Obama Chases Reagan; Pilot’s Junk Touched; EPA Tackles Carbon; Pensions Trap Cities; N.H. Primary Date in Flux

Obama Reads Old Story on Reagan

“He had always prided himself on knowing how to make an exit, and when the end came… Ronald Reagan understood exactly how to leave the stage.”

-- The opening lines of “President Reagan: The Role of a Lifetime” by Lou Cannon.

The White House  says President Obama’s vacation reading includes the final installment of former Washington Post reporter Lou Cannon’s trilogy of Reagan biographies, “President Reagan: The Role of a Lifetime.”

Just as Obama was said to be reading “The Clinton Tapes” ahead of his midterm “shellacking,” this public release is intended to send a message.

The Clinton book was a public signal that Obama was considering the need to move to the middle after the midterms. The Reagan book is a return to Obama’s vision of himself as a liberal Reagan – a transformative president who shifts the public debate for a generation.

And, as his advisers often remind journalists, the first two years of Reagan’s first term were rough running. Low public approval, a persistent recession and midterm setbacks dogged Reagan in 1983, but he would go on to become one of the most popular and successful presidents in history.

But the size of Obama’s midterm defeat (63 seats in the House) was more than twice what Reagan’s was (26 seats), and the central focus of Reagan’s first two years was on taxes and the economy while Obama opted for an ambitious health plan.
Even so, there is much a modern president can learn from Reagan, who wielded the power of presidency so well.

Cannon, though, may not provide the most useful portrait for Obama.
Cannon wrote about Reagan for 40 years, first in California and then in Washington and in three books about the Gipper and one polemic against George W. Bush as a failed imitator of Reagan.
Through it all, Cannon has been fixated on the idea of Reagan as kind of a dummy who play-acted his way through politics. While Cannon got great access by flattering Reagan’s aides with depictions of them as guiding the presidency and Reagan as a figurehead, he always laid out a view of Reagan as something of a child.

Reagan’s diagnosis with Alzheimer’s prompted Cannon to rewrite the book and draw a new conclusion that perhaps Reagan’s feeble-mindedness was a result of the early onset of his illness. It allowed Cannon a way out of the paradox of the book in first printing – how could someone who was so effective sometimes be so detached from reality.

Cannon never allowed for the possibility that Reagan’s optimism and focus on an orderly life were not the acts of a simpleton, but rather a smart man who made a decision to live an optimistic orderly life.

Cynical journalists rarely saw Reagan’s sunny side, affection for his wife or straightforward policy stances as much more than proof that he was an empty suit being manipulated by dark forces in the vast right wing conspiracy.

Cannon’s conclusion that Reagan’s success was in delivering the lines and following the stage management of his puppeteers will dovetail nicely with Obama’s belief that his problems have come from not being a better salesman of his policies.

The book does not raise the more provocative suggestion that Reagan’s popularity was a result of genuine mutual affection between him and voters, a popularity reinforced by the success of Reagan’s programs.

Obama is considering imitating Reagan’s landmark 1986 tax reforms – less loopholes and lower rates – but he might also be well served to consider how Reagan’s warm feelings for Americans and light managerial touch at the White House helped him succeed.

Power Play humbly recommends “When Character Was King” by Peggy Noonan if Obama is looking for a more useful portrait.

Pilot Gets Shove from Big Sis

"Somebody obviously has to address the issue. Really, the only way this news story got traction is because of the government's response."

-- An airline pilot visited by four federal agents and two deputies and stripped of his pistol and concealed carry permit after posting videos online critical of the Transportation Security Agency.

A Sacramento-based airline pilot posted a series of videos online that highlighted what he said were obvious flaws in the airline security apparatus.

His big complaints centered on the fact that while flight crews are subject to body scans and searches, the large ground crews that service planes need only swipe a card to get access to a plane.

In one video, he shows the treatment he and his flight crew get from federal officials looking for contraband items like cuticle scissors and then shows a shot of a gnarly-looking rescue ax available to him in the cockpit.

His message to flyers was that the TSA is only there to make flyers believe the government is doing something, not prevent attacks.

The response from Washington was swift. The pilot, whose identity is being protected by local reporters until his federal beef is underway, was visited by four agents and two deputies to strip him of his federally issued firearm and strip him of his status as a Federal Flight Deck Officer, the program that allows pilots to carry side arms on flights.

He says the surprise visit by the big force was intended to send a message: pipe down, or else.
The Washington Post reports today on the $6 million spent by the scanner industry on lobbying this year, and that doesn’t count the money spent by GE and others trying to get in on the emerging technology. The story casts a skeptical eye on the effectiveness of the high-tech scanners and suggests a cozy relationship between those selling air security products and setting air security policy.

The ongoing spat between the public and the government over the best way to safeguard airports did not die with “Don’t touch my junk,” but perhaps has only just begun.

EPA Readies Carbon Crackdown

“We are following through on our commitment to proceed in a measured and careful way to reduce [greenhouse gas] pollution that threatens the health and welfare of Americans, and contributes to climate change.”

-- EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson in a statement.

Moderate Democrats cheered when the EPA opted to not implement a threatened January crackdown on carbon emissions, but even as it retreated, the agency was preparing for a new attack.

The agency held back because a bipartisan coalition was threatening to pass a law explicitly forbidding the agency from setting carbon limits.

During the negotiation over cap and trade, the Obama administration tried to get passage of the president’s plan for global-warming fees by warning that if Congress didn’t act, the EPA would. Obama had approved an agency decision that said carbon dioxide was a hazard to human health because it would cause the planet to warm.

But this week, with little fanfare and amid a period of lame duck and Christmastime distraction, the agency rolled out its plan to execute another form carbon crackdown.

Starting in July 2011, the EPA will start enforcing new carbon standards under the aegis of the Clean Air Act, and expand enforcement for the first time to existing power plants not for emitting soot but for releasing greenhouse gasses.

It means a huge fight and, if the EPA succeeds, major disruptions of the current energy supply as coal-fired producers scramble to avoid massive fines or government-ordered shutdown.
This sets the stage for a Republican effort to restrict the EPA’s efforts to enforce the Obama global warming policy and a resulting presidential veto.

Local Governments Caught in Pension Traps

"But for the pensions, [the property tax] would not have gone up at all.”

-- Village Manager Reid Ottesen of Palatine Ill., where residents will again be hit with a tax increase, explaining the problem to the Wall Street Journal.

In a harbinger of what lies ahead for cash-strapped states, communities across the country are seeing their budgets busted by unsustainable pension obligations.

The New York Times on Wednesday profiled the town of Pritchard, Ala., where the local government has suspended its pension fund and cut off retirees. Pritchard, now facing a legal struggle and possible dissolution over the decision, will not be typical.

More typical will be the communities across the nation that are jacking up property tax rates into the stratosphere. Even as home values stay low, places like Philadelphia are increasing property taxes by 10 percent – a $270 increase for the owner of a home worth $100,000.

The problem is that local leaders tried to have it both ways for the previous two decades.
Government unions offered campaign support and primary election protection to Democrats in exchange for better benefits once salaries had reached the limits of available revenues.

And since the stock market was performing so wonderfully and cities could borrow lots of money cheaply, lawmakers had few qualms about obliging the unions since projected investment revenues and bond rates allowed them to avoid raising taxes.

But the abysmal market of 2009 and the fear of government debt has proved a major setback to the plan for local officials to please unions and residents simultaneously. Now, in order to satisfy legal obligations to fund huge pension funds being depleted by retiring baby boomers, local leaders are putting the squeeze on residents.

Philly, for example, is on track to pay $600 million a year for pensions in 2014. The Wall Street Journal tells us that the number was $230 million in 2004.

Those wondering why government unions will be a hot issue for 2012 need only look at tax rates across the country.

Nevada Caucus May Push Up 2012 Timetable

"Candidates run here not just because we're 'first, but because they get a launch here and benefit from that launch because there is no other major event for at least a week."

-- State Rep. Jim Splaine explaining to the New Hampshire Union Leader the purpose of the state’s “first in the nation” law setting the date for primary elections.

Nevada has set the date for its Republican presidential nomination vote for Feb. 18, but New Hampshire state law dictate’s that the state’s primary be held at least a week before any “similar election.”

Nevada, Iowa, South Carolina and New Hampshire all have exemptions from a new national GOP rule that forbids primaries before the end of March, and Iowa is not allowed under Republican rules to have its caucuses before Feb. 6.

But the date of Nevada’s election means that by law, New Hampshire has to move up its contest from Feb. 14. But moving back to the previous Tuesday would put the New Hampshire vote only one day after the Iowa caucus, which would deny candidates the chance to fully contest both states.

That would force candidates to pick and choose and dilute the significance of New Hampshire since GOPers would likely cede the turf to New Englander Mitt Romney.

New Hampshire’s Democratic secretary of state says Nevada’s date leaves him no choice, but Republicans are expected to argue that since Nevada is a kind of primary/ caucus hybrid, it doesn’t really count and that the four-day gap between the two events doesn’t violate the law.

But, if New Hampshire stands pat, it means some trouble for Romney. His campaign would like to see back-to-back wins in the two states (Nevada has a large Mormon population) and would not be happy to new the Silver State’s contest reduced in importance by being held the same week as New Hampshire.

And Now, A Word From Charles

“The power Republicans have acquired in winning the House is they can have the open hearings where the issues and exemptions, these instances of what looks like corruption or favoritism are exposed not on the evening news but in hearings.”

-- Charles Krauthammer on “Special Report with Bret Baier” discussing an exemption granted to AARP’s health insurance business from some dictates of President Obama’s national health-care law after AARP was a main cheerleader for the Democratic proposal.