ask is that you do it as briefly as possible. No drama, please. Typos do not mean an author is unprofessional or lacks character and telling me something along those lines will have zero impact on the future of typos on this site.  I do my best.

Formalities completed--next post will take up the substance at hand: Occupy Wall Street.

January 28, 2010

Oh, The Vision Thing

"Oh, the vision thing."

That was the reaction of George H. W. Bush when he was urged to speak to a bigger picture beyond the small pieces of his legislative agenda.  They may be strange succor for a Democratic President, but those words hold a crucial lesson and a grim warning for Barack Obama. 

The lesson?  Articulate a governing vision bold enough to dominate the bare-knuckle brawl of contemporary American politics, or start working on that resume. The warning?  George H. W.  Bush was the last U.S. President to serve only one-term.

No matter how strong President Obama's performance was in his first State of the Union address--and it was a very strong performance--at best he gave the American public  pieces of the puzzle, but did not give voice to his big picture. 

Invest in green industry, put people back to work, cut taxes for the middle class, revoke Don't Ask, Don't Tell, drawn down forces in Iraq, limit corporate political donations--yes to all, but why?  What is the fundamental story of America in the world that grounds all these individual pieces in an overarching moral logic?  After one year in the White House, the President still has not told us.

The consequences for such a glaring sin of omission on the part of the President will be dire.

Namely, because the President has not advanced his own big picture vision, the two competing visions already scrapping it out like angry dogs on the public stage will continue to polarize the electorate, chip away at the President's popularity, and stymie the legislature's ability to get anything done.

The first competing vision is the idea that "government is bad," which hails from the conservative politics of Barry Goldwater, Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush, and Ron Paul.  Since Obama took office, however, this vision has evolved from "government is bad" to "government is tyrannical."  Day in and day out, the big story of American government as a tyrannical, even totalitarian force is dumped by the truckload on the public sphere. 

The second competing vision is the idea that "Government is good," which hails from the liberal politics of Franklin Roosevelt, Lyndon Johnson, Ralph Nader, and Dennis Kucinich.  Since Obama took office, however, this vision has evolved from "government is bad" to "corporations are tyrannical."  Day in and day out, the big story of corporations as a tyrannical, even fascist force echoes louder and louder across the political landscape.

Because the Obama administration has neither sided with nor articulated an alternative to these pugilistic political philosophies, all of his legislative items have been and will get caught in the cross fire like innocent bystanders at a road rage shoot out.

When health insurance reform came up, the "government is tyrannical" block argued that Obama's approach represented a "government takeover" of our lives that would lead to a radical loss of freedom.  Obama's health care reform was the tip of the spear of an a totalitarian takeover of America, they argued. 

On the other side, the "corporations are tyrannical" block argued that Obama's approach to health insurance reform would lead to the end of democracy and the emergence of a corporatist dystopia. Obama's health care reform was the first step in the corporate remaking of America as a feudal state.

Rather than advancing his own vision, President Obama set his reform agenda amidst these two warring ideas--where it was ripped to pieces. 

And so it was, and so it will be, for every piece of reform he sends to Congress.

The State of the Union speech, with tens of millions of voters tuned in to listen, could have been the platform where the President once and for all unfurled his own distinct governing vision.  But it was not.

Instead of a "the vision thing," the President's State of the Union address was couched in a patriotic theme.

When the going gets tough, as it has in the past, "We don't quit."  America is no place for quitters.  We succeed because we solve problems.  The American spirit is--"resilient."

Part Tony Robbins, part General Patton, the President's narrative theme of "success through tenacity" was crafted to inspire the listener.  At that task, he succeeded big.  But the opportunity cost of choosing performance pzazz over clear governing vision (he could have done both) was that voters did not walk away with a strong sense of how our individual priorities fit within the future of the nation.

With so many problems to solve, voters will ask, why shouldn't we solve my problems first? Because government seeks to harm you, not help you, answers one side of the fight; because corporations are hurting our future, answers the other side.  The only answer from the president is: politics.

What should be his vision?  What should be the missing big picture from the President that gives logic and a sense of priorities to his agenda?

The answer, I believe, begins with two of the most basic four-letter words in the American vocabulary: work and land.

The fundamental basis of America is not the getting-and-spending of wealth, but what Franklin Roosevelt once called "the joy and moral stimulation of work."  Without work, the foundations of our country, our communities, our families, and ourselves will begin to decay and, ultimately, collapse.

A President's governing vision should be grounded in the ideal of work and that ideal should lead to a substantive agenda of full employment, strong wages and guaranteed health care.  And that same vision should fiercely protect in the fullest sense the lives of those now retired, as well as the lives of those who will enter the work force in the future. 

At the same time, if we allow our industriousness to destroy the land--if we do not become stewards of the American landscape--then our work is in vain and our lives are meaningless. For hundreds and hundreds of years, the American dream has been rooted in the land.  Our drive to cherish that land is not just a stop gap measure, it is the center of who we are as Americans.  

A President's governing vision should be rooted in the idea of the American landscape and that ideal should lead to a substantive agenda of new energy innovation, technological innovation, as well as sustainable practices in industry and our day-to-day lives.

Whether government is big or small is not the issue.  The issue is whether we have the courage and the drive to enlist every tool at our disposal to build a future guided by the American ideals of work and land.

Prior to his State of the Union Address, President Obama had flirted with the symbolism of work and land, but he had not articulated a bold vision.    He has planted an organic garden on the White House lawn, but he has not called for a 21st-Century land ethic to guide or lives.

Likewise, the President has given speeches in factories and proclaimed commitment to putting people back to work, but he has not reached for all the tools at his disposal to create a 21st--Century public works program to restore public confidence.

And so the power of the President's rhetorical performance will elevate us for a short while-a day, maybe a week--but after that, the dueling visions will again take over the public square, the political stalemate will return, and the rising tide of cynicism will wash away more and more American idealism.

To all this, the White House would respond that polling shows 21.58% of the public prefers "pragmatism" to political bickering or that 22.2% of "independent voters" respond positively when the President talks about "solving problems," without siding with one or other ideological battles. To those voices in the White House, I say that one year is a long time in politics--a very, very, very long time.  After one year of pushing "pragmatism" justified by polling on swing voters, the results are bad. 

An administration that plays to swing votes at the expense of articulating a clear governing vision ends up mired in the very morass it claims to be avoiding.  That is precisely where President Obama is now. 

So, remember the vision thing, Mr. President, or else--suffer the same fate as those in the past who forgot it.

January 27, 2010

To Succeed, Obama Must Make "Change" Feel Real

One year into this administration, a President elected on a slogan of "change" is now faced with  calls from every corner of the political landscape that he must change if he is to avoid total failure.

Irony can be so ironic.

Speaking about the public's expectations about Obama, Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico described to the New York Times the difficult task the President must accomplish in his State of the Union address:

The American people want to see that you’re going to make a change, but for the president it’s important that he not shift radically because of one election...He needs to stay the course and not all of the sudden become something that he isn’t. The country was very inspired by Barack Obama— all kinds of voters. He needs to reconnect on that basis.

In other words, President Obama inspired the nation because he symbolized "change," but after one year those same voters are demanding that his version of change is not  change at all.  Therefore, Obama must find a way to change himself if he wants to reclaim the symbol of positive change.

Whew!  What a complicated mess.

The bottom line is that the voters who sought change by electing Obama do not yet feel any change in their lives after one year of his Presidency. 

Instead, these former supporters of Obama see a series of changes elsewhere in the country, the result of which is that their enthusiasm for Obama has change into anger at Obama.

In particular, the change Obama supporters see is a strengthening of the place and well-being of large corporations in American society.  While corporations have always played a larger role in the American system, many erstwhile Obama enthusiasts feel that corporations became even more powerful and more influential as a result of the President's actions in 2009. 

Specifically, most of the anti-corporate anger emerges from the perception that the executive class of larger private and publicly traded companies have dramatically increased their personal wealthy by exercising their influence over government since President Obama took office.  

Overall, the new intensity of anger at corporate executives has redefined the meaning of the most central word in Barack Obama's political arsenal.

One year ago, the word "change" in American politics mostly meant "a break from the political leadership of the past."  In the 2008 Presidential primaries, when Obama supporters talked of "change" they meant "not Bush" and "not Clinton."  Today, when these same voters talk about "change" they mean "not in favor of wealthy corporate executives." 

This shifting meaning has caused two large problems for the President  in recent weeks. 

The first problem is that the White House has has not found an effective way to tap into the anger generated by the new meaning of "change" as it is now being used by a large majority of his base, Obama's support amongst Democrats has plummeted.  To address this problem, the President will try to speak out in his State of the Union speech against the recent Supreme Court ruling on corporate spending in politics, but it is not clear that this rhetorical approach will reconnect with his base.

The second problem is that the Republican Party has found a way to tap into the anger generated by this new meaning of "change" and combine it with the different, but also intense anger of the Tea Party movement to win a midterm election. To address this problem, the President will try to argue in his State of the Union Speech that he is a true champion of working families.

Whatever happens in his speech, tonight, it seems unlikely the President will be able to solve the problems "change" is now causing for him in one pass.

To reclaim the high ground on "change," the President must persuade his once fervent supporters to stay with him, and he must deliver policies that lead quickly to a feeling of economic progress in their lives. The only way to accomplish the second part of that equation, is for the President to set down a policy goals of using government resources to put unemployed people back to work within the next 3 to 6 months--an emergency work legislation of the order that FDR created in the last great unemployment crisis of American history.

In this sense, the economic fate of the nation's working families and the political fate of the President are at the same crossroads.

January 26, 2010

Swing for the Fences, Mr. President!

With working families across America in an uproar over the endless nightmare of job losses--with key voting blocks in once Democratic strongholds clamoring after any scrap of decisiveness in recent elections--with the Twittering classes crying out for boldness from the man elected on the promise of once-in-a-lifetime "change"--in the midst of all this, President Obama plans to use his State of the Union address to unfold a series of small-bore middle class tax credits and federal spending cuts. 

It's the bottom of the first inning--nobody on, nobody out--and the White House is sending out its biggest hitter to bunt his way onto first base.
If I had one message for the President heading into his speech, tomorrow night, it would be this: Swing for the fences, Mr. President!

Despite what the President's advisers maybe telling him about this or that poll showing movement or persuadability in this or the other right or left leaning Congressional constituency--the problem Barack Obama must overcome in his State of the Union is the perception in the eyes of the public that he is a weak leader. 

How did it happen?  Who cares.  There is no crying in baseball.  The only road out of a hitting slump is to swing away.  And Obama is in the mother of all slumps.

Whatever speech the President has on his desk right now, he needs to look over every page and make sure there is no bunting anywhere in it on it or near it.

Swing hard, Mr. President.  Swing for the fences.  Now is the time to hit away. 

Early on in the President's first year, Rush Limbaugh hoped that the President would fail.  If tomorrow night's State of the Union speech is timid or filled with overly technical tax incentive tinkering, then Limbaugh will have won and the home team will have lost.

Right now, every working man and woman in America has one thing and one thing only on their mind:  jobs.  Will I keep my job? Will I lose my job? Will I get my job back? What will I do if I go another year without a job?

Bold presidential leadership in the State of the Union speech must make sense in the context of this anxiety-filled national conversation--this endless, fretful, but proud conversation.  To be seen and heard as a strong leader, the President's words must not only make sense to, but also resonate with Americans worried about work.

In a recession and a crisis of leadership far worse than the one we are currently witnessing, newly elected Franklin Delano Roosevelt presented the country with a simple, bold message when he delivered his first State of the Union Address in January of 1934

A year earlier, Roosevelt had told the country that the banks were too greedy and too fearful to lend Americans the money they needed to put people back to work, and yet there were plenty of resources and workers ready to get started.  In his State of the Union, he followed up that same, bold theme:
Without regard to party, the overwhelming majority of our people seek a greater opportunity for humanity to prosper and find happiness. They recognize that human welfare has not increased and does not increase through mere materialism and luxury, but that it does progress through integrity, unselfishness, responsibility and justice.
Work was the key to a American progress, Roosevelt explained.  Progress through integrity. Progress through unselfishness. Progress through responsibility. Progress through justice.

Beyond the general refrain of progress, FDR specified exactly how his first year in office created and improved job prospects for millions of Americans:
We have made great strides toward the objectives of the National Industrial Recovery Act, for not only have several millions of our unemployed been restored to work, but industry is organizing itself with a greater understanding that reasonable profits can be earned while at the same time protection can be assured to guarantee to labor adequate pay and proper conditions of work. Child labor is abolished. Uniform standards of hours and wages apply today to 95 percent of industrial employment within the field of the National Industrial Recovery Act. We seek the definite end of preventing combinations in furtherance of monopoly and in restraint of trade, while at the same time we seek to prevent ruinous rivalries within industrial groups which in many cases resemble the gang wars of the underworld and in which the real victim in every case is the public itself.
Progress through abolishing child labor. Progress through guaranteed adequate pay.  Progress through preventing monopoly.  Progress through millions of people back to work.

After one year of trying everything that was pragmatically possible to get people back to work--succeeding at some, failing at others--FDR stood up and in front of Congress and swung for the fences. 

Fast forward to the next great economic crisis and the current President must find a similar bold theme again. 

To those say that it is too late for "pretty words"--that substantive policy is all that matters now--Obama should calmly, but decisively ignore them.  There is no question that a bold vision should be backed up by solid proposals to put people back to work--but that does not mean the President should cede the sphere of public opinion and burn the midnight oil at a policy desk.  It means he should speak even bolder, fight even harder.

Bold leadership for a President must transpire in the public arena.  Should he bunt at the dais, it matters little if a President swings for the fences back stage, on Air Force One, or in a room full of experts gathered in the Oval Office.  What the people see and hear is what makes for Presidential leadership.

And what we need to hear is what the President means by progress.  How are we going to lift ourselves out of the self-doubt and fear of unemployment and into a productive future of integrity, unselfishness, responsibility, and justice?

The answer is not by "tax credits" nor any other kind of accounting rhetoric, but by putting people back to work.  The future the President must describe, tomorrow night--a future that gives logic and reason to all his substantive proposals--must be one where every American who wants to can and will get back to work. 

Tax credits for middle class families and cutting back on special interest waste are both good things.  But in a State of the Union Speech at a time of national concern over jobs, they are minor league proposals.

The timeless story of an America standing tall because we are working again--that is the home run Obama should aim to hit.

Swing for the fences, Mr. President!  Hit away.

January 20, 2010

The Lesson of the Lunch-Bucket Democrats

Political observers surprised by the Democratic Party loss in the Massachusetts Senate election, last night, should take a second look at the trouble Barack Obama had attracting so-called "lunch-bucket" voters in the 2008 presidential primaries.   The problem that once plagued the campaign of candidate Obama has now metastasized to the whole party of President Obama.  It took one year for that to happen and the consequences could be dire for the Democrats.

2008?  Most American voters can barely remember what they tweeted 12 minutes ago, let alone what the dominant election narrative over a year ago.  But remember it they should, because the story of Obama's failures in Presidential primary states like Pennsylvania and Massachusetts was remarkably similar to the story coming out of last nights loss in the Senate race.

Reporting in March of 2008, NPR's Mara Liason observed, "Sen. Barack Obama, who has built his string of victories with the support of upscale affluent voters, is now trying hard to win support from the so-called "lunch-bucket" Democrats."  Liason then when on to quote one voter in particular who summed up this "lunch-bucket" perspective on Obama in 2008:
"She just seems more in touch with people than Barack Obama does," he says.
The "she," of course, was Hillary Clinton, who ended up won her way into the hearts and minds of white working-voters with a few shots of whiskey and a relentless focus on Main Street issues.  Try as he might, Obama never managed to become a symbol that lunch-bucket Democrats took as their own.  While the impact of that vote was diminished in the fray of the national election against McCain, the x-factor of the lunch-bucket Democrats remained in play.

If the right-wing should be credited with one accomplishment in 2009, it is turning the lunch-bucket albatross of one Presidential campaign into the symbol of the entire Democratic Party. That transformation was bound to happen eventually, but News Corp made it happen in under twelve months.

As a result, when lunch-bucket voters looked at Martha Coakley in the Massachusetts Senate race, they saw a symbol of elites who speak for vested interests rather than working families.  They saw, in other words, the same candidate they did not trust in the 2008 Presidential primaries.  And seeing that symbol, they either stayed home or flocked to the opposition's "anti-government" anger.  Either way, the lunch-bucket voters were the decisive factor in the Coakley loss.

How is it that Obama managed to allow his big weakness with lunch-bucket voters to become  the Achilles heel of the entire party?  "It's the economy, stupid."

There will be a great deal of finger pointing from every interest group in the Democratic Party, but the bottom line on the weakness that now plagues the party of Obama is: the economy.

The problem began with his staffing choices at the White House.  Starting with his Chief of Staff, Rahm Emanuel, who made a fortune as a trader prior to entering politics--Obama has built a team with virtually zero credibility with working families.

His economic policy decisions grew out from there. 

Having bet all his chips on a bailout of Wall Street tycoons, President Obama's economic policy has failed to convince voters that Democrats care more about working people than hedge fund billionaires. 

And then there was healthcare.

Having proudly proclaimed that he would spearhead real health care reform on behalf of the millions of ordinary Americans in need, President Obama's "health insurance reform" agenda has been tarnished in the eyes of the public by a series of secret meetings held early on with  captains of insurance and pharmaceutical industries.  

In the eyes of lunch-bucket voters, the result of Barack Obama's policy agenda has been crystal clear and decisively damning.  Just as the lunch-bucket voters feared--Obama has become the very symbol of a politician who says one thing on the stump, but then does the opposite once he gets back to Washington.

Is the perception of the lunch-bucket voters fair?  Yes and no.    But in elections, to complain about what is and is not fair is the same as admitting you have already lost.  The key is just to get out there and change it.

Perhaps the greatest political gift of George W. Bush was his ability to convince the public that an oil-tycoon, trust-fund, Yale-flunkie was actually a man of the people.  It was a remarkable achievement. Obama's life truly is a testament to the American myth of pulling oneself up by our bootstraps--and, yet, he is perceived as a latte liberal elitist.  

The solution to this problem is not for Barack Obama to suddenly take a keen interest in clearing scrub brush or for him to suddenly discover that he enjoys dressing up in day-glow hunters camouflage and strolling along country roads with a shotgun slung over his arm.  More beer photo-op schmooze sessions will not help either.   Were President Obama to overreach for that kind of kitschy sudz-n-ammo symbolism in 2010, it would only make things worse for the himself and the Democrats.

What Obama needs to do, and fast, if he wants to stop his slowly sinking Democratic Party from going under--is advance a significant piece of symbolic legislation that benefits lunch-bucket voters. The key phrase is "symbolic legislation," by which I mean: toothsome legislation packed with real substance, but that resonates strongly at a symbolic level. 

Obama needs to promote one piece of legislation that re-establishes the party as the voice of lunch-bucket voters--as the party that truly advocates for Main Street instead of Wall Street.  And once he advances this symbolic legislation, he needs to defend it like a momma bear defends her cub until it passes.  And bears do not compromise--they growl.

In the face of all the critics who will rise up against his symbolic legislation--critics from the right and the left--President Obama needs to stand firm and fight them off.

What should this symbolic legislation be?  It should be jobs bill (c.f., "...economy...stupid.")

With the Coakley loss fresh on his mind, Obama should sit down and craft a truly symbolic jobs bill that throws the proverbial kitchen sink at the national unemployment rate like his life and the future of the free world depended on it. 

Moreover, Obama should advance this symbolic jobs legislation from a position outside of Washington--spending as much time as possible in 2010 in the burned-out wastelands of the shattered American dream. 

In 2010, Obama should spend nearly every day shaking hands and talking to people in Michigan, Ohio, South Carolina, and Pennsylvania, and that's just for starters.

Here is the key:  there is no negotiating with a symbol.  Obama must hold firm on his symbolic jobs legislation and he must speak passionately about why we must all support it.  It must be real; it must be meaningful; and by standing up and defending it day after day across America, voters will come to see how vital and important it is to all of us.  

With his symbolic legislation in hand, Obama must stand up every day and take it on the chin for lunch-bucket voters.  That is the only way forward.

The lesson of the lunch-bucket Democrats coming out of 2008 and 2009 is not hard to see: either claim the symbol of Main Street for the Democratic Party, or someone else will.

The future of the Democratic Party depends on whether or not President Obama still has it in him to learn from that lesson and do something about it--fast.

December 01, 2009

More Troops to Afghanistan, Yes or No?

If you cannot speak very intelligently about U.S. policy in Afghanistan, you are not alone. Right now the debate on Afghanistan raging in the media is dominated by hawks on the right saying President Obama is "dithering," and anti-war protesters on the left saying President Obama is becoming "just like Bush."  Meanwhile, the broadcast media has decided the Tiger Woods story is the big issue of the day. 

To avoid getting bogged down in the quagmire of the debate on Afghanistan, I found it was helpful to turn away from television and blogs to read newspapers and listen to radio.  In particular, I found several Op-Eds by and interviews with Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) to be extremely informative.  Feingold sits on the Senate Foreign Services and Intelligence Committees, so he is as briefed as they get on what is really happening in Afghanistan.  Feingold explains the situation in clear language.  Plus, from late 2008 to mid 2009, Feingold's position on the use of force in Afghanistan changed.  Taking a few minutes to read what Feingold has to say is a great way to get up to speed.  By the end of this article, you should have no trouble answering the question, "More Troops to Afghanistan, yes or no?"

October 2008: Military Surge May Not Achieve Our Goals

Writing in an Op-Ed for the Christian Science Monitor (Oct. 24, 2008) at the tail end of the Bush administration, Feingold introduced the topic of Afghanistan with this crucial statement:

Washington policymakers and others are increasingly recognizing that we need to return our attention to Afghanistan and the threat of Al Qaeda. While the [Bush] administration has pursued a misguided war in Iraq, the Taliban has regrouped in Afghanistan, Al Qaeda has established a stronghold across the border in Pakistan, and Al Qaeda affiliates have gained strength around the world.

But few people seem willing to ask whether the main solution that's being talked about– sending more troops to Afghanistan – will actually work.

OK, so that was the state of the Afghanistan question at the end of 2008: (1) Bush went into Iraq when he should have finished the job in Afghanistan; (2) policy makers and others (e.g., the public, military leaders, presidential candidates) now recognize the need to refocus on Afghanistan; but (3) nobody is willing to ask if the use of greater force is the best answer.  Three basic issues, easy enough to understand.

After laying the groundwork for a discussion, Feingold then posed a series of questions that summed up the policy dilemma we faced as a nation in Afghanistan at the end of the Bush administration:

For far too long, we have been fighting in Afghanistan with too few troops. It has been an "economy of force" campaign, as the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff put it. But we can't just assume that additional troops will undo the damage caused by years of neglect.

Sending more US troops made sense in, say, 2006, and it may still make sense today. The situation in Afghanistan has deteriorated badly over the past year, however, despite a larger US and coalition military presence.

We need to ask: After seven years of war, will more troops help us achieve our strategic goals in Afghanistan? How many troops would be needed and for how long? Is there a danger that a heavier military footprint will further alienate the population, and, if so, what are the alternatives? And – with the lessons of Iraq in mind – will this approach advance our top national security priority, namely defeating Al Qaeda?

In other words, we should have had more troops in Afghanistan to achieve our goals from the beginning, but by late 2008, we could no longer just increase troop levels and expect to defeat Al Qaeda.  We do not get a "do over" in Afghanistan, Feingold was telling us. The low troop numbers created problems, including but not limited to the population turning against the U.S. military.  We could, Feingold warned, increase troop levels to what they should have been all along only to find that the higher levels resulted in more antagonism by the Afghan public against the U.S. Or maybe not.  In late 2008, the jury was still largely out about how to achieve our goals.  

For the rest of the Op-Ed, Feingold then explains that even if we increased military levels, that greater force would not achieve our goals if we did not also solve several other problems, each of which is daunting and complex by itself:

Regardless of whether we send more troops, we need to understand that, as in Iraq, there is ultimately no military solution to Afghanistan's problems. Unless we push for diplomacy and a regional approach, work to root out corruption, stamp out the country's narcotics trade, and step up development and reconstruction efforts, Afghanistan will probably continue its downward trajectory.

Here again, Feingold gives us three basic points to consider.  Success in Afghanistan will depend on:  (1) a regional approach to diplomacy; (2) rooting out corruption in Afghanistan governance; and (3) replacing the opium trade with viable and legal rural development.  The U.S. military could blast Al Qaeda back to the Jurassic period, but unless we address diplomacy, corruption, and drugs the situation could spiral down just the same. 

Feingold then concludes with this statement:

The decision to go to war in Afghanistan was the right one, but after years of misplaced priorities and muddling through, we have to do some hard thinking before asking our military to create the stability and security that are badly needed there.

Shortly after Feingold's Op-Ed appeared, Barack Obama won the Presidential election.

August 2009:  Military Surge Likely to Push Al Qaeda into Pakistan

Less than a year into the Obama administration, as it became clearer that the new President might seek a troop surge in Afghanistan, Feingold clarified his position. Writing in an Op-Ed for the Wall Street Journal (Aug 28, 2009), Feingold explained that the Bush administration's poor handling of the situation in Afghanistan had created a dangerous link between our policy there and our policy in Pakistan:

President Barack Obama is rightly focusing on this critical part of the world. But I cannot support an open-ended commitment to an escalating war in Afghanistan when the al Qaeda operatives we sought have largely been captured or killed or crossed the border to Pakistan.

Ending al Qaeda's safe haven in Pakistan is a top national security priority. Yet our operations in Afghanistan will not do so, and they could actually contribute to further destabilization of Pakistan. Meanwhile, we've become embroiled in a nation-building experiment that may distract us from combating al Qaeda and its affiliates, not just in Pakistan, but in Yemen, the Horn of Africa and other terrorist sanctuaries.

These two short paragraphs sum up the reasons Feingold could not support additional troops being sent to Afghanistan.  The key problem is that the "open-ended commitment to an escalating war in Afghanistan" had strengthened al Qaeda's presence in Pakistan.  At the same time, the attempt by the U.S. to launch a viable nation state in Afghanistan had soaked up so much attention and resources that al Qaeda was now flourishing in new places.

Feingold then explains exactly what the new policy should be:

We need to start discussing a flexible timetable to bring our brave troops out of Afghanistan. Proposing a timetable doesn't mean giving up our ability to go after al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan. Far from it: We should continue a more focused military mission that includes targeted strikes on Taliban and al Qaeda leaders, and we should step up our long-term civilian efforts to deal with the corruption in the Afghan government that has helped the Taliban to thrive. But we must recognize that our troop presence contributes to resentment in some quarters and hinders our ability to achieve our broader national security goals.

Again, Feingold gives us three key points to consider: (1) putting in place a timetable for troop withdrawal from Afghanistan (a "flexible" timetable); (2) continuing a more focused military mission aimed at Taliban and al Qaeda leaders; and (3) stepping up the effort to root out corruption in the Afghan government.

Those three points are the pillars of Feingold's Afghanistan policy recommendation for President Obama. What would this mean in real time?

It would mean that under Feingold's policy, even as U.S. soldiers began to pull out of Afghanistan, the efforts by the U.S. military to disrupt al Qaeda and the Taliban would increase.  A large, nation-building presence, in other words, would transition to a more nimble strike force. 

It would also mean that the emphasis on nation-building would give way to an emphasis on rooting out corruption.  How does that happen exactly?  Feingold is not 100% clear, but he does explain that the key to denying al Qaeda a safe have in Afghanistan should switch from a large military presence to a "civilian-led strategy discouraging any support for the Taliban by Pakistani security forces." 

Feingold then went on to make a chilling case for the worse possible outcome that could follow on from an open-ended, U.S. troop build up in Afghanistan (emphasis mine):

There is a very real possibility that our military presence in Afghanistan will drive militant extremists south and east into Pakistan, al Qaeda's primary sanctuary. Pakistan is a nuclear power beset by poverty, sectarian conflict, ineffectual government, instability and an inconsistent record of fighting militancy. It is a witch's brew of threats to our national security that we cannot afford to further destabilize. Yet we may unwittingly do just that. Especially before Pakistan's government has demonstrated a firm commitment to denying sanctuary to Taliban leadership it has long harbored, further destabilization could undermine our own security.

We cannot guarantee, Feingold is telling us, that an open-ended troop build up in Afghanistan with a goal towards nation building will not lead to the destabilization of Pakistan--an already unstable, nuclear state.

September 2, 2009:  The Idea of Invading Countries Has Not Worked Very Well

Appearing on NPR's The Takeway (Sep. 2, 2009) a week after the Wall Street journal piece, Feingold then put his new position on Afghanistan into a broader perspective.  This is the exchange between Feingold and NPR's John Hockenberry and Celeste Headlee:

John Hockenberry: Well let’s get clear here. Are you calling for an invasion of Pakistan?

Sen. Russ Feingold: No, of course not. This is the whole thing. The idea here of going after al Qaeda by invading countries hasn’t worked very well. I mean, yes, we were able to push al Qaeda essentially into Pakistan by invading Afghanistan, but we didn’t eliminate them. In fact, Osama Bin Laden and his deputy and Mullah Omar, who was the affiliate with the Taliban in Afghanistan with al Qaeda, they’re in Pakistan now. So invading a country is not the smart way. The smart way is the way that we got the guy who was in charge of al Qaeda in Iraq — that wasn’t through mass troop involvement. That was through finding out where he was and specifically targeting an attack on him, not the idea of an actual occupation that was the key for that. So, I agree with much of what George Will wrote yesterday. In fact, it was followed on my Op-Ed in The Wall Street Journal on Saturday, that there is a different way to fight a criminal syndicate like al Qaeda. And we’re using old ideas about invasions and occupying countries to go after an organization that sometimes thrives on our doing that. We’re falling into their hands. We’re weakening our military, we’re weakening our economy — that’s exactly the way al Qaeda would like us to proceed. So we are playing into their hands when we use this kind of a strategy. Of course, no, I am against the idea of any kind of invasion against Pakistan. That wouldn’t work either.

Celeste Headlee for The Takeaway: So are you confident that the Pakistani government is strong enough and will be cooperative enough and have targeted attacks within Pakistan to get these al Qaeda officials?

Sen. Russ Feingold: Well, the jury is out on the Pakistan government.

John Hockenberry: Been out for eight years, Senator.

What we learn here is that Feingold sees a very different kind of military operation as the key to fighting al Qaeda:  targeted strikes within Pakistan, contingent upon two factors: (1) cooperation with the Pakistani government and (2) enough stability in the Pakistani government, such that, U.S. strikes will not bring it tumbling down.  And on that issue, Feingold concedes there are still unknowns.

Conclusion: And the Best Answer Is...?

Based on my reading of the situation, it seems that the best solution is to be found neither in the over-the-top hawkishness of the Republican faithful nor the calls for immediate withdrawal from the Democratic Party's anti-war protesters.  If we withdraw altogether, that would lead to more corruption, more heroin, and more al Qaeda camps--very bad.  If we bring shock and awe to Afghanistan, that would push al Qaeda deeper into Pakistan and create instability in Afghanistan's nuclear neighbor--very, very, very, very bad. 

The best solution, it seems, is a withdrawal from Afghanistan that starts almost immediately, timed together with a refocusing of military strikes on al Qaeda and Taliban leadership in Afghanistan.  As forces wind down, would should also redouble efforts to root out corruption in the Afghan government and in the Pakistani security forces that aid al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

At the same time, President Obama's message to the American people and the rest of the world should be as clear as it is central to his policy:  The U.S. will no longer fight al Qaeda through a strategy of military occupation, but through focused strikes in concert with our allies.  Our long term goal is to work with nations facing a threat from al Qaeda to help bring about stability, honest governance, and sustainable rural development. 

"More Troops to Afghanistan, Yes or No?"

No--but we may need to switch around the kind of soldiers we have over there as we withdraw and refocus on the last phase of the mission.

At least that makes sense to me.  Now that you have had a chance to get up to speed on the Afghanistan policy, you can make up your own mind.

November 03, 2009

United by Change, Divided by Reform

One year after Candidate Obama inspired the world to vote for symbolic "change," the Democratic Party is now deeply divided by two divergent, and seemingly irreconcilable, approaches to reform.  If President Obama fails to grasp soon why his idea of reform has alienated key parts of his base--and if he fails to do something to bridge the divide--the result may be much worse than acrimony from the chattering liberal classes.  He could have a full on mutiny on his hands by 2010.   

One way to describe this divide is to say that President Obama has advanced "conservative reform"--repair and improve, but maintain what we have--whereas the base of the Democratic Party wants, and has aggressively demanded, "progressive reform"--out with the old, in with the new.

It is impossible to exaggerate how much friction these contrasting approaches to reform have created in just one year.

Consider, for example, the banking crisis. Having inherited the TARP program from the previous administration, President Obama continued to advance a policy of using government funds to mend the broken financial institutions and then create new regulations to steady the markets: improve, but maintain.  The base of his party, by contrast, called for a complete overhaul of the financial industry, and a new set of legal measures that would neuter investment banks, reign in corporate power, and limit windfall profits: out with the old, in with the new.

The automotive industry bailout was the second big example of this divide. When the large American auto manufactures faced ruin, President Obama called for a sophisticated government bailout.  His idea was to use to government resources to prop up the auto industry and shepherd them through bankruptcy.  The Cash for Clunkers program then jump started the restructured manufacturers:  repair, but maintain. The base of his party, by contrast, largely called for government to allow the Detroit-centered industry to die a natural death, pushing instead for a massive investment in the fledgling, West Coast green automotive industry: out with the old, in with the new.

The health care reform debate has also spotlighted this divide.  Obama has pushed for a reformed and regulated private health insurance industry: repair, but maintain.  The base of his  party, by contrast, has called for the end of a health care system based on private health insurance, pushing instead for a non-profit, single payer system: out with the old, in with the new.  

Next up on the environment--although this fight is now being obscured by the health care argument--Obama will call for investment in new energy sources, but will also push for repairing and maintaining the oil and coal industries. The base of his party, by contrast, will call for an end to the oil and coal industries, and a total switch over to a new energy economy.

And so on, and so forth.

With each of these fights, a larger and larger portion of the issues patchwork Democratic Party base is drawn into a increasingly bitter narrative of disappointment over Obama's approach to reform. 

By 2010, just about every Democratic Party member with a stake in some issue will be saying the same thing about Obama: his policies are not a clear enough departure from the past; this is not real reform.

The collective malaise will only be compounded if Democratic losses in the midterm election are significant.

What should Obama do?  Here are five suggestions:

First, Obama needs to recognize that he gained support during his Presidential campaign because he personally symbolized a departure from the past.  His identity, his speaking style, his ability to draw young and old into politics--all of this symbolized progressive change for people.

Second, Obama needs to understand that he has not led the country in any discussion whatsoever about why a conservative approach to reform is better than a progressive approach to reform.  He may have had these discussions behind the scenes, but he has not had them on the full stage of the public debate.

Third, Obama needs to find some way over the next three to six months to deliver some kind of reform that looks and feels to his base like a clean departure from the past. 

Fourth, Obama needs to spend less energy and political capital dealing with the base of the Republican Party, and more energy and political capital reaching out and working with the base of the Democratic Party.

Fifth, Obama needs to play a more central role leading the push for reform.  The base that elected him does not know what to do when his initiatives are pushed by uncharismatic leaders in the House and Senate.  The President needs to be the voice and the face of reform, not just the beer table host. 

In other words, Obama needs to realize that he is the focus, and as such, he foments or alleviates the base's concerns over reform.  From what I can tell, the crush of crises put on his desk has led Obama to forget this crucial point

After listening to him talk on the campaign trail, expectations were very high for a President who pushed progressive reform.  The base will work with him at a more conservative level, but not until he stands up and explains why this is important.

The clock is ticking.

October 28, 2009

The Health Care Ghetto

Even worse than Joe Lieberman's threat to veto the health care bill, the Connecticut senator's ego may well have distracted Americans from the real issue in the debate over the public option: Will Americans actually be able to choose it or will it just be a health care ghetto for those of us who have been tossed out like unprofitable trash by the insurance industry?

Speaking on The Rachel Maddow Show less than twenty-four hours before Lieberman announced that he would join a Republican filibuster against a public option, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) said the following about Harry Reid's proposal :

The public option will be a great tool, if people can get it. It seems to me that Harry Reid deserves a lot of credit tonight. He`s made it clear there ought to be options. But I continue to be concerned that the way this proposal is written, more than 90 percent of Americans, seven years after the bill becomes law, won`t be able to hold insurance companies accountable. They won`t be able to get the public option at the exchange, the marketplace, nor will they get additional private choices. You can`t get an accountable insurance industry with just a small fraction of the population. You`ve got to have the whole customer base of the industry on the line...If folks at the grassroots level, the folks who are carrying those signs about the public option now, say, "Look, it`s not good enough that only 10 percent of the population can hold insurance companies accountable, it`s not good enough at a crucial time in American history to have choice available only to a handful of people who are poor and sick and unemployed," that`s almost like a health care ghetto." Let`s hold insurance companies accountable the right way by making them put their whole customer base on the line.(Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), The Rachel Maddow Show, Oct 26, 2009)

Wyden's point was clear and straight forward:  the public option will fail to bring down the costs of health care if it is designed such that it cannot possibly compete with the massive customer base forced to stay with private insurance.  "We`ve got to make sure that it`s possible for Americans," Wyden emphasized, "who feel their insurance company is abusing them, to have choices like members of Congress."

Wyden offered praise top Harry Reid for bringing the public option to the floor, but a warning that the current state of the public option in the Senate bill does not match the rhetoric about "competition" and "choice" used by the Democratic Party to explain the public option to American voters.  The solution?  Americans need to demand that their senators add amendments to the current bill that make the public option available for everyone to choose.

Enter Joe Lieberman.

The minute Joe Lieberman threatened to veto a "government run" public option--which is itself a complete fabrication as to what the public option would be--Wyden's key point that Reid's version of the public option would create a health care ghetto was trampled over by a media hypnotized like a crazed throng of Conrad Birdie fans.

Honestly.  Nora the piano playing cat could figure out what Lieberman is doing, ignore it, and focus back on the real issue at stake in the debate over the public option.  What is Lieberman doing?

Lieberman is inserting himself into the debate not because he gives one iota about health care or the public option or what the voters of Connecticut want (68% want a public option), but in order to get for himself--to get for Joe Lieberman.

Over the course of his career, Joe Lieberman has taken $2,395,369 in donations from the health sector and  $1,033,402 in donations from the insurance industry (link).   So, he is threatening to veto a public option in order to guarantee those taps stay open and the cash keeps flowing. Joe will filibustering health care reform so that Joe can keep getting for Joe.  It is exactly what one should expect from a man who is the founding and only member of a party that bears his own name: self-aggrandizement.

If you are like me, however, and you care little about Joe Lieberman, but a great deal about making a public option available for all Americans to choose, then you should consider taking five minutes to watch this clip of Wyden explaining what we should be talking about instead of focusing our attention on a narcissistic Nutmegger:

(Thanks to Firedoglake for recording the clip and posting it to YouTube)

After you watch that video, send the link to your friends on Facebook and Twitter so they can watch it, too.

What is at stake in the next phase of the health care debate is not whether a self-centered senator is able to hold the Senate hostage so that he can get rewarded by his health insurance industry donors--but whether or not the public option will be available to everyone ever abused by that industry or merely cordoned off as an undesirable, built-to-fail, health care ghetto. 

Leave Lieberman to Lieberman.  Let's talk about what matters for a change--particularly when it matters so much to so many.

October 17, 2009

Caution: Health Insurance May Be Hazardous To Your Health

Lately, I am starting to wonder if Congress should put forward an amendment requiring every health insurance policy sold in America to come with a warning label: "Caution: Health Insurance May Be Hazardous To Your Health." 

This idea may seem strange at first, but when you think about it the struggle against the health insurance industry is looking more and more like the forty-year struggle against the tobacco industry that began in the early 1960s and is just now ending.

In 1964, the U.S. Surgeon General published a report linking cigarette smoking to cancer, which resulted in the 1965 Cigarette Labeling and Advertising act. Starting in 1966, every pack of cigarettes sold in the U.S. carried the warning label: "CAUTION: Cigarette Smoking May be Hazardous to Your Health."   They knew back then that cigarettes killed, but the problem was that most Americans did not know it.  We still thought cigarettes were good for you because the tobacco industry told us they were good for us.

Likewise with health care, as tough as the debate has been so far, America has only just begun to disentangle itself from the health insurance industry.

Part of the problem with the health care reform debate is the whole idea that health insurance is good for our health.  It should come as no surprise that Americans think this way.  The health insurance industry does not make obscenely huge profits by selling health insurance that keeps us healthy, but by selling us the idea that health insurance keeps us healthy--such that we keep paying for it right up to the point that our coverage is being denied.

Now we all know better.  Certainly it helps to have health insurance to cover the costs of going to the doctor when we are healthy, but the moment we get sick--we now know--the health insurance industry gets busy finding a way to deny our claims, cancel our policies, and otherwise endanger our lives.  In the long run, health insurance is not so healthy after all.

By 1970, a half decade of public education had resulted in stronger warning labels on cigarettes, "The Surgeon General Has Determined that Cigarette Smoking is Dangerous to Your Health."   By the mid 1980s, after two decades of education, Congress passed a new law called the Comprehensive Smoking Education Act, requiring even stronger warning labels.  Boxes now read,"Smoking Causes Lung Cancer, Heart Disease, Emphysema, And May Complicate Pregnancy," and a host of other bone chilling predictions.  Cigarettes from that point forward all but said, "Listen, pal. No matter what these jokers at big tobacco say, if you smoke these: death."

It could well be that in order to break the grip of the insurance industry on America, we need a twenty year long process of education.

Imagine if the next time you went to the doctor for a physical, at the end of the exam he turned to you and said, "You're in good shape now, but I need to warn you that your health insurance policy could endanger your life in the next ten to fifteen years."  The doctor would then give you three or for pamphlets explaining the various ways that health insurance companies deny claims, cancel policies, and refuse coverage. "There is no cure for health insurance at this time, but for now we wanted to make sure that you were informed."  What an eye opener that would be.

Imagine kids in schools giving book reports on the ways health insurance companies endanger American lives.  Imagine goofy, "School House Rock" style cartoons where a walking, talking health insurance policy with a folksy accent explained how private insurers process reimbursement denials, how they blacklist children with leukemia, or how they cancel policies when people receiving care from brain injuries hit their coverage limits.  Imagine public service posters in schools warning kids not to talk to health insurance salesman. 

It took all of these approaches, plus millions of people dying from lung cancer, to break the grip of big tobacco on the American public.  Government standing up to big tobacco in 1964 was just the beginning. What finally brought that industry to its knees after thirty years of public education was a combined legal and legislative strategy by the Clinton administration, resulting in historic wrongful death settlements.  But even then, cigarette smoking still remained deeply entrenched in American society.

Only in the past few years have most major cities finally passed laws banning smoking in government buildings, the workplace, bars and restaurants.  Forty years after the first "Caution" labels appeared on boxes, a set of state and federal policies finally took shape that once and for good curtailed the dangerous impact of cigarettes in our lives.

How many of us are prepared for a forty-year struggle against the health insurance industry? Not very many, I suspect. But we better prepare ourselves.

It may be hard to believe, but we are not much further along than the very beginning of breaking the grip of the health insurance industry on our country.  Sure, the current debate has shown how the unregulated health insurance industry went awry over many decades.  And yet, only now are we as a nation waking up to the horrific problems this has caused to--and will continue to cause--until we fundamentally change our understanding of it.

Of course, all of this requires the emergence of a viable, long-term alternative to health insurance in its current form--something along the lines of Medicare-for-all, but not hampered by the population formulas currently causing financial problems with the existing program.  Maybe it will not take a full forty years to develop a workable solution, maybe it will take less.  But even as President Obama gives speeches about the problems with health insurance and Congress sketches out the solution, we are only now completing "step one" of the battle--the step where we begin to realize a product is hazardous to our health.

October 10, 2009

The Outrage Pandemic

Forget the Swine Flu.  America is suffering from an outrage pandemic.

Like everybody else in America, I was surprised when the Nobel committee awarded the 2009 Peace Prize to Barack Obama.  I was pleased, but surprised.  Apparently, just about the only living creature not surprised was Bo the First Dog.  But the outrage that flowed from every corner of the political conversation was far more depressing than the surprise I felt when after learning about the award. 

When did American optimism succumb to this constant outrage?

A year ago, tens of millions of Americans descended on Washington, DC, just so they could say "I was there," on the day Barack Obama became President.  Nine months later, a majority of Americans seem convinced that this same man--who once inspired them so deeply--has personally slighted them.  

The right-wing is certainly responsible in part for the spread of the outrage pandemic.

The right has reached a level of outrage at Barack Obama that already exceeds what the left mustered after eight years of George W. Bush.  The result is that right-wing politics in America now follows one general argument: If Obama wants it, then it is so bad it must be stopped or it will destroy America. 

The insanity in this approach became  clear in the healthcare reform debate where we have heard Republicans on Medicare say crazy things like, "I'd rather die than see this country adopt government-run health insurance"  (e.g., I would rather die than have the kind of government health insurance that I currently have, which keeps me from dying). 

When people shake their fists in protest at the very things they say they will die to defend, the result is far worse than a nation divided along political lines. It is a form of national schizophrenia.

While the outrage pandemic may have reached critical levels on the right, the left has done its part in the past nine months, too.

Try talking to anyone in the left-wing, nowadays, and it seems everyone has a bone to pick with Barack Obama.  Whatever Barack Obama does, more and more people on the left are outraged by him.  First it was the bank bailout program, then the auto-industry rescue, then the health care bill.  Then it was not moving fast enough on closing Gitmo, then the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, then withdrawal from Iraq.  Now the left is outraged at Obama's Afghan policy and his view on cap and trade and home mortgage relief and marriage equality and the prosecution of past administration officials.

Is there anyone left on the left who is not outraged at Barack Obama for something? If they're out there, I never come across them.  

Some outrage is good for politics, but only if the outrage can be translated into action.  The Democrats needed more outrage to advance their healthcare initiative, for example, so an online whip count effort to rally votes for healthcare reform was created, inspiring tens of thousands of ordinary Americans to participate in the healthcare debate in a constructive way.   That was outrage put to useful ends. But for the most part, the ordinary people I talk to say that they are turned off by the 24/7 general, non-productive outrage they see from their friends on the left and the right. 

What Americans see, lately, from this outrage pandemic is a daily drama of name-calling hurled at President Obama from both sides of the political spectrum.  The right now routinely says Obama is no different than "Hitler" and "Carter" and "Arafat," while the left compares him to "Kissinger" and "Reagan" and "Bush."   None of it is true, of course.   I could argue that the schnauzer across the hall is like Hitler and that the Pekingese is like Kissinger--but it doesn't make it true.  All this historical name calling is just shorthand for both sides saying: Obama is the worst there could be, and that's all I'm going to contribute to this debate. Outrage, thy name is Hitler (and Carter, and Arafat, and Kissinger...).

Curiously, while the outrage pandemic has spread to every corner of the American political system, reducing it to the point where it seems near death, the Europeans are not suffering as we are.

From the perspective of the Nobel Committee in Copenhagen, American politics is not a patient laying comatose on a table, but a shining beacon of hope shining anew after the darkness of the last eight years.

For the Europeans, Barack Obama ended nearly a decade of outrage in response to Bush's and Cheney's  military policies. The election of Barack Obama was greeted by Europeans (and Asians, and Africans, and Latin Americans) not just as a turning point in history, but as step in the direction of survival.

Over the course of nearly a decade, the rest of the world watched the policies of the Bush administration and worried about the rising specter of nuclear annihilation--a fear that had not gripped the world so strongly since the end of the Cold War.

Awarding the Nobel Peace Prize to Barack Obama seemed to carry with it a collective sigh of relief from Europe, if not the world.  If the Nobel medal could speak, this year it would say, "Thank you, for stopping that crazy march to military madness that worried us all so much!"

America is still in Iraq and considering sending more troops to Afghanistan.  Yet, we these military actions are not being driven through by propaganda campaigns and bellicose brinkmanship.  We no longer turn on our televisions to be greeted by constant White House speeches warning that terrorists will destroy our shopping malls with nuclear bombs tomorrow if we fail to invade Iraq and Iran and Afghanistan, today.  The world still has problems, but the biggest kid on the global stage is no longer picking fights everyday with everyone else.

In response to the logic behind this year's Nobel, it is not surprising that the left and the right vented their outrage at Obama. Our outrage pandemic is far from over.  And yet, as someone who stood in the cold to watch Barack Obama's inauguration, and who felt that optimism for Democracy in a way that I cannot recall feeling before or since, I understand why the Europeans might still feel it strong enough to give Obama the Nobel Prize.

Perhaps we should take this Nobel Peace Prize as an invitation to remember that feeling of optimism we felt less than one year ago--a chance to recall that feeling with the help of an old friend who still believes in its potential.

So, amidst the latest outbreak of outrage springing up across America, take a few moments to enjoy Barack Obama's Nobel Prize.  The way our outrage pandemic is growing, it could be a long time before we feel good again--about Barack Obama or anything else for that matter.