Saving the American Dream — For Which Dreamers?

The Republicans have a message — Obama is threatening the American Dream.

It’s short, it’s sweet, it may be powerful.

And let’s give them the benefit of the doubt and say they believe it. Let’s also be clear whose American Dream the Republicans in Washington are trying to save as they object to Obama’s 2010 budget.

From Friday’s New York Times article on the Obama budget:

The Obama budget — a bold, even radical departure from recent history, wrapped in bureaucratic formality and statistical tables — would sharply raise taxes on the rich, beyond where Bill Clinton had raised them. It would reduce taxes for everybody else, to a lower point than they were under either Mr. Clinton or George W. Bush. And it would lay the groundwork for sweeping changes in health care and education, among other areas.
More than anything else, the proposals seek to reverse the rapid increase in economic inequality over the past 30 years. They do so by first rewriting the tax code and, over the longer term, by trying to solve some big causes of the middle-class income slowdown, like high medical costs and slowing educational gains.

Republican philosophy hasn’t changed since Reagan’s trickle-down approach — maybe not since Hoover’s. And the philosophy has worked for Republican constituents — the wealthy, and the people who believe government support of the wealthy is good for the country, and the people who believe they will some day be wealthy. And under this philosophy economic inequality has grown, and is growing.

Here’s how the Republican economic philosophy has been working out in practice, again from Friday’s Times:

Before becoming Mr. Obama’s top economic advisor, Lawrence H. Summers liked to tell a hypothetical story to distill the trend. The increase in inequality, Mr. Summers would say, meant that each family in the bottom 80 percent of the income distribution was effectively sending a $10,000 check, every year, to the top 1 percent of earners.

I’m not a socialist, nor is Obama, despite what conservative talk radio is saying. I don’t think the government should ensure that everyone has the same amount of wealth. I also don’t think the government should ensure that the wealthy get wealthier, which is what Republican policy has done, especially at the expense of most of us. The misguided Alaskan missile protecting America from Putin’s rearing head called Obama a wealth spreader. Republican policy has been very effectively redistributing wealth — from the middle class to the wealthy.

Liberals should be pleased with Obama’s budget — it aims to do what he said he’d do. It’s big and it’s bold. And on the front page of the same newspaper Friday was news that he’d lifted the ban on photographing caskets of returning soldiers killed in our wars, if the families approve — a step toward openness and honesty that compromises with privacy. He also let the case of one Al Queda suspect held for five years without trial go to a civilian court, buying more time for his administration to decide what to do on the larger issue of detaining, without trial, US residents suspected of terrorism. He hasn’t yet reversed Bush policy — and I think it’s smart, and so very like Obama, to gather more information on the issue before making a decision. Obama is taking on the big issues with a consistent philosophy — making America work for all of us.

That seems to me to be the American Dream.

— Bruce Benidt
(Photo from

Newsday to Charge via Paywall for Online Content

During a stock analysts conference call today, Cablevision announced it will begin charging for access to its online newspaper Newsday. Reuters broke the story this way:

But Cablevision Chief Operating Officer Tom Rutledge said the cable TV company was aware of the difficulties faced by the traditional newspaper business.

“Our goal was and is to use our electronic network assets and subscriber relationships to transform the way news is distributed,” he said on a conference call with analysts.

“We plan to end the distribution of free Web content and make our news gathering capabilities a service for our customers,” he added.

Rutledge’s comments could raise speculation that the paper may seek cost cuts by reducing print operations. It could also look to cross-promote Web access as part of the Cablevision programming package.

Newsday’s publisher Timothy Knight said in a statement: “We are in the process of transforming Newsday’s Web site into an enhanced, locally focused cable service that we believe will become an important benefit for Newsday and Cablevision customers. More particulars will be forthcoming over the next few months.”

So maybe not micropayments but “pay as part of your cable bill” is the future of saving newspapers?

Who’s Lobbying the Bailout Congress (And What Does Turkey Want From Michele?)

Here’s a superb example of investigative journalism..the kind of reporting we can not afford to lose.

Bill Allison and Anupama Narayanswamy of the blog Real Time Investigations are keeping an eye on who’s lobbying this bailout Congress. Fascinating.

Or, go to the site’s Foreign Agents Registry Act database and look up the PR firms that are representing foreign nations in the halls of Congress. Michele Bachmann – Livingstone Group – Turkey? Strange.

If journalists like Allison and Narayanswarmy didn’t keep an eye on all of this, who would? And that’s precisely why we have a free press.

Obama Does It Daily

Barack Obama doesn’t need to hit homeruns in his major set speeches like tonight’s address before Congress. He’s already doing well as a communicator in his daily talks, his press conference, his meetings with people around the country and around the capital.

Obama’s strength as a communicator is that he’s genuine. At the meeting with congressional leaders Monday, he met John McCain’s complaints about cost overruns on the presidential helicopter with humor and honesty. The helicopter I’ve got is pretty good, he said — of course, I’ve never had a helicopter before. Maybe I’ve been deprived, he said. And everybody laughed. Obama said he’d look into the cost issue, and said it’s a good example of how costs spin out of control. But his genuine response — what he said wasn’t a calculated parry of McCain’s thrust, it was just Obama being who he is — showed people that he hasn’t, in his first month, become too big for his britches and that he isn’t designing an imperial presidency. And that he’ll listen — he called on McCain first for input about containing government and military spending.

And then he said that he’s going to keep talking to Eric Cantor, the minority whip in the House who helped shut Obama out on his stimulous plan, because, Obama said laughing, “One day Eric Cantor’s going to say that I had a pretty good idea about something.” And that’s the kind of persistence and gentle needling that shows people what kind of a human being Obama is. Not doctrinaire. Not pouting about the Republicans’ “just say no” strategy, but also not a naive kid bringing a Hostess Twinkie to a knife fight.

The latest New York Times poll shows the public is behind Obama, that most people think he’s trying to do the right thing for the country while most think the Republicans are trying to do what’s good for their party. Big difference. And people are optimistic about the country’s future in Obama’s hands, even while their confidence in the current economy spirals down, according to the latest consumer confidence survey. That’s a remarkable juxtaposition — the economy’s going to hell, but we feel okay because this guy in the driver’s seat seems to know what he’s doing and seems to have our best interests at heart.

So Obama the great orator is really winning the hearts and minds of the country not in big formal settings, but by letting people see who is is, what he thinks, how he works, what he cares about, what worries him and what he doesn’t sweat. And he’s doing this day by day, in his everyday communication.

It’s a good lesson about leadership. Communication is an essential part of leadership — strong leaders convey honesty, passion, vision, compassion in how and what they communicate. And they convey those things dozens of times every day. Not just in formal speeches. And you can’t fake this stuff. Real communication springs from one’s soul, one’s values, one’s heart, as well as from the brain that does all that analyzing and strategizing stuff.

How you convey who you are is the toughest and most important factor of communication. And Obama is keeping people’s trust — and earning it, with Republicans going from 20% approval to 44% since before the election — by conveying his vision and his heart many times a day.

And, oh yeah, he ain’t bad at the big formal speeches either.

— Bruce Benidt

“Does Anybody Really Care?”

I’m having a hard time reading or listening to news about the U.S. Senate recount. Anybody else sick to death of all this whining?

Pull quotes from Saturday’s Star Tribune:

“This is the next step in an attack on the integrity of Minnesota’s election system.”

“This is about whether votes were legally or illegally cast.”

kidsfight-hdDoesn’t matter which side said what. They’ve exchanged scripts several times during this travesty. Before the election I felt that neither one of these guys — Coleman or Franken — was any prize. I now just want both of them to go away. I’m a liberal, as you may have noticed, so I’ll like Franken’s voting record if he finally limps into DC, and I blame Coleman for mountainous egotism in putting the state through this after the certified recount so we can have — tah dah — Norm Coleman as our senator. In the meantime, the country is falling apart, and these two are squalling like fourth-graders in the back of the station wagon: “Mom, Al hit me.” (My favorite quote from kids in the back comes from my wife Lisa’s sister when, as kids, she ran out of effective infractions and cried, “Mom, Lisa’s looking at me!”)

What do you think? Is anybody winning the PR war here? Is either side communicating anything worth listening to? Are there great issues of principle at stake, or is this just Norm clinging to the rim of the bowl?

— Benidt