John Eby: Will it be another win for attack ads distracting us from facts?

Published 1:41 pm Tuesday, October 19, 2010

President Barack Obama said Oct. 15 that Democrats can prevail in Nov. 2’s midterm elections if voters focus on what he and his party have accomplished rather than the tsunami of attack ads gushing from special-interest ads the Supreme Court enabled.

That’s an enormous if, fighting a Fox food fling with facts, as MSNBC may find with its new catchphrase, Lean Foward, defined as to “think bigger, listen closer, act faster.”

No explanation needed for Fair and Balanced.

Nobody’s jaw dropped farther than mine when Obama said last month he completed 70 percent of the to-do list he carries in his pocket of promises made during his 2007-2008 campaign.

“It is the unwritten story of this election,” Obama told members of the Trotter Group, an organization of black columnists, in an exclusive interview at the White House reported in the Detroit Free Press by Rochelle Riley.

“It is having a huge influence across the country and is probably our biggest challenge right now. And it’s the direct result of a Supreme Court opinion called Citizens United that passed in the last session … (and) opened the floodgates to special-interest money, undisclosed.”

According to the non-partisan Sunlight Foundation, spending by special interests outside regulated activities of parties and campaigns surpasses $200 million. At $80 million that was five times 2006 levels.

“I think my job is to constantly remind people of the fact that this election is a choice,” Obama said. “(Vice President) Joe Biden puts it well. He says, ‘Don’t compare me to the Almighty; compare me to the alternative.’”

To Tea Party detractors who want to take their country back, Obama responds, “The government now is smaller than it was under Ronald Reagan … They think (this administration) has presided over this huge expansion in taxes … actually, your taxes are lower now than when I came into office because of the tax breaks we initiated in the recovery package … If they point to the health care bill and say somehow that this is an unprecedented expansion of government, then I explain that A, this costs the same as the prescription drug bill that passed under George Bush, and nobody was complaining about it … and B, by the way, people said the same thing about Medicare, which you love.”

“We lost almost 8 million jobs before any of our economic policies had a chance to be put in place,” the president added.

I guess the remaining 30 percent of his list consists of eventually communicating to the American people what he’s done because ads speak louder than words.

It’s one thing to be consumed with high-minded governance and disdaining politics to focus on building a better country for the future — but not if every accomplishment is washed away when toss-the-rascals-out mania carries the day and rewinds the past two years.

The left’s lament was summed up over the summer by Eric Alterman’s observation in The Nation that Obama may have “fooled gullible progressives into believing he was a left-liberal partisan, when in fact he is much closer to a conservative corporate shill.” One cover showed his face flaking away like a mask to reveal the smirking face of George W. Bush.

Polls show only 12 percent of Americans know Obama cut their taxes. Twice that number believe he raised them.

Just 29 percent understand stimulus boosted the economy.

Eighty-one percent believe the deficit-slashing health care reform will actually boost the deficit.

Don’t take my word for it, but cast your intellectual curiosity net wider than Sean Hannity if you think the only Americans fired up by change Obama delivered are the Republicans and Tea Partiers who want to repeal them.

“Republicans have succeeded in making even the president’s victories look distasteful,” says Norman Ornstein, a scholar at the conservative American Enterprise Institute. “If you’re looking at the first-two-year legislative record, you really don’t have any rivals since Lyndon Johnson — and that includes Ronald Reagan.”

Historian Doris Kearns Goodwin says, “When you look at what will last in history, Obama has more notches on the presidential belt,” such as rewriting America’s social contract to make health care accessible for all citizens.

These historians credit him with bringing 100,000 troops home from the Bush administration’s $3 trillion Iraq invasion, using $200 billion in corporate welfare to make college more accessible and Medicare more solvent and saving the auto industry and a million jobs with a $60 billion gamble.

The $200 billion investment in clean energy is likened to John F. Kennedy’s moon shot, making him the first green president rather than the first black one.

Says Princeton historian Sean Wilentz, “You’ve got a Senate with no adult leadership. Obama’s up against Rupert Murdoch, Dick Armey, the Koch brothers and the rest of the professional right,” yet he forged a legacy that “puts him in the same conversation with FDR and LBJ,” according to presidential historian Douglas Brinkley.

“There should have been goose bumps” with health care, Wilentz says in the Oct. 28 Rolling Stone. “What should have been a crescendo was a diminuendo. You have this great accomplishment and everybody feels terrible — because of the politics.”

Yes, unemployment seems stuck at 9.6 percent, but might be 16.5 percent, concludes a study by economists from Princeton and Moody’s.

The Recovery Act was about making investments to reviving the middle class and bolstering long-term competitiveness, not a magic elixir.

The Consumer FInancial Protection Bureau is intended as a single regulatory authority with the power to protect consumers from bad loans and predatory credit deals like FDA guards against dangerous drugs.

Its $500 million budget is exempt from congressional meddling. Sen. Richard Shelby, ranking Republican on the Senate Banking Committee, wants to gut Wall Street reform.

In my office the other day my congressman, Fred Upton, mentioned Medicare Advantage.

I read it was a Bush-era boondoggle by which private insurers loaded up on subsidies for the questionable service of making themselves middlemen between patients and government-run Medicare.

I went back and reread Rolling Stone’s first Oval Office interview Sept. 17. The media mostly focused from 10 pages on Obama’s tough love lecture delivered after he left the room and returned to scold that impatient progressives need to “buck up” because “bringing about change is hard.”

“On the economic front,” Obama said, Republicans’ “only agenda seems to be tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans. Now they’ll also say, ‘We’re going to control spending.’ But, of course, when you say you’re going to borrow $700 billion to give an average $100,000-a-year tax break to people making a millions dollars a year, or more, you don’t get a sense that they’re actually serious on the deficit side. In an ideal world, we wouldn’t have gone into Iraq. And I wouldn’t have inherited a $1.3 trillion deficit, but I have to play the cards I’m dealt.”

On health care he said, “I could have had a knock-down, drag-out fight on the public option, and we would not have health care legislation now. Democrats and progressives a lot of times see the glass as half-empty. It’s like, ‘Well, gosh, we’ve got this historic health care legislation that we’ve been trying to get for 100 years, but it didn’t have every bell and whistle that we wanted right now, so let’s focus on what we didn’t get.’ That self-critical element of the progressive mind is probably a healthy thing, but it can also be debilitating.

“The Recovery Act alone represented the largest investment in research and development in our history, the largest investment in infrastructure since Dwight Eisenhower, the largest investment in education .. and the largest investment in clean energy in our history … it is very important for Democrats to take pride in what we’ve accomplished. All that has taken place against a backdrop in which, because of the financial crisis, we’ve seen an increase in poverty and an increase in unemployment and people’s wages and incomes have stagnated. So it’s not surprising that a lot of folks out there don’t feel like these victories have had an impact. What is also true is our two biggest pieces of legislation, health care and financial regulatory reform, won’t take effect right away, so ordinary folks won’t see the impact of a lot of these things for another couple of years. It is very important for progressives to understand that just on the domestic side, we’ve accomplished a huge amount.”

“There’s no doubt that there is genuine anger, frustration and anxiety in the public at large about the worst financial crisis we’ve experienced since the Great Depression. Part of what we have to keep in mind here is this recession is worse than the Ronald Reagan recession of the Eighties, the 1990-1991 recession and the 2001 recession combined. The depths of it have been profound.”

John Eby is Daily News managing editor. E-mail him at