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Open Thread: John Nichols Smacks Down “Whiner in Chief”

Please don't hurt my feelings!

Please don't hurt my feelings!

This morning at The Nation John Nichols sternly reprimands the Obama administration for its attempts to control “left of left” bloggers with humiliating “off the record” remarks from anonymous administration sources, as well as its childish “war” with Fox News Network

Nichols writes:

…before the president and his inner circle go all Spiro Agnew on us, they might want to consider three fundamental facts regarding relations between the executive branch and the fourth estate

Next, Nichols discusses three main points about WH-media relationships: 1) media outlets have always been partisan; 2) “Presidents are supposed to rise above their own partisanship”; and 3) Obama is asking for trouble by “trying to ‘whip’ relatively like-minded” media sources “in line.”

Here are few salient exerpts from Nichols’ pithy piece:

Fox hosts do go overboard in their savaging of Obama and the Democrats — sometimes ridiculously so. But their assaults on the president are gentle when compared with the battering that Benjamin Franklin Bache’s Philadelphia Aurora administered to John Adams (appropriately) or the trashing that Colonel McCormick’s Chicago Tribune gave Franklin Roosevelt (inappropriately).

Obama should be better than [Dick] Cheney. But aides are not helping the president prevail in what ought to be an easy competition.

Cheney saw newspapers such as The New York Times and news channels such as CNN as little more than branches of his Democratic opposition.

…bloggers should…take [WH] criticism as confirmation that they are right when they suggest that this administration is increasingly out of touch with the progressive base that secured Obama the Democratic nomination and ultimately propelled him to the White House.

The fact is that the results of the 2008 election did not reveal “a closely-divided country.” Obama arrived at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue with the most muscular mandate accorded any Democrat since Lyndon Johnson’s 1964 landslide.

Please read the whole thing, and then come back here and discuss.

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Bair Under Fire

Sheila Bair, head of the FDIC

Sheila Bair, head of the FDIC

You know, I never thought I would be saying this but I think that Republicans might actually be more respectful of women than Democrats.  I’m probably going to burn in Hell now, if I believed in it.  Maybe it’s just a matter of perception and perspective but I just can’t wrap my brain around how Hillary, Sarah and now Sheila Bair have been treated by the Democrats.  Oh, and let’s not forget Diane Feinstein who wasn’t given a courtesy call about Leon Panetta’s proposed appointment to the CIA.  I don’t care if you love or despise DiFi, she was deliberately cut out of the loop and the call went to a more junior member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Ron Wyden.  No matter how you slice it, it just looks bad.

As Clay Risen writes today in The New Republic in Bair Market, Sheila Bair is one of those remarkable Republicans we don’t find too often- a long term thinker.

Bair is one of a dwindling species in Washington: a pragmatic conservative who recognizes that fiscal discipline and small government aren’t always the answer–and who sometimes sounds downright populist as a result. “A lot of people out there are losing their houses,” she told me last month. “I think people draw false choices between bailing out financial institutions and helping homeowners. Well, maybe we need to spend on both.” Indeed, Bair’s views on the current crisis may actually be more liberal than those of Obama’s generally centrist appointees, and already there have been signs of strain between Bair and the incoming administration. Who could have guessed that the high-ranking government official most likely to attack Obama’s economic policies from the left would be–of all things–a Republican?

The rest, of course, is history. Few listened to Bair, and, when the housing bubble burst in late 2007, foreclosures began to pile up. In December 2007, Bair told Congress that some 1.3 million mortgage loans would reset over the next year, which “could result in hundreds of thousands of additional mortgage foreclosures over the next two years.” A few months later, she was pushing a comprehensive mortgage relief program, hardly the bailiwick of past FDIC chairs. Her plan, which drew praise from Capitol Hill liberals and consumer advocates but the ire of Henry Paulson and the White House, would require banks to renegotiate interest rates for troubled mortgages, with the government promising to cover most of the losses if they went into foreclosure later.

Opponents accused her of wanting to bailout negligent homeowners–and thereby violate conservative economic values. But Bair argued repeatedly, with impeccable data, that many of the homeowners had been duped, and that in any case the potential social cost of millions of unoccupied houses outweighed the risk. For Bair, this wasn’t a sign that she’d given up her Republican credentials. Rather, it was a pragmatic solution to an unprecedented problem–a problem that Bush has yet to tackle, a year later. Without action now, “the housing market will continue to deteriorate,” she tells me, adding, “I don’t understand why we can give out billions to the financial sector, but when we talk about the [individual borrower] level, we get out the fine-toothed comb.”

She seems to be able to put country and principles before party {{gasp!}}. No wonder the Obama economic team despises her.  She’s so not like them. Bair has used her clout at the FDIC to rescue some shaky banks while at the same time, and in some respects, succeeding,  holding some of those bankers accountable for their actions.  Elizabeth Warren, the Harvard prof who specializes in consumer credit and debt and who is now chairing a Congressional Oversight Committee of the Paulsen Bailout Bill, can’t say enough good things about Bair.  She’s smart, assertive, not afraid to challenge her superiors AND she is absolutely loathed by both the outgoing and *incoming* Treasury Secretaries:

By December, an anti-Bair whisper campaign was making the rounds. The Wall Street Journal reported that Geithner had criticized Bair for protecting the FDIC over the broader interests of the economic recovery efforts, while a December 4 Bloomberg account had anonymous sources saying that Geithner didn’t think Bair was a “team player” and that Obama had decided to isolate her, if not ask her to step down as FDIC chair. “They’re just criticizing me for doing my job,” Bair tells me defensively.

Ahhh, yes, the “You’re not a team player, you’re hard to work with” defense.  It is the stock phrase used ’round the world when a woman gets in the way.  There’s nothing worse for a woman in business than to be told she isn’t cooperative.  It’s a code phrase for “bitch” but saying that would contribute to a hostile work environment.  But in this case, it is reminiscent of being called a racist during the primary when any comparison of Obama to his opponents made him look bad.  It doesn’t take much to be called a troublemaker at work.  You just have to be warm, breathing and expressing your best judgment.  Happens all of the time.  Sheila’s not going with the $600,000,000 campaign flow, therefore we will isolate her and not invite her to meetings until she gives up and resigns.  I know!  Let’s say she’s not a team player.

Tim Geithner has decided to cut Bair out of the loop during the transition period and has only brought her in for  perfunctory meetings.  This is a bad sign of things to come and unacceptable in an economic crisis of this magnitude, especially when the person left out is a responsible, competent key player.  Geithner and Summers strike me as the cocky elite types who are so full of themselves that they don’t need to listen to anyone else.  While the country is teetering on the brink of a Depression, we really don’t need that s%^t.  But not to worry, so far, Bair says she’s staying put, which she has the right to do because she still has 2.5 years left in her term.  However, there is something deeply unsavory going on in the treatment of Bair and I don’t think it is limited to the alpha males refusing to get along with her:

Bair, while paying lip service to presidential prerogative–“I assume if they want change, they’ll let me know,” she says–has no incentive to leave and every reason to stay, particularly if she believes that Geithner will continue Paulson’s Wall Street-friendly bailout strategy. And she’ll have her hands full: The number of banks at risk of collapse is growing–171 by the end of September, the latest number and the highest in 13 years–while the foreclosure crisis, once limited to homeowners who had borrowed more than they could pay, is now spreading to homeowners hit by unemployment. By some estimates, at least one million homes will enter foreclosure next year, on top of some 880,000 this year, leaving in their wake gutted neighborhoods, fragile families, and battered local economies. Meanwhile, so far, Obama seems to be putting off homeowner assistance in favor of infrastructure stimulus and industry-specific bailouts.

Like some of Bair’s critics in the Bush administration, the Obama team is right to be wary of the FDIC chair’s sharp elbows. Not only will she continue the very public push for her foreclosure-assistance plan, but–as she did during Bush’s rescue of Citigroup–she is likely to demand that the FDIC once again be awarded a large chunk of assets when its money is used in future bailouts. “She has no interest in going along to get along,” says Tom O’Brien, former dean at the UMass business school and a close friend of Bair.

But it’s not just a question of which direction, tent-wise, Bair should be spitting. When it comes to the nuts and bolts of bank rescues and mortgage relief, no one in Washington knows more than Bair. And while she readily admits that her plan isn’t a panacea–“there are no silver bullets, no perfect solutions,” she says–her agency has been doing loan modifications for decades, using them to clean up the assets of shuttered banks it takes over. “She absolutely knows how the various institutions work, what kind of strategies and proposals have not worked, and what are the immediate steps that need to occur,” says Taylor. “She can hit the ground running. If she had support from a White House that cared about these things, we would have a rapid improvement.”

It’s becoming more and more clear why Obama was in such a hurry to pass the Paulsen Bailout Bill that didn’t provide for enough oversight. Plus ςa change…