- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 21, 2009

CELEBRITY IN CHIEF

“For the national media, Barack Obama isn’t merely the president of the United States. He’s so much more than that,” Stuart Rothenberg writes in Roll Call.

“Obama is a celebrity, and he and his family are covered that way. That means there is a heavy focus on the personal, making Obama the first ‘ “Entertainment Tonight” president,’ ” Mr. Rothenberg said.

“First, it was Michelle’s wardrobe. Then, it was the kids’ school. Then it was Michelle’s White House vegetable garden. And most recently, it is the new dog, Bo.

“As befitting the pet of an international celebrity, Bo-mania is an international phenomenon. AFP, the French news agency, reported Tuesday a ‘surge of interest in the pedigree in Britain,’ after the announcement about the Obamas’ new Portuguese water dog.

” ‘We frequently see the popularity of certain breeds soar once people have seen them being bought by their favorite celebrities,’ said a spokeswoman for Britain’s Kennel Club.

“Note that the Kennel Club spokeswoman said ‘celebrities.’ First the Beckhams, then the Osbournes and now the Obamas. But you would have to be more than a little naive to believe that the White House isn’t helping feed the media beast.

“Washington Post staff writer Manuel Roig-Franzia’s April 12 piece showed that the White House had orchestrated a series of ‘exclusives,’ giving the garden story to the New York Times and the dog story to The Post.

“It’s hard to know what hard news story the public relations folks inside the administration will think of next. Maybe repaint the kids’ rooms? How about new bikes for the whole family? That’s sure to be a big story. There are a lot of bike riders around the country, and bicycling involves physical fitness and the environment at the same time. …

“Is there a serious political angle to all of this Obama celebrity talk? There is.

“In encouraging all of the celebrity coverage (journalists don’t need much encouragement given the public’s apparent unquenchable need for gossip), the White House surely is trying to keep Obama’s appeal high among those Americans who really don’t care a great deal about politics.”

FILIBUSTERS

“On the eve of George W. Bush’s inauguration in 2001, I cautioned fellow Democrats against ‘delaying or denying confirmation of nominees to Cabinet and sub-Cabinet posts,’ ” Walter Dellinger writes in the Wall Street Journal.

“I argued on these pages that blocking executive nominees would weaken the presidency and be counterproductive for the opposition: ‘If a president cannot promptly place his chosen people in key offices, he can hardly be held fully responsible for the missteps of the administration.’

“In the past few years, many Republican senators have agreed, saying that it is unacceptable to filibuster a nominee submitted to the Senate for its ‘advice and consent.’ Some Republicans have gone further than I would, asserting that filibusters of presidential nominations are unconstitutional,” said Mr. Dellinger, who was head of the Office of Legal Counsel in the Clinton administration.

“I was therefore taken aback by recent speculation that Republicans might filibuster two ofPresident BarackObama’s key nominees: Dawn Johnsen, to head the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel; and Harold Koh, to be legal adviser to the State Department.

“In the past, Republican senators have publicly asserted that it is either ‘unacceptable’ or ‘unconstitutional’ to filibuster an up-or-down vote of a nominee submitted by the president for Senate ‘advice and consent.’ I cannot believe they would now abandon that principle.”

ABOUT THOSE CUTS

“The Obama administration has announced plans to cut $100 million from the federal budget, and department heads will have to make the cuts within 90 days,” Tom Bemis writes at www.marketwatch.com.

“To get a handle on how insultingly trivial the announcement is, one need only compare the targeted cuts to the administration’s spending plan for 2010,” Mr. Bemis said.

“With cuts in federal spending by $100 million, the government will save roughly 1/36,000 of the $3.6 trillion it expects to spend next year.

“Put another way, if the budget were a yardstick, the administration would be proposing to shorten it by 1/1,000 of an inch. That’s 25.4 microns, or about half the width of a human hair.

“No doubt the $100 million figure tested well with focus groups as well. But the president should be careful not to give away the store too early. One hundred million dollars may be peanuts in Washington, but it’s real pork to any congressperson worth their salt. And budget battles can get pretty tight, even when you have fat majorities in both houses.

“The administration says it’s already begun to make the cuts by curtailing activities such as departmental conferences and making plans to consolidate seven Agriculture Department offices - by 2011.

“Rather than pretend to care about spending, the president could just double down, and call all those extra conferences ‘stimulus’ spending. Of course, that would be cynical.”

WHOSE VALUES?

President Barack Obama’s stimulus package, his joint address to Congress, and his 2010 budget have sent conservatives into fits of indignation over the supposed radicalism of the new president’s agenda,” John Halpin and Ruy Teixeira of the liberal magazine the American Prospect write at www.prospect.com.

The writers added: “How do we make sense of all this righteous anger? Are conservatives tapping into a deep-seated aversion to progressive government among the electorate? Hardly. Not unlike the characters in Ayn Rand’s various fantasies of libertarian anarchy, conservatives today are living in an alternative universe. And the sooner they wake up to this reality, the better off they will be.

“The 2008 presidential election not only solidified partisan shifts to the Democratic Party, it also marked a significant transformation in the ideological and electoral landscape of America. In two major studies of American beliefs and demographic trends - the ‘State of American Political Ideology, 2009’ and ‘New Progressive America,’ both conducted by the Progressive Studies Program at the Center for American Progress - we found that the president’s agenda reflects deep and growing consensus among the American public about the priorities and values that should guide our government and society. Not surprisingly, conservatives are the ones who are out of line with the values of most Americans.”

Greg Pierce can be reached at 202/635-3285 or gpierce@washingtontimes .com.

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