Obama, Down but Not Out, Presses Ahead

By PETER BAKER and JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVISNOV in The New York Times

 President Obama on Thursday attended a meeting of leaders of Southeast Asian nations in Myanmar’ s capital, Naypyidaw.   Credit Christophe Archambault/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
President Obama on Thursday attended a meeting of leaders of Southeast Asian nations in Myanmar’ s capital, Naypyidaw. Credit Christophe Archambault/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

WASHINGTON — President Obama emerged from last week’s midterm election rejected by voters, hobbled politically and doomed to a final two years in office suffering from early lame-duck syndrome. That, at least, was the consensus in both parties. No one seems to have told Mr. Obama.

In the 10 days since “we got beat,” as he put it, by Republicans who captured the Senate and bolstered control over the House, Mr. Obama has flexed his muscles on immigration, climate change and the Internet, demonstrating that he still aspires to enact sweeping policies that could help define his legacy.

The timing of the three different decisions was to some extent a function of separate policy clocks, not simply a White House political strategy. Mr. Obama, for example, had been scheduled to travel to China for a summit meeting in mid-November, and American officials have been trying for most of the year to negotiate a climate agreement for him to announce while in Beijing.

Still, even if by happenstance, the back-to-back moves have reinforced Mr. Obama’s desire to assert himself in a period when his poll numbers and political capital are at their lowest ebbs. While losing Congress was a grievous blow that will further challenge his capacity to govern, advisers said that he feels liberated. He can now pursue his long-term agenda, they said, without being tethered to the short-term electoral concerns of his party’s leadership in Congress.

In the process, though, Mr. Obama has angered Republicans who accuse him of essentially defying the message sent by the electorate. All of the talk by the White House in recent days of working together with the new Congress seems belied by a president who has wasted little time advancing some of the same policies that were renounced just a week ago, Republicans said.

“The president is completely ignoring the will of the American voters, who turned out on Election Day and overwhelmingly elected people who wanted to change the direction of the country,” Senator John Barrasso of Wyoming, chairman of the Senate Republican Policy Committee, said in an interview. “Even today, the new polls show Americans would rather have Republicans make the agenda changes than the president.”

Read more at The New York Times

7 Bipartisan Reasons to Raise the Minimum Wage

The minimum wage debate is back. Since last year, historically unorganized workers at fast food and big-box retailers across the country have been demanding a higher minimum wage and better working conditions. They are gaining popular support as they become more visible, rallying in big cities and during attention-getting events such as Black Friday.

President Obama, liberals in Congress, and liberals seeking office are making the federal minimum wage a central plank in the effort to combat runaway inequality—now at levels unseen since the 1920s—and push back poverty. Obama has called for increasing the minimum wage from $7.25 per hour to $10.10, with a built-in cost-of-living adjustment tied to inflation. He later announced an executive order requiring federal contractors to observe the $10.10 minimum. And activists at the state and local levels have gone further. California may vote this year on raising its minimum wage to $12.

Increases enjoy wide public support. Recent polls find 76 percent of Americans support a $9 minimum wage. Republicans are split, with 50 percent backing an increase.

There are at least seven reasons voters, if not politicians, in both parties favor a higher minimum wage. They involve concerns about inequality and poverty, about responses to poor wage growth, and about the status of work as well as community. These reasons sometimes conflict, but overall they explain why the minimum wage will continue to play an important role in politics and policy.

Read more at the Boston Review

Our Democracy Is at Stake

By THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN

This time is different. What is at stake in this government shutdown forced by a radical Tea Party minority is nothing less than the principle upon which our democracy is based: majority rule. President Obama must not give in to this hostage taking — not just because Obamacare is at stake, but because the future of how we govern ourselves is at stake.

What we’re seeing here is how three structural changes that have been building in American politics have now, together, reached a tipping point — creating a world in which a small minority in Congress can not only hold up their own party but the whole government. And this is the really scary part: The lawmakers doing this can do so with high confidence that they personally will not be politically punished, and may, in fact, be rewarded. When extremists feel that insulated from playing by the traditional rules of our system, if we do not defend those rules — namely majority rule and the fact that if you don’t like a policy passed by Congress, signed by the president and affirmed by the Supreme Court then you have to go out and win an election to overturn it; you can’t just put a fiscal gun to the country’s head — then our democracy is imperiled.

This danger was neatly captured by Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank, when he wrote on Tuesday about the 11th-hour debate in Congress to avert the shutdown. Noting a shameful statement by Speaker John Boehner, Milbank wrote: “Democrats howled about ‘extortion’ and ‘hostage taking,’ which Boehner seemed to confirm when he came to the floor and offered: ‘All the Senate has to do is say ‘yes,’ and the government is funded tomorrow.’ It was the legislative equivalent of saying, ‘Give me the money and nobody gets hurt.’ ”

Read more at The New York Times

Red Lines Matter – NYTimes.com

 

BERLIN — Europe knows, and this city in particular, about the importance of American “red lines.” West Berlin, caught for more than four decades 100 miles within the Soviet occupation zone, survived on the credibility of the U.S. commitment to it, demonstrated by the Allied airlift in response to the Soviet blockade of 1948.

A shattered Europe became whole, free and prosperous under the shield of U.S. credibility. Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty spelled out that an armed attack against one member “shall be considered an attack against them all.” This was believable enough to deter a Soviet attack on Western Europe.

American credibility in Asia has played a substantial part in the rapid but peaceful rise of China, a power shift of a kind that has seldom, if ever, occurred in world history without major conflict. China believes in the U.S. defense commitment to Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, Australia and New Zealand. America has been the offsetting power allaying the tensions of China’s emergence.

It is the credibility of the United States as a European and Asian and Middle Eastern power that underwrites global security.

Read more at The New York Times.