Full circle: Dispatches from President Obama’s farewell address

We all feel that way, sweetie

I and several thousand other people are here early in McCormick Center, waiting for President Obama. We’re listening the warm-up act of Eddie Vedder and the Chicago Children’s Choir, followed by BJ the Chicago Kid with the national anthem. They all rocked the house—though in fairness it wasn’t the toughest crowd I’ve ever seen….

I am sitting in the press pen, sneaking into a spot nominally reserved for NBC News. I’m about 25 feet from Anderson Cooper. A gentleman, Mr. Cooper graciously let me take his picture. At least he would have, had I not nervously screwed up my fancy camera. He has a better seat. Still, I’m here with my White House press pass, my three cameras, a laptop. A tripod I don’t have permission to set up. I’ve hit the big time.

This is a poignant moment, the end of a sweet journey for many here. My own journey began 9 ½ years ago, when a friend invited me to a small Chicago party on behalf of Senator Barack Obama’s unlikely presidential campaign…. A man I hadn’t heard of, David Plouffe, was the headliner of this small party. He was there to talk campaign strategy. He got hard questions from a skeptical small crowd. Senator Obama was thirty points down in the polls. He was way behind in money. and in name recognition. He was a black guy with a…well you know the list…

I don’t for a moment believe President Obama has been the perfect president or the perfect steward of the Democratic Party. He was still very good. With virtually zero Republican help, his policies pulled our nation out of the deepest recession in generations. He rescued the auto industry. He brought health insurance to twenty million people. His soldiers killed bin Laden. He avoided war with Iran. He did many less noticeable things, too, such as building a Justice Department we can be proud of for its work on civil rights and disability.

He is one of the most worthy men ever to assume the presidency. The Obamas represent our country with such grace, humanity, and integrity. The contrast between President Obama and the grifting demagogue who will replace him defies belief.

President Obama has been the best and the classiest President of my lifetime. I’ve never regretted for one second the thousands of hours I’ve spent supporting his efforts.

Like millions of others, I just ache to see him go.

More here, from my piece at the Huffington Post.

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Politics stops at the water’s edge … 2016 style

Rep Trent Franks (R-AZ): “If Russia succeeded in giving the American people information that was accurate, then they merely did what the media should have done.”

I find this disgraceful.

“. . . and that’s never easy”

When he was in high school, my brother went away to a weekend-long “Tolerance Camp” sponsored by the National Council of Christians and Jews. (Earlier days, narrower definitions of diversity.) When he returned I asked whether he’d had a good time and he replied, “People were getting new ideas, and that’s never easy.”

There’s been a lot of rumbling about how the 2016 election reflected a failure on the part of elites to understand the atavistic attitudes of a significant portion of the electorate. But we understand perfectly well: people have been getting new ideas—about who gets rewarded for what kind of work, about what color or gender person will be acknowledged as someone who counts, about who’s in charge—and that’s never easy. Trump voters decided they didn’t like the new ideas and said so at the ballot box. But that won’t prevent those ideas from taking hold, unless the central idea of American life—that of popular self-government—is destroyed by the lying fool they chose.

And if it is, it won’t be something elites, or Democrats, or women, or black people, or Jews, or gays, or liberals did or didn’t do. If we really believe in self-government we must hold people accountable for their choices, and the destruction of American values and institutions will be the predictable result of a choice made by people who failed or refused to understand that it’s never easy to get new ideas, but it’s fatal not to.

Civil Disobedience in the Age of Trump

For the first time in my life, I am contemplating going to jail in an act of civil disobedience if President-elect Trump moves against people registered for DACA or carries out some of his other campaign promises. I’m not eager to get locked up, but I’d be at peace with it, too.

I wrote about my thinking today at the Nation.

My greatest fear, when I ponder going to jail, is that my 53-year-old prostate wouldn’t be able to handle the long wait until I am booked. Before Election Day, it seemed a little crazy to imagine that I would ever be behind bars. Now it seems a little crazy that the country would be where we are. Like many others, I am weighing what I am willing and able to do in response.

Henry David Thoreau begins his 1849 essay On the duty of civil disobedience with a timely question: “This American government—what is it but a tradition, though a recent one, endeavoring to transmit itself unimpaired to posterity, but in each instant losing some of its integrity?” American government lost more than some of its integrity on November 8, when Donald Trump was elected to succeed Barack Obama as President of the United States…

[S]erious as they are, Trump’s personal improprieties and financial conflicts are not what lead me to ponder chaining myself to a courthouse door. Like no other president-elect in generations, he bluntly challenges bedrock norms of our pluralist democracy. That’s what Trump’s challenges to President Obama’s birth certificate and college transcripts were really about.

More here.


Step up, Mr. President

President Obama, we have never met, but I’m one of your most committed supporters. I’ve contributed thousands of dollars, thousands of hours to your campaigns and to the fight for health reform. I’m so proud of your intelligence, decency, and integrity. I’m gratified to have given every dollar, every hour I devoted to your campaigns and to these worthy causes. I weep for my country, that a man of your comprehensive excellence will be replaced by a figure of such comprehensive unworthiness as Donald Trump.

President Obama visiting Hyde Park Academy, Chicago, Illinois. One of my first pics with the new zoom lens.

Despite–or rather because of my pride in you, I am troubled by your equivocal performance at perhaps your last press conference today. In its way, this was a low point of your presidency, rivaling your defeat at the hands of Republicans in the debt ceiling crisis and your defeat in the first 2012 presidential debate. We are in a national crisis, and we are looking to you.

The majority of Americans—we who voted for you, and many who did not—are frightened for our future. We are uncertain about the opaque finances, entanglements, and intentions of our incoming President. We are looking for you to lead us. We know that you have an awesome responsibility to ensure the peaceful transfer of power, and to maintain a minimum of decorum in a polarized time. You have other responsibilities, too.

Some have called upon you to take dramatic action before January 20, perhaps a special session of Congress to address the President-elect’s conflicts of interest and the Russian hack. I’m not sure what to think about that.

At minimum, I wish that you had said today some obvious things that need to be said. You didn’t have to harshly condemn the President-elect or to become a bitter antagonist in the political fray. You could have spoken in the precise, civil, and frank locution we have come to expect from you in moments of national difficulty and pain.

Here, for example, are some things that should be said:

Given the whisker-thin electoral college margin, Russian interference on behalf of Mr. Trump obviously casts some shadow over the outcome. That’s the reality. Of course, we can never know whether this made a decisive difference. It mattered, alongside other important things that also mattered. We can all recognize that reality, whether we voted for Mr. Trump, for Secretary Clinton, or for some other candidate.

Given the divisive campaign and Secretary Clinton’s securing the popular vote, President-elect Trump has a special responsibility to reach across the aisle. He has a special responsibility to be scrupulous and transparent about his complicated financial affairs, so that the American people can be absolutely  sure that he has no conflicts of interests, foreign entanglements, or vulnerabilities, given what we know just unfolded. I have spoken with him about these matters.

I’m not sure how Mr. Trump or his supporters would have reacted to such comments. I do know many are hungry for you to be more assertive—not as a Democrat but as President of a nation whose political system has just been badly damaged.

You missed an opportunity to do that today. Fortunately, you are still President of the United States. I hope that you use the next month effectively. At times, you must help our next president as he prepares to assume this awesome job. Other times, you must help the rest of us, as we prepare to resist his unworthy efforts to undo your own worthy legacy.

Our electors, ourselves

The revelations in the past few days about Russian interference in the election actually gave me great relief–because, of course, everything that happens is about me! Now those who’ve been rolling their eyes at my paranoid fantasies of Putin-inspired hacking and leaking and disabling the voter protection hotline will have to concede that paranoia is, in this case, completely justified.

075f22a8-1962-372f-8e97-26f44444eb71More important–and more seriously–the revelations crystallized my view that the outcome of this Presidential election reflects not a simple disagreement about policy but an actual threat to our system of government. And, again, if that sounds alarmist, you haven’t been paying enough attention.

But I know you all have been paying attention; SO! What to do? A group of us who worked together on Hillary’s campaign are contacting every Republican elector in the country, asking all of them to withhold their votes from Donald Trump. We’re calling, we’re emailing, we’re snail-mailing–and we’re doing it all RIGHT NOW, because the Electoral College meets in 5 days, on Monday, December 19, and it’s our last line of defense against having a Russian puppet in the White House.

If you can spare time in the next day or so, I urge you to do the same. You will find a list of GOP electors, with all their e-mail contact information, here. My letter, which you’re welcome to crib if you find it useful, is here. The essential thing is to write now, and to treat these people with whom we disagree so strongly as fellow and sister patriots with whom we hope to ally in defense of the Constitution. What a concept: speaking civilly and rationally to our opponents!

You may well think this is a futile endeavor; but I can only quote Father Daniel Berrigan: “Start with the impossible. Proceed calmly towards the improbable. No worry, there are at least five exits.” And, as he also said, “Faith is rarely where your head is at. Nor is it where your heart is at. Faith is where your ass is at!”

Mine’s in front of my computer.

Some jaundiced comments on the political lessons of ACA

Me at healthinsurance.org:

ACA sought to combine the best Democratic and Republican ideas in an ideologically moderate, fiscally disciplined package. Perhaps that was the fundamental political error.

Republicans will indeed have great difficulty unwinding ACA without causing a human catastrophe for which they would pay dearly. If Democrats paid a heavy political penalty for “owning” health policy in the Obama years, Republicans will pay a similar penalty if they damage things while they control all three branches of the federal government. As I’ve noted elsewhere, Republicans resemble the bear who caught the car. The car won’t emerge unscathed, but the bear will probably regret catching up. Although the electorate divides along partisan lines in their overall assessment of ACA, Americans support almost every individual element of ACA. There is no way to repeal it without doing unpopular things and visibly hurting real people along the way.

More here.

For a special prosecutor

The revelations about Russia’s deliberate and successful attempt to install a puppet President in the White House – reinforced by Trump’s surprise selection of a Secretary of State whose current employer has  $300 billion stake in removing the sanctions imposed on Russia for annexing Crimea and stirring up civil war in Ukraine – raises the question of what anyone can do about it now, other than fuss and fume and resolve to treat Trump as someone with the legal powers of the Presidency but absolutely no moral authority or entitlement to deference (or even the presumption of good faith).

I’m pleased to report that John Weaver, Gov. Kasich’s campaign strategist, has come up with the right idea: a Special Prosecutor charged with investigating any illegal conduct, including foreign interference and computer hacking, in the 2016 Presidential election. That prosecutor could be granted resources, subpoena power, and unlimited access to intelligence information. Such an appointment is within the power of the Attorney General, and the President may properly suggest such an appointment.

That would be a radical step for President Obama to take, and even somewhat out of character, so he’s unlikely to do it unless he faces a groundswell of public support for the idea, including from some prominent Republicans (e.g., Lindsay Graham and John McCain).

Yes, as a matter of law Trump could dismiss that Special Prosecutor, or order his Attorney General to do so. But as a matter of politics that would be a very, very bad move on Trump’s part. Moreover, Sen. Sessions faces a confirmation hearing, and the Senate (with just a little bit of Republican help) could require an ironclad commitment not to carry out a second Saturday Night Massacre, or impede the investigation in any way, as a condition of confirmation. (At what point firing a prosecutor because he’s getting too close to finding the truth becomes a criminal obstruction of justice is not, I think, a matter on which the courts have yet ruled.)

A Special Prosecutor can properly do what an ordinary prosecutor may not: issue a full report with respect to the findings of the investigation, whether or not it leads to prosecution. (Recall the long pornographic essay produced by the Lewinsky investigation.) So even if the process didn’t take any scalps, it would produce an authoritative account of what was done, and by whom, to undermine American democracy.

Of course there’s an argument that the findings of that report might trigger another Presidential impeachment, or some other form of Constitutional crisis, and that – now that we’ve allowed a lunatic to get his hands on the nuclear codes – we shouldn’t do anything to make him even crazier, or to further weaken public trust in government. But I can’t see it that way. If we tolerate cheating, we’re just going to get more cheating, as certainly as Shelby County followed Bush v. Gore. Time to draw the line.

So we all have our assignments, don’t we? Tweet, Facebook, and blog. Call your Member of Congress and your two Senators. Call the White House. Write letters to the editor. Talk to your friends and get them into action

Above all: never let up. Be as relentless about finding the truth as Trump will be about continuing to conceal it.


The bear that caught the car: Republicans and ACA

I wrote a piece for TCF.org describing the dilemma facing Republicans next year.

“Repeal and replace” is one of the few clear policy goals that unites President-elect Trump’s campaign with congressional Republicans. Something large is going to happen. Some triumphant Republican “repeal” seems foreordained…

What will Republicans actually do to replace the ACA? That is another matter. Seldom has a political party combined such comprehensive control over the practical levers of government with such limited public mandate for its policy agenda. President-elect Trump lost the popular vote by more than 2.5 million votes. His net favorability rating stands at minus six, which is about forty-nine points below the net favorability rating of President-elect Barack Obama eight years ago. According to the website yougov.com, only 35 percent of Americans believe Trump has the temperament for the presidency. Fifty-nine percent“think he is not even somewhat qualified for the job.”


Some commentators suggest that Republican efforts to bend the health care system to their liking resemble the dog who chased the car and finally caught it on November 8. But that analogy isn’t quite right. Perhaps the better analogy is the bear who chased a car: the bear will likely regret catching up, but the car won’t escape unscathed, either.

More here.