Thursday, February 11, 2016

Archive: April, 2009

POSTED: Thursday, April 30, 2009, 2:34 PM

Today, and again tomorrow, I plan to highlight several exchanges that occurred during the presidential news conference that marked Barack Obama's first 100 days. Most of the attention has focused on his remarks about Pakistan, the torture memos, and the flu. I'm more interested in noteworthy stuff that has been largely overlooked, with particular focus on things left unsaid.

For instance, the following exchange occurred late in the hour. Without the necessary context (read on), it was probably incomprehensible to millions of viewers.

POSTED: Wednesday, April 29, 2009, 11:12 AM

When House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was asked yesterday to comment on Arlen Specter's decision to quit the GOP and become the 59th Democratic senator, she told CNN: "Very exciting, very exciting for the American people, because now we can get things done."

Not so fast. Pelosi and other triumphalist Democrats are conveniently forgetting a very important fact: Specter by nature is a slick operator who is bound to frustrate and confound his new best friends, just as he did the friends who have now become his foes.

POSTED: Tuesday, April 28, 2009, 12:16 PM

Stop the presses. Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter announced today that he's switching parties. That gives the Democrats 59 senators, which means that Al Franken's eventual ascent would give them a (theoretically) filibuster-proof tally of 60 seats. Once again, the GOP is wearing its "kick me" sign.

Specter (D-Survivor), recognizing that it's virtually impossible anymore for a moderate to live and breathe freely within the rightward GOP, stated: "I have decided to run for re-election in 2010 in the Democratic primary...Since my (first) election in 1980, as part of the Reagan Big Tent, the Republican Party has moved far to the right. Last year, more than 200,000 Republicans in Pennsylvania changed their registration to become Democrats. I now find my political philosophy more in line with Democrats than Republicans."

POSTED: Tuesday, April 28, 2009, 10:47 AM

As if we didn't have enough to worry about, now comes the swine flu. But at least we can rest easy knowing that President Obama's top health official, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, is already ensconced in her job, up to speed and on the case. And that's a good thing, because clearly, with potential lives at stake, this crisis requires...

...Wait a sec. Say what? The HHS job is still vacant - at a time like this? Obama's critics are outraged about this blatant incompetence. Religious right leader Gary Bauer has just circulated an email about the flu crisis, noting: "By the way, we go into this potential pandemic with no Secretary of Health and Human Services." Meanwhile, the fair-and-balanced posted an article on Sunday about the flu crisis, noting that "the Department of Health and Human Services is short a secretary."

POSTED: Monday, April 27, 2009, 9:44 AM

My Sunday print column, tweaked and expanded. Most observers, noting President Obama's first 100 days, appear to have opted for the FDR parallel. I went another way:

On the cusp of his first 100 days in office, the new president is fully embarked on his transformative mission, dominating the news cycle by sheer force of his telegenic cool, exuding confidence and prompting downhearted Americans to feel better about their troubled country.

POSTED: Friday, April 24, 2009, 7:47 AM

Today's entry is auditory only. I was a studio guest this morning on Philadelphia NPR; the "Radio Times" show devoted an hour to the burgeoning torture story, and I mostly talked about the political ramifications. Scott Horton, a Columbia University law professor who has been tracking the story on, addressed the legal dimensions. The show is now archived for online listeners.


POSTED: Thursday, April 23, 2009, 3:01 PM

The Obama team, while exhibiting considerable message discipline during its first 93 days, has nevertheless flunked the message test on torture. It's a testament to the inflammatory sensitivities of the issue that the president and his top aides spent four days this week trying to get their story straight, with respect to (a) what they believe should be done about the Bush bigwigs and lawyers who oversaw and wrote the torture memos, and (b) who should be making the decision about whether or not to prosecute.

There are so many subplots in this burgeoning story, but one is surely the tricky relationship between the Obama White House (which clearly would prefer that nobody be prosecuted, if only to avoid further inflaming partisan passions in Washington and thus jeopardizing the Obama policy agenda), and the U.S. Justice Department (which supposed to make the call on prosecutions, weighing only the relevant legal issues, irrespective of any outside political factors).

POSTED: Wednesday, April 22, 2009, 11:20 AM

The natural temptation, at the moment, is to focus on the hot-button issue du jour, and that would be the Obama regime's current struggle to craft an appropriate legal response to the Bush regime's adoption of the abusive torture practices employed in the early '50s by the Chinese communists and later by Pol Pot in Cambodia.

But such a focus would inevitably stir the partisan juices, and I'm feeling rather bipartisan this morning. In that spirit, I'm more interested in the historic bipartisan bill that President Obama signed into law yesterday. The newly-renamed Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act is surely too tame to roil the usual passions, but that's part of its appeal. Who, after all, could be "against" the concept of drawing more young people into community service, with the aim of improving the quality of America's civic life? (Read on.)

About this blog

Cited by the Columbia Journalism Review as one of the nation's top political reporters, and lauded by the ABC News political website as "one of the finest political journalists of his generation," Dick Polman is a national political columnist at the Philadelphia Inquirer. He is on the full-time faculty at the University of Pennsylvania, as "writer in residence." Dick has been a frequent guest on C-Span, MSNBC, CNN, NPR and the BBC. He covered the 1992, 1996, 2000, and 2004 presidential campaigns.


All commentaries posted before April 18, 2008, can be accessed at

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