Posts Tagged ‘Bill Clinton’

The Silly Practice of Attacking Presidential Vacations


All partisans do it and, frankly, it’s getting old and predictable and if you think about it, makes no sense whatsoever. Note to those whose favorite politicians are not occupying the White House at any given time: the President does not need to actually be at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue to conduct business.

From the screen shot of the Drudge Report website today you can see the “outrage” of it all.

“Unemployment up to 7.8%” screams the headline. Actually joblessness is unchanged at 7.8% from the previous month, so saying it’s “up to” is not accurate, but I digress. There’s no particular news today about the debt, but coupling it with the unemployment report creates a handy feeling of economic panic- which- as you can plainly see- is not being addressed by our lazy, loafing President who is eating sno-cones, body surfing and golfing in HAWAII, of all places (so what if he grew up there, it’s HAWAII, dammit).

Back in the George W. Bush days, Democrats were equally apoplectic about W’s vacation time. In July of 2002, then Maryland Governor, Paris Glendening, who was Chairman of the Democratic Governor’s Association, lambasted President Bush for planning to spend his summer vacation in Texas “while the stock market was plunging and foreign affairs were volatile.” Just out of curiosity, has there ever been a time foreign affairs were not volatile? The President should only go on vacation when the Dow Jones Industrial Average is on the upswing?

And Bush really caught it when one of his summer vacations was interrupted by Hurricane Katrina. Presidents, apparently, are caped crusaders who can magically fly to natural catastrophes and wave a magic wand and make bad things go away. The problem with Katrina was not that Bush was on vacation, it was that there was a pitiful federal response by people who had been hired long before Bush ever planned his vacation. His political mistake was having his picture taken aboard Air Force One looking down over New Orleans instead of having landed a chopper there and gotten himself on the evening news that night.

And Bill Clinton took hits for where he vacationed. Camp David was not good enough, barked the critics. He’s off in Martha’s Vineyard– at some guy’s house that he’s renting. A house whose property, by the way, “is complete with jogging trails, tennis courts, swimming and boating.” Oh, the humanity.

At the turn of the previous century, Theodore Roosevelt scandalized the nation by taking a vacation at his Oyster Bay home “so soon” after he took office after the assassination of President McKinley.

Harry Truman had the smartest approach. He made the press his vacation accomplices. He was one of the first to take reporters and aides with him on vacations, often leaving wife and daughter behind, presumably because those reporters and aides were willing and able poker players.

Here’s the thing about being President of the Unites States- especially in the modern era. No matter where they go, Presidents are plugged in. There are aides with them. The “football” is in close proximity at all times (the brief case carried by a military officer that contains the nuclear codes). I don’t doubt they can get live video feeds of a drone strike in Pakistan if necessary and they certainly can talk to anyone in the planet they choose to converse with.

But the silliest thing is the implication of all the criticisms of vacationing American Presidents; that our leaders should stay at their house/office in northwest Washington, D.C., with their nose to the grind stone sorting, fixing, repairing whatever the given crisis of the day is. Since there is always a crisis somewhere on the planet, they should never get time off at all. In fact, they should not even sleep lest they get this disturbing headline:

“President Naps with World in Crisis.”

Clinton’s Speech and Obama’s Messaging

September 6, 2012 Leave a comment

It is rare to see such unanimity in the pundit-sphere.  But Bill Clinton managed to unite liberal and conservative commentators last night all of whom acknowledged the nation had just seen probably the single most effective politician in modern American history.

There wasn’t a topic Bubba didn’t address without wonky detail and that aw-shucks “I’m-just-a-country-boy” charm.  There wasn’t a Republican charge he didn’t rebut with specificity and a smile.  And just when you thought he was heading too far into the policy weeds, he’d pause for a second: “Now listen to this part- this is really important.”

The only common criticism heard afterward is that he may have gone on too long.  But this has always been a Clinton trademark that has confounded political analysts for years.  There’s an automatic assumption that the American public has the attention span of a gnat and no appetite for detail.  This is manifestly untrue.  People have always listened to Bill Clinton because he dresses up his wonky statistics and political arguments in masterful story-telling and infectious enthusiasm.

As more than one commentator mentioned in the wake of the Clinton speech, he described the Obama administration’s policies and achievements about a hundred times better than Obama himself ever has.

And the President knows this.  In a recent interview this year he admitted his biggest failure in his first term was his inability to communicate effectively to the American people on issues like health care.

In their riveting speeches this week, Obama has two great examples to go by- Clinton and his own wife, Michelle.   Some are even voicing concerns that the dynamic duo have set a bar impossible for the President to reach in his own acceptance speech.   That’s nonsense.  Barack Obama is one of the most gifted orators in American history.  The communication he needs to work on is not a 40-minute speech on special occasions.  His political challenge is the constant day-to-day  messaging.

I have been stunned sometimes to hear some of my friends and colleagues talk about health care.  They are convinced it’s a government takeover of the health care system.  Republican anti-Obamacare messaging has been sheer genius over the years.   They took all the arguments used against Canadian-style single-payer health insurance plans like Hillary Clinton proposed and failed to win on in the 1990’s and just copy and pasted the government “takeover” charges onto the Obama/Romney style of health care.

Republicans succeeded beyond their wildest dreams attaching socialist and government overreach insinuations to a health care plan that was actually first devised and proposed in the 1980’s by the conservative Heritage Foundation and later emulated in Massachusetts by Mitt Romney and that is entirely based on private-sector not government-delivered insurance.

But after the signing of the Affordable Care Act, the President, his work done, failed to understand he still needed to sell it to the nation at large.  So he stopped talking about how kids aged 19-26 can stay insured on their parent’s plan.  He stopped mentioning that insurance companies could no longer refuse to cover Americans with pre-existing conditions.  He never talked about the fact that annual physicals would now be free- a preventative approach to health care that heads off expensive medical problems down the road.  He stopped explaining why uninsured Americans would have to pay a penalty for not getting coverage- because if you didn’t incent them to get insurance, it wouldn’t be fair for the rest of us who have coverage to watch our health care expenses go up while the uninsured drive up costs by making emergency room visits for routine or minor ailments.

It is widely accepted by now that Obama’s failure to make these kinds of arguments after he had won passage of the health reform bill, was a key factor in the massive Democratic congressional election losses in 2010 that gave footing to the Tea Party movement and control of the House to Republicans.

Obama’s challenge is not in the delivery of soaring oratory.  I have little doubt he’ll probably give the speech of his life tonight.  The real challenge is maintaining his message and pounding away at his vision for the nation- even after he wins re-election- should the American people decide to keep him in the job.

Michelle Obama and Bill Clinton are not on the ballot this November.  Barack Obama is.  Now he has to realize constant messaging and framing of his vision and values and what he sees as his successes on behalf of the public, are the only way his arguments and his policies won’t be framed for him.

Mitt’s Really Bad Week: The Moment of Truth

January 19, 2012 2 comments

REUTERS/Brian Snyder

All presidential candidates are tested to the breaking point. Bill Clinton endured adultery accusations just days before the New Hampshire primary. Barack Obama, seemingly cruising after an Iowa victory four years ago, found himself losing to Hillary Clinton the very next week in New Hampshire. Both recovered.

Mitt Romney has had a nightmare of a week heading into Saturday’s South Carolina primary. At Monday’s debate, in addition to the little stuff, like confusing the big game he was hunting in Montana, he also gave one of the world’s longest and meandering and confused responses ever about the release of his tax returns. Maybe in April. If that’s the tradition. He was going to release them eventually sometime. It was quite the exhibit of red-faced tap-dancing. Meantime, Newt Gingrich played the conservative and vocal audience in the debate hall like a Stradivarius.

Then Romney hinted his tax return just might reveal he paid a fairly low 15% tax rate and then basically declared that his $350,000 in annual speaking fees was chump change. Which, of course, it is, compared to his estimated $25 million annual income from investments, but still enough to put him in the top 1% of American wage earners.

He then wakes up Thursday morning to find out he may actually have lost the Iowa caucus to Rick Santorum- trailing in the final but incomplete vote count officially released today. Not sure it’ll help Santorum- but it takes the luster off the Romney camp’s brag about being the first non-incumbent Republican presidential candidate in history to win both Iowa and New Hampshire. He is no longer undefeated.

Meantime, recent polling finds a large erosion in Romney’s South Carolina and national leads. As I write, Rich Perry is getting out of the race and apparently headed toward a Gingrich endorsement.

The only bright spot for Romney is anticipating the possible damage that might be done tonight when ABC News releases an interview conducted with Newt’s ex-wife Marianne on Nightline. Careful what you wish for. A “lame-stream” media interview with a surging conservative candidate’s ex-wife 48 hours before the voting- seems to me to be the perfect storm for a voter backlash against the establishment media- and a potential boon for Newt Gingrich if he plays it right.

Mitt Romney is still formidable. He still has a lot of money and the best and deepest campaign organization. He still has a large lead in the Florida primary set for Tuesday, January 31st. History has shown that politicians in a seeming free fall can correct and conquer.

I’m not in the business of advising presidential candidates on tactics, but Jon Stewart offered Mitt some advice on the Daily Show last night that might be his ultimate answer to surviving this critical juncture in the campaign. That advice: stop pretending not to be rich. Embrace your wealth. Embrace your success story. Lose the pretenses about being middle class and once having worried about getting a “pink slip.” Nobody believes that stuff.

Americans strive to be rich no matter what their circumstance or background. They can respect that. What they pick up on fast is phoniness and a lack of authenticity. He ought to release his tax returns, tell people he did everything lawfully available to him to save on his tax bill, and proclaim himself rich and proud of it. “You know what?” the New Romney might say, “I earned everything I have. Maybe it’s time America had a President who knows how to create a little bit of wealth.”

Why, it’s so crazy, it just might work.