Perry on Politics: Once lost, Obama now is found

Published by James M. Perry on .

The casket of Rev. Clementa Pinckney sits beneath the podium as President Barack Obama delivers the eulogy during his funeral service, Friday, June 26, 2015, in Charleston, S.C. (AP Photo/David Goldman)The casket of Rev. Clementa Pinckney sits beneath the podium as President Barack Obama delivers the eulogy during his funeral service, Friday, June 26, 2015, in Charleston, S.C. (David Goldman/Associated Press)

Pundits and commentators agreed that Barack Obama, in his second term in office, was a lame duck, a tarnished president who would spend the rest of his time in office in trivial pursuits.

Until last week.

Last week was a triumph for the much-maligned president. It began modestly enough when Congress passed a trade bill, requested by Mr. Obama, that would empower him and his trade negotiators to cut deals with 11 countries in the so-called Pacific Rim, including Japan, always reluctant to open its markets to foreign goods. But what happened next was anything but modest. On Thursday,  the normally conservative Supreme Court ruled, 6 to 3, in support of the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, a dirty word to millions of grumpy Republicans, and then ruled, 5 to 4, on Friday to legalize same-sex marriages everywhere in the United States.

When he first ran for office, Mr. Obama supported the idea that marriage was strictly between a man and a woman. Most Americans, polls demonstrated, felt the same way. But then he and the rest of the country began a rapidly moving shift. The latest polls show that 60 per cent of Americans now support same-sex marriages and among young people the figure is 80 per cent.

Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing the majority opinion, concluded by saying that same-sex couples "should not be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization's oldest institutions. They ask for equal treatment in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right."  Powerful words, momentous words. words that one day will be carved into granite. Mr. Obama called the decision "a victory for America," and in no time at all the White House was illuminated in the colors of the rainbow.

Then, right after celebrating the same-sex decision, he and his wife and one or two staffers boarded a helicopter for the short hop to Andrews Air Force, where they would board Air Force One for the flight to Charleston, S.C. There, he was scheduled to give the eulogy for the Rev. Clementa C. Pinckney, one of nine African-Americans killed by a young white racist while attending a Bible class in the basement of their church.

"I may sing," he told his wife and friends.

Mr. Obama appeared at the podium, with six or seven church elders, in brilliant blue robes lined up behind him  and with 5,000 parishioners and supporters filling the College of Charleston hall. Suddenly, well into his eulogy, he fell silent, for 13 seconds, and anyone watching on TV could see the elders looked a little puzzled. But then, in what the Washington Post called "a rich baritone," he began singing.

"Amazing grace," he sang slowly, "how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me" and soon the elders and everyone in the auditorium were on their feet joining him in joyful singing of this glorious 200-year-old gospel. "Once I was lost, but now am found. Was blind but now I see."

I have watched and written about presidents for years, but I have never seen anything like Mr. Obama's eulogy in Charleston, S.C. It was, I thought, wonderful.

And, like that wretch in the song, President Obama, who not so long ago appeared lost, seems now to have found himself. Once, he might have been blind, but now he sees.

James M. Perry, a prominent veteran political reporter, contributes regular observations to Mr. Perry was the chief political correspondent of The Wall Street Journal until his retirement. Prior to that, he covered national politics for the Dow Jones weekly, The National Observer.


'I didn't say I would definitely veto'

Published by Karen Langley on .

Gov. Wolf has said for a while that he wants a state budget with three major components: a severance tax to provide school funding, property tax relief for the middle class and a closing of the shortfall without gimmicks.

So what will he do if Republicans deliver a spending plan without those policies, as they increasingly are expected to do?

The Post-Gazette caught up with Mr. Wolf today, as he was climbing the stairs to his office, and asked if he had told Democratic legistators he would veto a Republican budget that didn't contain his priorities.

"Yeah, if it doesn't contain the things that I think are important, yeah, I would do that," the governor said. "But I don't know if their budget does or not, so I didn't say I would definitely veto."

If it came to a veto, would he reject the budget as a whole, or just line items?

"I just said I want to see my stuff in."


Breakfast Sausage: 5 stories to read today

Published by Mike Pound on .

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal waves with his wife Supriya Jolly after formally announcing his campaign for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination in Kenner, Louisiana, June 24, 2015. (Jonathan Bachman/Reuters)Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal waves with his wife Supriya Jolly after formally announcing his campaign for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination in Kenner, Louisiana, June 24, 2015. (Jonathan Bachman/Reuters)

1) Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal announced his run for the Republican presidential nomination on Wednesday. To say he is a long shot is kind of an understatement; he faces Chris Christie-esque approval numbers at home, where the aggressive tax cuts he plans to foist on the entire country has left Louisiana with a $1.6 billion budget shortfall. Also, there is the notion that Mr. Jindal's candidacy comes four years too late.

2) Kathleen Kane isn't ready to fire her controversial chief of staff, but the state attorney general did manage to fire the staffer who said she shouldn't hire her controversial chief of staff.

3) Republicans in Harrisburg say they're going to continue talking with Gov. Tom Wolf about the budget – because, you know the deadline is less than a week away – but they're discouraged enough that the state House may vote on its own proposal this weekend.

4) Want to know what "Southern heritage" really is? The Atlantic has the full story, but here's a hint: the states' rights argument is a fiction invented in the 20th Century.

5) As we await the announcement by the U.S. Supreme Court decisions on same-sex marriage and Affordable Care Act subsidies – both of which could be announced today -- the Washington Post wonders if the court has recently shifted to the left. It's possible that we could find out for sure in just a little while.


Breakfast Sausage: 5 stories to read today

Published by Mike Pound on .

Confederate flag themed stickers are displayed at Arkansas Flag and Banner in Little Rock, Ark., Tuesday, June 23, 2015. Major retailers including Amazon, Sears, eBay and Etsy and Wal-Mart Stores Inc., are halting sales of the Confederate flag and related merchandise. (Danny Johnston/Associated Press)

1) Lawmakers in South Carolina on Tuesday made some tentative steps towards altering their state's relationship with the Confederate flag, but the bigger thing we saw was the flood of retailers joining the push to make the flags unavailable pretty much everywhere. That push includes Amazon, which found itself in an interesting position Tuesday: the Jeff Bezos-owned Washington Post published a strongly worded editorial against the flag and its symbolism, while Jeff Bezos owned Amazon had yet to say anything about its policy of selling them. That changed Tuesday afternoon, when the giant retailer said it would remove Confederate flag items from its virtual shelves.

2) Hey, America – Republican New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is getting ready to announce he's running for president! What does New Jersey think? Take him, please!

3) Harrisburg is all about budgets and booze these days. Is the Republican push to privatize the state's liquor sales system holding up budget talks? That depends on who you ask.

4) Matt Smith is getting settled in his new role as president of the Greater Pittsburgh Chamber of Commerce, and potential candidates are lining up for a shot at the Smith's now-vacant seat in the 37th state Senate district. And if you're one of the Democrat's former constituents, have no fear – the district's offices, now being managed by the staff of state Sen. Jay Costa, will continue to operate as normal.

5) If we were to start a regular feature called "The Dumbest Thing We've Read This Week," we wouldn't have to look any further than Rush Limbaugh for this week's top nominee.


Breakfast Sausage: 5 stories to read today

Published by Mike Pound on .

People hold signs during a protest asking for the removal of the confederate battle flag that flies at the South Carolina State House in Columbia, S.C., June 20, 2015. (Jason Miczek/Reuters)

Sorry we're late this morning. Servers don't like power surges.

1) It's true that momentum doesn't always equal action, but on Monday the entire Republican party reversed course on its opinion of the Confederate battle flag. South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley started the flood, saying she'd call for a special session of the state legislature if discussions about removing the flag from the capitol grounds didn't get started soon. S.C. Sen. Lindsey Graham, a Republican presidential candidate, reversed the opinion he stated just last week. And the movement didn't stop at South Carolina's borders, either; the speaker of the House of Representatives in Mississippi – the only state that still incorporates the Confederate flag in its design – said it was time to remove the stars and bars from its flag. Even Walmart jumped in, saying it would remove all merchandise bearing the Confederate flag from its shelves.

2) If the drives that started in South Carolina and Mississippi are successful, we'll all be able to feel good about putting a racist symbol to rest. And, as James Perry pointed out right here on Early Returns on Monday, we will have done nothing to address the biggest problem highlighted by the Charleston massacre.

3) If you believe the manifesto written by the alleged Charleston shooter, a group called the Council of Conservative Citizens – and its president, Earl Holt III – helped radicalize the accused. The group's white supremacist leanings aren't exactly a secret, which is why it's a bit concerning that Republican presidential candidates Ted Cruz, Rick Santorum, Rand Paul and Scott Walker all accepted donations from it. Note: all four have announced they have refunded the donations or donated them to charity.

4) A suburban Philadelphia state representative will use a procedural maneuver called a "discharge resolution" to force a committee vote on medical marijuana in the state. You'll recall that the Republican Rep. Matt Baker, chairman of the House Health Committee, has flatly said he won't bring the issue to a vote, regardless of the fact that a Franklin and Marshall poll released last week found that nearly 90 percent of Pennsylvanians support legalization of medical marijuana.

5) Baseball bat-wielding, helicopter-flying tough guy Republican state Sen. Scott Wagner: "I don't think Gov. Wolf is totally in the loop of what's going on (in budget negotiations)." Jeff Sheridan, spokesman for Mr. Wolf: "Scott Walker is a non-factor." So. Budget talks are going well, then?