President Obama gave a slightly paradigm shifting speech on the use of drones today and the general direction of the War on Terror. However, that was not the big story. The House approved a bill that would change the formula for calculating interest rates on student loans. Basically, if congress did nothing by July 1 all student loan rates would double. Since having rates go up on college students was not the headline congress wanted, they did something about it.
The Republicans in the House, along with some from Democrats, wanted interest rates for student loans to be controlled by the market instead of being set by congress every year. It also means that student loan interest rates would not be fixed and could rise even after the loan had been taken out by a student. Interest rates would still be capped at 8.5%, but still controlled by the whims of the market. President Obama, and most Democrats reject this plan, wanting congress to set interest rates for student loans and keeping them fixed. The president’s plan, at least during the 2012 election cycle did not include caps though, which some student loan advocacy groups want.
Why does this matter? First, it means that if the bill passes the senate and the president does not veto it, which Obama has threatened to do if it reaches his desk, then the amount a student pays will not be fixed and will vary from year-to-year. If congress has the power to set it, then the chance of it being super high won’t happen as a likely outcome, since it would hurt them politically. Second, it identifies the two different philosophies of the political parties in terms of political control in the market: Republicans want market values to determine prices and Democrats want some intervention to change discrepancies or unfairness in the market price. Finally, off my last point, political intervention in the market can be helpful, not always, but it does mean consistency. If the government can set hospital prices, student loan interest rates, minimum wage requirements, unemployment benefits, or other the price of other services and wages, it might be slightly higher than market value, but at least it will be consistent and predictable. That, as Martha Stewart would way, “Is a good thing!.”
Nate Silver is skeptical of this concept:
What’s less clear is if there is any systematic tendency for a president’s approval ratings to decline in his second term, other factors held equal — like, for example, because the public is increasingly fatigued by having the same person in office. It is also hard to make very many generalizations from only seven data points, some of which reflect different circumstances than the ones that Mr. Obama now faces. (For instance, Mr. Truman and Mr. Johnson, who had among the largest declines in their approval ratings, were serving their first elected term in their second overall term.)
My view, then, is that the idea of the second-term curse is sloppy as an analytical concept. There is certainly a historical tendency for presidents who earn a second term to become less popular — but some of this reflects reversion to the mean. And some recent presidents have overcome the supposed curse and actually become more popular on average during their second terms.
The New Republic despises the comparison of Obama to Richard Nixon:
Take the Nixon comparison. On the one hand, it’s true that in both administrations, the IRS engaged in outrageous political targeting. But it’s a hard to see a parallel. Yes, people from a hostile political camp were systematically scrutinized. But where Nixon’s political operation was intimately involved in targeted audits and other Watergate-era skullduggery, Obama’s IRS issues took place in the bowels of the bureaucracy, where workers focused special scrutiny on the portion of the political spectrum that featured most of the fundraising innovation between 2009 and 2012.
Instead, Woodrow Wilson is a more apt comparison:
It’s Woodrow Wilson. An enthusiastic supporter of Espionage Act prosecutions, the progressive, detached, technocratic Wilson was so convinced of his own virtue that he was willing to jail the Socialist candidate for President, Eugene V. Debs for his mild criticism of the war, even as he championed progressive reforms such as the Federal Reserve and the Federal Trade Commission, both of them designed with the help of his economic advisor, Louis Brandeis.
Wilson had a sorry record on civil liberties, and once Brandeis was on the Supreme Court, he eloquently criticized the Wilson administration for its betrayal of progressive values such as free speech and transparency, declaring that “sunlight is the best disinfectant,” and unforgettably extolling the necessity of protecting political dissent.
Today, there were two major stories that caught the public eye. First, reports continue to circulate about how the IRS targeted certain conservative organizations and SuperPacs about their nonprofit status. Second, the Department of Justice obtained two months of phone records from Associated Press editors to investigate leaked information. Back-dropped to both of these breaking stories are new revelations about the Benghazi attack. Needless to say, right-wing media outlets have a lot to talk about and the Obama administration is not looking good on matters of transparency.
While each of these scandals (if you want to call them that) should not be linked together as one giant plot by the Obama administration to take over the world…or guns…or something, they all show what can happen if governments are not transparent with their people and amass too much power. In the hyper-partisan media world we live in, journalists of a certain stripe often jump to either defend the president or call these scandals “the new Watergate.”
In my view, it is possible to go after an administration on a scandal and not feel like an entire ideology is discredited. I’m on vacation at the current moment, and I’ve been reading some Kurt Vonnegut novels to pass the time. Vonnegut is a public intellectual who was an avowed liberal but distrusted power and the politicians who wielded it. Voices like this rarely exist anymore, people like Vonnegut, Christopher Hitchens, Gore Vidal, Norman Mailer, William F. Buckley, etc. These men all had ideological biases, but they at least had the ability to be contrarian voices within their own intellectual circles and take on those who had power. Of course, they had their flaws and I don’t want to be nostalgic but in times like these it would be interesting to know what they would have to say.
I have been thinking for a few days about how to write about the ongoing Benghazi saga, some of which has legitimacy and other parts that are partisan hype. #Benghazi was all over my Twitter feed today. I’ve decided that since I’m not a reporter and have very little to offer in terms of facts, I would post several stories that made headlines today about Benghazi and you can judge for yourself.
Here’s how the news-cycle developed today:
ABC News reported a story about the multiple rounds of edits on Benghazi:
But actually, it could be just bureaucratic infighting at its worst.
Details, details, details please.
Oppps, one of the whistleblowers might have been a bad manager.
Also, the CIA hired Libyan militias
John Boehner demands answers.
Jay Carney talked semantics and why its bad