Putin’s New York Times op-ed, annotated and fact-checked

PutinEditorsMax Fisher writes: Russian President Vladimir Putin has an op-ed in today’s New York Times urging President Obama not to strike Syria. It’s a fascinating document — a very Russian perspective translated into American vernacular, an act of public diplomacy aimed at the American public and the latest chess move in the U.S.-Russia standoff over Syria, one in which we the readers are implicated. Putin does make a number of valid and even compelling points, but there is an undeniable hypocrisy and even some moments of dishonesty between the lines. Read the rest of this entry »

Forecasting Obama’s Second Term: A Downward Spiral of Scandal, Upheaval, and Despair, Interrupted by Brief Moments of False Hope

Barack Obama

By Walter Shapiro

Now that the last election of his political career is behind him,President Barack Obama can concentrate on braking to avoid the fiscal cliff, re-staffing much of his administration and pausing to reflect on his long-term governing agenda. Then, of course, there is the still-sputtering economy, Iran’s nuclear ambitions, the aftermath of the stunning resignatioin of David Petraeus and enough other crises to justify a sign over the Oval Office reading, “Stress for Success.”

But the re-elected president should be worrying about something else as well: the Second-Term Curse.

Dating back to Woodrow Wilson’s 1919 failure to bring the United States into the League of Nations, second presidential terms have almost always been disappointing and sad. There have been successes: Ronald Reagan passing tax reform in 1986 and Bill Clinton balancing the budget. But far more common are thwarted ambitions, scandal and a slow slide towards political irrelevance.

“This time it’s different” would be the likely response from Obama’s true believers. And these acolytes could be correct since historical patterns are merely suggestive rather than Marxist Iron Laws. But still it is likely that sometime before Moving Van Day in 2017, Obama will be embarrassed by at least one of these four factors:

Hubris: For decades, the dictionary definition was Franklin Roosevelt’s ill-fated 1937 effort to pack the Supreme Court to eliminate an anti-New Deal majority. Having just carried 46 states in an electoral landslide, FDR blithely assumed that anything he proposed would be rubber-stamped by a Congress so Democratic that all 16 Senate Republicans could probably have crammed into a Capitol Hill phone booth.

Wrong. With scant warning two weeks after his second inauguration, Roosevelt announced his plan to expand the Supreme Court. The reaction even among many partisan Democrats was that this was an unwarranted power grab. After failing to win a majority of the overwhelmingly Democratic Senate Judiciary Committee, the court-packing plan died on the Senate floor.

There is a potent contemporary example of a president misreading his re-election mandate. George W. Bush told Republican leaders in early 2005 that the partial privatization of Social Security was at the top of his legislative agenda, even though the president had only flicked at the issue during the 2004 campaign.

With the conspicuous exception of Paul Ryan and a few others, congressional Republicans recoiled at the electoral consequences. Democrats were apoplectic on policy grounds. The Social Security plan was never even voted on in Congress. In his mostly unrevealing autobiography, “Decision Points,” Bush himself concedes, “If I had it to do over again, I would have pushed for immigration reform rather than Social Security as the first major initiative of my second term.”

While Obama’s vague re-election pronouncements worked tactically, they provided him with a limited policy mandate beyond educational programs and resisting extending the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy. As a result, an ambitious response to global warming (an issue too hot for Obama the candidate) could prove to be this president’s version of Social Security privatization.

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