U.S. Politics

10 things you need to know today: January 20, 2017

Chris Kleponis-Pool/Getty Images

THE WEEK

1. Trump thanks supporters at concert on eve of inauguration
On the eve of his inauguration, President-elect Donald Trump kicked off the celebrations and ceremonies by welcoming supporters at his official inaugural concert at the Lincoln Memorial on Thursdayevening, giving them credit for his victory. “I had something to do with it,” he said, “but you had much more to do with it than I did.” He said he and his supporters “all got tired of seeing what was happening and we wanted change, but we wanted real change.” Trump, preparing to take the oath of office at midday Friday, has vowed to swiftly undo major pieces of President Obama’s legacy, including his signature health care reform law.

Source: The Washington Post, USA Today

2. Anti-Trump protests erupt ahead of Fridayinauguration
A-list celebrities, including Robert De Niro, Alec Baldwin, and Cher, joined an estimated 20,000 to 25,000 protesters and New York Mayor Bill de Blasio Thursday night at an anti-Donald Trump rally organized by Michael Moore outside of the Trump International Hotel and Tower in Manhattan. In Washington, D.C., anti-Trump protesters jeered Trump supporters outside the National Press Club during the “DeploraBall,” an event celebrating Trump’s Friday inauguration named after Hillary Clinton’s description of some Trump supporters as “deplorable.” Some of the protesters called those attending the ball “racist” or “Nazi.”

Source: The Huffington Post, The Washington Post

3. Obama commutes sentences of 330 federal prisoners on last day in office
President Obama commuted the sentences of 330 federal prisoners on Thursday, continuing a record-breaking push to shorten the prison terms of people convicted of federal drug crimes. The final clemency offers added up to the biggest one-day total in U.S. history, and increased the number of commutations Obama has granted to 1,716, far more than any other president. Obama has said the commutations were a necessary remedy to decades of tough mandatory sentences for drug crimes that left thousands of prisoners behind bars for too long.

Source: The Associated Press

4. Trump keeping 50 essential Obama administration officials for continuity
Arriving in Washington on the eve of his inauguration, President-elect Donald Trump announced last-minute plans to temporarily retain 50 essential members of the Obama administration in the State Department and national security team. Incoming White House press secretary Sean Spicer said the move was necessary to ensure “continuity of government.” So far, Trump has named just 29 of his 660 executive department appointments, according to the Partnership for Public Service. That pace is far slower than the one outlined by his original transition director, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. Just two of Trump’s 15 Cabinet nominees have been approved by congressional committees, clearing them for confirmation votes in the full Senate.

Source: The New York Times

5. Mexico extradites drug kingpin Joaquin ‘El Chapo’ Guzman
Mexico announced Thursday that it had extradited drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman to the U.S., where he is wanted for allegedly trafficking heroin, cocaine, and other drugs over the border. Guzman escaped from prison in July 2015, and Mexican authorities recaptured him last year. Guzman was moved to a prison near the border town of Ciudad Juarez in preparation for his transfer to the U.S. Mexico handed him over to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration in what one Mexican official described as a farewell gift on the last full day of Barack Obama’s presidency.

Source: The Washington Post

6. Senegalese soldiers enter Gambia
Senegalese troops entered Gambia on Thursday threatening to forcefully remove the country’s longtime repressive ruler, Yahya Jammeh, who is refusing to step down. The country’s newly elected president, Adama Barrow, beat Jammeh in an election last month, and took the oath of office outside the country on Thursday, staying away from home out of fear for his life. A senior Senegalese government official said his country’s forces were moving toward Banjul, Gambia’s capital.

Source: The New York Times

7. RNC elects Michigan’s Ronna Romney McDaniel as new chair
The Republican National Committee unanimously elected Michigan Republican Party Chair Ronna Romney McDaniel as the new RNC chair during its national meeting on Thursday. President-elect Donald Trump endorsed McDaniel for the job a month ago. She ran uncontested. Her predecessor, Reince Priebus, is moving on to become chief of staff in Trump’s White House. McDaniel pledged to unite the party and make it more inclusive. “I am a mom from Michigan. I am an outsider,” she said. “And I am going to do everything I can to make Donald Trump and Republicans everywhere successful.”

Source: The Detroit News

8. More Trump Cabinet appointees face tough questioning
President-elect Donald Trump’s Cabinet nominees continued to face sharp questioning on Thursday. Democrats grilled Steven Mnuchin, the former Goldman Sachs banker Trump picked to lead the Treasury Department, for foreclosing on homes in California and initially failing to disclose $95 million in real estate assets. Former Texas governor Rick Perry, nominated for energy secretary, said during his confirmation hearing that he regretted once calling for eliminating the department now that he has been briefed on its “vital functions.” He also reversed course and said he believed humans were contributing to climate change, a notion he called a “contrived, phony mess” in a 2010 book.

Source: The New York Times

9. Italian rescuers contact survivors trapped in hotel buried by avalanche
Rescuers have detected at least six people alive in a hotel buried by an avalanche in central Italy after a series of earthquakes shook the region. At least one of the survivors is a child. The Italian news agency ANSA reported that rescuers had spoken with the survivors several times. Rescuers continued digging late Thursday through early Friday in an attempt to locate 30 missing people. Three bodies have been recovered, and two people have been pulled alive from the 4-star Hotel Rigopiano.

Source: The Washington Post

10. A Dog’s Purpose premiere canceled after controversial video emerges
Universal Pictures and Amblin Entertainment on Thursday called off the weekend premiere of the film A Dog’s Purpose after facing a backlash over the emergence of a video showing a stressed German Shepherd being forced to perform in artificial rapids on the set. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has called for a boycott, and for a pledge from the film’s director and producer to stop using animals in films. Universal and Amblin said they were still reviewing the controversial video, and canceled the premiere because they did not “want anything to overshadow this film that celebrates the relationship between humans and animals.

Source: The Hollywood Reporter

U.S. Politics

Let the Record Show

attribution: None

John Pavlovitz

Let the record show that I did not consent to this.

Let it show that I did not vote for this man, that he did not represent me, that I did not believe he was deserving of being here, that I grieved his ascension.

Let History record my objection to him, to the ways he humiliated women and vilified Muslims and threatened protestors and disregarded people of color.

Let it record my repulsion at his tremendous cruelty, his lack of compassion, his contempt for dissension, his absence of simple decency.

Let witnesses mark down my disgust at the way he boasted of infidelity, at how he ridiculed a disabled reporter, at the way he attacked female opponents for their appearance, at the way he marginalized immigrants.

Let it be remembered that I did not look the other way when women accused him of assault, when the reality of his Russian alliances came to light, when he refused to share his tax records—though large portions of the American media and its people chose to.  

Let it be remembered that I did not buy into the fear that he perpetuated of those with brown skin or hijabs or foreign birthplaces. 

Let the record show that I looked on with disbelief as he spent countless early morning and middle-of-the-night hours following the election on social media, broadcasting a steady stream of petulant, insecure, incoherent messages instead of preparing to do a job he was ill-equipped for and seemingly not all that interested in.

Let the record show that I watched him assemble a Cabinet of billionaires and bigots, of people woefully unqualified to steward our children, our safety, our healthcare, our financial stability—and that I was horrified by it all.

Let it be remembered that my faith would not allow me to fall in line behind this man while so many professed religious people did; that I saw nothing resembling Jesus in him, and that to declare him Christian would have been to toss aside everything I grew up believing faith in Christ manifested in a life.  

Let History record my grieving at the racism and bigotry and homophobia that characterized his campaign, marked his supporters, and is evident in his assembling Administration.

Let it be known that I was one of the more than 65 million people who voted for Hillary Clinton; who understood that though flawed, she was an intelligent, experienced, passionate public servant with the temperament, commitment, and qualifications to lead and lead well. 

Let the record show that I greatly lamented the day of his inauguration, and that I promised to join together with other good people to loudly resist and oppose every unscrupulous, dangerous, unjust and dishonest act this new Administration engages in. 

History has been littered with horrible people who did terrible things with power, because too many good people remained silent. And since my fear is that we are surely entering one of those periods in our story, I wanted to make sure that I was recorded for posterity:

I do not believe this man is normal.
I do not believe he is emotionally stable.

I do not believe he cares about the full, beautiful diversity of America.
I do not believe he respects women.
I do not believe he is pro-life other than his own.
I do not believe the sick and the poor and the hurting matter to him in the slightest.

I do not believe he is a man of faith or integrity or nobility.
I do not believe his concern is for anything outside his reflection in the mirror.

I believe he is a danger to our children.
I believe he is a threat to our safety.
I believe he is careless with our people.
I believe he is reckless with his power.
I believe America will be less secure, less diverse, less compassionate, and less decent under his leadership.

And if I prove to be wrong, it will be one of the most joyful errors of my life. I will own these words and if necessary, willingly and gladly admit my misjudgment because it will mean that America is a better and stronger nation, and the world a more peaceful place.

But right now I don’t see that happening. 

Right now I am worried for my country, concerned for our planet, scared for the future of my children, and greatly saddened that 62 million Americans seem okay with all of this.

Let the record show that I was not okay with it.

Not at all.

U.S. Politics

Congratulations, Republicans, You Got Played

INDIANOLA, IA - SEPTEMBER 03:  Former Alaska governor Sarah Palin speaks during the Tea Party of America's "Restoring America" event at the Indianola Balloon Festival Grounds on September 3, 2011 in Indianola, Iowa.  Former Alaska governor Sarah Palin headlined the Tea Party of America's "Restoring America" event.  (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

ADDICTING INFO

Well, here we are. The last day of eight years that is the Obama presidency. For eight years, we all saw a swarm of friends and acquaintances regurgitate the most asinine conspiracy theories about President Obama imaginable. Whether they came from Sarah Palin or Alex Jones, right-wing looney tunes were always a far cry from the truth. Today we have a new term for it: fake news. But we must always remember what it truly is: conspiracy theories.

Now that the great and honorable President Obama leaves office tomorrow, let’s remind the “economically anxious” red America:

  • You still have your guns
  • Sharia Law is not the law of the land
  • Communism hasn’t taken over
  • You’re not in a FEMA camp
  • You can still worship your god and read your bibles
  • The government still doesn’t have death panels
  • Obama has not declared martial law
  • Jade Helm has not been dispatched
  • President Obama was still born in the United States of America

Congratulations on letting yourself be played for the last 8 years! It was quite a sight to behold, both sad and funny that teetered on the brink of near insanity. Hopefully, this will be a learning experience to turn off the TV, quit with the fake news, and apply some common sense, no?

Considering they just elected the biggest conspiracy theorist around, one shouldn’t get their hopes up.

Now that Trump has already broken a slew of promises, watch as red state citizens still bitterly cling to their guns and bibles while finding a way to somehow blame Obama.

It is nearly impossible to record how much money, time and brain cells Republicans lost being perpetually lied to by the likes of Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, Ann Coulter, Alex Jones, Dinesh D’Souza, Bill O’Reilly, Michele Bachmann and the rest of the right-wing brigade.

The fact that Republicans allowed their minds to be poisoned for nine years (counting the campaign in 2008) will have long lasting effects for generations to come and will continue to throughout the Trump presidency.

President Obama got one thing wrong: there is a blue state America and a red state America. But it goes so much deeper than that. There’s an alert America and an easily duped America. There’s a truthful America and an untruthful America. Luckily, Democrats were the former, and sadly Republicans allowed themselves to be the latter.

But it wasn’t always like this. In January 2009, as President Obama prepared to take office, 71 percent of America came together to support the new incumbent. Then the power of talk radio prevailed, and America was to be utterly transformed, never to be the same again.

President Obama will leave office with a 60 percent approval rating. Perhaps a chunk of the GOP electorate realizes they have been manipulated.

Going forward, Democrats and progressives alike need to be cautious of what they share and believe. Allowing our disdain for Trump to border on conspiracy is a dangerous route to take.

Be vigilant, but be smart.

Ryan Denson

U.S. Politics

Report: Manafort part of intelligence review of intercepted Russian communications

Report: Manafort part of intelligence review of intercepted Russian communications

Getty Images

THE HILL

American intelligence and law enforcement agencies are looking at intercepted communications and financial transactions as part of an investigation into possible ties between Donald Trump’s associates and the Kremlin, the New York Times reports.

The report, published less than 24 hours before Trump is inaugurated, is reportedly focused on examining the business dealings that some of Trump’s closest confidants and operatives have had in Russia, including former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, already the subject of an FBI inquiry into his dealings in Russia and Ukraine.

At least two other campaign advisors, Carter Page and Roger Stone, are also being examined, according to The Times report.

The investigation is being conducted by the FBI, the National Security Agency, the CIA and the financial crimes unit of the Treasury Department. But it is unclear whether the intercepted communications had anything to do with Trump or his campaign, the Times noted. It’s also unclear whether it is related to the investigation into hacking of the Democratic National Committee and Russian attempts to interfere with the election.

Manafort told The Times that he has never had any interaction with the Russian government and called the allegations “a Democratic Party dirty trick and completely false.”

Trump has repeatedly disputed that the Kremlin tried to influence the 2016 presidential election in his favor, despite overwhelming agreement by the U.S. intelligence community on that point.

The counterintelligence investigation is not tied to an unverified 35-page dossier that’s said to show Russia has compromising information on Trump. That dossier — the subject of another FBI probe — became the subject of news reports earlier this month, when CNN reported that Trump and outgoing President Barack Obama were briefed on a summary of the memos.

MAX GREENWOOD

U.S. Politics

This is happening.

This is real.

Chris Kleponis-Pool/Getty Images

VOX

  • So, um, Donald Trump is going to be president of the United States tomorrow.
  • According to some reports, he’s ready to hit the ground running, signing major executive orders in his first day or two in office (though there’s a lot of disagreement about when, and what, the orders will actually be). [Reuters / Ayesha Rascoe and Julia Edwards Ainsley]
  • But his government may not be in much of a position to implement his desires. There are 650 positions in the federal government that require Senate confirmation; Trump has named nominees for 30 (and only two are likely to be confirmed tomorrow). [Washington Post and Partnership for Public Service]
  • At least Trump has filled out his Cabinet. On Thursday, his transition team named Sonny Perdue as secretary of agriculture (making his Cabinet officially the first since 1989 to not have a Latino in it, which press secretary Sean Spicer attributed to Trump’s desire to find the “best and brightest”).  [Huffington Post / Elise Foley]
  • Below the Cabinet level, it gets real empty real fast. As late as Wednesday, several senior Obama administration national security officials weren’t sure whether they were supposed to stay in their jobs temporarily or whether Trump would just leave those positions empty. [Foreign Policy / Dan De Luce and John Hudson]
  • The Trump administration has asked some of them to stay on at the last minute. And they maintain that its “beachhead” staff of senior civil servants are going to come in and do the rest. [The Daily Beast / Kimberly Dozier]
  • But since there’s been a lot less communication than usual between the Obama people staying in government and the Trump people coming in (largely because neither side trusts the other not to leak to press), it might take a bit of time to adjust. [Politico / Josh Dawsey and Andrew Restuccia]
  • These aren’t just growing pains. They’re indications that Trump’s plan for running the federal government (giving Cabinet secretaries and departments a lot of latitude while he busies himself Making America Great Again) is not going to work any better than the past several times it’s been tried. [Vox / Andrew Prokop]

 

 

U.S. Politics

Trump’s Hotel Bans Press For Inauguration, Raising First Amendment Concerns

Trump’s Hotel Bans Press For Inauguration, Raising First Amendment Concerns

 Flags fly above the entrance to the new Trump International Hotel on its opening day in Washington, DC, U.S. September 12, 2016. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque/File Photo

THE NATIONAL MEMO

President-elect Donald Trump’s Washington, D.C. hotel is banning reporters from its premises during inauguration week, according to Politico’s Daniel Lippman. The move underscores the incoming president’s personal hostility toward the press and raises First Amendment issues, as the hotel space is leased by the president-elect from the federal government.

Throughout the 2016 campaign and into the transition, Trump has made his hostility to the press a centerpiece of his political strategy. Trump declared war on the press, which included mocking specific reporters as “neurotic,” “dumb,” and a “waste of time.” He retreated to softball interviews during the final weeks of the campaign with largely friendly interviewers, Fox News, and fringe media. Since the election, Trump has lashed out at The New York Times several times for its “BAD coverage.” Trump’s own incoming press secretary also admitted that he threatened to remove a journalist who was trying to ask the president-elect a question, and prominent Trump supporter and former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich applauded the threat, calling it “a signal, frankly, to all the other reporters that there are going to be real limits” for proper behavior.

Moreover, as Politico notes, Trump’s D.C. hotel is under “a 60-year lease with the federal General Services Administration, which owns the property.” Given that arrangement, a blanket ban on the press raises First Amendment concerns. Trump’s D.C. hotel has also been an ethical sticking point during Trump’s transition, as some in Congress have raised concerns about a conflict of interest between the president-elect’s business interests and his administration’s influence over the General Services Administration. From Politico’s January 18 article:

The Trump International Hotel in Washington is banning the media from its premises during inauguration week.

“Media is not allowed in this week in respect of the privacy of our guests,” Patricia Tang, the hotel’s director of sales and marketing wrote in an email.

A POLITICO reporter attempted to enter the hotel Wednesday morning for a previously scheduled breakfast meeting but was stopped at the door. He then identified himself as a journalist and was told “media” was not allowed.

President-elect Donald Trump and his three adult children own the project after winning a 2012 bid to redevelop D.C.’s Old Post Office. They have a 60-year lease with the federal General Services Administration, which owns the property.

U.S. Politics

How The Obamacare Town Hall Script Totally Flipped This Week

Tom Williams | TPM “Senior” Graphic

TPM DC

Darren Knowles never met with Mike Coffman in the seven years the congressman had been serving Colorado’s 6th Congressional District. But Knowles and his wife, concerned about congressional Republicans’ imminent plans to repeal the Affordable Care Act, made the decision to drive over to Coffman’s town hall event Saturday at Aurora Central Library.

A special education teacher who said he voted for George W. Bush twice and cast a ballot for Hillary Clinton in the November election, Knowles was surprised to find the lobby filled beyond capacity with Coloradans from across the ideological spectrum hoping to get reassurance from Coffman that they would not lose health care coverage. He observed that many attendees were white and older, and that a number were physically disabled. The Knowleses waited two hours to speak to their congressman, who met with constituents in groups for four or five minutes apiece, but never got the chance. A local journalist called to the scene by the frustrated crowd eventually caught Coffman sneaking out the backdoor of the library before his scheduled time had expired.

Knowles left exasperated, and was further irritated by a statement Coffman released blaming “partisan activists” for trying to disrupt his event.

“That really got my blood boiling,” he told TPM in a phone interview. “He said he’d stand up to Trump and this is like Trump’s playbook right here: blame the people who stand up to you. I don’t know what representative Coffman wanted. If we’re concerned, are we not supposed to show up and voice our concerns?”

The August congressional recess prior to the 2010 passage of the Affordable Care Act was marked by testy town hall clashes between lawmakers and constituents who opposed the health care legislation. Now, more than seven years later, Republicans’ attempted repeal of that legislation is unfolding in the same public, messy way.

Since Congress passed a budget resolution last week allowing repeal to proceed, voters who have personally benefited from the law have appealed to Republican members of Congress at town hall events in their districts. Others have linked up with members of local progressive groups formed since the election to pressure the incoming Trump administration, or participated in nationwide rallies organized by Democratic leadership.

Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) was drowned out with chants of “save our healthcare” as she spoke at a Martin Luther King, Jr. Day rally in Spokane. More than 250 people turned out to the Gerald R. Ford Library in Grand Rapids on Tuesday to question Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI) about Medicaid cuts and the details of an ACA replacement plan, prompting security to turn dozens away. Rep. Kevin Brady (R-TX) was surprised to find himself facing angry questions from a group of 50 at a Houston Chamber of Commerce session billed as an opportunity for locals “affected by Obamacare” to share stories about “rising costs and loss of coverage.”

With all three branches of government soon to be under GOP control, these voters know they may not be able to prevent Republicans from charging ahead with repeal. But they aren’t going to let it happen without a fight.

After learning about the meeting with Brady through a progressive Facebook group, Emily Hopper said she showed up with her 2-year-old son to ask how women’s health care would be affected by the millions of dollars in Medicaid reimbursements that Planned Parenthood stands to lose when the ACA is repealed.

“Rep. Brady did not adequately address anyone’s questions, in my opinion,” Hopper told TPM in an email. “He repeatedly assured attendees that they would not lose the parts of ACA that they like (protections for pre-existing conditions and coverage of dependent adult children) while simultaneously promising to do away with the mandate and taxes. That’s a two-legged stool waiting to fall over.”

Other progressives were working alongside the national Democratic Party to kick up a public fuss over ACA repeal. Thousands showed up to a Sunday “Save Our Healthcare” rally led by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) in Macomb County, Michigan, which went for Trump. Numerous smaller satellite demonstrations were held across the country as well.

In Keene, New Hampshire, multimedia artist and diehard Sanders fan Heather Stockwell helped draw around 200 people out to a Sunday rally. The support from the national Democratic party was “great for getting numbers out,” Stockwell told TPM.

After being involved with a number of regional liberal organizations over the course of the 2016 election, Stockwell this week helped consolidate several of those groups into the Monadnock Progressive Alliance, an umbrella organization focused on taking an issue-oriented, hyper-local approach to progressive change.

Stockwell said she drew inspiration for the MPA in part from the Indivisible Guide, an online handbook put together by former Congressional aides that encourages Democrats to take a page out of the tea party playbook in order to derail the Trump-Paul Ryan policy agenda. Their advice boiled down to the following: confront your representatives on their home turf, organize locally and direct resources towards stopping specific pieces of legislation.

Harvard University professor Theda Skocpol, who co-wrote “The Tea Party and the Remaking of Republican Conservatism,” said she saw some tea party tactics at play in this week’s coordinated protests in favor of the ACA.

“In the past, Democrats have tended to focus on Washington” when they disagreed with elected officials on policy issues, Skocpol told TPM.

“Democrats also see protest as something that’s aimed at the media,” she said. “I think the added ingredient here borrowed from the tea party is that it’s really effective to speak up both publicly and in terms of contacting local offices of their representatives in Congress.”

The key distinction, according to Skocpol, is that the tea party coalesced in backlash at the institutional GOP that allowed Barack Obama to be elected, while Democratic leadership is actively encouraging and participating in the current public outcry over ACA repeal.

Health care is also a uniquely easy rallying point for progressives hoping to mobilize resistance against the new administration because the need for health insurance transcends political boundaries.

“Any cuts that occur in this law are going to hit Trump voters very hard, and the areas that supported him too,” Skocpol said. “They’re going to hit older, non-urban whites just as hard as they’re going to hit the Democratic constituencies.”

After using the ACA as a political punching bag for years and failing to agree on a replacement plan, Republican lawmakers are finally facing the real-life consequences of inaction, from voters on both sides of the aisle.

ALLEGRA KIRKLAND

Have more stories about lawmakers facing pushback over ACA repeal or organizing efforts around the issue? Let us know at talk@talkingpointsmemo.com

U.S. Politics

President Barack Obama Saw Himself — His Persona And Story — As The Answer

the-end-hp

THE HUFFINGTON POST

This piece is part of a series on Obama’s legacy that The Huffington Post has been publishing over the past week.

WASHINGTON ― When I first met Barack Obama, in January 2005, he had just arrived in the U.S. Senate. He was 43 years old, but looked 33. A Sinatra-like black suit hung loosely over his lanky frame, and he flashed an enormous smile that lit up the Capitol hallways.

He had “president” written all over him and everyone in the place knew it, most of all ― and quite evidently ― Obama himself. He was a class act, and he knew that, too, and was determined to maintain his dignity. That sounds like a small thing but it was and is not, in a society full of noise, stupidity and accusation.

His had risen fast, but not via lots of elections or by passing lots of legislation, or detailed agendas and platforms. He had done it through eloquent language largely about himself.

His story and lively presence were his own proof of the healing virtues of American struggle and hope. He told all of this in a precocious autobiography published in 1995, and in an electrifying speech at the Democratic National Convention in 2004.

Now, newly elected and arriving from Illinois, he was a magnet for senators and even reporters, who sidled up to him for photo ops.

I was one of them. “I know who you are,” he said genially. “I read you, I watch you. Come on over to the office once I get things set up.”

Later, I did. His sunny Hart Building office vividly displayed the unique, ambitious and fantastically salable persona he had on offer to the Democratic Party and the country: paintings and portraits of Muhammad Ali, Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, Mahatma Gandhi, Abraham Lincoln, an Illinois cornfield and degrees from Columbia and Harvard on the resume.

He was full of energy, optimism, ideas ― and hope ― in the gloom of the post-9/11 presidency of George W. Bush.

“We have to bring the country together,” he said at one point. “Not red America, or blue America, but America.”

The loud implication: I can do that because I am that beyond-division America. And it was not only plausible but real. He had the temperament to make it happen.

At that very moment, I knew, Obama’s office was the hub of his nascent 2008 presidential campaign, with press secretary Robert Gibbs hard at work from behind lowered blinds and media guru David Axelrod back in Chicago working the phones.

“This is the One,” Axelrod, whom I had known for decades, told me on the phone time after time.

At least as far as winning the presidency, Axelrod turned out to be right.

Now we know how well the Obama Answer worked. The bottom line: moderately well in domestic affairs, less well in the world, in a presidency that is likely to be regarded more as transitional than transformative, and that feels oddly more like the end of an era than the beginning of the one he promised.

JMP/DOULIERY/ABACA USA
Barack Obama during the National Anthem at the inauguration ceremonies at the U.S. Capitol in Washington on Jan. 21, 2013.

The Obama Ledger

First the good news.

Obama’s Mr. Cool persona calmed the roiling markets in 2008, even before he took office. Like a good emergency room surgeon, he did what he had to do stop the bleeding, even if that meant violating perceived Democratic Party orthodoxy.

He gave the big money center banks what they needed. He boldly shored up the auto industry, rightly calculating that, if they failed, they would take the Midwest with them. (No good deed goes unpunished in politics, as the 2016 election showed.) He pushed for as much of a throw-it-against-the-wall stimulus package as he could push through Congress — again, rightly figuring that federal cash was more important than precision. Time was of the essence, and he acted.

Eight years later, all of that is a distant memory. The economic vital signs are strong overall: housing starts, unemployment rates, etc. Widening income and wealth inequality is a global phenomenon, but the American economy as a whole is in decent shape ― and “No Drama Obama” deserves the credit. Even Obamacare, as controversial as it is, has had a stimulative effect by putting money in low-income hands.

The Obama Administration was accused of being too easy on greedy big banks, but it was remarkably free of traditional corruption scandal, even if Republicans tried to make an issue of a few funky energy loans shoveled out as stimulus. Obama ran a clean operation.

Personally, in “This Town,” Obama and his family were seen as rather aloof, keep-to-themselves types. But the reasons in good measure have to do with devotion to family. They liked and needed to be with each other, and who could blame them?

In the face of unimaginable provocation, Obama and his family have acted with grace and class every moment of every day in public. Being president is hard enough; being the first African-American president is a monumental task of social tightrope walking. Obama’s step has been as surefooted as a mountain goat virtually every step of the way along. He slipped at times, but never fell.

The Obamas are devoted parents, and their children have stayed out of trouble as they have grown from little kids to near-adults. This is no small achievement.

The Obamas’ devotion to the arts, to healthy living, to intellectual life in Washington and the country, are worth noting, too ― easy to dismiss as trivial, but only by those who don’t realize just how valuable the role-modeling of a president and first lady can be.

The Obamas have lived a truly multicultural and multiracial public life in Washington, and in the world ― finally (and logically) opening doors to Cuba after 60 years, traveling extensively in Africa. Controversially, Obama even reached out to Iran, not out of naivete, but in hopes of reconnecting with what was once a great civilization and bringing it back into the world conversation.

A tech nerd by nature, Obama largely has left Silicon Valley alone to do what it does. He rode the rise of Facebook to the presidency, and his own experimentation with other forms of social and digital media have been good for what America does best: communicate.

The Drone President

But there is another side to the Obama ledger.

For one, he has enhanced and perfected a theory of distant cyber war that separates the American people from the consequences ― and even the sight of ― the hell we are creating and dealing with elsewhere.

Obama has been the Drone President, cutting back on troop deployments in favor of ultra-targeted drone killings on distant battlefields. Cool can become callous in such circumstances, and there is something chillingly clinical about it all.

He has cracked down in unprecedented ways on leaks in this same time ― but leaks in this new cyber era are the inevitable consequence of the secret, invisible way he has chosen to wage our wars. How else but through WikiLeaks and others is the public to know?

Yet, at the same time, it’s hard to know if the U.S. is winning the cyber wars raging with China, Russia and others. Judging from what happened in the U.S. election, it doesn’t seem like it. Obama’s administration has seemed too easy to penetrate.

In foreign affairs, Obama started with astronomical hope. He was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize 11 days after taking office. He won it that October, four months after he delivered a speech in Cairo advocating outreach to the world of Islam. It seems never to have occurred to him to politely turn it down until he had accomplished something concrete. His acceptance said more than he realized.

And indeed as he leaves office today it is hard to argue that the world in general ― or the Middle East in particular ― are any closer to peace. In fact, the tectonic plates of international affairs are shifting at an accelerating and dangerous pace, and he seems at the mercy of events, not in any way in control of them.

Despite a supposed “pivot” to Asia, China is aggressively asserting itself in the region, including the South China Sea. Russia largely ignored and defied Obama’s modest efforts to rein in Vladimir Putin for grabbing Crimea and the Eastern Ukraine ― and Putin now has President Donald Trump to sanctify it all. NATO and Europe are living in fear of Russian expansionism and threats. And, if anything, Israel and the Palestinians are farther apart than ever on any kind of regional solution. Turkey is rapidly becoming a theocracy, and the theocracy that already exists in the region, in Iran, has not ended its ambition for Cyrus-like dominion just because it signed a nuclear non-proliferation deal.

 

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Leaving Washington Divided

As for the other unbridgeable region in the world ― Washington, D.C. ― it is more divided than ever. It’s redder than ever, and bluer than ever, but not much in between.

Obama’s caution and dignified self-regard, however worthy as a way of carrying himself in public, made him precisely the wrong character to deal with the denizens of the Congressional Casbah.

He wasn’t much of a serious legislator during his relatively brief time in the Illinois state legislature ― the place bored him. He was a stone skipping across the lake during his four years in the U.S. Senate. More important, he was no fan of ― and not good at ― the naked horse trading of deal-making. He was closer in spirit to Woodrow Wilson, professor and teacher, than he was to, say, Lyndon Johnson or Harry Truman.

From literally the first minute of his presidency, Republicans and conservatives declared their intent to stick fistfuls of spokes into the wheels of the Obama presidency. The proud Obama tried his hand at deal-making with them; they flatly refused. Worse, they were contemptuous and dismissive ― and there is nothing that Barack Obama despises more than to be disrespected.

 

His response was to firebomb Congress from afar (“YOU have a drink with Mitch McConnell,” he said drily), and pressuring the only people he had the power to pressure, Democrats, via his foul-mouthed chief of staff, Rahm Emmanuel. He also relied on professional Democratic arm-twisters of a Congress that was, at the start of the Obama presidency, entirely in Democratic hands.

Everything from the stimulus package to Obamacare was passed on straight party-line votes ― as though America ran on an English-style parliamentary system, rather than the cross-cutting give-and-take of a presidential and congressional one.

The result was the Tea Party explosion of 2010 and the diminishment of the Democratic Party ever since. He leaves behind a party weak, divided and confused at the end of his presidency. But he never really cared about the party. He was above all that.

Obamacare has by some measures been a great success. If you spend a lot of money expanding Medicaid and offering subsidies for insurance, you are going to add a lot of people to the health care rolls. But the tax hikes to pay for it all are only now being fully phased in ― that was on purpose ― and Obama has set it up so that Republicans will have to cut benefits or agree to those hikes.

It was a clever, technocratic and political strategy, sold inside the Beltway by a new wave of policy nerds who could follow Obama’s strange mix of GOP theory (marketplaces) and LBJ-style government “progrums.” But the final result ignored two things: the GOP’s willingness to cut benefits and their furious opposition to any new taxes.

Since he was relying solely on Democrats anyway, perhaps Obama should have tried to sell a more sweeping reform, as suggested by the likes of Sen. Bernie Sanders. Perhaps he should have landed with both feet on the banks after bailing them out.

Probably yes, but that was never who Obama was. He didn’t want to risk losing it all on any one hand of poker. His dignity had to remain intact. And to the extent he was an ideologue at all, it wasn’t on policy matters such as these. In fact, he wasn’t a hell-for-leather progressive at all; he cared less about ideas (though he was one of the most intellectually adept presidents ever). He cared about winning, and in the end, he won far less than he thought we would.

That’s why his presidency has the feel of the end of an era ― the era of relatively accommodating, market-oriented Clintonism that took over the Democratic Party in 1992 with Bill Clinton’s election after the Ronald Reagan years.

Obama said he admired Reagan, but his presidency looks a lot more like that of George H.W. Bush who, in one of those cinematic symmetries of history, lies ill in a Houston hospital bed.

Some kind of movement of the 99 percent is going to follow Obama now, and Obama won’t be leading it.

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The End Of The Road

In his final speech and press conference, he said that he is depending on a rising generation of Americans ― more tolerant, more varied in background ― to carry America to the next step in social and economic progress.

But in the meantime he is leaving behind in the White House a man who has taken Obama’s own personal/personality approach to politics and tripled down on it in a dangerous way.

Donald Trump’s approach to politics makes Obama’s seem modest in both senses of the word. Trump doesn’t need a Shep Fairey poster; he has buildings everywhere with his name emblazoned on them, and a Twitter stream that never stops. He doesn’t need professorial rationality; he has the big brag.

Had he been able to run for a third term, Obama said, he would have won ― a highly debatable notion, but one that springs from his massive self-confidence.

Calm and collected to the end, Obama talked like a wise dad at his last press conference. He said he told his daughters not to fret about Trump’s victory over Hillary Clinton last fall. “The only thing that’s the end of the world is the end of the world,” he told them.

“We’re going to be OK,” he assured America and the world.

The somber, almost world-weary man I saw on the stage in the White House press room, now looking older than his years, was a far cry from the meteor I saw flash across the Senate sky 12 years earlier.

But it was good to see Barack Obama finish the job as he had begun: as a class act, on a stage that he owned, with a story about himself that was worth telling.

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Howard Fineman