If the purpose of running for office is to acquire power and if the purpose of acquiring power is to do some sort of lasting public good with it, then it would be fair of the American people to expect Pres. Barack Obama’s report card to show significant accomplishments by the time the 2010 congressional elections roll in.

After today’s announcement of Al Franken  as the winner of last November’s Minnesota Senate race, the Democrats now have 60 senate seats and 257 congressional seats, more than enough to push through the Democratic President’s agenda. Any fears of a filibuster have now been eliminated. There is no longer a need to court Olympia Snowe or Susan Collins or any other so-called moderate Republican. The Democrats, if they only allow themselves to agree can now bring Americans single-payer Universal Healthcare, enact proper regulations of the financial industry, withdraw troops from Iraq, withdraw troops from a useless war in Afghanistan, confirm Sotomayor to the Supreme Court and much more…

But I suspect very few of those things will happen. Obama is a serial compromiser and Democrats and Progressives in general relish argument and debate even when it stands in the way of useful  and valuable accomplishments. And that’s probably going to be the Legacy of the 111th Congresss: immense possibilities but very few tangible results. I would love to eat my words in a few months but I don’t think I will.

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Well, it had to come to this. A party with as much history and pride as the Republican party does not simply wither away and die in silence. 

Republican Judd Gregg withdrew today as Obama’s chosen Commerce Secretary. And in case you were stuck in No-TV-No-Radio-No-Internet-No-Newspaper-land, Obama has had significant difficulties getting his stimulus package passed in the Senate with Republican opposition. Seen from a distance this would appear to simply be Washington working in as partisan a manner as Washington usually does. But an alternate explanation could also be proposed here. It could be argued that Republicans have strategically decided to go to war with Obama and have bet many re-elections on this stance. The goal of this approach could be to run on an  anti-Obama, anti-Pelosi, anti-Harry Reid platform in the mid-term elections then gain enough ground in 2010 to reconstruct themselves along some sort of coherent set of policies that would have, by then been crystalized.

This can be deduced from the following:

1-Rush Limbaugh goes on air to say he wants Obama to fail. Now regardless of party affiliation, it would be normal to assume that citizens want their president to succeed, especially in difficult economic times when the economic welfare of the nation is what he has at heart. So to clearly take the opposite stance means one only cares to protect the purity of their ideology. Because success for Obama (and for the nation as a result) would mean success for his ideas, liberal ideas and therefore defeat for the opposite propositions. Limbaugh and his ilk want none of that, even if the country goes up in flames in the process.

2-No Republicans vote for the Stimulus in congress and only 3 usually “convincable” ones in the Senate.

After 8 years of  G. W. Bush tax cuts for the rich, over-inflated federal government, a country endebted to China for possibly a generation, 2 wars and many unresolved conflicts around the world, one would assume that the Republicans would accept that some of their stalwart propositions have failed and should be retired. Tax cuts alone do not stimulate an economy, especially when they are targetted at the upper class that does not need the help. Financial industries need regulations. A state cannot rely on the self-interest of bankers to protect the national economic interest. Self-interest has a way of being very selfish.  Perpetual war-making as a way of taming foreign populations cannot be a substitute for real diplomacy, that is, talking to others.

But apparently that message has not gotten through yet. Dick Cheney even out of office is still metaphorically shooting people in the face. Senate and house Republicans continue to push for tax cuts and small governement as THE solutions.

3-The timing of Judd Gregg’s withdrawal. More here…

So what should Obama do?

Don’t fight back. You only end up covered in mud which is what Republicans want. Obama has campaigned on “Change” and bipartisanship. He should stick to his current approach as long as he has an advantage in the house and some room to maneuvre in the Senate. Mid-term elections will dictate in which direction the citizenry wants him to take the nation.

Well, another Obama nominee ran into trouble over unpaid taxes. According to the AP, “Former Senator Tom Daschle filed amended tax returns to report $128,203 in back taxes and $11,964 in interest.” This is to cover back taxes for 2005, 2006 an 2007. This after he was picked by Obama to head the Health Services Department and once the transition team discovered the discrepancy.  This is the exact same issue that arose for Tim Geithner the now Treasury Secretary. This may be less of an issue for Daschle, a veteran of the Senate that many see as highly competent and a diligent public servant. So I think this issue may be a small setback, but he will be confirmed.

The Obama team is also looking the Commerce Secretary post vacated since Bill Richardson withdrew. Late reports from ABC and CNN are now indicating that Republican Senator Judd Gregg from New Hampshire is the front runner for the post. If this is confirmed on Monday, it would be a case of really smart politics for the Obama administration. Because the departure of Gregg would force New Hampshire governor John Lynch , a Democrat to make an appointment. With the shenanigans of the Franken-Coleman race yet to be resolved in Minnesota, this will bring the Democrats closer to the filbuster-proof 60 seats.

Stay tuned…

Obama was on The Hill today trying to sell his stimulus plan. The administration hopes to get more than a few Republicans on board so as to have the bill pass resoundingly in both houses. Early victories usually envigorate an administration.

Hopes indeed. There is animosity in both camps that will not disappear overnight.  Hard-core Republicans think small government, tax cuts and less regulation are the best way to stimulate an economy.   Hard-core Democrats think spending programs, more regulation and taxes are the best way to empower the government to help “working people”. These basic ideological stances are not gonna change overnight. So Obama will not get his 80 ‘Yea’ votes in the Senate this time around. But the bill will most likely pass easily.

The signal Obama’s visit on The Hill sends however  is good one. It says: “I am here. I am willing to hear you out. Let’s work together!” And as the cliche goes, it is easy to hate somebody from a distance. It gets harder to hate them once you’ve met them or sat across the table from them. That’s what Obama is banking on. He’s hoping to establish the kind of rapport that will make it difficult for lawmakers to simply reject any future White House proposals on ideological grounds.

He’s learning fast. His approach so far seems to be: take every single thing George W. Bush ever did and do the exact opposite. After all when was the last time you saw W. on The Hill… trying to win over Democrats?

I wrote a post a few days ago questioning the tightness of the case against Blagojevich with respect to the Senate seat sale. Seems the NY Times’s been wondering the same thing …

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/16/us/politics/16legal.html?_r=1

Caroline Kennedy’s name is being mentionned over and over in the media as a potential US Senator to replace Hillary Clinton (D-NY). I don’t really know how I feel about that because I don’t really know that much about Kennedy’s positions on any major issue national or foreign. I just know that she supports the President-Elect and has the kind of instant name recognition any aspiring Hollywood actor would kill for.

So it is neither here nor there for me. The one thing I feel strongly about is the fact that citizens should have a say in these replacements. If a US or State senator resigns or cannot for any reason perform their duties, the constituency should vote on a replacement. It should not be something that is left to a governor. I know there are economic reasons for it and there are logistical ones as well, such as getting candidate nominations in time, giving them time to campaign, debates,etc…

But even if we only had to give candidates three months to campaing for a special election, that would still be better than having somebody nominated. Nominations as Blagojevich made painfully obvious are just another way for governors to reward friends or obtain news ones that would stuff their pockets now or in their future lives as board members of companies in the private sector. There are enough loopholes contributing to the undermining of the political system as it is. This is one that we could easily erase.

Apparently according to Al Franken’s people, they are now ahead by 22 votes in his race with Norm Coleman for a Minnesota Senate seat. This is according to http://www.talkingpointsmemo.com/

Stay tuned…