A Record to Run on and a Romney to Run From

President Obama’s first term has not been the uninterrupted tale of disappointment and broken promises that the media, his opponents, and even pessimistic liberals might have you believe. He promised to reform health care, and passed a bill that will allow the United States to finally join the club of developed nations with universal health insurance. He said he would increase the regulation of the financial sector so that we would not repeat the disaster of 2008, and signed such a bill in his second year. He pledged to cut taxes for the middle class; the stimulus and debt ceiling compromise both included tax cuts that gave struggling families a much-needed reprieve. His plan to increase standards-based educational assessment earned opposition in the primary, but his “Race to the Top” initiative set off an unprecedented wave of school reform. He vowed to end the war in Iraq; our troops are home.

He repealed “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” allowing gay men and women to serve their country openly, and refused to defend the shameful and unconstitutional “Defense of Marriage Act.” His administration passed laws that made it easier for women to sue for equal pay and for students to receive college loans. He dramatically increased fuel economy standards for automobiles and the regulations on coal pollution. Oil imports are at their lowest level in decades. The General Motors assembly lines that seemed at risk of forever falling silent four years ago now churn faster than ever. Osama bin Laden lies on the bottom of the Arabian Sea.

In America, we view the President as wielding near-dictatorial levels of power. We credit him for the good things that happen during his time in office, whether or not he had anything to do with them, and we blame him when things over which he has little control go wrong. This President, time and time again, has taken bold risks that—had they backfired—would have combined him to the place in history occupied by the likes of Carter and Hoover. Let us not forget that President Obama never had an honest partner in the Congressional Republicans who have held dozens of votes on repealing Obamacare but few on fixing the economy or investing in our future. This is neither an accident nor an oversight. Their only agenda is to defeat this President. If Barack Hussein Obama can win a second term despite their rancor, their disrespect, and their selfish obstructionism, they will have failed.

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Thoughts on the VP Debate: “Oh, now you’re Jack Kennedy?”

Blue steel? Source: Time.com

Like many of the members of my generation who hope that somewhere deep inside the gloomy shell of the  the candidate from 2008 who promised that “we were the one’s we’d been waiting for” and that his election would change the world remains a President who can accomplish that, I was extremely disappointed in the Presidential debate last week. There was barely a memorable line or moment. Instead, the first debate will likely go down in history as the debate that-mentally-only one man showed up for. It wasn’t Jim Lehrer, and it certainly wasn’t President Obama. Obama’s terrible performance left me questioning whether I can really vote for him again. Why would I bother, when he couldn’t even bother to do the appropriate level of debate prep? Why would I donate to his campaign when he often seems incapable of explaining his vision for America and unable to even defend his own record? President Obama has a lot to make up for in the next two debates.

Last night (or whatever night it was – the time zone thing here really messes with my head), Vice President Biden helped to stop the bleeding, and did an excellent job of reminding America both how ridiculous the Romney platform is, and what – to use a friend’s phrase – a smarmy shit Congressman Ryan is. Most of the discussion about the debate revolves around whether Biden was too rude and too over-the-top in his constant interrupting, laughing, challenging, and grinning at Ryan’s answers. I think that, except for when he got a bit too aggressive during the part about tax policy, it was perfect.

Biden reacted the way that he did because Ryan’s stock lies are absurd and insulting. Even the moderator wouldn’t let him get away with it:

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2012 and the Cult of the Individual

The weird part about writing this column this fall is that I’ll never see it in print. I’m spending the semester in Australia this fall but I decided at the end of last year to continue writing this, assuming—incorrectly—that this would be an interesting election about important issues. So, welcome to election season 2012: the race to the bottom. If 2008 was a baseball game where the teams tried for home runs, this time it’s around all about clearing the benches and charging the mound.

Which is worse for America? A campaign based almost entirely upon falsehoods and platitudes, or one that focuses on the small, petty, petulant problems it has with its opponent? The latter is more depressing but as we struggle to our knees and begin to look for answers to the questions of the 21st century, both are dangerous. Together, they add up to a depressing election between two men so walled off from the world that they make Don Draper look like the Kardashian family by comparison.

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Vermont Governor’s Race – A “Dunne” Deal?

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to meet former Vermont Governor Howard Dean and to ask him about the campaign to replace retiring Governor Jim Douglas in 2010. Dean had the surprising thought that Susan Bartlett — the longtime chair of the state senate appropriations committee — might make the best governor, even though she appears to lack the campaign skills of her rivals. Dean conceded that all five Democratic candidates would do a great job as governor and lamented that none would likely win a clear majority in the hotly contested primary race.

The five Democratic contenders, who spoke at a forum this Sunday at Middlebury, had few differences between their stances on the major issues; all agreed on the need for more jobs, affordable healthcare and clean energy. As every candidate alluded to in the debate, the most important quality in the Democratic nominee is the ability to defeat Republican candidate Brian Dubie.

In a field teeming with technically qualified candidates, one stands out for his ability to connect with voters and for the clarity of his proposals: former state Senator Matt Dunne — who currently manages Google’s community affairs program — possesses the energy and the knowledge necessary to be both a great candidate and a great governor for this state.

Several weeks ago, Dunne spoke in depth with a group of the Middlebury College Democrats. We sat down with him for over an hour and received long, practical answers to questions about everything from education to agriculture policy. He spoke with intelligence and excitement about his plan to replace the crumbling Vermont Yankee nuclear plant with two carbon-neutral biomass plants and laid out a path to provide health care access to all Vermonters.

In a race dominated by candidates who have eagerly awaited Douglas’s retirement, Dunne stands out as a rising star — someone with vision, not just the next politician in line.

Vermont cannot afford to elect another Republican. In a state with an overwhelming Democratic majority, with the Senate’s only socialist member and where two-thirds of votes cast went to Barack Obama, it’s silly to even imagine a Republican contending in the gubernatorial race. And yet Governor Douglas’ retirement marks the end of four terms in office where he presented a firm roadblock to Vermont’s ability to move forward on many issues.

In 2006, Douglas vetoed an act preventing gender identity discrimination, only to be overruled the next year. In 2009, the governor vetoed a law allowing same-sex marriage and was courageously overridden by the legislature. He has vetoed campaign finance reform several times, a resolution to replace the un-democratic electoral college with a popular vote and a renewable energy bill because of a tax increase aiming to balance the budget.

Douglas leaves his office with a $150 million budget deficit and no coherent plan to replace the Vermont Yankee plant. A Republican governor in Vermont after Douglas’ retirement would continue to serve only as a foil to the public interest and a burden on the public checkbook.

As students in such a small, politically progressive state, we have the opportunity to make a difference, and we need to take advantage of that chance to produce a government that represents our values. Brian Dubie’s administration would not represent those values, or the values of the state of Vermont.

There are still many months until the Democratic primary, and even longer until the general election in November. Now is your chance to make a difference. Join me, Bill McKibben and the thousands of Vermonters who support Matt Dunne for Governor. In such a small state, your vote — and, more importantly, your voice — truly matters.

Tough Times for the Empire (State)

I guess New York can’t let Illinois have all the fun.

On Feb. 26, New York State Governor David Paterson announced an end to his reelection campaign. For many voters, this was hardly news; Paterson — who was widely mocked by the national political establishment, lobbied by the Obama administration not to run and who stumbled into office as a poor replacement for disgraced Governor Elliot “Client Number Nine” Spitzer — had seen his approval rating dwindle to a mere 26 percent.

Even when Spitzer resigned in connection with a prostitution scandal in 2008, his approval rating remained slightly higher; at least he was competent in his office.

Paterson, who began his term with random confessions of previous cocaine use and extramarital affairs, constantly appeared out of his depth in the messy world of Albany politics. The only reason that his decision not to run again even made the front page was the governor’s clear connection to an aide’s domestic violence case.

The aide, David A. Johnson, allegedly stripped a female companion of her clothes, choked her, and stopped her from getting help. This should have prompted Johnson to seek an early retirement or to turn himself in to the authorities.

Instead, he had friends in the State Police contact the woman several times. When the police were apparently unable to quiet her, Johnson called in the big guns: he had longtime friend Paterson call the woman the day before she was due to appear in court.

She failed to show up the next day, and the case was dropped. Problem solved, right?

The governor appears to not recognize any wrongdoing on his part, seems bewildered by calls for his resignation and swears that he did not abuse his office; I guess he lets his staffers handle the abuse.

Barely had the cries for Paterson’s head subsided when another New York politician snatched the headlines: 20-term congressman Charles Rangel was finally forced from his powerful position as chairman of the House Ways and Means committee by a report that he took free, corporate-sponsored trips — plural — to the Caribbean.

While that alone would never dislodge the great Mr. Rangel, he is also currently under investigation for failing to disclose several checking accounts valued between $250,000 and $500,000, illegally renting four apartments in New York City and not reporting $75,000 in income from his villa in the Dominican Republic.

It’s hard to imagine his excuse for these transgressions, given the fact that his congressional committee writes the tax laws that the rest of us have to obey.

Under normal circumstances, those two stories would be enough to hold the attention of the ever-busy news media, but freshman Congressman Eric Massa from the 29th district seems fully intent and fully capable of topping the bizarre achievements of his two political elders. He announced on March 3 that he would not seek reelection due to health reasons.

It quickly became clear that those “health” concerns were an attempt to conceal a whole different type of problem: that the Congressman had sexually harassed a whole host of navy shipmates, colleagues and male staffers throughout the course of his career.

Allegations rapidly emerged that Massa told an aide they should “frakk,” that he once gave a navy shipmate an unwanted “snorkeling” late at night (look it up on UrbanDictionary), that the Congressman celebrated his 50th birthday with a rowdy “tickle fight” with his younger staffers and that he would brag about his special “Massa Massages.”

The Congressman tried to defend himself as “a salty old sailor” — as if that phrase wasn’t evidence enough of his guilt — and fired back that the White House had forced him out because he wouldn’t support the health care bill.

By the time he appeared on Glenn Beck the next day, Massa admitted to the obviously disappointed “crier-in-chief” at Fox News that his mistakes were his own.

Maybe Massa realized that he might want to save the slightest shred of dignity for his retirement; between a governor covering up an aide’s domestic abuse, a Congressman firmly in the pocket of corporate interests and another felled upon his own sword, so to speak, dignity seems to have completely abandoned the state of New York.