Dick Armey: Imaginary Death Panels Are Okay, Too

Picture 3The last time we saw Dick Armey he was giving the cold shoulder to Rachel Maddow on Meet the Press, but he has returned in all his glory as a feature subject in this week’s Times Magazine.

Armey, who left Congress in 2003, hasn’t let the lack of elected official status keep him from influencing government. He, and the group FreedomWorks which he chairs, were key players in pulling together what was popularly known as the 9/12 protests that took place this past September in D.C. The Times it should be noted does not bother to refer to them as such, opting only to describe them as “a big march on Washington.” More on the power of a name shortly.

Armey has also “been traveling the country in support of favored political candidates, not all of them running on the Republican line.” Including the now infamous NY-23, and we all saw how that worked out (though some would argue NY-23 was just a sign of what’s to come for a leaderless G.O.P). Alas this article went to press before those results came in so no word on where Armey felt his involvement may have gone amiss. In short, Army appears to be what Sarah Palin hoped to be when she resigned as Governor of Alaska: an unelected official serving the so-called civic needs of her country.

Speaking of Sarah Palin and the power of words. Armey apparently feels that imaginary death panels are equally as useful as the real ones, which Palin so famously claimed were part of President Obama’s health care bill.

Armey prides himself on his intellect and rationality, but his years in Washington have taught him the political uses of irrationality and even outright fantasy. He told me he does not believe some of the most extreme charges that emerged in the debate over health care reform — for example, that “death panels” will tell elderly people when it’s time to die — but he welcomes the energy and passion that such beliefs bring to his side. “You know that expression: The enemy of my enemy is my friend?” he asked. “Are their fears exaggerated? Yeah, probably. But are Obama’s promises exaggerated? I may think it’s silly, but if people want to believe that,” he said, referring to death panels, “it’s O.K. with me.”

Which makes for a great soundbite, yes. But distilled down also hints strongly at what the political landscape in the next few years is likely to look like: the continuing evolution of “political uses of irrationality and even outright fantasy’ in an effort to gain political power.

Panel Nerds: The Audacity Of Plouffe

nerdzWho: David Plouffe

What: Book event for “The Audacity to Win

Where: Barnes and Noble Union Square

When: November 3, 2009

Thumbs: Up

It takes less than a minute of watching David Plouffe to recognize how effortlessly he and Barack Obama could strategize together. Plouffe instantly took command of the stage and of the crowd, clutching the microphone and calmly pacing to make eye contact with every onlooker. His stage persona was so strong, it led us to consider whether he’d taught Obama similar tactics, or vice versa.

There was more to Plouffe than his Joel Osteen-like stage presence, as he also supplied substance and insight into Obama’s campaign. This event, taking place on election night one year later, helped people recall the spirit of Obama’s movement. Plouffe encouraged audience members to find inspiration and to get active again in local politics and volunteering. He said that more change — and quicker results — can happen inside communities than through legislation.

Attempting to inspire the crowd at a book signing is far from the norm, but Plouffe repeated last night that it was the unconventional approach that ultimately won Obama the election. Plouffe knew, for example, that if the same voters who came out in favor of Kerry in 2004 would return in 2008, Obama didn’t stand a chance to win. Instead, he rallied for often overlooked groups: young people, blacks, and independent voters. Plouffe’s organizers and volunteers recruited voters at diners, schools, and even bars. Word of mouth and social media sites, they decided, were their best options to change the political game.

At the same time, Sen. John McCain and the Republican National Committee took to the airwaves with more traditional advertisements and agendas. Rather than push one message in one location for the day, Obama used e-mail, texting and his Web site to correspond regularly with his volunteers and potential backers.

plouffeOne of the things that Plouffe credits for Obama’s rise in popularity is the impact that young, passionate people had on their elders. That mixture of generations was back together at this event, a year later, to show they’re still rallying behind their candidate.

What They Said
“We studied history but we weren’t bound by it.”
- David Plouffe and his team set a new tone for presidential campaigning

“All of us thought we were signing up for a one-year enterprise, not two.”
- David Plouffe reminded us how substantial a lead Sen. Hillary Clinton had on Obama in the fall of 2007

“It was less the dollar amount as much the people who were giving.”
- David Plouffe said that the average donation Obama received was $85

“All we cared about was the end result, not the day-to-day battles.”
- David Plouffe on the attitude of the campaign, an attitude that seems to have carried over to the presidency

“I think, in more ways than not, we were playing chess and Senator McCain was playing checkers. Washington is a town full of checkers players.”
- David Plouffe believes that Obama made words like “nuance” and “complexity” less scary coming from a politician

What We Thought

  • We’ve read on several occasions that when McCain selected Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate it was Obama who told his staff to hold off from attacking her. So it comes as no surprise to us to learn that Plouffe was “offended” by McCain’s selection. It was strong language, but faced with Plouffe’s position it could very well be justified.
  • Plouffe described the recklessness that he sensed in McCain’s campaign. He said that Obama’s steadiness became even more alluring to voters as a result. If they would lose, they’d lose on one strategy, not five, Plouffe said.

Some audience behavior seems to repeat itself panel after panel. We’ll be updating a running list of “PANEL RULES!” that will help ensure that you are not the dweeb of the Panel Nerds.

Panel Nerds don’t like… Audiobooks
This was a first for us. An older woman had a good question to ask. Only it wasn’t hers. She read it out of a local newspaper that had done a referendum of Obama’s first year since his election win. Rather than summarize what the article contained, she gave the full report followed by “What do you think?” We have newspapers for reading, brains for thinking, and mouths for talking. Summarize the point made in the piece, Give us the lowdown of what is interesting about it. Otherwise, you run the risk of us taking a nap while you read us a story.

Elections: The New National Pastime That Could Save Journalism

CNN-Main-Election-Coverage-US08-0006The other day Murray Chass, former NYT sports reporter penned a much picked-up piece about how the considerably small number of newspapers who had sent reporters to cover the World Series was a “startling barometer of how critical the health of the newspaper industry is in this country.” Yes, the newspaper industry, as we are all far too familiar, is in critical health. And maybe people are less interested in baseball, for whatever reason ($10 hot chocolate at Yankee Stadium may have something to do with that). Or maybe the country has just discovered a new national pastime. Namely, politics.

Before it became clear that Mayor Bloomberg was thisclose to losing the NYC mayoral race (thus making yesterday’s election actually compelling), I opined in our liveblog that I was not sold on “any of these races being huge, or any more significant than they have been in past years. I think we’re all just election junkies.” And the coverage of last night would appear to prove me out. Check out this rundown of cable coverage as listed on Mike Allen’s Playbook (3/4 of the way down). This for a small election that’s not even a midterm and will arguably have next to zero effect on 2012! Apparently the future of journalism is politics. Can anyone remember this level of attention being paid for a handful of local elections? I can remember presidential elections that barely got this level of coverage (Clinton/Dole anyone?).

Anyway, it would seem that despite a lot of wringing of hands at the end of last year’s actually historic election season about what certain media organizations were going to do when they had no election to cover, the answer increasingly appears to be that they will merely find other elections and/or turn everything into a race. Perhaps the real real result of Obama’s record-breaking campaign has been to switch our national pastime.

It occurred to me when I was doing a ‘Year Of Obama’ post yesterday that perhaps the White House had sussed out this national addiction long before anyone else managed to put their finger on it and that was the real reason they turned Fox into some sort of rival, and successfully managed to submerge the news cycle for the last three weeks with a lot of campaign-like coverage. In short the lesson is, if you want a successful career in journalism best to find Politics as quickly as possible. You have a least six months before we start winding up for the midterms.

Maureen Dowd: Rush Limbaugh Not Technically A Neanderthal

Picture 8Oh to be a fly on the wall for this dinner! Maureen Dowd takes a stab at Rush Limbaugh with her poison pen (not literally, though that might have been less painful) over Limbaugh referring to President Barack Obama as a narcissist, among other things. No one will refer to Obama as a insecure preener but MoDo, thank you very much! Behold, Dowd recounting a four hour meal she once had with Rush :

I had a four-hour dinner once with Rush Limbaugh at the “21” Club in Manhattan, back in the days when I was still writing profiles as a “reporterette,” to use a Limbaugh coinage.

He was charming, in a shy, awkward, lonely-guy way. Not a man of the people. He arrived in a chauffeured town car and ordered $70-an-ounce Beluga, Porterhouse and 1990 Corton-Charlemagne.

But he was not a Neanderthal, though he did have a cold and blew his nose in his napkin. He talked about Chopin’s Polonaise No. 6, C.S. Lewis and how much he loved the end of the movie “Love Story.”

In those days, he called himself a “harmless little fuzzball.” He’s a lot less harmless now. I went on to columny, as my pal Bill Safire called it, and Rush went on to calumny.

I don’t know, I think MoDo has also spent some time at calumny, but point taken! For those of you not blessed with the memory of my managing editor Colby Hall, the dinner MoDo is referring to in today’s column actually took place back in 1993. The dinner itself was well-documented at time for the…wait for it…NYT ‘Home and Garden’ section by none other than Dowd, herself. It was famously the dinner during which a friend of Rush’s noticed the pair an remarked loudly “”Well, Rush, that’s got to be either a hooker or a reporter.” Strangely MoDo doesn’t included this detail (I mean that sincerely, it’s the sort of detail Dowd lives for). Of course, if she had she might also have been expected to note that Rush apologized for his friend more than once, and that detail doesn’t fit quite as nicely into the ‘neanderthal’ description. Just for compare and contrast purposes here’s Dowd’s description of the dinner from her 1993 piece:

“Are you going to write about what we eat here?” he demands, offering a dramatic rendition for an amused waiter of the possible story that would result: ” ‘And Limbaugh claims to be just an average guy and then orders $70-an-ounce beluga and forces it on a reporter.’ ”

The reporter promises that there will be full disclosure that she never needs to be forced to eat caviar.

Mollifed, Mr. Limbaugh continues the order: “Bring some Beluga. Porterhouse for two. And mashed potatoes.” There is also a bottle of 1990 Corton-Charlemagne.

Apparently there is not a statute of limitations on reporting a dinner. Another little tidbit from today’s a column: Dowd’s mother was a Rush fan. Here’s the closer:

“But on Sunday, he ripped the president for having “an out-of-this-world ego,” for being “very narcissistic,” “immature, inexperienced, in over his head.” (Isn’t immaturity scoring OxyContin from your maid?) It gives new meaning to pot, kettle and black.”

I will admit Maureen Dowd, herself, frequently gives new meaning to “pot, kettle and black” but upon reading this column all I could really think is how smart it would be for Meet the Press to book a Maureen Dowd, Rush Limbaugh round table this weekend, and maybe throw Rachel Maddow in there to keep things grounded in some sort of reality.

Who Are You Calling a Narcissist, Rush? [NYT, 2009]

AT DINNER WITH: Rush Limbaugh; A Shy, Sensitive Guy Trying to Get By in Lib City [NYT, 1993]

If the Election Were Held Today, To Whom Exactly Would Obama Lose?

Tommy_Christopher_Daily_Dose 019Earlier today, Mediaite’s Glynnis MacNicol reported on a new Rasmussen poll that indicates that while 44% of adults (although they never do get to how the children would vote) say they would vote to re-elect President Obama were the election held today, 49% say they would not. She correctly notes that the poll doesn’t consider a hypothetical opponent, or other variables.

Luckily for hypothetical Barack Obama, if the election were held today, somebody would have to get 45% of the vote in order to beat him.

While a poll like this unquestionably bespeaks a deep dissatisfaction among Americans, it doesn’t tell the whole story. According to a recent NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, not only is there a lot more of this sandwich to go around, President Obama gets a relatively small bite of it.

That poll pegs Republican Party favorability at 25% versus 46% unfavorable, while the Democrats are at 42% favorable, 36% unfavorable. On health care reform, 64% disapprove of the job Republicans in Congress are doing. By a 46%-38% margin, voters hope the Democrats retain control of congress in 2010.

The Republican Party’s most visible star, Sarah Palin, has a 27% approval rating in this poll, enough to eke past Nancy Pelosi. Even in a CNN poll that has her at 44% approval, 71% say she’s not qualified to be president.

What this poll really means is that the country is messed up, and people want it to get fixed more quickly than it is, as quickly as they hoped it would. President Obama is only losing to candidate Obama. The thing is, problems like the economy and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were never supposed to be solved in nine months.

The Republican strategy of trying to win every news cycle may be taking a toll on Obama now, but they need to offer Americans something they like better. They’re certainly not doing that now.

A Year Of Barack Obama: Top Ten Highs And Lows Of His First Twelve Months In Office

USA-ELECTION/A year ago tomorrow the nation went to polls and elected Barack Hussein Obama the 44th President of the United States. It was a joyful occasion, celebrated the world over, and variously compared to New Years Eve, the Yankees winning the World Series, the opposite of 9/11, and the proper beginning of the 21st Century.

The national political mood of Election Day 2009 would likely not be recognizable to the Obama-happy nation of 12 months ago. What a difference, etc. And yet, it’s hard to believe it’s only been 12 months! And a mere nine-and-a-half months of actual presidency. And truly it is only a slight exaggeration to say that in the interim it’s been all Obama, all the time. With that in mind let’s take a look back at the Barack Obama highlights (and some lowlights) of the last year.

>>>NEXT: Election Night November 4, 2008

Meeting the Bushes

The Inauguration

Barack Obama Saves Print Media

They Kill Flies, Don’t They?

The Beer Summit of 2009

Of Tea Parties And Town Halls

You Lie!


The War Against Fox News

If The Election Were Held Today Obama Would Lose

obama35_16955781-1So yes. As the saying goes, what a difference a year makes. Twelve months after the momentous election of Barack Obama as the nation’s 44th president, a poll shows that were the election to be held today Obama might not be so successful.

The Rasmussen poll finds that “45% of adults say they would be at least somewhat likely to vote for Obama if he was up for reelection right now. Forty-nine percent (49%) say they would be unlikely to vote for the president’s reelection.” Ouch. Side note: more women like him than men.

Of course, it should go without saying that a poll like this is held in a vacuum, which does not include real world contributing factors like opposing candidates or running mates. Not to mention the next chance voters will get to check the President’s name off on a ballot is still three years off — needless to say, a lot can change in three years! — but still, probably not exactly the way Obama wanted to arrive at election day 2009!

For her part, Arianna Huffington, whose coverage of Obama during the campaign was generally, shall we say, positive, also appears to have decamped into the less-than-thrilled party. Huffington has penned a new post titled ‘The Audacity of Winning vs. The Timidity of Governing.’ From the post:

How did the candidate who got into the race because he’d decided that “the core leadership had turned rotten” and that “the people were getting hosed” become the president who has decided that the American people can only have as much change as Olympia Snowe will allow?

How did the candidate who told a stadium of supporters in Denver that “the greatest risk we can take is to try the same old politics with the same old players and expect a different result” become the president who has surrounded himself with the same old players trying the same old politics, expecting a different result?

The audacity of reality? No doubt the difference the next 36 months can make will help people make up their minds on that one.