Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Great Taste, Less Filling

Last night, President Obama in his State of the Union message (transcript here) felt our pain, hit the right notes and all the sweet spots (insert cliche here) for liberals/progressives. He

- recommended "getting rid of tax loopholes for the well-off the well connected"

- argued "now is the time to reach a level of research and development not seen since the height of the space race" and thus "we need to make those investments";

- urged "for the sake of our children and our future we must do more to combat climate change";

- proposed a "'fix-It-First' program to put people to work as soon as possible on our most urgent repairs" such as "modern ports to make our goods; modern pipelines to withstand a storm; modern schools worthy of our children;"

- cited "a bill in Congress that would give every responsible homeowner in America the chance to save $3,000 a year by refinancing at today's rates;"

- proposed "working with states to make high-quality preschool available to every single child in America;"

- urged "Congress to change the Higher Education Act so that affordability and value are included in determining which colleges receive certain types of federal aid;"

- maintained "real reform means establishing a responsible pattern to earned citizenship;"

- urged the House to pas the Violence Against Women Act and Congress to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act;

- advocated raising the federal minimum wage to $9 an hour and to tie it the cost of living;

- asserted the importance of "world-class care" for veterans, including "mental health care for our wounded warriors;"

- promoted equal treatment and benefits for "all service members (whether) gay or straight;"

-pushed "common-sense reform" of firearm laws;

The President also announced that "our" war in Afghanistan would be over by the end of 2014, though unless he has a magic wand, war will continue for Afghans, the Taliban, and some American contractors, who have been dying at a greater rate than our nation's soldiers.There was something for virtually all liberals, and a couple of additional things for neo-liberals, as when he advocated "connecting more people to the global economy" and still more free trade, notwithstanding the loss of American jobs and increase in world poverty promoted by globalization and otherwise lamented by the President.

Still, there was something for any individual supportive of women's rights, higher education assistance, comprehensive immigration reform, housing assistance, gay rights, gun safety, scientific research, and/or lifting the wages of the most poorly paid Americans.  Ensuring equal and expanded opportunity to vote, however: not so much.

Admittedly, the President Obama did add

When any American -- no matter where they live or what their party -- are denied that right because they can't wait for five or six or seven hours just to cast their ballot, we are betraying our ideals. So...

So, tonight I'm announcing a nonpartisan commission to improve the voting experience in America. And it definitely needs improvement. I'm asking two long-time experts in the field -- who, by the way, recently served as the top attorneys for my campaign and for Governor Romney's campaign -- to lead it. We can fix this. And we will. The American people demand it, and so does our democracy.

The President deserved all the applause his words received because they drew attention to an increasing problem, even if "the voting experience" sounds a lot like providing a free cup of Starbucks cappuccino to everyone waiting more than an hour in line.  (In fairness, though, that would be a costly and generous undertaking.)   Ryan J. Reilly found

Bob Bauer, former general counsel for the Obama campaign, and Ben Ginsberg, former top election lawyer for Romney's 2012 operation, will lead the commission, a senior administration official confirmed. This isn't the first time the duo has worked together: They previously negotiated the terms of the televised debates between their respective candidates.

Ginsberg is best known for his central role in the 2000 election, when he represented former President George W. Bush. Since then, he's been a key GOP recount attorney, representing former Republican Minnesota Sen. Norm Coleman in the aftermath of his race against Democratic now-Sen. Al Franken in 2008.

Bauer, Obama's former White House counsel, successfully fought to force the state of Ohio to restore early voting for all registered voters last year when he worked for Obama campaign.

Improvement of the "voting experience" presumably would not preclude the GOP's favorite means of suppression, voter ID laws. ("Poll tax" is just so 1950's.)  These were recommended by a private commission formed in response to presidential election irregularities in 2005, and co-chaired by James A. Baker III, instrumental in the ultimately successful effort by the Bush team to keep all votes from being counted in Florida.  The photo voter ID proposal still is cited by Repubs as if its genesis were legitimate.

After his initial report, Reilly wrote "The White House said Tuesday night that the new Presidential Commission on Election Administration would focus on "common-sense, non-partisan solutions" and "develop recommendations for state and local election officials to reduce waiting times at the polls."  Such recommendations would not only aim "to reduce waiting times at the polls" but- wait for it- "improve all citizens' voting experience."  (That would be not only the choice of cappuccino or espresso but, perhaps, a jelly or glazed doughnut -your choice!).

Somewhat less cynically, Brad Friedman comments

So the man who worked with Baker to develop the strategy to keep votes from being counted at all in Florida in 2000, and who illegally advised a political action campaign on how to attack the man the campaign he was working for was running against in 2004, and who first fought to keep votes from being counted in Minnesota (before flip-flopping and demanding they all be counted once his candidate, Coleman, appeared to be losing) in 2008, and then went on to represent Romney in 2012 when his fellow GOPers were passing laws to keep legal voters from being able to cast their votes at all --- is now slated to head up Obama's new commission on voting reforms. That oughta work out great!

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