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On the roster: Mr. Obama would like to explain… - Ryan steps back from delaying ObamaCare replacement - Kelly to be pressed on immigration, border wall - Audible: Look honey, I got you a parade! - Crocodile Dundee was not available for comment
MR. OBAMA WOULD LIKE TO EXPLAIN…
Presidents’ farewell addresses are supposed to be about a vision for the future, most effectively when rendered as a warning.
George Washington’s set the standard in 1796 when he – having chosen not to seek a third term because “choice and prudence invite me to quit the political scene, patriotism does not forbid it” – outlined the hazards he saw facing the infant republic, particularly domestic factions – what we now know as excessive partisanship – and unnecessary foreign entanglements.
It was 41 years later that Andrew Jackson delivered the next valedictory, cautioning against pork-barrel politics and, of course, bankers. Thirty years later, impeachment survivor Andrew Johnson delivered a petty list of recriminations against his political enemies.
We didn’t get another one until Harry Truman decided to put an era of astonishing change into context and outline what he saw as America’s new role in the world. Truman at his plainspoken best, asked his fellow Americans to “realize how big a job, how hard a job it is – not for my sake, because I am stepping out of it – but for the sake of my successor.”
That successor, Dwight Eisenhower, gave the most famous departure speech of the modern era. Having presided over the military buildup for the Cold War, the former general gave his countrymen a stern warning against the “unwarranted influence” of the “military-industrial complex.”
Every president since Lyndon Johnson has offered some farewell address, though none of them were particularly memorable other than Richard Nixon’s, but that was because of the context, not the contents.
Part of the reason is that these presidential farewells, much like the now-dreadful tradition of the State of the Union Address, have become so boring is that they have become not warnings for the future, but spin jobs about the past.
They have, frankly, become pretty hacky stuff. The concept is appealing because, like Eisenhower or Washington, a president freed from the bonds of public service and heading into retirement can offer a new perspective and speak freely. Not anymore.
There’s always the next election to think about and, a legacy to burnish. This forgets, of course, that the other half of the country not in the outgoing president’s political party, won’t believe a word of the spin, and the historians who will craft the judgement of time won’t either.
Barack Obama will add his 2 cents today, whether you like it or not.
Obama, like his immediate predecessors, will likely be rationalizing why his presidency was a success. It’s a narrative he and his team have already turned into a mantra. Obama leaves office taking credit for being almost a caretaker president, a steady hand through a challenging season of economic turmoil and war.
Not mentioned, of course, will be that he came to office as a change agent who vowed to disrupt politics and government and usher in an era of reform. Pffffttt...
Part of the reason for that is Obama has proven to be a very cautious man, especially when it comes to his image. Democrats now laboring to save his signature health law remember when they were crafting the legislation and Obama mostly declined to participate. He told them what he wanted, but wasn’t inclined to put himself on the hook for the actual polices.
They call it ObamaCare, but not only was its core principle not his idea, it was actually stolen from his 2008 primary rival, Hillary Clinton. As the man himself once said, “you didn’t build that.”
So it was with the Syrian civil war, Russian cyberattacks, a grand bargain on debt, taxes and spending, gun control, global warming regulations and more. Obama said he wanted results and then blamed others for not delivering them. When other politicians declined to share the potential blame, Obama walked.
In his mind, Obama no doubt believes that his role has been to summon other elective leaders to action. His failures, therefore, are their failures. He was Moses, they were the unwilling Israelites. He was the visionary, they were the political pigs.
That’s what happens when you have a president with a low-pain threshold. Obama’s predecessor, George W. Bush, was so much the opposite that it sometimes seemed like he was a masochist. Bush took the blame for failed ideas that weren’t even his. Bush willingly stood in the public square to be pilloried for failings in Iraq and the panic of 2008.
Obama doesn’t do it like that. Not only does Obama tend to eschew ownership of his failures, like the multi-generational disaster in Syria or the broad dissatisfaction with his health law, he takes time to construct narratives to place blame on others, including members of his own party. Pain is not his thing.
Perhaps listening tonight will be Obama’s successor.
We don’t know exactly what Trump’s pain threshold will be in office. The early signs are that he is not inclined to suffer in silence. But as Trump listens to Obama rationalize, it should be a cautionary moment for the president-elect.
Every great president has had to sacrifice popularity, comfort and sometimes even their lives for the cause. It is a consuming and often destructive undertaking. Obama’s unwillingness to pay the full price is part of why he leaves office with a modest, compromised legacy.
If greatness is Trump’s thing, that means suffering greatly too.
THE RULEBOOK: OR MAYBE EVEN RUSSIA…
“It ought never to be forgotten, that a firm union of this country, under an efficient government, will probably be an increasing object of jealousy to more than one nation of Europe; and that enterprises to subvert it will sometimes originate in the intrigues of foreign powers, and will seldom fail to be patronized and abetted by some of them.” – Alexander Hamilton, Federalist No. 59
TIME OUT: HOLY GUACAMOLE
Wired: “It’s the winter avocado harvest at the University of California’s orchard in Lindcove, and the fruit jumbled in the back of Eric Focht’s SUV are a palette of earthy tones, some rough and flecked with frosted tips, others green and smooth. The horticulturist selects three miniature fruit, bright green and rotund, which together fit easily in the palm of his hand. ‘We were thinking of calling it the Lunch Box,’ says Mary Lu Arpaia, who oversees the avocado breeding program at the orchard. But for now it’s just an experimental variety…But Arpaia envisions a time when the avocado will be more like an apple, with unique varieties harvested in different seasons and across an expanded geography—perhaps even here in the stifling heat of the San Joaquin Valley, hundreds of miles north from the coastal epicenter of US production. ‘If we want to stay on the game as California avocado growers, we need to bring diversity back,’ she says.”
Flag on the play? - Email us at HALFTIMEREPORT@FOXNEWS.COM with your tips, comments or questions.
RYAN STEPS BACK FROM DELAYING OBAMACARE REPLACEMENT
The Hill: “Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said on Tuesday that some elements required to replace ObamaCare could be included in the earlier process to repeal the healthcare law. … The Speaker’s comments come as GOP leaders are facing enormous pressure from President-elect Donald Trump, centrist Republicans and conservatives in the House Freedom Caucus to tackle the repeal and replacement of ObamaCare simultaneously. ‘It is our goal to bring it all together concurrently,’ Ryan told reporters after meeting with House Republicans behind closed doors. ‘We’re going to use every tool at our disposal through legislation, through regulation, to bring replace concurrent along with repeal, so that we can save people from this mess.’ In the GOP conference meeting, Ryan told his colleagues he expects the House will press forward and vote Friday on a Senate-passed budget that will start the process to repeal the Affordable Care Act. That’s despite calls from Freedom Caucus members for more details…”
Critical condition - New York Magazine: “At least three Republican senators (in addition to all the Democrats) now oppose repeal and delay. Rand Paul, of all people, has demanded that Congress repeal Obamacare at the same time it passes a plan to replace it. Paul has announced that he spoke with Trump and secured his agreement on this. Trump has not said so himself, confining his comments to date to a vague assurance, ‘That’s all gonna work out.’”
SESSIONS SAYS HE’D DEFY TRUMP IF NECESSARY
AP: “Sen. Jeff Sessions cast himself as a strong protector of law and order at his confirmation hearing Tuesday, promising that as attorney general he would crack down on illegal immigration, gun violence and the ‘scourge of radical Islamic terrorism.’ Sessions, echoing rhetoric used on the campaign trail by President-elect Donald Trump, warned of a country struggling to combat illegal drugs flooding across the border, spikes in violent crime in American cities and low morale among police… Politics got its share of attention, too, with Sessions promising to recuse himself from any investigation there might be into Democrat Hillary Clinton, because of comments he’d made during the campaign.”
Kelly to be pressed on immigration, border wall - AP: “Senators are expected to press retired Marine Gen. John Kelly, President-elect Donald Trump’s choice to head the Homeland Security Department, about plans to build a border wall and other steps to boost immigration security. Kelly’s confirmation is almost assured, but members of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee will likely use Tuesday’s hearing to debate the tough immigration and border security policies that were centerpieces of Trump’s presidential campaign. Kelly is one of several retired generals tapped for top positions by Trump.”
[Fox News follows the Trump cabinet nominees’ hearings live all day here.]
DeVos hearing delayed to next week - The Hill: “The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee announced late Monday that it had rescheduled the confirmation hearing for Secretary of Education nominee Betsy DeVos. ‘At the request of the Senate leadership to accommodate the Senate schedule, we have agreed to move the nomination hearing of Betsy DeVos to Tuesday, January 17th at 5:00 p.m.,’ Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and ranking member Patty Murray (D-Wash.) said in a release late Monday. DeVos was originally scheduled to face the committee on Wednesday morning.”
AUDIBLE: LOOK HONEY, I GOT YOU A PARADE!
“Honestly, I think my family is very relieved that they don’t have to think of a party idea.” – Kellyanne Conway, senior advisor to Donald Trump in an interview with Salena Zito explaining one of the advantages of turning 50 on Jan. 20, Inauguration Day.
Trump gets revenge on Kasich by helping defeat Ohio GOP chairman’s re-election - Fox News
Trump brand worth skyrockets with presidential win, raises more conflicts of interest - Politico
Clinton refusal to rule out New York mayoral run said to be payback for DeBlasio’s hesitancy to endorse - Politico
Comey, Clapper and other intel heads to testify on the Hill today - WSJ
Chaffetz says Clinton email investigation will continue - CBS News
Trump trend: Pa. businessman ready to jump in race for governor - Philadelphia Inquirer
FROM THE BLEACHERS
“Just when I was spiraling down into despair over tit for tat politics described by you [in Monday’s Halftime Report], I was jolted to LOL at the picture, ‘lower than a snake’s belly in a wagon rut.’ I can’t say enough how I appreciate your outlook and the way you express yourself. You’re a great guide in this complicated world. Thank you! Best regards.” – Emma Grimes, Lexington Park, Md.
[Ed. note: It is absolutely our pleasure, Ms. Grimes. And as for spirals of despair, do remember this: for the most part people do a pretty good job at ignoring politics and government. That’s a very bad thing when it comes to having an informed national discussion about serious issues, but it’s a very good thing in that the toxic brew of self-interest and disgrace that passes for political process goes mostly overlooked. Washington likes to think that this is the headwaters of our great republic. But we know that the truth is politics descends from culture just as the federal budget descends from the larger economy. What we see on display now is regrettably a reflection of a strained and uncivil society. It is true that the actions of leaders can ratify existing cultural trends, e.g. Bill Clinton and certain extracurricular activities. But always remember that the work of maintaining America’s greatness happens in your community and thousands of others across the land; in churches and synagogues, small businesses, Boys and Girls Clubs, little league diamonds and rest homes. Our capacity to create wealth, keep the peace and care for our most vulnerable neighbors is in our hands. The clucking, strutting roosters of Washington claim credit just as the cock claims credit for the sunrise. But we know the truth.]
“It is disheartening and discouraging to see Trump respond in such a second-grade way to Streep’s comments; he has a long way to go to seem ‘Presidential.’” – John A. Johnson, Tucson, Ariz.
[Ed. note: I know you are, Mr. Johnson, but what am I? But seriously, as we discussed Monday, the current depredations of public discourse did not begin with Donald Trump, though he certainly is accelerating the process. I suspect, though, that his fusillades will lose some of their potency over time. The capacity to shock depends on escalation and/or surprise. In time, Americans may come to accept the fact that their president tweets a lot and says zany things. Once predictable, a thing becomes easily discounted.]
“Can you help me out here? Social Security and Medicare are referred to as entitlements by nearly everyone in government and the press. Last time I checked, those programs are funded through employee and employer contributions. If those funds had been properly managed there would still be issues but they would not be in the mess they are today. Can you explain how I am off base on this? By the way, I've asked this question every time I see the word entitlement in relation to this, so far, not one reply. Sigh.” – Cathrine McLaren, Victor, Mont.
[Ed. note: You nailed it, Ms. McLaren! Sloppy language use has clouded this issue considerably. Social Security and Medicare are entitlements in a very literal sense: it’s your money and you are entitled to get it. These two programs were intended as government-mandated savings and insurance programs for senior citizens. You and your employer contribute through payroll taxes and then the money is supposed to be waiting for you when you reach the predetermined age. That differs for programs like Medicaid, Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) and food stamps, which are welfare programs. Over time, we have confused the issue through the government’s treatment of the entitlement funds as a piggybank for deficit spending and by the expansion of the welfare component of Social Security. In addition to being a retirement fund, Social Security was also supposed to be a disability insurance program and a resource for widows and orphans. Looking for ways to expand federal assistance, the government has broadened the disability component in recent years. One of the reasons for the early success and popularity of Social Security in the New Deal and Medicare as part of the Great Society, is that they were free from the stigma of being “the dole.” Directed savings brings a sense of dignity and accomplishment. Handouts do not. Unfortunately for the sake of the national discussion these programs have been lumped in with welfare programs and sloppily referred to as “entitlements.”]
CROCODILE DUNDEE WAS NOT AVAILABLE FOR COMMENT
Atlanta Journal Constitution: “An alleged drunk patron said he ‘had something’ for the manager and security guard that escorted him out of a restaurant, but his toy gun was no match for the real one an employee pulled on him, authorities said. According to Brookhaven police, the man was ‘extremely intoxicated’ at about 3 a.m. Sunday... The manager and a security guard escorted him out, but … [he] came back to the restaurant with what was later found to be a toy gun, [police] said. But before the patron could act, an employee grabbed his own gun, confronted the man as he opened the front door and told him not to continue, police said. ‘The employee fired several rounds at the armed person causing (him) to retreat and leave the scene…’ [police] said. About 5:30 a.m., the man was found at the Avenue at 85 apartment complex after he called 911 about being shot in his shoulder and wrist.”
Share your color commentary: Email us at HALFTIMEREPORT@FOXNEWS.COM and please make sure to include your name and hometown.
AND NOW, A WORD FROM CHARLES…
“I think the Republicans should start every session with an expression of gratitude to Harry Reid for having made this very easy. It was a mistake from the beginning to blow up the filibuster rule.” – Charles Krauthamer on “Special Report with Bret Baier.”
Chris Stirewalt is the politics editor for Fox News. Sally Persons contributed to this report. Want FOX News Halftime Report in you inbox every day? Sign up here.
Chris Stirewalt joined Fox News Channel (FNC) in July of 2010 and serves as politics editor based in Washington, D.C. Additionally, he authors the daily Fox News Halftime Report political news note and co-hosts the hit podcast, Perino & Stirewalt: I'll Tell You What. He also is the host of Power Play, a feature video series on FoxNews.com. Stirewalt makes frequent appearances on network programs, including America’s Newsroom, Special Report with Bret Baier and Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace. He also provides expert political analysis for FNC’s coverage of state, congressional and presidential elections.