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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Month: January 2011

The Latest White Knight On a Dark Horse

It’s been my theory for a while that the evergreen Republican buzz over potential dark horse 2012 presidential candidates reflects a sort of quiet desperation about the field the GOP is actually likely to choose from: Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee, Newt Gingich, Tim Pawlenty, Rick Santorum, maybe Sarah Palin or Michele Bachmann. None of these folk are competing very well in general election trial heats against Barack Obama, and all of them have notable weaknesses that would afflict them in either primary or November competition.
So we are hearing a lot about John Thune and Haley Barbour and Mitch Daniels and Chris Christie (and until we took himself definitively out of the running last week, Mike Pence). They, too, have their own problems, beginning with the fact that none of them have strong national name identification, all of them have time-consuming day jobs, and the time for fantasizing about a 2012 race has just about run out.
The latest White Knight to excite the GOP chattering classes is none other than the Obama administration’s ambassador to China, former Utah governor Jon Hunstsman, who is said to be on the brink of resigning his job and mulling a candidacy for president in cahoots with 2008 nominee John McCain.
As some of you may recall, there was an equally strong presidential buzz about Huntsman back in 2009 when he surprised a lot of observers by accepting the Beijing gig. A common conclusion then was that Huntsman had decided to skip 2012 because his party was in the throes of a right-wing bender, and might only come around to his way of thinking after a well-earned second trouncing by Obama.
Since Huntsman can’t exactly say he’s been spending the last twenty months reading Hayek and Strauss and getting in touch with his inner Ronald Reagan, you have to wonder why he thinks he’s a better fit for the GOP presidential race now than he did in 2009. While he was away, his party got significantly more conservative, and has now taken the 2010 midterm elections results (which he can’t take any credit for) as a mandate for even more ideological intolerance. In Huntsman’s own home state of Utah, most obviously, Sen Bob Bennett was unceremoniously dumped by a state GOP convention, an institution that Huntsman argued should be abandoned because it was dominated by “activists.”
As Dave Weigel noted, there’s just no obvious rationale for a Huntsman candidacy right now:

History isn’t the best guide to whether someone can or can’t win, but serving in the administration you want to displace is a unique problem. The questions emerge: Did you oppose the president on Unpopular Issue X? What about on Y? If these questions are successfully dodged, why were you appointed in the first place? Huntsman has a problem less severe than Mitt Romney’s, but damaging nonetheless — he signed up with the Western Regional Climate Action Initiative in 2007. Regional cap-and-trade systems are anathema to conservatives; that decision by Huntsman opens up a discussion about the other things he’s stiffed them on. If Mitch Daniels is in trouble merely because he’s talked about a “social truce,” how far can a candidate get if he’s talked down conservative dogma and acted on it?

This last comment is probably an allusion to Huntsman’s famous decision to defy Utah Republicans in early 2009 by coming out for same-sex civil unions, a stand that is not likely to endear him to the activists who will dominate the Iowa Caucuses in 2011, obsessed as they are with overturning their state’s legalization of gay marriage. More generally, the last thing the 2012 field needs is another rich flip-flopping Mormon trying to occupy the moderate lane against a passle of hard-right candidates. If he were to run, Huntsman would indeed complicate Mitt Romney’s life immeasurably. But take a look a the long, admiring profile of Huntsman that Zvika Krieger wrote for The New Republic in 2009, and tell me if he sounds like a guy in tune with the current GOP zeitgeist. I don’t think so.
But Huntsman will get his buzz, at least in Washington, as both Republican insiders and the news media cast about for someone to write about other than the usual suspects of the 2012 field.

After Egypt: Dems Should Review Human Rights Policy

Neither political party has much to gain by engaging in “Who lost Egypt?” finger-pointing, since both parties have demonstrated a high tolerance for Hosni Mubarak’s dictatorship for 27 years. Such are the realpolitik considerations of mideast diplomacy.
Of course that didn’t stop Max Boot from waxing nostalgic in Commentary about Ronald Reagan’s supposed confronting Philippines dictator Ferdinand Marcos. Boot’s less than subtle suggestion that the GOP has a superior record in confronting abusive regimes and would somehow be doing better than President Obama in addressing the events in Egypt falls flat. Smart Republicans don’t want to subject their human rights policy toward South Africa, China, Nicaragua and a dozen other abusive dictatorships to comparative scrutiny. Not that Dems have all that much to brag about, other than Democratic congressional leadership’s passage of some significant human rights measures like anti-apartheid legislation.
What Dems should rethink is the nature of our means of confronting abusive regimes. Clearly, we can no longer afford open-ended, large-scale military occupation of nations, nor multi-billion dollar budgets to subsidize repressive governments. We should more assertively question the value of subsidizing abusive regimes just because they serve our geopolitical interests, while abusing the human rights of their citizens. It’s always been wrong; Now it’s a bad investment as well.
President Obama gave a great speech in Cairo in 2009, challenging Arab nations to embrace Democracy, and offering them hope and opportunity in return. Democrats should now rally around his vision with a new focus on our policy towards Arab nations. What we can escalate instead is our efforts to educate “at-risk” populations about the benefits of tolerance, secular government, free speech and democracy. Let a stronger engagement in the effort to win hearts and minds replace military force. That’s the kind of nation-building that merits our sustained support, and it’s a lot more cost-effective in the long run than squandering billions every week on military operations that win temporary victories at best.
It’s highly unlikely that the uprising in Egypt will do much to directly influence voters in the U.S. to support one party or the other. But the protests in Egypt do provide a timely reminder that the days when subsidizing repressive dictatorships were a sound investment are coming to a close. We need a new grand strategy to win respect, instead of fear, in the strife-torn nations of the middle east, and Democrats should lead the way.

Snore or Snare?

This item by Ed Kilgore is cross-posted from The New Republic, where it was first published on January 26, 2009.
The ideas and policy proposals in Barack Obama’s 2011 State of the Union Address were anything but fresh and original. Much of it could easily have been harvested from any number of interchangeable speeches given during the last 20 years–not just by presidents by members of Congress, governors, mayors, and CEOs–from both parties. Yet that may have been exactly the point. By staking his claim to decades of well-worn political detritus, I think Obama has set a cunning political trap for his enemies.
A crash program for economic competitiveness? We’ve heard it dozens of times, and Obama’s speech mainly substituted new global rivals for old ones. Harrumphing about how education and a skilled workforce are they key to national prosperity? Obviously an old theme. Reorganizing major federal departments was one of Jimmy Carter’s signature initiatives. Tax simplification was one of Ronald Reagan’s. Making government a lean, mean efficiency machine has been promised many times, most notably by Bill Clinton. Across-the-board spending freezes, support for small business entrepreneurs, growing green jobs, better infrastructure, boosting exports (without, presumably, those pesky imports)–we’ve heard it all. One conceit–the “Sputnik Moment”–was so old that you wonder if the president’s young speechwriters just found out about it.
And that’s the beauty of Obama’s address. He basically put together every modest, centrist, reasonable-sounding idea for public investment aimed at job creation and economic growth that anyone has ever uttered; and he did so at the exact moment that the GOP has abandoned the very concept of public investment altogether. He’s thrown into relief the fact that Republicans no longer seem interested in any government efforts to boost the economy, except where they offer an excuse to reduce the size and power of government.
Paul Ryan’s deficit-maniac response played right into Obama’s trap: Ryan barely mentioned the economy other to imply that every dollar taken away from the public sector will somehow create jobs in the private sector economy (a private sector economy wherein, as Obama cleverly noted, corporate profits are setting records). For those who buy the idea that government is the only obstacle to an economic boom, this makes sense. But for everybody else, the contrast between a Democratic president with a lot of small, familiar ideas for creating jobs and growth, and a Republican Party with just one big idea, is inescapable. It’s a vehicle for the “two alternate futures” choice which Obama will try to offer voters in 2012.
Moreover, Obama’s tone–the constant invocation of bipartisanship at a time when Republicans are certain to oppose most of what he’s called for, while going after the progressive programs and policies of the past–should sound familiar as well. It was Bill Clinton’s constant refrain, which he called “progress over partisanship,” during his second-term struggle with the Republican Congress. During that period, the Republicans being asked to transcend “partisanship” were trying to remove Clinton from office. And Clinton wasn’t really extending his hand in a gesture of cooperation with the GOP but, by creating a contrast with their ideological fury, indicating that he himself embodied the bipartisan aspirations of the American people and the best ideas of both parties. It was quite effective.
By playing this rope-a-dope, Obama has positioned himself well to push back hard against the conservative agenda. Having refused to offer Republicans the cover they crave for “entitlement reform,” while offering his own modest, reasonable-sounding deficit reduction measures, he’s forcing the GOP to either go after Social Security and Medicare on their own–which is very perilous to a party whose base has become older voters–or demand unprecedented cuts for those popular public investments that were the centerpiece of his speech. Either way, in a reversal of positions from the last two years, Obama looks like he is focused on doing practical things to boost the economy, while it’s Republicans who are talking about everything else. Boring it may have been, but as a positioning device for the next two years, Obama’s speech was a masterpiece.

A Budgetary Bait-and-Switch: But Which?

This item by Ed Kilgore was first published on January 21, 2009.
House Republican spending-cut talk has been all over the lot during the last year. Remember Paul Ryan’s 2010 “Road-Map” document, designed to shut up critics who said GOPers were unwilling to commit to any specifics? Republicans soon backed away from the Road-Map because it included major structural changes in Social Security and a “voucherization” of Medicare. GOP interest in “entitlement reform” was also undercut by the failure of the Bowles-Simpson commission to draw much support from either party for a entitlement-cuts-for-tax-increases deal.
A focus on discretionary spending as opposed to entitlements was also encouraged by the emergence of current-year appropriations as the flashpoint of the deficit debate. And even before that, Republicans incautiously threw out a $100 billion figure for immediate appropriations cuts in their campaign-stretch-run “Pledge to America.” John Boehner eventually backed off that number, arguing that it was measured from Obama appropriations requests rather than actual spending. And then, this week, the hyper-conservative and very influential House Republican Study Committee released a proposal for very, very large permanent cuts in non-defense discretionary spending that would accompish both the $100 billion first-year target and a supposed ten-year harvest of $2.5 trillion (with lots of magic asterisks thrown in for TBD across-the-board reductions); the numbers suggest a 40% reduction over what would be necessary to continue current services. Maybe this is just a mine canary to test the willingness of Republicans to support cuts far beyond anything ever seriously proposed in the past, but House Majority Leader Eric Cantor immediately made positive noises about the package.
With me so far? The next cookie on the plate was the announcement that Paul Ryan would provide the official GOP response to the State of the Union Address.
So where are Republicans headed on spending? One thing that’s clear is that none of their proposals include defense or homeland security spending. A second thing that’s clear is that it’s entirely possible to promote discretionary cuts in the short-term and entitlement cuts later on (indeed, the Road-Map backloads entitlement cuts by “grandfathering” current beneficiaries). And a third thing that’s clear is that Republican squeamishness on big domestic appropriations cuts is a product of the popularity of most of the programs they would cut, not some concern about the impact on the economy. Republicans appear to have fully and universally drunk the kool-aid of 1930s-era belief that cutting public employment or public benefits somehow can’t damage the economy via reduced consumer demand.
On this last point, the most telling recent quote was from RSC member Tom McClintock (R-CA):

Presidents like Hoover and Roosevelt and Bush … and now Obama, who have increased government spending relative to GDP all produced or prolonged or deepened periods of economic hardship and malaise.

So don’t expect Republicans to embrace the pump-priming Keynsian theories of that notorious socialist Herbert Hoover.
The Democratic response to this mania will obviously depend on which budgetary strategy the GOP decides to pursue. It’s clear some sort of bait-and-switch from Tea Party “cut it all” rhetoric will occur, but whether Republicans will lurch in the direction of shutting down whole major federal functions or going after Social Security and Medicare is very much in the air.

Progressive Anxiety On Egypt

The substance of what’s happening in a turbulent Egypt right now is beyond the scope of this site. But the anxiety and ambivalence over U.S. policy that many progressives are feeling right now is of interest, and may only get more intense during this week’s potentially historic develpments.
The Obama administration is currently in the slow process of liquidating a policy of accomodation of a non-democratic Egypt that has existed for more than thirty years, through three Democratic and three Republican administrations. For progressives who strongly sympathize with the Egyptian protestors, and have embraced their now-realizable goal of the destruction of the repressive Mubarak regime, the tentativeness of the Obama administration’s reaction has been embarassing at best. For us oldsters, it does indeed feel an awful lot like the day-late-dollar-short reaction of the Carter administration to the Iranian revolution of 1979, though there’s been nothing like that administration’s steady embrace of the dictator up to and beyond the moment of his demise.
But it should be obvious that we have little idea of the Obama administration’s activities behind the scenes, and can’t really judge the wisdom or folly of its course of action until Egypt’s own course is determined. We can fully grasp, however, the potentially enormous stakes for the United States in what happens next, which, ironically, underlines the strategic position that has made it easy for Mubarak to shake down America for support and subsidies for so long.
To put it simply, a “bad” outcome in Egypt–whether it’s Mubarak surviving by savage repression, a civil war, or some sort of inherently unviable Kerensky-like successor government likely to give way to something worse–would blow up the Middle East in unpredictable ways, and could well plunge much of the entire planet into a second phase of global recession. The impact on oil prices alone of extended instability in the country that controls the Suez Canal could bring back to Americans a relic of the 1970s that has been all but forgotten: “stagflation,” the maddening, policy-paralyzing coexistence of powerful price inflation and high unemployment. So in a very real sense, Egypt could make pretty much irrelevant many of the domestic policy arguments Americans were having before the first demonstration in Cairo.
It’s tempting to turn on the tube and simply cheer for the unquestioned good guys in the Egyptian drama, the pro-democracy forces, and shake our heads in dismay at the apparent defensiveness and sometimes even cluelessness of administration officials. If Egypt transitions more or less seamlessly into a peaceful, secular multi-party democracy then it may well be time for some serious progressive soul-searching about our past complicity in the previous regime’s outrages. But this is not a television show, and the consequences of a false step by the Obama administration for regional peace and domestic prosperity–not to mention the democratic aspirations of the people of Egypt and the Middle East–are a lot more important than current ratings of its behavior in front of the cameras.

Enhancing “civility” in politics is too broad a goal to be enforceable by public pressure and “eliminating threats of violence” is too narrow to stop extremist rhetoric. Here’s a proposal for what opponents of extremist political oratory should demand.

This item by Ed Kilgore, James Vega and J.P. Green was first published on January 18, 2009.

President Obama’s memorial speech in Tucson has established a solid foundation for the creation of new social norms to reduce the role of violent extremist political rhetoric in American public life. But our politics will quickly revert to its previous state if political commentators and politicians cannot define a clear and reasonably unambiguous “line in the sand” between what should be considered acceptable in political discourse and what should be viewed as unacceptable.
One social norm that is already emerging is that specific threats of violence are simply no longer acceptable. It is unlikely that we will hear overtly threatening remarks again anytime soon about “meeting census surveyors at the door with shotguns”, or “watering the tree of liberty with blood” in mainstream political discourse. Nor are we likely to see men appearing at political rallies with assault weapons strapped to their backs without there being serious and strenuous outcry. Among elected officials there will for some time probably even be a self-imposed ban on “humorous” remarks about “my close friends Smith and Wesson” or coy references to “second amendment remedies” that imply the threat of using guns and violence to achieve political goals.
This in itself will certainly be healthy, but it will not prevent the gradual (or not so gradual) return of the kind of rhetoric that portrays politics as a desperate, life or death struggle between literally evil and subversive, “un-American opponents of freedom and liberty” on the one hand and “heroic patriots” standing against them on the other (in the comparable left-wing rhetorical framework the dichotomy is between embattled “defenders of traditional democratic values” and “racist, right-wing crypto-fascists”). Simply creating a norm against clear threats of violence will not by itself reverse the broader “climate of hate” or “lack of civility” in politics.
Yet neither a “climate of hate” nor a “lack of civility” are sufficiently precise to create a clear new social norm. In fact, because of this imprecision, they are already being subject to criticism and even ridicule on the grounds that “politics is necessarily passionate” and “metaphors don’t kill people, people kill people.” A number of conservative commentators have dismissed the notions as typical nanny-state political correctness run amok.
As a result, we need a standard that reasonable people can consistently apply and insist upon — one that distinguishes what is acceptable from what is not acceptable.
Politics as Warfare, Political Opponents as “Enemies”
For some time TDS has been arguing that there are two key concepts that lie at the root of both political extremism and the climate of violence: The notions of politics as warfare and political opponents as enemies. This is how a TDS Strategy Memo put it last year:

For most Americans, the most critical — and in fact the defining — characteristic of “political extremism” – whether left or right – is the approval of violence as a means to achieve political goals. Opinions on issues, no matter how “extreme” or irrational they may be do not by themselves necessarily make a person a dangerous “extremist.” Whether opinions are crackpot (e.g. abolish all paper money) or repulsive (e.g. non-whites should be treated as sub-humans) extreme political opinions are not in and of themselves incitements to or justifications for violence.
As a result, there is actually one very clear and unambiguous way to define a genuinely “extremist” political ideology — it is any ideology that justifies or incites violence.
Underlying all extremist political ideologies are two central ideas – the vision of “politics as warfare” and “political opponents as enemies.” While these notions are widely used as metaphors, political extremists mean them in an entirely concrete and operational way. It is a view that is codified in the belief that political opponents are literally “enemies” who must be crushed rather than fellow Americans with different opinions with whom negotiated political compromises must be sought.

Central eyewitness testimony in last years’ New Black Panthers voter intimidation case is literally terrifying and appalling – but not for the reasons you might think.

By July 16th of last year, Fox News had run 95 different reports about the “intimidation” of voters by the New Black Panther Party, all of them featuring videotape of two individuals in front of a polling station. The intense coverage of the event not only convinced literally millions of Fox viewers that this was just the “tip of the iceberg” of a pattern of widespread voter intimidation but also provided “proof” that the Obama Justice Department had ignored a “slam-dunk case” of voter intimidation.
Despite an intense search, however, investigators could not find any voters at the precinct to assert that they had actually been intimidated. On April 23, Civil Rights Commissioner Arlen Melendez stated “no citizen has even alleged that he or she was intimidated from voting at the Fairmount Avenue Polling Station in 2008.”
In today’s Washington Post Plum Line Adam Serwer describes what happened next:

“Having been unable to find any actual voters who were intimidated, [Commissioner] Adams and his colleagues settle on the witness accounts of Republican poll watchers.
The J memo (or justification memo) arguing that the case should be brought forward states that two Republican poll watchers, Larry and Angela Counts, were so intimidated by the two New Black Panther Party individuals that they were afraid to go outside, that they had their lunch brought to them as a result, and that Angela Counts had expressed the fear that someone might “bomb” the polling place.”

You can read the official transcript of what the two poll watchers testified to the U.S. Civil Rights Commission here and here.
The following are the key passages from Larry Counts testimony:
Q. So did you actually ever see the Black Panthers?
A. No I never seen them…
Q. Did you ever become aware – and I know I asked you this but let me run through it – did you become aware that members of the New Black Panther Party were outside?
A. No….
Q. did anybody from the Republican Party come in and speak to you during election day?
A. No.
Q. Let me be specific. There is a tall gentleman who was wearing a white shirt and blue jeans. His name is Chris Hill. Did he come in and speak to you?
A. Not that I recall, no.
Q. I’ll be explicit. If Mr. Hill is on videotape saying that he spoke to you and you indicated that you were afraid, you don’t recall any statement like that to Mr. Hill.
A. No. I had no reason to be afraid.
Q. And you never heard anybody inside the election room say that there are two members of the Black Panther Party outside?
A. No. Nobody was, you know. Communicating or talking about no Black Panthers on the inside.
Q. Mr. Counts I only want you to refer to the photo at the bottom of the scene.
A. I ain’t never seen those two guys.
Q. OK just to be explicit so it’s in our written record, there appear to be two members of the – – I won’t even say that they are members of the New Black Panther Party — but the two gentlemen there in dark black uniforms and one of them has a nightstick. You don’t recall seeing either one of those gentlemen on election day. Is that right?
A. No…
Q. did you see any voters turned away at the polling site?
A. No.
Q. Did anybody who came in to vote indicate that they were concerned or worried about their safety?
A. No.
The account given by Angela Counts is largely similar in its lack of any testimony about “intimidation”.
The supposed “intimidation” of the Counts was a central part of the “Justification Memo” that has subsequently been used to convince vast numbers of Americans to distrust the American political system and believe in a conspiracy within the Justice Department to allow the intimidation of white voters to occur unmolested. Yet the actual testimony directly contradicts what the memo asserts.
In one important respect, however, it must be admitted that the promulgators of the “intimidation” story are entirely correct.
The actions of some people within the Justice Department are indeed appalling and terrifying.

Turning the Clock Way Back

Even as Republicans fulminate about the president’s alleged lack of focus on the country’s fiscal condition (not, to be sure, its economic condition, which has largely dropped off the GOP’s radar screen), the pent-up social policy demands of the party’s dominant conservative wing can no longer be repressed. A major case in point is the drive to further restrict government funding for abortions, a matter than most of us thought had been resolved in the right-to-life movement’s favor a long time ago. But no, the Hyde Amendment’s not enough, explains Mother Jones‘ Nick Baumann:

Rape is only really rape if it involves force. So says the new House Republican majority as it now moves to change abortion law.
For years, federal laws restricting the use of government funds to pay for abortions have included exemptions for pregnancies resulting from rape or incest. (Another exemption covers pregnancies that could endanger the life of the woman.) But the “No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act,” a bill with 173 mostly Republican co-sponsors that House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has dubbed a top priority in the new Congress, contains a provision that would rewrite the rules to limit drastically the definition of rape and incest in these cases.
With this legislation, which was introduced last week by Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), Republicans propose that the rape exemption be limited to “forcible rape.” This would rule out federal assistance for abortions in many rape cases, including instances of statutory rape, many of which are non-forcible. For example: If a 13-year-old girl is impregnated by a 24-year-old adult, she would no longer qualify to have Medicaid pay for an abortion.

You may recall that during the debate over health reform last year, Republicans tried to make a case that “ObamaCare” would somehow increase government coverage of abortion services, even as Democrats again and again made concessions to restrict that possibility. It’s increasingly obvious, though, that it’s not the statuo quo on abortion that conservatives are defending; instead they are pursuing a long-delayed opportunity to unsettle old compromises now that the midterm elections of 2010 have given them a supposed mandate:

There used to be a quasi-truce between the pro- and anti-choice forces on the issue of federal funding for abortion. Since 1976, federal law has prohibited the use of taxpayer dollars to pay for abortions except in the cases of rape, incest, and when the pregnancy endangers the life of the woman. But since last year, the anti-abortion side has become far more aggressive in challenging this compromise. They have been pushing to outlaw tax deductions for insurance plans that cover abortion, even if the abortion coverage is never used. The Smith bill represents a frontal attack on these long-standing exceptions.

The Senate won’t let this happen, but it’s a good example of an area where claims of Democratic “extremism” are a thin veil for conservative efforts to turn the clock way back.

Progressives Voice Concerns About SOTU

It’s unlikely that anyone at 1600 PA Ave. will lose much sleep about the left critique of Obama’s SOTU speech, and the white house is understandably euphoric about glowing reviews of the President’s state of the union address. In a CNN/Opinion Research survey, 84 percent of those who watched the speech liked Obama’s address; and 52 percent responded “very positively.” A CBS News/Knowlege Networks poll indicated 91 percent favored the president’s proposals.
But progressive critics nonetheless made some good points that merit consideration, mostly having to do with what was not said.
The Nation’s contributing editor Robert Scheer offered the left’s most acerbic review, saying,

I had expected Barack Obama to be his eloquent self, appealing to our better nature, but instead he was mealy-mouthed in avoiding the tough choices that a leader should delineate in a time of trouble….The speech was a distraction from what seriously ails us: an unabated mortgage crisis, stubbornly high unemployment and a debt that spiraled out of control while the government wasted trillions making the bankers whole. Instead, the president conveyed the insular optimism of his fat-cat associates…

American Prospect editor-at-large and WaPo columnist Harold Meyerson raised an omission I wondered about:

If we’re going to rewrite our corporate tax code, why don’t we rewrite it to reward those companies that employ workers at good jobs here at home?…Why can’t our tax laws discriminate between those companies that both develop and manufacture their products here and those that go abroad for cheaper labor?…We can at least use tariffs and taxes to reward those corporations that invest at home and penalize those that disinvest in this nation’s future. …That carrot and stick is what’s missing from the president’s commendable-as-far-as-they-go proposals.

Open Left’s Mike Lux had a mostly favorable review of SOTU, calling it “a solid, steady performance,” but with some pointed concerns:

…There also were some anti-progressive, irritating moments, too: screwing consumers on medical malpractice, screwing government workers with a wage freeze, screwing us all with the five-year freeze on domestic discretionary spending (which is actually at least a 7 percent cut if you factor inflation in).

Yesterday the Washington Post weighed in with an editorial taking the President to task for not even mentioning gun control, despite having the family of Christina Taylor Green, the nine-year old girl murdered in Tucson sitting with the first lady:

The lack of urgency is appalling. How many more tragedies must occur before the president is moved to act? How many more stricken families will be forced to sit through Washington dog-and-pony shows while those with the power to stem the violence do nothing?

To be fair, some leading progressives had a more positive reaction, including New Republic senior editor John B. Judis, who called the 2011 SOTU Obama’s “best speech as president.” And MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, who echoed some of Ed Kilgore’s take, credited the President with “wrenching the center back from the right” and “stopping the country’s rightward drift.”
It may be that President Obama does intend to address all or some of the aforementioned progressive concerns with reform proposals. It’s not always good strategy to state absolutely everything you want or plan to do in one SOTU speech. I just hope he does plan to push forward a saner firearms policy and some of the carrots and sticks to keep jobs in the U.S. Meyerson noted.
Few would doubt, however, that the schitzy conservative response to the President’s address — Ryan’s uninspiring, visionless view of the possibilities ahead and Bachman’s weird, blundering screed — was a mess. Compared to that, at least, progressive and moderate Dems should have no trouble agreeing that President Obama won the day.

Pence Takes a Powder

So all the pleading from national conservatives didn’t matter: Rep. Mike Pence announced today that he would not run for president in 2012. He is now universally expected to run for governor of Indiana, where he will begin as a strong favorite against a so-far-invisible field.
In terms of the presidential field, it’s now denied the one plausible candidate who could have met a strict limus test of right-wing orthodoxy, since Pence voted against No Child Left Behind, Medicare Part D, TARP, and the recent tax cut deal.
More to the point, his decision should speed up the game of musical chairs over who will try to occupy the True Conservative position in the nominating process. John (Empty Suit) Thune and Haley (Boss Hawg) Barbour probably don’t qualify, so look for signals from Huckabee, Palin, and Bachmann. It’s very unlikely that the Right will allow Newt Gingrich or Tim Pawlenty to become their champion by default.