Obama’s legacy likely to be determined by upcoming battles

President Obama’s legacy ultimately could be determined over the next few months by a series of showdowns — both with Republicans, and, potentially, with fellow Democrats — slated to take place.

Guns. Immigration. Climate change. Debt and spending. The matters that Obama is either moving on or has promised to move on are the sorts of big issues that the two parties (and their presidents) have tangled with for decades and for which no easy solutions present themselves.

Solve them and Obama will write his name in the history books as one of the most influential presidents of the modern era. (Don’t forget he has already achieved a major overhaul of the nation’s health care system.) Fail to find solutions and Obama likely will join the long list of presidents who promised to change Washington but ultimately came up short .

There’s little question of how Obama sees himself — particularly following his reelection victory in November. In a series of speeches since then, Obama has cast his proposals — on guns, the fiscal cliff, the sequester — as designed to help people achieve the American Dream.

“It can feel like for a lot of young people that the future only extends to the next street corner or the outskirts of town; that no matter how much you work or how hard you try, your destiny was determined the moment you were born,” Obama said, discussing his proposal to curb gun violence in a speech in Chicago last week. Later, he added: “We all share a responsibility to move this country closer to our founding vision that no matter who you are, or where you come from, here in America, you can decide your own destiny.”

While Obama’s rhetoric is clear about the grand aims he holds for his second term, the political realities around these issues seem to point to the sort of small-bore solutions that he has long rejected.

Take guns. There seems to be little expectation that an assault-weapons ban can be passed though Congress, a feat that even Bill Clinton, whose presidency was defined, largely, by its dearth of monumental challenges, was able to accomplish. Obama himself has acknowledged as much; in his State of the Union speech his call to action was not for Congress to pass his proposals to lessen gun violence, but rather to simply allow them to be voted on — something short of a historic stand on a controversial issue.

Ditto on the fight over how to reduce the country’s debt . The distance between the two parties over what mix of tax increases and spending cuts is the right one has been on stark display in the runup to the March 1 sequestration deadline. To say negotiations have broken down over how to avert the $1.2 trillion in automatic, across-the-board cuts assumes that they ever really began in earnest — which they didn’t. While most polling suggests that Obama enjoys the political upper hand on the issue, that won’t bridge the massive ideological divide that separates the two sides.

Movement on climate change is even more politically fraught, with even small-scale solutions somewhat unlikely to make it through Congress. (Many Congressional Democrats are still reeling from the House passage of a cap and trade measure in 2009, a piece of legislation that went nowhere and is blamed by some within the party for the loss of the chamber the following year.)

Of the second-term issues where Obama’s legacy will be made (or not), immigration reform seems to be the one with the highest probability of a “big” solution — given that a bipartisan group of Senators is working on a compromise proposal. Even there, however, passage of a major piece of legislation will be a heavy lift.

Obama wants to go big. But, he oversees a legislative and political process that seems forever bent toward incrementalism. And, as much as his allies insist that Obama can do little about the alleged intransigence of Republicans in Congress, he will almost certainly need to find a way to bend the other party (or at least a few dozen of them) to his political will if he wants to leave the sort of mark on the presidency— and the country — that he so clearly desires to do.

Discuss this topic and other political issues in the Post’s Politics Discussion Forums.

Source : washingtonpost[dot]com


A bone to pick with the Oscars


A scene from Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln,” with Daniel Day-Lewis portraying Abraham Lincoln. http://www.filmofilia.com.

Oscar night is upon us. I am usually asleep by the time the best actor, actress and picture of the year are announced, but it is, nevertheless, one of my favorite evenings of the year. In fact, every year, I do my best to see every movie nominated for an Oscar before the program, airs. At least, that’s what I did before I had children and had to resort to pay-per-view. That’s a discussion for another day.

Now, I know what you’re thinking.

Yes, the program is just too long.

Yes, sometimes, the hosts leave a lot to be desired. I am, however, predicting that tonight, Seth McFarlane will be so entertaining as host of the 85th Academy Awards that I might actually be able to stay awake for the entire program.

Yes, there is always one person who delivers a speech that leaves us wondering whether they are intoxicated or in a drug-induced state of insanity.

Nevertheless, the evening of the Academy Awards is always exciting because the award recipients and their work teach us so much about who we are as Americans and as citizens of the world.

Nicole Kidman’s 2003 Oscar win for her performance in “The Hours” made the nation look at female actresses with the seriousness they deserve.

Charlize Theron’s 2004 Oscar win for her performance in “Monster” again forced us to not only look at an unfamiliar aspect of crime and justice — women as serial killers.

Reese Witherspoon’s 2006 Oscar win for her performance in “Walk the Line” and Julia Roberts’s 2001 Oscar win for her performance in “Erin Brokovich” showed the world that women as the subject on a bio-pic can win big at the box office.

When Halle Berry, Jamie Foxx, Whoopi Goldberg, Jennifer Hudson, Hattie McDaniel, Sidney Poitier, Denzel Washington, Forest Whitaker and other African Americans won Oscars, they not only gave performances of a lifetime, they made history and gave all Americans, black and white, hope about all that our nation can be because of how far we have come.

Truly exceptional movies and the actors and actresses who seemingly become mediums, literally possessing the spirits of the characters they play, transform our lives in ways we don’t always fully comprehend.

“Schindler’s List” taught us much about the human experience

Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson in “The Bucket List” and Shirley MacLaine and Debra Winger in “Terms of Endearment” made us laugh, cry and appreciate love.

Tom Hanks in “Philadelphia” made us want to become foot soldiers for social justice and human rights.

An exceptional movie has the power to make us think about the best and the worst aspects of human behavior and the world we live in, so that we never forget we are one.

This is why I love the Oscars.

I don’t have a crystal ball and will not even attempt to predict who will win. I will, however, share who I think should win based upon how a particular movie, actor or actresses performance had the greatest impact on how we look at the human experience.

Here are my picks:

Picture: “Lincoln”

Director: Steven Spielberg, “Lincoln”

Actress in a Supporting Role: Sally Field, “Lincoln”

Actor in a Supporting Role: Christoph Waltz, “Django Unchained”

Actress in a Leading Role: Quvenzhané Wallis, “Beasts of the Southern Wild”

Actor in a Leading Role: Daniel Day-Lewis, “Lincoln”

Now, like The Washington Post’s Ann Hornaday, I do have a bone to pick with the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences.

Hornaday asks whether Kathryn Bigelow’s “Zero Dark Thirty” will be “Swift-boated out of an Oscar.”

I second that.

Just as egregious as the campaign against “Zero Dark Thirty” (as well as the Academy’s failure to nominate Ben Affleck as best director for “Argo”) is the absurdity of completely ignoring Kerry Washington and her portrayal of Broomhilda von Shaft, the articulate, literate, German- and English- speaking slave in “Django Unchained.”

I would argue that Washington’s portrayal of “Hildy,” Django’s wife in Tarantino’s evocative depiction of slavery on a Tennessee plantation, deserves as much praise as the abundant plaudits of Anne Hathaway’s performance in “Les Misérables.”

Like Hathaway, who has been nominated as best actress in a supporting role for her portrayal of Fantine in the film adaption of the wildly popular Broadway musical, Washington should have been nominated for portrayal of Hildy.

Kerry Washington as Broomhilda Von Shaft in Quentin Tarantino’s “Django Unchained.” http://www.cinema-way.com.

Washington took on this very emotionally difficult role and channeled the spirit of every slave who was whipped, placed in a hot box as punishment for wanting freedom and torn away from their families simply because they were black and because they were women.

Broomhilda von Shaft was black.

She was a slave.

Should could read and speak German and English.

Yet, she was reviled by whites, many of whom were so inarticulate that they appeared to be speaking a foreign language.

Yes, “Django Unchained” is difficult to watch, but it teaches us much about the horror of slavery and racial discrimination and the strength of the human spirit.

As we ponder this era of American history, the final thing I will say about tonight’s Oscars is why I think “Lincoln” should win best picture and Daniel Day-Lewis should win best actor in a leading role.

The movie and Daniel Day-Lewis’s portrayal of Lincoln were breathtaking.

“Lincoln” is a movie that brought one of our nation’s greatest presidents to life. It made us feel the pain of slavery and war, the yearning for freedom, the battle between good and evil, and the struggle to right our nation’s original sin.

“Lincoln” is everything that the Oscars should stand for.

Michelle D. Bernard is the president & CEO of the Bernard Center for Women, Politics & Public Policy.  Follow her on Twitter @michellebernard.

Source : washingtonpost[dot]com

‘Fox News Sunday’ to interview Mitt and Ann Romney

Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney and his wife Ann Romney will sit for an interview with “Fox News Sunday” next week, show host Chris Wallace said. It will be Romneys’ first interview since the end of the 2012 presidential campaign.

The former Republican nominee has been laying low since his loss to President Obama. But he’s shown a recent willingness to re-inject himself into the public debate, a least a little bit. Romney is also scheduled to address the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington next month.

Source : washingtonpost[dot]com

Arne Duncan: Thousands of teachers could lose their jobs as result of sequester

Education Secretary Arne Duncan warned Sunday that thousands of teachers around the country could lose their jobs as a result of the automatic across-the-board spending cuts slated to begin Friday, barring action by Congress.

“As many of 40,000 teachers could lose their jobs,” Duncan warned on CBS News’ “Face The Nation.”  “There are literally teachers now who are getting pink slips, who are getting notices they can’t come back this fall.”

Duncan argued that there was virtually nothing he could do to shield essential education programs from the sequester cuts, which are set to begin Friday if lawmakers don’t act to avert them.

“We don’t have any ability with dumb cuts like this to figure out what the right thing to do is. It just means that a lot more children will not get the kinds of services and opportunities they need,” Duncan said.

Source : washingtonpost[dot]com

Sen. John McCain: ‘Shame on Ray LaHood’

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) pushed back sharply Sunday against Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, who argued Republicans have yet to come forth with a deal to avoid deep federal spending cuts set to kick in this week. McCain blamed the White House for coming up with the idea of the cuts in the first place.

“Shame on Ray LaHood,” McCain said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” The Arizona Republican senator went on to cite a report from the Washington Post’s Bob Woodward that noted the idea of the  the deep cuts — known as the sequester — originated in the White House in 2011.

LaHood, who appeared on “State of the Union” before McCain, lashed out at congressional Republicans for not coming up with an acceptable proposal to avert the sequester.

“I am a Republican. My audience is trying to persuade my former colleagues that they need to come to the table with a proposal, which frankly they haven’t done. While the president has, the Republicans haven’t,” LaHood said on CNN.

McCain argued that he warned against the impact of the cuts during the 2012 campaign, even as the president said they would not happen.

“The president said during the campaign — won’t happen. I said during the campaign and so did others say, we’ve got to stop this from happening. The president has now said it was Congress’s fault. We know the president wasn’t telling the truth about that,” McCain said.

Source : washingtonpost[dot]com

LaHood warns that sequester could impact air travelers

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood warned Sunday that if lawmakers don’t avert across-the-board federal spending cuts set to begin Friday, the nation’s air traffic controllers could face the prospect of being furloughed, reiterating comments he made last week that the cuts could have a substantial impact on air travelers.

“We’re going to try to cut as much as we possibly can out of contracts and other things that we do, but in the end there has to be some kind of furlough of air traffic controllers,” LaHood said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “And that then will also begin to curtail or eliminate the opportunity for them to guide planes in and out of airports.”

LaHood’s remarks echoed what he said at the White House on Friday, when he warned of layoffs and delays if the deep cuts split between defense and domestic spending known as the sequester kick in. Some $600 million of cuts are expected to hit the Federal Aviation Administration.

LaHood, who served as a Republican congressman from Illinois before joining the Obama administration, pressed GOP leaders on Capitol Hill to come froward with an acceptable plan for averting the cuts.

“I am a Republican. My audience is trying to persuade my former colleagues that they need to come to the table with a proposal, which frankly they haven’t done. While the president has, the Republicans haven’t,” LaHood said.

Source : washingtonpost[dot]com

Obama’s new political group to lure unlimited donations

In close consultation with President Obama, two of his top political strategists are designing an ambitious new organization funded by donations from wealthy individuals and corporations aimed at making political and legislative gains at the federal and state levels.

The fledgling Organizing for Action says it will be nonpartisan and steer clear of election activity. But the line between issue disputes and electoral politics can be a fuzzy one. The first of an expected wave of ads on gun control, for example, has targeted only Republicans. And OFA board member Jim Messina, who managed Obama’s reelection campaign, has been talking with Democratic Party leaders, including those responsible for success in the 2014 midterm elections.

Over the past month, Messina and Jon Carson, a leading strategist, have traveled the country meeting with members of the Obama 2012 National Finance Committee, who are being pressed back to work to find support for the new organization.

In huddles with Hollywood studio executives, California energy investors and Chicago business titans, they have suggested $500,000 as a target level for OFA bundlers and that top donors get invitations to quarterly OFA board meetings attended by the president.

The next step in converting Obama’s election apparatus to grass-roots lobbying is a “founders summit” March 13 that includes a $50,000-per-person meeting at the Jefferson hotel in Washington led by Messina and Carson. Those planning to attend said they hope the president will be part of the day’s agenda, though the White House and OFA declined to comment on that possibility.

A one-page memo accompanying the invitation lays out the goals of the new OFA: Building grass-roots support for Obama proposals on issues ranging from climate change to immigration reform to women’s health.

In addition, the memo says, the OFA will help “strengthen the progressive movement and train our next generation of leaders.”

It also promises to engage in “state-by-state fights” over issues such as “ballot access and marriage equality.”

Advocates for campaign finance reform see the organization’s goal of raising tens of millions of dollars as a new channel to allow wealthy individuals and corporations to seek favors from the administration. And they criticize Obama for abandoning reform rhetoric in favor of a group that can raise unlimited sums with limited transparency, the very circumstances he complained about publicly in 2010 when the Supreme Court granted corporations and unions the opportunity to contribute to groups seeking to influence elections.

Unlike political parties and other organizations set up to win elections, the OFA is not subject to federal election fundraising restrictions and disclosure requirements, meaning the public will have only limited opportunities to learn about its operations, including how revenue is collected and spent.

OFA officials say they have adopted a voluntary disclosure system that goes beyond that required by law and that will provide sufficient public review.

Source : washingtonpost[dot]com