Stephanie's Political Arena

Critiques and Perspectives on National Politics and More

Posts Tagged ‘President Obama

A Culturally Polarized Nation

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At long last, I have finally returned to the blogosphere!  After taking a much-needed break to relax, travel to Europe, catch up with long lost friends and family, and allow my brain to properly recover from the incredibly hectic pace of my schedule for the last two years, it feels good to be back.  It feels even better to read and write for fun now as opposed to working under pressure to meet deadlines and course requirements.  As you might have already guessed, I GRADUATED!!  Mission Accomplished (M.A., get it? ;).

As I work my way back into a regular blogging routine again, I could not help but notice a recurring theme from my final semester of graduate school resurface into the center of the spotlight over the past week.

I took a class titled American Political Parties and one of the themes that we discussed periodically throughout the semester was “polarization” in terms of ideology, partisan affiliation, geographical location, and personal values and beliefs, to name a few.   In reading about and discussing this theme, one of the primary objectives within the scope of the course was to determine 1)whether or not the concept of “polarization” has any impact on elections; and 2) if it truly does affect electoral results, what could be the long-term implications for parties, movements, and the electorate?

And this is just an overly simplified way of summarizing polarization in American politics.  If you’re really motivated and wish to read into this a bit more, I’d recommend checking out The Disappearing Center: Engaged Citizens, Polarization, and American Democracy by Alan Abramowitz (2010) and Disconnect: The Breakdown of Representation in American Politics by Morris Fiorina and Samuel Abrams (2009).

Having said all of that (while reflecting back on those fond memories of late-night and weekend-long study sessions), this brings me to the white-hot topic of the First Amendment, particularly the “separation of church and state.”

It always amazes me how those affiliated with far-left movements are the first to object to public displays of religion – even when those displays are on private residential or commercial property – and anything else they view as a “violation of the (literal) separation of church and state;” yet, they see no problem with using judges and politicians (whose salaries are funded by the taxpayers) to force their views and demands upon their faithful opponents.  And when the majority of Americans vote to elect leaders approved by far-left activists (such as our president), that is “what democracy looks like” to them.  Yet, when a majority of Americans vote in favor of a referendum or other ballot initiative that the far-left activists disapprove of, then that is considered “illegal,” “discriminatory,” and must be tyrannically thwarted or overturned by unelected individuals.

And political scholars wonder why Americans live in such a polarized environment today…

Since the 1990s, there has been considerable debate over the existence of a “culture war” in the United States and – for those who believe we are in a culture war – to what extent it has divided our nation.   Simply looking back on the past week alone, I would argue that we are, indeed, in the midst of a cultural war between the church (particularly the Catholic Church) and state.

For full disclosure before I continue, I was baptized and raised a Catholic (yes, I have known people who have honestly cringed in disgust upon hearing this – and I thought the Crusades ended centuries ago).  Thus, the decision made by the Obama Administration over the last week to force Catholic universities, hospitals, and charities to provide coverage of birth control and other forms of contraception as part of their health insurance plans offered to employees really hit home for me.  The same can be said of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals striking down California’s Proposition 8, which 52 percent (aka the majority) of the state’s voters supported in the fall of 2008.

My initial thoughts when I learned of the Obama Administration’s  intrusive decision upon the Catholic Church was, “What happened to that ‘separation of church and state’” argument that this administration has championed time and time again?  Why are devout practicing Catholics who do not believe in contraception being forced to abandon their beliefs for someone else’s political gain?  And if this decision is made permanent, what’s in it for the Catholic Church?  In exchange for this misguided and intrusive decision, would Catholics be allowed to display Nativity scenes or the Ten Commandments in public places from now on without suffering from any ACLU-induced heartburn?  Speaking of which, where has the ACLU in all of this?!

On the topic of marriage, while I cannot speak for other churches, as a Catholic I was raised to understand that marriage (matrimonial covenant) is one of the Seven Sacraments instituted by Jesus Christ and entrusted to the Church.  More than simply a contract, marriage is understood by the Catholic Church to be a permanent union between a man and a woman for “the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of offspring; this covenant between baptized persons has been raised by Christ the Lord to the dignity of a sacrament.”  As reaffirmed in the Catholic Catechism: “The Church and her members need to continue to be a strong and clear voice in protecting an understanding of marriage, which is rooted in natural law and revealed in God’s law.”  I could be wrong, but I’m guessing this law was in place long before the LGBT community mobilized.

Okay, the anti-religious readers can stop cringing now.  I’m finished with my theological lecture… for now.  The point I’m trying to make is that the commitment that many Americans have to their religious beliefs factors into their electoral decisions – such as defending the longstanding tradition of marriage by supporting Proposition 8 in California.  They had every right to step up and tell the “state” not to infringe upon their beliefs by imposing a politically-charged definition of “marriage” upon them.   Yet, when they succeeded in doing so, the state turned around and rejected their legitimately cast votes in favor of a minority that disapproved of the outcome.  This brings me to ponder if the outcome of the presidential election will be reversed in the same fashion should, say, Mitt Romney win and a vocal, tyrannical minority that disapproves sees to it that Barack Obama remains in the White House…

We’re seeing the same reaction among Catholic bishops who have stepped up to tell President Obama that he does not have the right to infringe upon the Church’s longstanding beliefs on contraception.   Unfortunately, they don’t have the luxury of judges looking out for them and the interests of the Church.

Whether or not the President completely reverses his decision on the contraception issue is irrelevant at this point – he still stepped into prohibited territory and demonstrated complete disregard for the First Amendment’s protection of religious values and beliefs.  The Supreme Court could reverse the decision made by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in keeping marriage within its sacred and religious boundaries.  Either way, both controversies have reignited the culture war that continues to polarize and divide America… making President Obama The Most Polarizing President. Ever, according to Chris Cillizza and Aaron Black of The Washington Post.

Written by Stephanie

February 12, 2012 at 11:49 pm

Deal… No Deal… Deal… No Deal… DEAL!

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As the The New York Times reports this evening:

President Obama and Congressional leaders of both parties said late Sunday that they had agreed to a framework for a budget deal that would cut trillions of dollars in federal spending over the next decade and clear the way for an increase in the government’s borrowing limit.

Speaking during a press conference earlier this evening, President Obama indicated the deal reached between Republican and Democrat leaders on Capitol Hill would bring federal spending to its lowest levels since the Eisenhower Administration.  It would also create a special bi-partisan Congressional committee tasked with preparing a report to be submitted to Congressional leaders by Thanksgiving for a floor vote within both chambers.  The purpose of the report (not to mention the committee’s existence) is to provide a framework on further reducing the federal deficit.

Yet, President Obama also said it is not the plan he prefers.  “I believe we could have made the tough choices on entitlement reform and tax reform right now, rather than through a special Congressional committee process.”  Hmmm… was he not paying attention during all of those Congressional budget discussions this spring where those very topics came up?  Did he not previously state that such reforms – produced by Republicans, I might add – would only damage, rather than benefit, programs such as Medicare and Social Security in the long run?

If it’s one message he did stick to, however, it’s forcing wealthy Americans to “pay their fair share.”  Apparently, the $787 billion “stimulus package” those wealthy Americans contributed to back in 2009 wasn’t enough to be considered their “fair share.”  

In any case, Congressional leaders will present the deal they reached this evening before their respective caucuses tomorrow prior to both chambers taking a vote – hopefully in time for Tuesday’s deadline. 

The music industry has already launched its lobbying efforts…

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EoS52fVtVQM

Written by Stephanie

August 1, 2011 at 3:47 am

The Non-War Whatchamacallit in Libya

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Earlier this week, President Barack Obama delivered a prime time address to the nation to talk about the war… I mean, the conflict… I mean, the intervention…, I mean the… ummmm… okay, the “whatchamacallit” with which U.S. forces are involved in Libya.  I’ll let my favorite late-night commentators explain what I mean…

http://bcove.me/98h9yszo

So… what are we doing in Libya?  Do the ever-rising gas prices have anything to do with getting our military involved with the chaos submerging that country?  Did our intelligence community produce information indicating that Moammar Gaddafi was withholding weapons of mass destruction?  Why wasn’t Congress included in on Obama’s decision to involve the U.S. military?  Why did he not deliver a prime time address to the nation before authorizing the military intervention (if that’s what it is)?  And, last but not least, where are the protesters in all of this? 

Why am I hearing crickets all of a sudden?

In a column he wrote for Politico this week, Joe Scarborough of MSNBC’s Morning Joe provides a brief historical overview of the last decade of America’s involvement in wars abroad.  “For a decade now, we have been told of George W. Bush’s and Dick Cheney’s moral failings,” Scarborough wrote.  “Bush had to be condemned as an immoral beast who killed women and children to get his bloody hands on Iraq oil.”

Yet, I do recall President Bush seeking approval from Congress before sending our troops into Iraq.  I recall watching the Congressional hearings as well as the hearings before the United Nations in which Secretary of State Colin Powell and National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice provided satellite images that our intelligence community had provided that indicated where Saddam Hussein was believed to have been hiding weapons of mass destruction.  I recall reading numerous articles and watching clips of press conferences in which Bush warned Hussein to stand down or we were going in.  Last, but not least, I watched Bush’s prime time address with my younger brother (who was soon on his way to Iraq) in which he told the American people that he gave the orders for our military to advance into Iraq and disarm Saddam Hussein.

I won’t get into whether that was the right or wrong decision at the time.  Regardless, Bush went through an open and fairly lengthy process in determining if and how the U.S. military should enter Iraq.  To this day, he’s still mocked and criticized for his decision.

Obama, on the other hand, did not follow his predecessor’s step-by-step model in deciding whether or not to become militarily engaged in Libya – especially when we still have troops fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.  I woke up last Saturday morning and learned that our forces were dropping bombs on Libya.  Interestingly, the traditionally liberal-leaning Huffington Post went so far as to say Obama had signed an order in support of Libyan rebels in secrecy.  

Even the New York Times seems a bit uncertain as to what exactly the U.S. mission is in Libya at this time.  Helen Cooper writes, “The president said he was willing to act unilaterally to defend the nation and its core interests.  But in other cases, he said, when the safety of Americans is not directly threatened but where action can be justified – in the case of genocide, humanitarian relief, regional security or economic interests – the United States should not act alone.”  So, if he intends to take on Libya unilaterally, what exactly are the core interests in doing so?  In what way does our intelligence indicate that Americans are directly threatened by Qaddafi?

Hmmmm… I’m still hearing those crickets…

Written by Stephanie

March 31, 2011 at 4:10 am

A Budget Balancing Act

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Having fully recovered from those “Super Bowl-sized” hangovers (way to go Packers!) and the additional nausea stemming from a horrible half-time show, tax-paying Americans are now gearing up for another fun-filled tax season… while Uncle Sam continues to struggle with paying the bills… as well as most of those same tax-paying Americans…  It’s actually possible that nausea just returned…

As the economy remains relatively weak with limited growth potential under the current debt burdens, President Obama introduced his 2012 Budget this week.  “Built around the simple idea that we have to live within our means so we can invest in the future,” the document calls for more than $1 trillion in deficit reduction intended to shrink the current deficit down to 3 percent of the economy by the middle of the decade.  It also includes a five-year, non-security spending freeze intended to reduce the deficit by another $400 billion and seeks to cut $78 billion from the Pentagon’s budget, among many more proposed measures, according to the Office of Management and Budget.

For the moment, I’m going to let the family military blood boil through in expressing how insane it would be to propose such a large cut, or any kind of cut for that matter, in defense spending – especially given the events taking place in nations such as Egypt and the potential domino effect on other regions around the world.  It had been argued that if things grew completely out of control in Egypt, the U.S. would be limited in offering additional support given how “over-stretched” our military is already with ongoing missions in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Yet, severe cuts are proposed for this critical portion of the federal budget.  We also cannot forget about the ongoing threat posed by “leaders” such as Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Kim Jong Il for which our military must be prepared to confront.  There’s no question that “times are tough” economically and fiscally for the U.S., but they also remain uncertain and even volatile on the international stage.  In this kind of environment, we cannot afford any weaknesses within our national security.

The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) created a user-friendly multimedia chart to help better understand the make-up of the federal budget.  As noted within the OMB chart, the federally-funded health care programs, including Medicare, Medicaid, children’s health insurance, and health research account for 22.62 percent of the budget, followed closely by Social Security at 20.04 percent of the budget.  Rounding out the top three spending priorities is National Defense, which is 19.27 percent of the budget. 

Additional details into the blueprint of the President’s budget are provided by OMB within an overview summary that places particular emphasis on education and innovation; and limited information on how to reform the largest portion of the budget: entitlement spending in the form of Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.  Having worked in the public sector for several years, one of the biggest issues that always arises with the latter two programs is the cost-shifting.  Because of the low reimbursements provided to physicians for their services, hospitals are forced to shift the outstanding balances owed by patients on Medicare and Medicaid to patients who are not enrolled in these programs; thus, increasing the cost of their healthcare.

Not only for the sake of addressing healthcare costs, but for the sake of restoring our nation’s fiscal health, Congressman Paul Ryan, Chairman of the House Budget Committee, told Mike Allen of Politico, “The drivers of our debt are the entitlement programs… and the sooner we act to reform and save these programs, the better off everybody’s going to be.”  He went on to criticize President Obama’s budget in stating that it “accelerates our debt crisis” and will ultimately lead to “European-style kinds of rescue operations [including] painful cuts to seniors and tax increases,” alluding to the financial dilemmas that have plagued countries such as Ireland and Greece over the past year.  Congressman Ryan indicated the Budget Committee will produce an alternative to President Obama’s budget sometime in April.

In the meantime, the Congressional Budget Office has a number of related documents summarizing the economic forecast beyond the 2012 federal budget.  This includes a budget table consisting of projected deficits and surpluses through 2021 based on the current 2012 budget draft introduced by President Obama, which has the U.S. heading toward a $7 trillion deficit by 2021…

Graphic from aneconomyofmeaning.wordpress.com

Flat-lined State of the Union Address Reflective of Flat-lined Economy

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“The challenges we face are bigger than party.  They’re bigger than politics,” President Barack Obama stated in his opening remarks of his third State of the Union address, emphasizing the lessons taken from the tragic shooting that took place in Tucson and applying them to a more bipartisan approach in confronting global economic challenges. 

Throughout the duration of his lackluster speech, President Obama stressed the need to “out-innovate and out-educate” the rest of the world in “our generation’s Sputnik moment.”  He highlighted his goal of ensuring that 80 percent of America’s electricity comes from “clean energy” sources by 2035 through greater advancements in research and technology funded by penalties against oil companies.  He also outlined his plan to replace No Child Left Behind with his Race to the Top initiative in holding school teachers more accountable; elaborated on the competition we’re facing from countries such as India, China and South Korea, particularly in areas such as technology and education; and briefly mentioned the “need to take on illegal immigration” while hinting at his support of the Dream Act.

Perhaps the most interesting excerpts of his speech, in my opinion, were those that focused on the need to address “our mountain of debt” and to reduce our deficit by “cutting excessive spending.” In addressing these matters, he proposed a five-year domestic spending freeze and asking “millionaires to give up their tax cuts.”  As he put it, “It’s not about punishing success, it’s about promoting success.”  Yet, I can’t resist asking how revoking tax cuts from those who are most likely job-creators will “promote success” in the long run when such a proposal could hamstring a “millionaire” business owner from growing his company and hiring more workers – and “promoting success” among the newly-hired employees…  You can either spend, say, $5 million worth of tax cuts on unemployment compensation or just give it to a business and enable it to use that money in providing paychecks and benefits to formerly unemployed employees.

Congressman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin delivered the Republican rebuttal to the president’s State of the Union address, and he focused almost exclusively on the federal budget deficit and current spending levels.  He argued that instead of “restoring the fundamentals of economic growth,” the president went on a “spending spree” by increasing federal spending by 84 percent when factoring in the $787 billion stimulus package.  Congressman Ryan also pointed out that the president added another $3 trillion to the federal deficit, particularly through the creation of a “healthcare entitlement.”  If the current levels of spending and borrowing remain unchecked, he indicated that America’s “day of reckoning” will come as it already has to places such as Greece and Ireland – two nations on the verge of a catastrophic economic meltdown as a result of excessive spending on entitlement programs.

In spite of their disagreement over the best policy options, both leaders recognized that the U.S. is facing a serious “fiscal crisis” that requires an immediate, bipartisan solution.  Yet, while President Obama painted a rather optimistic, yet unrealistic, picture illustrating his vision for “winning the future” in America, Congressman Ryan delivered the harsh, realistic truth: America is on the verge of collapse if we don’t get our spending – particularly on entitlement programs – under control.  It’s a monumental challenge that’s “above politics” despite the partisan rhetoric of today’s New York Times editorial pages and the mixed reviews published in The Washington Post.  I must commend Robert Samuelson on his well-written piece, “How Obama’s speech muddied the budget debate,” in which he declares that we won’t “win the future… by deluding ourselves.”  I’m sure Greece and Ireland can attest to that.

Written by Stephanie

January 27, 2011 at 1:44 am

Finally ending the hiatus!

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Wow!  Who knew how fast nearly eight months could go by?!  I offer my sincerest apologies to the dedicated readers of this blog who have been missing my quirky insight on the latest news in politics and public affairs.  I took the fall semester off from graduate school in order to focus on the midterm elections and then present a study I was a part of at a national public opinion conference.

I’ve since returned to the office and the classroom for two more semesters of study before completing my M.A. in Journalism and Mass Communications.  Conveniently timed with the beginning of the spring semester is the State of the Union Address to be delivered by President Barack Obama this Tuesday.  Today’s Wisconsin State Journal devoted an entire page of its newsprint edition to the upcoming speech, which is predicted to focus on the economy and civility in the aftermath of the tragic shooting in Tucson, Arizona: “Expect the economy to serve as the major focus of the speech, both short-term job creation and his plans for long-term stability, with a secondary theme being a call for civility and compromise.”

The primary theme of the 2010 midterm elections, the economy played a significant factor in voters’ decision-making at the polls and delivering majority control over the U.S. House of Representatives to Republicans.  As of December 2010, the U.S. unemployment rate stood at 9.1 percent, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.  Additionally, President Obama is confronted with the challenge his ideology poses to independent voters who supported him two years ago, but who recently ousted a number of his Congressional allies.  As Brit Hume of Fox News said on Fox News Sunday, the President can’t appear as a “lefty” during the State of the Union Address.  Essentially, President Obama needs to demonstrate a readiness to work with the traditionally pro-business Republicans in crafting the policies needed to re-energize the nation’s business community and foster the economic growth needed to get jobless Americans back to work.

Whether or not the President’s message will be enough to convince Republicans that he’s willing to work with them will be determined by Wisconsin’s Congressman Paul Ryan, who was selected to deliver the rebuttal to the State of the Union Address.  The new Chairman of the House Budget Committee, Rep. Ryan will undoubtedly be on alert for perceived excessive appropriations amid a $371 billion budget deficit proposed by the President during his address.  He’ll also be speaking on behalf of his freshman colleagues, most, if not all, of whom won their seats on a “fiscal responsibility” campaign platform.

It will be interesting to see if and how President Obama tailors his message this week to appeal to the Republican-controlled House and the voters he must work to bring back on his side in time for November 2012.

Written by Stephanie

January 24, 2011 at 2:28 am