Swing State Pres

Friday, September 13, 2013

Harvard Business School's Gender Issues Reflect Badly on Harvard, Not on Business Schools Per Se

My wife had a letter published in the New York Times today...


Her letter was in response to a long article (link below) about Harvard Business School's efforts to change what has been a quite hostile environment to women, both students and faculty.


Saturday, September 7, 2013

August Month in Review: Yet Another No Win Situation for Obama (September 7, 2013)

Second terms are often a time for restless presidents to turn their attention to foreign affairs.  Often mired in scandal, with slipping poll numbers and reduced political capital to further their domestic agendas, overseas becomes the only venue in which presidents can flex their muscles, demonstrate their acumen and burnish their legacies.  They are not always successful (Clinton failed to win a new Middle East peace treaty, and Reagan bumbled his way into Iran-Contra), but that is where they want to play.

President Obama has not followed this approach, but it has found him anyway.  Obama was itching for immigration reform, eager to take on the GOP in the next round of deficit/budget wars, and kick-off what he hoped would be a successful start of state health care exchanges to seal his legacy, when all hell broke loose in the Middle East.  First, Egypt melted down yet again, catching the Administration with a no-win position – back a coup, or cut off military aid to an old ally?

But then Assad decided to dump a load of chemical weapons on civilians, and the world was a witness to the unspeakable horror of irrefutable pictures and videos of the victims, including over 400 children.  And everything changed.  This is now the biggest story of 2013.

Much is being made of Obama’s supposed self-inflicted wound of drawing a “red line” for use of chemical weapons in an apparently unscripted moment in 2012.  But I feel quite certain that we would be in the exact same place even if Obama had never uttered those words.  The universal revulsion of the use of chemical weapons both in concept and in fact – as evidenced by those gruesome pictures alone – would have demanded this dialogue.  And Obama was correct in asserting that the “red line” was actually drawn in various international treaties ratified by the U.S. Congress.

Parliament’s rejection of David Cameron’s call for action and Russia’s unwillingness to back U.N. Security Council resolutions isolated Obama internationally, and basically forced him into the position of seeking allies somewhere, anywhere – even the U.S. Congress, of all places.  And there the terrain is fraught with peril, albeit along rather unusual lines, with John Boehner and John McCain supporting him (presuming tougher language in the authorization) while liberal Democrats, fearful of a “yes” vote post-Iraq and pre-2014 elections (with their constituents opposed), are torn.  And House Republicans, toughest of all to win support for anything Obama, seem to be shrugging, “not my fight, man.”

The political implications of all of this are fairly clear.  Win or lose, Obama is spending the political capital he was saving for the deficit/debt ceiling/budget fights, which are set to occur in October.  And the calendar for the Syria vote is crowding out and delaying all other domestic priorities.  If Obama wins Congress, we head off into uncharted waters, and if he loses, his influence dwindles all the more.  Heads I lose, tails….

Obama’s popularity ratings continue to decline, still modestly but materially, and he is now a net -4.5 from a +2.2 on Election Day 2012.  Gallup points out that all recent Presidents showed “summer slumps” but that is small comfort.  Apart from a steadily improving economy there has been little good news for Obama in the face of NSA, IRS, AP and no good options in Egypt and Syria.  Even fighting with Putin has not looked particularly good, though I did like the Obama quote that Putin’s body language looks like the “bored kid in the back of the classroom.”  I gather Putin was quite enraged by that dig.

Obama Approval Rating
7-Nov
8-Jun
8-Jul
5-Aug
5-Sep
  Approve
49.6
48.0
46.0
46.0
45.1
  Disapprove
47.4
47.1
48.7
48.8
49.6
  Net
2.2
1.0
-2.7
-2.7
-4.6

The Econometer continues to look good, weighing in at a +32.1 versus Election Day 2012.  Friday’s unemployment figures continued at their consistently positive-but-not-good-enough rate, and the unemployment rate itself dipped to 7.3%.  The Dow took a tumble with continued threats of money tightening by the Fed, but that was offset by lower gas prices and slight upticks in consumer confidence and the aforementioned jobs numbers, as well as a healthier GDP number (2.5%). 

Econometer
7-Nov
8-Jun
8-Jul
5-Aug
5-Sep
Econometer
0.0
23.9
27.5
33.3
32.2
  Unemployment Rate
7.9
7.6
7.6
7.4
7.3
  Consumer Confidence
73.1
76.2
81.4
80.3
81.5
  Price of Gas
3.71
3.70
3.64
3.72
3.65
  Dow Jones
    13,330
    15,230
    15,013
    15,506
    15,105
  GDP
3.1
1.8
1.8
2.5
2.5

We have no new numbers on the 2016 Presidential race, so Hillary and Rand Paul continue to be the frontrunners.  Shortly I will do a complete Senate update but here is the word:  Democrats, get ready to do some work, because it is entirely within the realm of possibility that we could lose the Senate in 2014.  You may hate the far right, and the stalemates that have characterized Washington of late, correctly attributed to the Republicans.  But the election map is NOT, I repeat NOT favorable.  Stay tuned!