James McPherson's Media & Politics Blog

Observations of a patriotic progressive historian, media critic & former journalist


  • By the author of The Conservative Resurgence and the Press: The Media’s Role in the Rise of the Right and of Journalism at the End of the American Century, 1965-Present. A former journalist with a Ph.D. in journalism, history and political science, McPherson is a past president of the American Journalism Historians Association and a board member for the Northwest Alliance for Responsible Media.

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Posts Tagged ‘stimulus bill’

George W. Bush: We don’t need no stinking Constitution; GOP rushes to public trough

Posted by James McPherson on March 3, 2009

As Republicans try to figure out whether they fear Rush Limbaugh more than they dislike him, and as the media fall all over themselves to cover the largely irrelevant GOP circus, we keep learning new depths of disturbing information about the Bush administration, information that makes some of us hope that circus never comes back to town.

We’ve known for years that George W. Bush was a liar, a criminal, a fool and an egomaniac, a combination that made him probably the most dangerous president in our history (Richard Nixon may have been as bad, but that was during a time when Republicans still elected members of Congress who put country over party).

Thanks to documents that Barack Obama has ordered released and the efforts of some good reporters, we’re learning more about just how dangerous Bush was. Now Newsweek reports that the Bush administration even considered trying to overturn the First Amendment. The idea came via a memo co-written by the scariest lawyer in America, John Yoo (scarier than Alberto Gonzales only because he’s a lot smarter).

Newsweek’s Michael Isakoff writes: “The Oct. 23, 2001, memo suggested the president could even suspend press freedoms if he concluded it was necessary to wage the war on terror. ‘First Amendment speech and press rights may also be subordinated to the overriding need to wage war successfully,’ Yoo wrote in the memo entitled “Authority for Use of Military Force to Combat Terrorist Activity Within the United States.”

Somebody in the administration (maybe a leftover “limited government” conservative who somehow snuck in) apparently questioned the memo (or realized that most of the media had pretty much ignored their First Amendment rights to question the government, anyway, so it would be silly to stir them out of their slumber). Finally the idea apparently was considered “so extreme that it was essentially (and secretly) revoked–but not until October of last year, seven years after the memo was written and with barely three and a half months left in the Bush administration. (emphasis added)

I have many mixed emotions about Barack Obama, but at least there’s no such problem with George W. Bush–unless a combination of disgust, revulsion and curiosity about why that war criminal isn’t facing charges would be considered “mixed emotions.”

Fortunately, Bush and most of his ilk have moved on, even if they don’t know where they’re headed. Anyplace they can get us to pay for the trip, perhaps–maybe you noticed who benefits most from the new stimulus bill that virtually all Republicans voted against. Yep, red states.

Conservatives do love their earmarks (just as they also apparently subscribe to the most online pornography). And as the Huffington Post reports, the new stimulus bill, like the tax system in general, rewards red state porkers the most. As I’ve noted previously, one way to fix the economy might be to enforce a sort of Golden Rule by just treating Republicans as they would treat others: Cut off the tap, and let the piggies fend for themselves.

Posted in History, Journalism, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 6 Comments »

Watch out Mr. President, they’re polling again

Posted by James McPherson on February 20, 2009

A new CNN poll shows President Obama with an approval rating of 67 percent, down 9 percent from early this month. Most of the losses came from Republicans, who apparently during the past month figured out that their side lost, that Obama isn’t a Republican, and that he wouldn’t bow to their every whim. Still, even about a third of Republicans (along with 92 percent of Democrats) still approve of the job Obama is doing–after he’s been on the job all of one month. George Bush needed a terrorism attack to get numbers that high from the other side.

Put another way, the poll numbers are essentially meaningless at this point. There are several more big issues for Obama and Congress to tackle in the coming months, and Obama’s approval rating means almost nothing for most of the next two years–and only then to other Democrats who are running for election.

What will matter is the shape of the economy, and perhaps the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, some time down the road. Most Americans are willing to give the president they just elected a chance–after all, they waited out the Bush years without storming the White House, indicating a certain level of patience. What happens over the next few years, not what happens in the first 100 days of the Obama presidency, will determine whether he is later viewed as an FDR or a Hoover.

The CNN poll even shows that 60 percent of Americans approve of the just-passed stimulus bill–despite two Fox News lead story headlines today that read, “Resentment grows overpaying for others’ foreclosure misery,” and  “Watch out Mr. President, because we’re mad as hell!” The latter is an opinion piece written by Dan Gainor, vice president of the Business & Media Institute, an organization you’ve probably never heard of but which has an advisory board that includes representatives of the National Taxpayers Union, the Galen Institute, and Cato Institute, the founder of TechRepublican.com along with the author of a blog titled “The Conspiracy to Keep You Poor and Stupid.”

One of the highlights of that blog is a “joke of the day,” on which currently posted  jokes include versions that are anti-Obama, anti-Clinton and anti-Muslim. Despite that, author Donald Luskin still manages to get far too much air time as a talking head on various networks (including Fox, but also the so-called “liberal media.” Another indication of Fox writer Gainor’s political perspective is that his own organization’s biggest ad is one urging people to “join the fight” against the Fairness Doctrine (a fictional threat, as I’ve noted here and here).

Somehow I don’t think Gainor, BMI or Fox will become fans of Obama whatever he does. Having those folks “mad as hell” should be viewed as a good thing. So would a cessation of news organizations creating news through polls, though I don’t think that’s likely, either.

One other interesting note about the BMI, in light of the controversy over the New York Post monkey cartoon. Below is the cartoon (dated Feb. 11) that is now on that organization’s front page:

hrblockhead-cartoon

Posted in History, Journalism, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments »

Gregg not sold on Commerce; public not stimulated by discussion, anyway

Posted by James McPherson on February 13, 2009

Apparently Senator Judd Gregg finally got around to watching some of Barack Obama’s old speeches on YouTube, and suddenly realized, “Hey, he’s not a Republican–how did he get elected president?” Gregg then promptly withdrew his nomination as Commerce secretary. It’s just as well–apparently Obama hadn’t yet gotten around to reading that Gregg once voted to abolish the very department he would have been leading as the third Republican member of Obama’s cabinet.

Gregg is the second nominee, after Bill Richardson, to accept and then reject the commerce position. Tax problems have derailed nominees for two other positions. Yet while embarrassing–prompting Obama’s unnecessary “I screwed up” statement–the missteps will matter little in the long run. For one thing, people don’t really care about cabinet positions even under the best of conditions.

And these are far from the best of conditions, of course. People care far more about is the economy, and with Congress about to passa stimulus bill today, Obama again proved successful on that front. The success or failure of the stimulus plan will have a far bigger effect on the chances of re-election for the president and his fellow Democrats than does any flap over cabinet nominees.

If you need an illustration of how little they matter, ask the people sitting next to how many of Obama’s picks they can name. I’d be surprised if they get three, even counting Timothy Geithner and Hillary Clinton. And for the record, a dozen cabinet nominees have already been confirmed.

In the meantime, Alexander Zaitchik of Alternet has joined the list of people and publications asking why Howard Dean, the guy perhaps most responsible for Obama reaching the White House, hasn’t been tabbed for a cabinet post. Good question, especially with that Health and Human Services position still open.

Thursday update: While Dean is forced to turn to the Huffington Post to get someone to listen to him about health care, it appears that Obama has decided on Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius for HHS chief. She’s not the best choice but probably not a bad one, assuming she pays her taxes.

Posted in Politics, Written elsewhere | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

How the GOP can hasten its race to irrelevancy and Confederacy

Posted by James McPherson on February 11, 2009

Some influential conservatives have promised to campaign against the three moderate Senate Republicans who supported the economic stimulus bill. As a liberal, I hope they keep their promise, and that their efforts succeed. Though it’s hard to imagine many ways that Republicans can make themselves even less relevant in national politics than they are now, this would be one of them.

Conservatives have long complained about the three Senators, Pennsylvania’s Arlen Specter and Maine’s two Senators, Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe. In fact, the three are remnants of a moderate Republican Northeastern base which, as I’ve written elsewhere, began to lose influence in 1964.

The recent defeat of Connecticut Rep. Christopher Shays ended GOP representation from the New England states complete in the House of Representatives. And if the conservatives have their way, defeating the moderate Senators in future Republican primaries, the primary winners will almost certainly become general election losers.

The Democratic Party has become too conservative, in my view. But that move to a center-right position has captured the very middle-of-the road voters that Karl Rovian Republicans have abandoned in their efforts to appeal to what they mistakenly viewed as a growing conservative base.

As some Republicans, including Virginia Rep. Tom Davis and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell have pointed out, the result is that the GOP is on the verge of becoming a “regional party” based in the old Confederacy. The irony is notable in a year in which we celebrate the 200th anniversary of Abe Lincoln’s birth, especially for those of us who are fans of Lincoln but not of the party that has abandoned his ideals.

Posted in History, Politics, Written elsewhere | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments »

A ‘stimulating’ Limbaugh lesson, and battles in Afghanistan and Tampa

Posted by James McPherson on February 1, 2009

Normally I have about the same respect for James Carville that I do for Rush Limbaugh. But sometimes it is interesting to watch a contest in which you wish both sides could lose, such as when a skinny bald blowhard gives the pompous drug-addicted blowhard a lesson about history and government.

Carville is making fun of Limbaugh’s supposed call for bipartisanship regarding the stimulus bill being considered by Congress. In the meantime, in a true show of Senate bipartisanship, Maine Republican Susan Collins (whom some Republicans think should be a Democrat) and Colorado Democrat Ben Nelson (whom some Dems think should join the GOP) are working to create a stimulus package that majorities in both parties could support. Mostly what they’re trying to do is “slash what they call wasteful spending from the bill.”

Republicans, many of whom consider almost any spending not related to killing someone to be wasteful, continue to call for the least effective means of stimulus (tax breaks) while rejecting the most effective (programs for poor people). Regardless of the outcome, a big stimulus package will be passed and much will be spent on infrastructure–a good thing except for the fact that too much of it will go to reinforcing a car-centric culture and not enough to mass transit (the benefits of which I greatly enjoyed last month in New York and Washington, D.C.).

Related to the economy, the stupidist spending under the George W. Bush adminstration was, and continues to be, expensed related to the Iraq War. While I am encouraged that President Barack Obama will likely reduce our presence there, I am troubled that he may be aiming toward creating his own Vietnam/Iraq-style quagmire in Afghanistan.

Obama probably will double the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan, which might have been a good idea seven years ago. But keeping in mind that the current U.S. presence is smaller than the number of police deemed necessary to patrol friendly, celebratory crowds without guns in our nation’s capital on Inauguration Day, Obama’s plan seems mostly like a way to temporarily look semi-strong on defense while accomplishing no clear goals. Among those continuing to pay the price will be American soldiers and their orphaned children, and American taxpayers and their bewildered grandchildren.

Incidentally, Senators Collins and Nelson and I do have something in common, if the two really are working through the weekend to fix the stimulus package–we’ll be among that distinct minority of Americans not watching today’s Super Bowl. I’ve skipped viewing most Super Bowls, often other matchups in which I hope both sides lose, though I did hang on every second of the Seattle Seahawks’ 2005 loss to the Steelers (part of why today I’m rooting for the Cardinals–another area in which I disagree with Obama).

While I like football (I played in college, and still prefer the college game), with a few obvious exceptions the Super Bowl generally is not a particularly good game. With every key play to be shown endlessly in coming days, the halftime show a watered-down performance by a popular star provided with poor sound, and (thanks to YouTube) every commercial worth watching available anytime after the game, there is little reason to tune in.

I also don’t think the game will be close. My prediction: 34-13, Steelers. I figure today might be the perfect time to finally brave the mall and exchange the shirts I got for Christmas, since there will be few other guys there.

Same day update: So much for my career as a sports prognosticator. I walked into the house and flipped on the TV just in time to see the last play of the first half–the longest play in Super Bowl history. I then watched Bruce Springsteen in a halftime show that was every bit as weak as I expected, and then turned the TV back off until just before the Steelers gave up a safety to let the Cardinals get within four points.

To my credit, I did then have enough sense to watch the rest of the game, which the Steelers probably deserved to lose–after all, how do you NOT cover Larry Fitzgerald closely enough to prevent the last Cardinal touchdown? On the other hand, can you cover Santonio Holmes any better than he was covered on Pittburgh’s last TD? Who knows, after the last couple of years, I may have to start watching Super Bowls again.

Posted in History, Personal, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments »