In the Arena

A Time to Think Big

The country faces grave challenges. So why do Jeb Bush and Barack Obama spend so much time on small-bore maneuvers?

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Jeb Bush isn’t not running for President. This is big news, even though the next presidential election is several zillion tweets away. It shakes up the political money world, where potential saviors like Chris Christie and Marco Rubio may find it much harder to fill their treasuries. It may tee up yet another of those Bush-vs.-Clinton death matches that are so entertaining. But it is potentially more important for those who’d like to see the Republican Party evolve past its current juvenility. Bush is thoughtful, and he thinks big. Asked on Morning Joe to name the issues the Republican Party needs to address, he replied, “We’re no longer socially mobile … It is so un-American.” I’m not sure what Bush’s solutions would be, but he did identify the single most vexing structural problem that we face going forward: the stagnation and decline of the great American middle class, the creation of a permanent American underclass and oligarchy. It is something we desperately need to be talking about; it may be as crucial to the future of the Republic as the slavery debate was in the 19th century.

Of course, Bush’s ability to indulge in such big thinkery was immediately overwhelmed by a cheesy tactical blunder: he has co-authored a new book on immigration reform in which he proposes a path to legal residency for those who are here illegally. This represents a step backward from his traditional support for a path toward full-fledged citizenship–just as the more enlightened members of his party are taking a step forward toward that position. “We wrote this book last year, not this year,” he explained. Last year, the Republicans running for President were engaged in a pagan nativist purification ritual. Last year, his position might have been a teeny step forward for the party–but the book was scheduled to be published this year, making it seem as if Bush decided in 2012 to trim his sails for 2013, which smacked of rank politics on an important matter of principle.

The Jeb spectacle was yet another reminder that in American politics these days, small thoughts crush big ones. Tactics rule. We in the media focus on twigs rather than forests, and politicians give us plenty of twigs to snap. Even the legends among us, like Bob Woodward, are caught playing petty. Woodward wrongly accused Gene Sperling, the President’s economic adviser, of threatening him over Woodward’s assumption (also wrong) that the President had been “moving the goalpost” by asking for new revenue in the budget squabble. Woodward seemed frazzled by the mind-curdling intensity of tweets and television. And so was the economist Paul Krugman, who found his mouth saying that he favored even wasteful defense spending to boost the economy in a debate on Charlie Rose with the MSNBC host Joe Scarborough. (I mean, wouldn’t it be preferable to cut the payroll tax rather than build the F-35 fighter?)

Another guy who seems trapped in the thicket of tactics is Barack Obama. He played small from the start by suggesting the brain-dead across-the-board $85 billion budget cut–a.k.a. the sequester–that has now been visited upon us. It was a tactic to nudge the Republicans away from their desire to have the country go bankrupt, by refusing to raise the debt ceiling, in the summer of 2011. Another phony crisis: even as Republican-induced “bankruptcy” loomed, foreign buyers were feverishly snapping up U.S. bonds–we’re the safest investment on earth, despite our nitwit politics. The sequester has finally induced the President to try an intelligent path forward: he’s now soliciting the support of the Senate Republican Sanity Caucus–those who would favor getting us out of this mess through a deficit deal that includes revenue increases and long-term entitlement reforms. But why wasn’t he doing it months ago?

I am, currently, mystified by Obama. He’s won his second term. He’s liberated. He can play golf with Tiger Woods. But where’s the bold policy equivalent of a round with Tiger? His aides say he has to focus on the issues of the moment–sequester, immigration reform, gun control. Of course he does. But there is also a need to start the conversation about the next big thing.

The issue that Jeb Bush raised–the decline of social mobility–has the potential to open some crucial areas of discussion: How do we create middle-class jobs if our smartest young people flock toward casino gambling on Wall Street rather than inventing new products and building new companies? How do we really reform sclerotic, inefficient education, health care and regulatory systems? Intelligent politicians like Obama and Bush think about this stuff all the time. It would be nice if they could clear out the tactical rubbish and find a way to talk about it.

This article is featured in this week’s magazine.

48 comments
drudown
drudown

Ok, Klein, we "get it"...ANY objection by the People to have their vote materially diluted by giving citizenship to 11,000,000 - 20,000,000+ CITIZENS OF OTHER SOVEREIGNS is "unenlightened." What a farce. What, the difference in last election's popular vote was at or around a mere 1,000,000 votes... and We The People should blindly acquiesce to a material dilution of OUR VOTING POWER because "it's the right thing to do." Well, so is any other charity...but it isn't our corrupted elected officials purview to bequeath on  CITIZENS OF OTHER SOVEREIGNS that came here illegally. Period. That's right. The stork didn't drop these people off in our jurisdiction but, rather, they have a HOME and CITIZENSHIP with all the PRIVILEGES AND IMMUNITIES that entails. Conspicuously, NO US CITIZEN can immigrate to their home sovereign and magically transmute into citizens. In fact, there is no corollary in ANY other nation for such proposed amnesty and for good reason. No nation wants to materially induce the impoverished and underprivileged masses to make a mass exodus from squalor and head on over. Which is exactly what will happen. Again, our elected officials do NOT have the Constitutional AUTHORITY to make that decision, i.e., to "legalize" 20,000,000 people that already have citizenship elsewhere.

Assume, arguendo, that these illegal immigrants are simply allowed to stay and live here. If NOT for a special interest pretext to "legalize" a largely uneducated voting block that could swing the balance of power in directions the People do NOT want or need...why do they have to become VOTING citizens at all? 

Every single democrat that thinks the United States has "turned a corner" away from the W era should think very, very carefully about how this could affect their future.

"Be careful what you wish for." - Chinese proverb

TyPollard
TyPollard

Joe asks Obama and Bush to think big. I ask Joe Klein to think coherently.

Ivy_B
Ivy_B

Before you get too excited about what a great guy and Big Thinker Jeb is, you might want to read Charlie Pierce's reprise of Jeb and the Terri Schiavo case.

"You want to know all you need to know about Jeb (!)? Go back to the Terri Schiavo fiasco, when, as governor, he contributed mightily to the rancid effort to convert one family's tragedy into his own personal political advantage. In doing so, he helped fuel a frenzy that literally put people's lives in danger. (Hospice workers took to taking different routes home every night. Local judges were assigned their own personal federal marshals. An elementary school down the block from the hospice where Terri was living had to be closed because of bomb threats that the FBI took very seriously.) At one point, it looked like the Florida state patrol and the local police in Tampa might get tangled up in a stand-off. This was the price of Jeb (!)'s ambition, and he comes by it honestly. It's the family business, after all."

http://www.esquire.com/blogs/politics/The_Passion_Of_The_Jeb_(!)#ixzz2Ms3RUsRg

grape_crush
grape_crush

> And so was the economist Paul Krugman, who found his mouth saying that he favored even wasteful defense spending to boost the economy...

a) How is that 'playing petty?' He's stating an opinion based on Keynesian economic theory.

b) Krugman also 'found his mouth saying' that "for every dollar you cut from Federal spending is probably gonna take a dollar and a half out of GDP, it's probably going to lead to substantially decreased unemployment."

c) If you're talking about cutting taxes, you're not very serious about reducing the debt or deficit, are you?

> ...with the MSNBC host Joe Scarborough.

Scarborough's a former politician and media pundit who - judging by his appearance on Charlie Rose - is stuck in the 1990's and unable to recognize that times and circumstances change.

> The sequester has finally induced the President to try an intelligent path forward: he’s now soliciting the support of the Senate Republican Sanity Caucus.

It's not the Senate Republicans that are really the problem, Joe. Why do you keep dancing around the fact that it's the House that's the problem here? Or are you forgetting that these budgetary items are Congress' responsibility?

Perhaps if the President didn't have to hold the legislative branch's hands and serve as elementary school crossing guard, he would be able to come up with those Big Ideas that you seem to be craving.

> I am, currently, mystified by Obama. He’s won his second term. He’s liberated.

Liberated from what? Doing his job? Dim-witted media punditry? Giving a crap about what condition the country is in? Liberated from Republican intransigence?

> The issue that Jeb Bush raised–the decline of social mobility–has the potential to open some crucial areas of discussion...

I didn't realize that social mobility was an issue until Jeb Bush raised it, Joe. It's not as if we've been talking about this stuff for years and you don't have the time or possess enough expertise to look into those discussions, right?

PaulDirks
PaulDirks

For once, a JK article that doesn't aggravate me.  Obama's playing for the exact same goal now that he was in 08/2011. He wants a Grand bargain. He always has.

The "thinking big" that isn't happening relates to the fact that the Number one driver of ALL our budget problems is Health care inflation and the fact that Obamacare isn't big enough to fix it.

SteveZStein
SteveZStein

Bush3: "We’re no longer socially mobile"; Joe:"I’m not sure what Bush’s solutions would be"

If you're not sure, Joe, you haven't been paying attention for the last 15 years.  The answer is obvious: Tax Cuts!

DonQuixotic
DonQuixotic

We in the media focus on twigs rather than forests, and politicians give us plenty of twigs to snap.

Well don't let the knowledge of media futility stop you from writing a meaningless article like this, Joe.

fitty_three
fitty_three

I think Joe is engaging in a small bone maneuver with his other small bone.

Sorry, Joe, this one's trash.

AfGuy
AfGuy

"he’s now soliciting the support of the Senate Republican Sanity Caucus–those who would favor getting us out of this mess through a deficit deal that includes revenue increases and long-term entitlement reforms. But why wasn’t he doing it months ago?"

What was the evidence of the existence of a "Senate Republican Sanity Caucus" those months ago? They were unified in their opposition to ANYTHING Obama proposed and, besides, there was a Presidential election to win, to make him a "one-term president".

Methinks this new-found willingness to talk on the part of the GOP is due to the losses they suffered and the realization that the rest of the country thinks their party is somewhat of a clown-show and a train-wreck.

Try again, Joe.

retiredvet
retiredvet

Very few in Washington are doing their jobs. Why single out the President? I think he's trying more than Congress but what do I know?

Hollywooddeed
Hollywooddeed

" How do we really reform sclerotic, inefficient education, health care and regulatory systems?"

You might want to check on the damage wrought by Jeb Bush in Florida before you refer to him as intelligent.

MrObvious
MrObvious

Joe,


I really don't get you. You speak out against 'radicalism' and BIG IDEAS all the time and now you argue that the Obama you really want should present big radical ideas. BIG IDEAS require radical thinking. Simple as that. There's no middle road BIG IDEAS. In fact the middle road is about status quo and to temper those radical impulses.

Make up your mind.

deconstructiva
deconstructiva

Thinking and talking are nice, but a Tea Party-dominated Congress that shuts down everything except filibusters makes these moot ...and no thanks to wishy-washy Harry Reid for allowing the filibuster to stand. He can gather enough D's to change the rules now with a nuclear option if he wants, so his enabling of Rand Paul deserves scorn. (Link also posted at MMR's but applies here too.)


Turkrocks
Turkrocks

%s %s %s %s Morning Joke,%s shud be peddling his conservatism over on Hannitys lap at#Foxnews

drudown
drudown

, the purported "factions" within the GOP are merely form over substance and are a pretext to justify two of the hallmark policy objectives of the special interest Puppeteer that controls the GOP' ruling elite: (1) "deregulating" Big Business and (2) "no new taxes".

Conspicuously, the GOP has nefariously "sold" a purely greed-driven policy of "deregulation" to the less-informed, less-educated voting base under the auspices that (what else) "the Nanny State" boogeyman is coming to get you, take your guns and kill the American Way. What a crock. First, the true objective it is to condition the People to believe that, in the end, "the risk of the Nanny State" boogeyman vastly outweighs much more immediate and measurable harm in each of our lives: industrial pollution, non-potable water, regulating financial transactions/conflict of interests, no-bid contracts and ensuring the quality and suitability of all the imports that result from the GOP policy of "outsourcing". Even "fish fraud" at your favorite restaurant or grocery store could (and should) be regulated in order to protect consumers.

But no, says the GOP.

(enter JAWS music)

Like a streamlined silhouette from out of nowhere, the dreaded "Nanny State" is insatiable and, once set in motion, cannot be stopped, the GOP contends. Who wants a "head start" preschool program to help make American children more competent readers? "Too much paperwork!" the anti-"Nanny State" contends. 

Again, what a crock. As with everything else the GOP obstructs, there is no "risk/reward" or "cost/benefit" analysis.

Just this: the GOP policies of "deregulation" and "no new taxes" are designed to WEAKEN the Federal government, make us dependent on Foreign lenders that act out of self-interest and, above all, eliminate the Middle Class completely. What, the GOP promises that "outsourcing" will lead to "better, more competitively priced" goods hasn't materialized (a la Saddam's WMDs and the "oil revenues will pay for the Iraq war"- Wolfowitz)?

All we have are less blue collar jobs, poisoned pet food from China and a bunch or dead or wounded soldiers sent into Iraq under false pretenses. While personally enriched (via deferred compensation), former VP Cheney- known to have issues with (ahem) his heart- will never know the extent of the fiscal price that invading Iraq has on our Nation's future fiscal, strategic and military health, something he has no remorse or grief.

Ah me- the GOP = the "sell out" party. As military and Iraqi families suffer silently, lives wrecked and broken beyond belief.

grape_crush
grape_crush

Thanks for the encouragement.

That Orson Welles .gif...

Sue_N
Sue_N

@grape_crush I liked the "he's won his second term He's liberated" nonsense, too.

Is he somehow "liberated" from still having to get measures past the obstructionist House? Does that come with re-election?

It's just a ridiculous argument to make. Yeah, he was re-elected, and by a pretty hefty margin. But that means jack so long as the GOP controls the House.

drudown
drudown

@PaulDirks 

You erroneously imply that Obamacare is not going to SAVE the US taxpayers money over the long term. That is flat out false. 

Sue_N
Sue_N

@AfGuy Yeah, I'm trying to figure out how Obama would have reached out months ago to a "Senate Republican Sanity Caucus" that just didn't exist (and, frankly, still doesn't). At which points in the past four years have the Senate GOPers displayed any willingness to bargain? The Republicans have taken us from crisis to crisis precisely because of their refusal to deal.

There's a reason it's called "The Party of No."

Ivy_B
Ivy_B

@deconstructiva I just commented on this at MMR in relation to the filibuster of Halligan.

Sue_N
Sue_N

@deconstructiva Ol' Harry is another one who keeps trying to deal with the Repubs as if they're rational. Sure, maybe once a "handshake deal" might have been enough to fix the problem. But right now, Harry's shaking hands with guys who've got their fingers crossed behind their backs. McConnell & Co. aren't interested in "finding solutions." They're way too invested in being the actual damn problem.

TyPollard
TyPollard

@grape_crush 

No, Thank you for doing the heavy lifting of a point by point takedown of Joe's lazy "thinking".


outsider
outsider

@Sue_N @AfGuy  

Maybe JK thinks like Woodward - that Obama can just use his mind powers to change the GOP's mind. That he just hasn't tried hard enough. Hasn't reached out. 

If only he would. 

Wait.. didn't he spend 4 years doing just that? 

it would be nice if the media harped on that as much as the GOP talking points, and bs false equivalence. 

Sue_N
Sue_N

@Ivy_B @Sue_N Yeah, the Facebook thing is pretty much what stops me now. I have no doubt that much of what I say here could get me in trouble at work if it ended up on FB. I'm not sure how I'd get around that.

AfGuy
AfGuy

@Sue_N @bobell 

Looks like dealing with Friedlive is our penance for complaining too much abut Disqus...

Ivy_B
Ivy_B

@Sue_N I hate that you have to use Facebook to comment there, but I would also stop lurking.

Sue_N
Sue_N

@bobellThe Swamp is where I vent my wrath, lol. But I guess if (God and teh interwebz forbid!) Swampland dies, I may have to stop lurking at Charlie Pierce's place and actually start commenting.

My kingdom for a frickin' edit function!

bobell
bobell

@Sue_N If TIME dies or the Swamp is drained, be sure to tell us what other blog you're going to be commenting at. I want to subscribe.

Sue_N
Sue_N

@outsider2011 @Sue_N @AfGuy Reached out … hell, he spent the first four years bent over! He kept trying to treat the Repubs as if they were rational human beings. So naturally it's his fault that they kept proving him wrong. It's his fault Pittypat went on that Benghazi tear. It's his fault Gramps is still butt-hurt after 2008. It's his fault McConnell is willing to watch this nation grind to a halt just to appease the baggers.

Why isn't Obama being nicer to these people?!

They make my damn hair hurt.