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Midterm grades

Published by James O'Toole on .


                                                       By James M. Perry

 Barack Hussein Obama is a mixed-race American. He was born in Honolulu, Hawaii, on August 4, 1961.  He was graduated from the private Punahou School, where he played on the basketball team. He attended Occidental College in Los Angeles, then transferred to Columbia University in New York City to earn his degree. He was a community organizer in Chicago before attending the Harvard Law School, where he was an editor of the Law Review. He taught at the University of Chicago Law School for a dozen years before entering politics. He was elected to the state Senate in 1996, to the U.S. Senate in 2004, and to the presidency in 2008. .

He is the 44th president of the United States and the commander-in-chief of its armed forces.

These are the basic facts, but some of them are still disputed by a hard core of Americans who refuse to accept Obama as the country's legitimate president. They say he was born in Kenya and, as a closet Muslim, wants to impose Sharia blasphemy laws on unsuspecting Americans. They blame him for Benghazi, for Iraq, for the Veterans Administration, for the Internal Revenue Service. These are pretty much the same people who believe God created man 10,000 years ago and that climate change simply isn't happening (and that, even if it is, mankind has nothing to do with it).

The one thing Obama-haters and their allies in the Republican Party cannot admit is that President Obama has sometimes been a crashing success in his second term in office.

"The truth is," Paul Krugman wrote in the New York Times the other day, "that these days much of the commentary you see on the Administration -- and a lot of the reporting too -- emphasizes the negative, the contrast between the extravagant hopes of 2008 and the prosaic realities of political trench warfare" with the Republicans in 2014.  

The accepted thing," Krugman says, "is to portray Mr. Obama as floundering, his presidency as troubled if not failed."  Now, truth to be told, there was a good bit of floundering in Obama's first term, as a somewhat bewildered president tried to reach workable compromises with Republicans in the Congress, without seeming to realize that most GOP members had no interest in racking up congressional victories for the man so many in their party love to hate.  

But this is all wrong, Krugman says. "Mr. Obama is having a seriously good year. In fact, there's a very good chance that 2014 will go down in the record books as one of those years when America took a sharp turn in the right direction."

Well, I'm not so sure of that. But victories there have been. I'll mention just one. Obamacare. It works, and it will be working even better 100 years from now. Obamacare is a magisterial achievement.   

Obama is working on other serious matters that should be supported enthusiastically by almost everyone, but are routinely dismissed by his angry opposition. He is, for example, the first president to take global warming seriously, but his efforts to clean up the country's power plants are ridiculed by his ignorant disbelievers.   

Not enough good people seem willing to stand up to Obama's angry critics.  Even the Washington Post's edit page, once a celebrated liberal pulpit, seems to have converted to neoconservatism, with all its interventionist foreign-policy ideas (remember George Bush and Iraq?).  "Why Does the U.S. Stand Idly By in Syria?" Fred Hiatt, the neocon editor of the edit page, asked the other day. Or, in another piece, "Is There Change President Obama Can Believe In"?

Where's Herblock, the Post's great editorial cartoonist, when we need him? Where, in fact, are all the rest of us? Barack Obama is no Franklin Roosevelt, but he's showing some promise.

James M. Perry, a prominent veteran political reporter, is contributing regular observations for post-gazette.com.  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.

 

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Pa. House GOP leverages clout

Published by James O'Toole on .

Over at Politico, Jake Sherman and John Bresnahan report that the state's House delegation is working to maximize its clout in the coming GOP leadership fight.  Their dispatch:

"Pennsylvania is emerging as a key power center ahead of Thursday’s House Republican leadership elections.

"The Keystone State’s Republican lawmakers are considering voting as a block in the upcoming race for whip, and they will meet Tuesday at 5 p.m. to discuss their choice, according to multiple sources involved in the contest.

"There are 13 Republicans in the state’s delegation and their votes could be crucial in what is expected to be a tight race for whip being waged by GOP Reps. Steve Scalise of Louisiana, Peter Roskam of Illinois and Marlin Stutzman of Indiana.

"Scalise, Roskam and Stutzman are meeting with the delegation Tuesday to plead their case. Roskam’s team, in particular, sees the Pennsylvania delegation as crucial because it includes several moderates that might be reluctant to back the more conservative Scalise and Stutzman.''

The rest of their report is here.

 
 

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Like a rotten mackerel ...

Published by James O'Toole on .

                                                   By James M. Perry

David Brat, the right-wing economist from Randolph-Macon College in Ashland, Va., not far from Richmond, who defeated Eric Cantor, No. 2 Republican in the House in one of the greatest primary upsets in American history, will run this fall against another professor from tiny Randolph-Macon, Jack Trammell. 


Not many people know very much about 50-year-old Jack Trammell, who teaches sociology at Randolph-Macon, an old school (founded in 1830 by Methodists), but presumably he's a reasonably moderate Democrat who never actually believed he had any sort of chance to defeat Cantor and take his seat in the House. Now, he may believe he has an opening, a very slight one, against David Brat. 

It is only fitting that Brat, who is 49, teaches at Randolph-Macon, with its tiny student body of 1,300 men and women, for it is named for two of the 19th Century's most famous political cranks, John Randolph of Roanoke and Nathaniel Macon of North Carolina. They both served in the House and the Senate and supported many of the same causes that motivate tea-party Republicans, such as Brat, today.  

Randolph and Macon were both "Quids," (from the Latin, Tertium quid, meaning "a third something"), a right-wing, tea party-like faction within the Democratic-Republican party that was dedicated to shrinking the federal government. Quids believed, Randolph said, in "love of peace; hatred of offensive war; jealousy of the state government toward the general government; a dread of standing armies; a loathing of public debts, taxes, and excises; and Argus-eyed jealously of the patronage of the President."

"The old Republican Party," he said (meaning the party of Thomas Jefferson), "is already ruined, past redemption."   

He had a nasty tongue, perhaps inspired by smoking opium and guzzling corn whiskey. His opponent, Edward Livingston, he said, "shines and stinks, like a rotten mackerel by moonlight." I doubt today's demagogues could top that. 

Randolph, if nothing else, was an intriguing, eccentric character, claiming descent from the Indian princess Pocahontas.  He stipulated in his will that his slaves -- he owned hundreds of them -- should be freed upon his death, and he provided money for them to settle in Ohio. 

Macon, the sixth Speaker of the House, was a slave-owning tobacco farmer, just like Randolph, but on a much smaller scale. He would have been an almost perfect match for today's tea-party Republicans, for he didn't trust the federal government and opposed spending money to support it. One of his contemporaries said that during his years in the House Macon cast ten times the number of negative votes as his closest negative-minded colleague. "Negation was his ward and arm," one of them said. "His economy of the public money was the severest, sharpest, most stringent and constant refusal of almost any grant that could be proposed.  Not only was parsimony the best subsidy, but the only one."  

I simply can't pass up one story about Nathaniel Macon. It is said that he fell in love with Hannah Plummer, only to discover the young lady fancied another young man as well. Macon proposed the two rivals for Miss Plummer's hand play cards, the winner to take the hand of Miss Plummer. Macon, it is said, lost, but married Miss Plummer anyway. 

I feel certain that Randolph-Macon College's David Brat, heir to those two grand old cranks, would appreciate what Randolph said about John Quincy Adams. "It is my duty to leave nothing undone that I may lawfully do, to pull down this administration."   

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So much for unity

Published by James O'Toole on .

On the Friday after Tom Wolf's big May 20 win in the Democratic primary for governor, he joined his fellow candidates and other members of the party hierarchy in a "unity breakfast'' hosted by U.S. Rep. Bob Brady, the Philadelphia Party chairman.

Among the party honchos chowing down at a South Philadelphia diner were Katie McGinty, one of Mr. Wolf's vanquished primary rivals, and James Burn, the state Democratic Committee chairman.   Their unity didn't last long.

On Wednesday, Mr. Wolf sent an email to the Democratic committee members announcing his support for Ms. McGinty as chair, and state Rep. Jake Wheatley, D-Hill District, as vice chair of the party organization.  Ms. McGinty sent a separate email announcing her candidacy and expressing her eagerness to work with the committee members, who are elected from state Senate districts across the commonwealth.  The offices will be on the ballot at the DSC's summer meeting next week.  Mr. Burn isn't ready to go quietly, however.

He said yesterday that he thought the last four years were successful ones for the party organization.  Despite Mr. Wolf's preference, he said he planned to fight for re-election with his committee colleages.  The North Side Democrat, a former member of the Allegheny County Council, said that while he admired and supported Mr. Wolf as a candidate for governor, he would frame his re-election bid as a vehicle for the committee's grass roots to make their choice.  

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Toomey backs bipartisan VA fix

Published by Tracie Mauriello on .

Last week Pennsylvania Republican Sen. Pat Toomey introduced a bill aimed at resolving systemic problems that led to long wait times at medical facilities run by the Veterans Administration, but today he instead threw his weight behind a different bipartisan VA-fix sponsored by Vermont Independent Bernie Sanders and Arizona Republican John McCain.

The Sanders-McCain bill includes a central provision of the Toomey plan – one that would make it easier to fire VA staffers for wrongdoing.

The bipartisan effort also would provide funding to open 26 additional medical facilities in 18 states where veterans had been waiting months for appointments, and Mr. Toomey, a fiscal conservative, says he can get behind that, too. While those facilities are being constructed the bill would require the federal government to pay non-VA providers to care for veterans who otherwise would have to wait more than 14 days for an appointment or who live more than 40 miles from a VA facility.

Lawmakers attention is on the centers because of revelations at VA employees were falsifying records to conceal long wait lists.

The House on Tuesday approved its own fix but it is unclear whether Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, will allow a vote in his chamber.

“Our veterans deserve solutions, not more partisanship in Washington,” Mr. Toomey said Monday in announcing he would support the Sanders-McCain bill.

“I have said repeatedly that the VA secretary should be able to fire employees whose job performance is unsatisfactory. I have also long held that vets should have the option to obtain care from a private-sector health care provider,” Mr. Toomey said in a written statement. “While this bill is not perfect, I appreciate that these two reforms have been included and am pleased to join Sens. Sanders and McCain.”

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