Elections in the United States are a public relations industry. How a campaign convinces a newspaper to respond to its campaign is part of maintaining good relations with the public. Through top newspaper endorsements, one can tell how a campaign has been able to persuade establishment news media that it has the right message for the country, along with a record that is worthy of endorsement.
President Barack Obama is largely expected to win re-election. How the country perceives or understands Obama’s first term is critical to the next four years, which is why in the hours before Election Day I have decided to go through endorsements from the top twenty papers that endorsed Obama for re-election: New York Times, Chicago Tribune, San Jose Mercury News, Detroit Free Press, Denver Post, Star Tribune (Minneapolis), Philadelphia Inquirer, Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, The Plain Dealer (Cleveland), Tampa Bay Times, The Star-Ledger (Newark), Boston Globe, San Antonio Express-News, Seattle Times, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, The Kansas City-Star and The San Francisco Chronicle. [*Each paper (except for the San Antonio Express-News) endorsed Obama in 2008.]
This thorough examination is split into two parts. This first part shows the consensus among establishment news organizations around domestic policies. Domestically, the newspapers focus on what the Obama re-election campaign have made the key domestic issues of the election: jobs and the economy, taxes and the budget, health care, education, and women.
This is intended to demonstrate how establishment media perceive Obama and cut through the media perceptions being created so fewer people approach a likely second term of the Obama presidency with delusions.
For example, by not holding Wall Street accountable for crimes and by forging ties, one can see a key delusion: that Wall Street’s power has now been constrained so that another crisis does not occur. Also, the papers express disappointment with his decision to not pass a bipartisan deal, the Simpson-Bowles plan, that papers contend was what was necessary to stop the federal deficit from increasing. They hold out hope that he will pass what is being called the “Grand Bargain” during his second term (I’ll examine this further in a second post this afternoon).
The economic stimulus passed in January 2009, which was over $700 billion, is a key achievement. The New York Times wrote, “It created and preserved 2.5 million jobs and prevented unemployment from reaching 12 percent. Poverty would have been much worse without the billions spent on Medicaid, food stamps and jobless benefits.” The Detroit Free Press found the stimulus began to stop the “hemorrhaging” of jobs. The Philly Inquirer pointed out, “With the nation desperate for employment, economists say the stimulus created 2.5 million jobs and added up to 3.8 percent to the gross national product.” The Tampa Bay Times concluded the stimulus had “stopped” the economic collapse while The Washington Post bemoaned the “industrial-policy element of the recovery plan,” that favored high-speed rail, which it thought was not needed, and electric cars, which it suggested “consumers would not buy.”
None of the newspapers highlight the economic evidence that the stimulus should have been more or that there should have been a second or third stimulus. The New Yorker’s Ryan Lizza uncovered a memo from Larry Summers, a supporter of deregulation on Wall Street that Obama made his senior White House economic advisor. The memo advised Obama a bigger stimulus would worsen the economy. “An excessive recovery package could spook markets or the public and be counterproductive,” wrote Summers. A larger stimulus would not bring unemployment to pre-recession levels because it would have an impact on markets, Summers added.
New York Times columnist and Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman disagreed, calling Summers’ argument a “bang my head on the table” argument. Krugman responded,“He’s invoking the invisible bond vigilantes, basically saying that investors would be scared and drive up interest rates. That’s a major economic misjudgment.” Krugman understood the US had borrowed five trillion since the crisis began and the interest rate on the ten-year Treasury bills had been under two percent, which meant had their been a bigger stimulus the markets would have been fine.
Newspapers celebrated Obama for preventing a Great Depression by passing a stimulus bill. Omitted was the fact that the achievement was a boon to the richest people in the country. Oliver Stone and Peter Kuznick described in their recent book, The Untold History of the United States:
The economic recovery of the early Obama years was not only weak in terms of generating new jobs, its benefits went entirely to the wealthiest Americans. Economist Andrew Sum and his group of researchers at Northeastern University discovered that, from the second quarter of 2009 through the first quarter of 2011, national income grew by $505 billion dollars. Pretax corporate profits grew by $465 billion. Wages and salaries, however, declined by a sobering $22 billion. In the nine months after hitting the nadir of the recession in the second quarter of 2009, they found, corporate profits accounted for 85 percent of the increase in profits and wages. For the same recovery period following the 1981-1982 recession, only 10 percent had gone to corporate profits. In 2010, 93 percent of income growth went to the top 1 percent of households leaving a scant 7 percent for the other 99 percent to divide up.
Additionally, the Chicago Tribune celebrated Obama’s decision to preserve the Bush tax cuts. The Tribune described, “At home he has initiated, or agreed to, tax cuts to promote growth: investment tax credits, payroll tax cuts and extension of all the Bush tax cuts of 2001 and 2003.” The paper approved of his policy on corporate taxes, lauding him for proposing to “reduce a corporate tax rate that everyone this side of far left agrees is a globally unfair hindrance for US businesses.”
The Dodd-Frank financial regulation bill is another achievement the newspapers praised. The New York Times called it “an important milestone” and claimed it “initiated reform of the derivatives market.” The Tampa Bay Times suggested it would “protect consumers and force banks to act more responsibly.” The Kansas City-Star highlighted the creation of a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) as an achievement. The mentions of Dodd-Frank completely ignored the reality, which is that Wall Street was able to completely emasculate the legislation before it even had a chance to begin to have any effect.
Having surrounded himself with economic advisors like President Bill Clinton’s former Treasury secretary Robert Rubin, former New York federal reserve chief Timothy Geithner and Summers, Obama allowed Congress, Wall Street lobbyists and allies to transform regulations in ways that would leave Wall Street largely unrestrained. Matt Taibbi of Rolling Stone reported rules on credit default swaps were “riddled with loopholes.” A rule aimed at “preventing federally insured banks from trading in risky derivatives ultimately ended up exempting a huge chunk of the swaps market from the new law.” Wall Street won “broad exemptions for mutual funds, insurers and trusts.” The CFPB was turned from a “powerful, independent agency run by Elizabeth Warren” to a “smaller bureau within the Federal Reserve system” run by anyone but Warren. And, “Obama, Geithner and the Democratic leadership in Congress never seriously entertained enacting the most obvious and necessary reform”—breaking up banks that were too big to fail.
But, this was no bother to the Washington Post, which extolled his selection of advisors:
…The steady experts he put in charge of economic policy, notably Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner, navigated between the Democratic Party’s left, which urged populist measures that would have been expensive and ineffectual, and an obstructionist Republican Party, which at times seemed content to inflict great harm on the country…On balance, the administration, working with the Federal Reserve, succeeded in its core mission…
The newspapers made no mention of the Jumpstart Our Business Startups Act, which Obama signed. Economist Bill Black wrote, “The JOBS Act is something only a financial scavenger could love. It will create a fraud-friendly and fraud-enhancing environment. It will add to the unprecedented level of financial fraud by our most elite CEOS that has devastated the U.S. and European economies and cost over 20 million people their jobs. Financial fraud is a prime jobs killer.” Before it was signed, SEC commission Luis Aguilar said, “The bill would benefit Wall Street at the expense of Main Street by overriding protections that currently require a separation between research analysts and investment bankers who work in the same firm.”
The San Francisco Chronicle suggested, “New safeguards are in place to restrain the Wall Street recklessness that nearly led us to disaster.” This promotes a false sense of security. Obama did not enact effective restraints because that would have meant opposing those with ties to Wall Street, who he decided to have help him formulate economic policy for his first term.
The Detroit Free Press and Minneapolis Star-Tribune, in their endorsements, described Obama’s health care achievement in a way that might lead one to conclude it was a triumph for conservatives and the private sector. The Free Press characterized the Affordable Care Act as “a broad set of private-sector and government reforms, is bringing millions of formerly uninsured Americans under the umbrella of reliable health care.” The Star-Tribune described it as an achievement that now “requires individuals to take responsibility for their health care costs by buying insurance or facing a tax penalty.” As if the country previously had a problem with citizens mooching off the government for health care, the paper added, “No longer will governments and Americans with private insurance pick up the full tab for uncompensated care provided to the uninsured.”
Other papers ignored the corporate aspects of the legislation and noted the benefits—that it allowed young adults to stay on their parents’ insurance policies, insurers have to cover children with pre-existing conditions, and that it would eventually cover more than 30 million uninsured Americans, who did not have coverage. None mentioned how the legislation was essentially a windfall for the insurance companies.
Obama opted to not challenge the insurance or pharmaceutical companies. He took initiatives on drug reimportation and bulk price negotiations off the table. Single-payer healthcare, which many industrialized democracies have, was never on the table as a possible way to reform health care. The public option was a bone thrown to progressives to steer them away from building support for single-payer, something the president was never serious about seeing included in the health reform legislation.
The idea for a major aspect of the legislation came from the conservative think tank, the Heritage Foundation. On “The Today Show” on NBC, President Obama said, “A lot of the ideas in terms of the (health insurance) exchange—just being able to pool and improve the purchasing power of individuals in the insurance market—that originated from the Heritage Foundation.” Henry Aaron, a fellow of the Brookings Institution, explained, “The essence is that you have a government or nonprofit entity that regulates the sale of insurance to individuals or businesses in order to standardize offerings and to control selling methods in order to produce real, head-to-head competition and to provide customers information in forms they can readily understand.” The government delivers consumers to insurance companies by forcing them to buy insurance from one of the private companies providing insurance in the market, making increases in insurance company profits possible.
Interestingly, the Tampa Bay Times noted, “The Affordable Care Act extends Medicare’s life by eight years, to 2024. The law’s $716 billion in Medicare savings and the creation of an independent panel to recommend more efficiencies are positive steps. There is more work to be done, but the path is the correct one.” By efficiencies, one should presume a word like “cuts”, which is much less politically deceptive, could have been used instead.
Women’s Reproductive Freedom
“The future of the nation’s highest court hangs in the balance in this election — and along with it, reproductive freedom for American women and voting rights for all, to name just two issues,” the New York Times wrote in its endorsement. This has been a key talking point from progressives arguing for support of Obama’s re-election. The Tampa Bay Times declared, “The stakes for women in this election are even clearer. Obama has a particularly strong record on issues important to women, from equal pay to access to health care to education.”
The stakes are indeed high. The Guttmacher Institute has reported, “States have enacted 39 new restrictions on access to abortion. Although this is significantly lower than the record-breaking 80 restrictions that had been enacted by this point in 2011, it is nonetheless a higher number of restrictions than in any year prior to 2011. Most of the 39 new restrictions have been enacted in one of the states generally hostile to abortion. For example, 14 of the new restrictions have been enacted in just three states—Arizona, Louisiana and South Dakota—that had at least five such restrictions on the books. Fully 55% of women of reproductive age in the United States live in one of the 26 states considered hostile to abortion.”
Women are being forced to delay getting an abortion. States, like Oklahoma, have adopted measures that attempt “to use the fetal heartbeat as a way to discourage a woman from seeking an abortion.” Arizona and South Dakota have both “adopted measures requiring counseling on the negative mental health consequences of abortion, even though this connection has been widely discredited by mental health experts.”
The state-by-state assault received little concerted opposition from President Obama and the Democratic Party until it was time for Obama’s re-election. During Obama’s first term, the National Organization for Women stated Obama betrayed women and sided with “radical right politics” when he rejected the Food and Drug Administration’s decision to “remove an age restriction on emergency contraception.” And, NOW president Terry O’Neill declared when Obama set a deadline for passage of health reform, the bill denied women basic rights.
What President Obama calls “moving forward” on health care reform is in fact a giant leap backward for women. The Senate’s version of health care legislation, which the House is now poised to pass, contains sweeping anti-abortion language and fails to eliminate gender and age rating. Lawfully-residing non-citizen immigrants will have to wait five years to qualify for purchasing health insurance through new health exchanges, while undocumented immigrants will not have any access to health insurance under either the Senate or House bills.
Weeks later, on March 21, 2010, the women’s organization was “incensed.” The administration had appeased anti-choice Democrats, who held up reform over women’s access to abortion. An executive order was issued that lent “the weight of his office and the entire executive branch to the anti-abortion measures included in the Senate bill,” which the House was about to pass.
Obama and the Democrats have opposed assaults on women’s rights, but opposition has not included advocacy on measures to expand rights for women. Essentially, Obama and Democrats have spoken out in support of restoring the status quo, where there are not so many state-by-state right wing efforts to violate women’s rights. There has been no bold answer to the push by the right wing to outlaw abortion. That means right wing assaults might be stymied or stalled for the moment, but the right wing will redouble their efforts.
If they are able to create an echo like conservative groups did on a number of issues during Obama’s first term, women should be afraid. Nominations of any new Supreme Court justices, who will not overturn Roe v. Wade, depends on political will among Democrats to drown out the rancor of anti-abortion groups that will be salivating at the opportunity to get an ally on the court. In truth, whether the president is Obama or Romney, this will be a problem—getting someone confirmed that Democrats will stand up for because the person will respect rights.
Privatizing Education, Going After Teachers Unions
Most of the twenty newspapers reviewed omitted any reference to education policy, but a couple of papers did laud Obama. The New Jersey Star-Ledger wrote, “He has broken the hold of the teachers unions over the Democratic Party, sparking an unprecedented wave of school reform with a cleverly designed policy that offers grants to states that innovate. “ The Seattle Times argued, “One of the president’s jobs is to use the bully pulpit for education. Obama has done this well, and deserves credit for defending charter schools and other education reforms within the Democratic Party.”
Deputy Campaign Manager for Obama, Stephanie Cutter, touted Obama’s “anything but cozy relationship” in May 2012. She called attention to a Washington Post story that looked at how Obama had promoted initiatives encouraging school districts to “tie teacher evaluations to student performances and to expand the number of charter schools,” which teachers unions have opposed. The same story mentioned the National Education Association’s disgust with Obama’s Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, who had focused on charter schools, “supporting decisions to fire all staff and using high-stakes standardized test scores for teacher evaluations.”
When former chief of staff Rahm Emanuel faced a teachers’ strike in September as a result of the Chicago school district’s advancement of these kinds of policies, Obama remained silent. Duncan tried to appear neutral, but the record suggested the Obama administration was not on the side of teachers. Duncan had been the CEO of schools in Chicago and implemented Renaissance 2010, a program that pressured under-performing public schools while creating openings for charter schools to replace them. There was no proof that the new charter schools performed any better than public schools that were closed, however, the new charter schools removed unionized teachers.
Additionally, as both papers alluded, Obama opposed teachers unions because it has been perceived that the Democratic Party pampers them. Teachers unions have supported Democrats in elections. The conventional wisdom is that Democrats are beholden, however, there is not much in the last decade to show the teachers unions are winning much for investing in Democrats. The unions lack political imagination, like much of the left, and do not have the guts to shift away from Democrats (just like the majority of labor). The result is Democrats, especially presidents like Obama, do not have to do anything for the votes of teachers, even if some of Obama’s policies on education are similar to Mitt Romney education policies but better packaged and wisely designed to stave off political opposition from unions.
There were a few other domestic issues that received brief mentions. The Denver Post praised Obama for believing the nation’s “energy portfolio must include government investment in renewable sources such as wind and solar — both of which can become sources of more power and more jobs in the future.” Many of the papers highlighted the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” A few went as far as to note the Justice Department stopped defending the Defense of Marriage Act.
Obama’s evolution on same-sex marriage was praised. None of the papers wrote anything truthful about this evolution. For example, The Nation‘s Richard Kim described in 2009 how Obama had supported same-sex marriage in 1996. “In response to a survey from Outlines, a gay community newspaper in Chicago,” Kim wrote, “Obama took the unusual step of typing in his response: ‘I favor legalizing same-sex marriage, and would fight efforts to prohibit such marriages.'” This means Obama evolved “rightward.” Or, he made a “political calculation,” like Mitt Romney has made hundreds of times in this election, to not be a supporter of same-sex marriage.
When he made his statement in support of same-sex marriage, it was a “states’ rights” argument. Kim wrote after the statement, “by endorsing a “states’ rights” approach to same-sex marriage, Obama essentially preserves the current status quo in which a handful of states recognize same-sex marriage and many states have constitutional bans against them. That is not marriage equality, and does not even reach the standard Obama previously embraced of equal rights and recognitions.”
Finally, notice there are no mentions of any policies connected with national security that the newspapers praised for being fine-tuned to protect civil liberties. That is because none were implemented. There is nothing to praise. The “war on terror” wears on, even if it is no longer called that by the Obama administration. The surveillance state has become further entrenched. So, too, has government secrecy, along with prosecutions of whistleblowers, who seek accountability, justice or reform for corruption, crimes, fraud, malfeasance or waste in government agencies.
*Part 2 on foreign policy, disappointments & Obama’s style and leadership as president will be posted later this afternoon.