...with his sometime sparring partner, conservative commentator Bill Kristol (watch particularly for the healthcare argument about six minutes in):
|The Daily Show With Jon Stewart||Mon - Thurs 11p / 10c|
(Hat tip: Comment Central)
Michael Barone thinks Obama is all aura and no action:
Inspiration is one thing, persuasion another. He created the impression
on the campaign trail that he was familiar with major issues and
readily ticked off his positions on them. But he has not proved so good
Barone devotes the whole of his piece to explaining why this is. But hold on a minute: isn't it a little early to decide that Obama couldn't legislate his way into his own house? He hasn't failed any big tests yet. The vast and complex stimulus bill passed, and at warp speed. The climate change bill passed in the House and is awaiting its turn in the Senate. As for health care, it's still probable that a bill will pass and very possible that Obama will get, as Ambinder puts it, 85% of what he wants. The glee that conservative commentators are feeling over Obama's first serious difficulties is driving them to some rather rash conclusions.
Tina Brown's latest column argues that Obama needs to get Bill Clinton on board to help sell healthcare, and it contains this rather forlorn quote:
“Sure, he calls me every few weeks,” the former president told a person I know. “But it feels as if, you know, he’s just checking a box.”
I think this may be one of my favourite sentences ever:
Recently I took a few months of my free time and decided to recreate Arnold Schoenberg's 1909 op. 11 Drei Klavierstücke (aka Three Piano Pieces) by editing together videos of cats playing pianos downloaded from Youtube.
You can watch and listen to the results here. If you wish.
Obama's long-time doctor from Chicago, Dr David Scheiner, is the latest person to bemoan the lack of progress on healthcare reform. He believes Obama isn't acting on his own convictions. But he doesn't want anyone to think this is personal:
Despite his policy critiques, Scheiner's affection for his long-time patient is quite obvious. He recalled the president as being "gracious" and "never pulling rank" when he came to his office. "Part of my shtick is I sing songs and I love humor," Scheiner said.
Christ alive, if any doctor of mine had a "shtick", I'd change doctors faster than you can say "malpractice".
"I remember last time I saw him I told him a joke, he said, 'Doc, you told me that joke before.' I was so impressed he can remember my bad jokes -- this guy has to be really bright."
Either that, or you're a Class-A bore, doc.
Nate Silver, a strong supporter of Obama, thinks the president and his party have screwed up the politics of healthcare. He thinks Obama is doing too much (he's becoming overexposed) and too little (he hasn't given voters a clear enough reason to get passionate about reform).
All is not lost, however, if the Dems can get their act together at this late stage:
The best thing that health care has going for it is that it doesn't necessarily need to be all that popular to pass. Congressional Democrats will simply have to acknowledge that, while the passage of a bill might not do them any favors in the near-term, its failure would almost certainly be much, much worse. But I'm not sure that Democrats had to find themselves in this lose-lose position in the first place. And I'm not sure that they can't find their way out of it, if they start to take more heed of what the public really needs to hear about their health care bill.
Meet Phineas Gage.
Those of you who have read any introductions to brain science or modern psychology will be familiar with the name. But you may not have seen the face before.
Gage, a railroad worker, became famous for surviving a horrific accident. In 1848 he was using a tamping iron to fill a hole with gunpowder when a stray spark caused an explosion, sending the tamping iron (the one he's holding in that photo) straight through his head. It landed, along with bits of his brain, thirty yards away.
Amazingly, Gage survived, and within a few months was living a relatively normal life, although - it is claimed - he emerged a very different man. The case changed the study of neuroscience forever.
A couple in Massachusetts who collect daguerreotypes have had this in their collection for thirty years. It was only when they uploaded it on to flickr for all to see that one commenter (a history buff) suggested it might be the only known photo of Gage.
Pity the poor journalist tasked with interviewing Chris Anderson:
SPIEGEL: Mr. Anderson, let's talk about the future of journalism.
Anderson: This is going to be a very annoying interview. I don't use the word journalism.
SPIEGEL: Okay, how about newspapers? They are in deep trouble both in the United States and worldwide.
Anderson: Sorry, I don't use the word media. I don't use the word news. I don't think that those words mean anything anymore. They defined publishing in the 20th century. Today, they are a barrier. They are standing in our way, like a horseless carriage.
SPIEGEL: Which other words would you use?
Anderson: There are no other words.
There's some evidence that Obama's election, and his efforts to "reach out" to various constituencies, particularly people in the Middle East, is getting through.
Most striking is this graphic depiction of who watched the YouTube video message he sent to Iranians in March (YouTube has only just made such user data available):
The video had a total of 600,000 views and 15,000 of them were in Iran - not a huge number but enough, apparently, to make an impact. It can be marked down as a small but significant win for the White House's willingness to try this new form of direct, president-to-people diplomacy.
The second piece of evidence is a new multi-country poll showing that America's image in the world has markedly improved since Obama's election. Animosity to the US still runs deep in some (not all) Muslim countries. Israel is the only country (out of the 25 surveyed) that preferred America under Bush.
Perhaps this is a honeymoon period that, like the domestic one, must come to an end. Still, it's good to see that the 2008 optimism on this front wasn't entirely misplaced.
I for one learned, during the campaign, that Obama is usually a better judge of Obama than me or anyone else. In the long battle with Hillary Clinton, and in the general, he managed to make those who fretted about whether he could win without a radical change of direction look like myopic sheep, hopelessly in thrall to the conventional wisdom of the hour, overly fearful of the ghosts of past defeats. Trust me, he said or seemed to say: I know what I'm doing; things will work out in the end. And, well, they did. That's not to say he didn't change tack a few times. But he did so in his careful, considered fashion, at his own pace, on his terms.
Now, on the first big challenge of his domestic agenda, it's safe to say that things aren't going so well, and I'm tempted to conclude that they'd be going a lot better if he'd set about it differently. I can also see that, if he screws this up, he may screw up the rest of his first term and endanger the possibility of a second - not to mention the chances of America ever getting a sensible, fair healthcare system. But I still hesitate before accusing this formidable politician of losing the plot. Having said that, I found this carefully argued, lucid and brutal assessment of his failings on healthcare, from a usually sympathetic commentator, very hard to argue with.
Hillary Clinton's warning to the Democratic electorate in 2008 was that whilst Obama may talk a good game about "Change", he won't be tough enough or experienced enough to make change happen.
Her former opponent seems to be on the brink of proving her right.
Somebody noted, during the presidential campaign, that any setback suffered by Hillary Clinton seemed to be disproportionately likely to be termed a "slap in the face" by the media.
I recalled that phenomenon when reading this report of the cabinet minister Harriet Harman being rebuffed by the chancellor on the question of taxation:
However, Mr Darling publicly "slapped her down", according to a Treasury source, after he made clear the reverse in the temporary cut was still set for the New Year.
Hmm. There's just a hint of lipsmacking sadism in that phrase, isn't there?
Which is something of an oxymoron of course.
Responding to Hillary Clinton's admittedly rather ill-chosen comparison of North Korea to an attention-seeking child, the regime responded with even stronger words:
"We cannot but regard Mrs Clinton as a funny lady as she likes to utter such rhetoric, unaware of the elementary etiquette in the international community," the spokesman said. "Sometimes she looks like a primary schoolgirl and sometimes a pensioner going shopping."
It's characteristic stuff. The New Republic has a collection of North Korea's greatest diplomatic hits, including their attack on US ambassador Alexander Vershbow, whom they described as "bitchy and malignant":
Policies in the U.S. are made by such rude and dangerous guys of illiteracy that the DPRK had no option but to build up nuclear deterrent to defend itself. Ours will serve as an appropriate means for dealing with such guys as Bershbow [sic].