The Man with Awesome Near-Presidential Power

Everyone knows that they are important to their family, and their friends, and maybe their cat – but when you’re gone they’ll forget you soon enough, or eventually. They move on. And forget your coworkers. They won’t remember you the next morning. People even forget big movie stars – Joan Leslie, anyone? Major writers and artists seem to be exempt from this, as long as folks keep reading their stuff or listening to their music or whatever. But that’s a crapshoot too. Some of us think the keyboard works of Scarlatti are far superior to those of Bach – but Bach gets better PR or something. And there’s Antonio Salieri – yes, not Mozart, but not exactly chopped liver either.

But that’s another world. Few folks get to those levels. For every Hemingway there are a hundred thousand wannabes, working on that Great American Novel – which Hemingway or Fitzgerald or Faulkner or Twain or Steinbeck or someone else already wrote anyway. And the sad fact is most everyone is a real nobody. In the great scheme of things there are few important people. Everyone else watches, living their lives as best they can, happy enough if they can be, until they’re gone and eventually forgotten. You do your best. You leave some legacy – children or students or a pile of money or some gizmo you invented – and you too move on. It’s not a bad deal. After all, greatness – being that one important person – is probably a pain in the ass. And power and importance can kill you, one way or another, what with the stress involved. It’s probably best to watch from the sidelines.

But you have to know what to watch. So, for the rest of us who only watch, resigned but content to be taking care of our own unimportant but generally pleasant lives, who are the important people?

Well, there’s the president. Everyone knows he’s important. He’s the most powerful man in the world, or by virtue of the position has more power than anyone else has, albeit limited by having to deal with Congress to get things done. Still, no one has more power than the president. It’s a relative thing. His rivals – those who tussle with him about this thing or that – recognize he is, as things are structured, simply more powerful than they are.

But who is his great rival? For the rest of us who only watch, that is always a question. Too many people claim to be Obama’s near-equal and somehow the second most important person in the world. Sarah Palin seems to claim that – because of who she is, versus what Obama is and all that. She has the power of the people on her side, she says. The polls say otherwise. Is it John Boehner? His own party has its problems with him – the old-line folks say he cannot control his new Tea Party members, and those Tea Party Republicans think he’s a compromising wimp. That doesn’t seem like power of any sort.

But there’s a new contender. You can find out who that is in the new issue of Newsweek, in their lengthy profile of Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly – where O’Reilly says America has come down to two and only two people – “I have more power than anybody other than the president, in the sense that I can get things changed, quickly.”

So there you have it. It comes down to only two guys, facing off, and Tim Mak reads the profile so you don’t have to:

The Newsweek story paints the picture of a successful – if self-satisfied – television host whose ratings dominate his primetime competition with ease.

The powerhouse viewership has brought him real influence in American politics, he claims.

“I don’t have to go through the legislative process; I don’t have to do any of that. I can just bring it to the people, and say, look, this has gotta be dealt with,” O’Reilly said.

And that makes him, in terms of power and influence, just about the equal of Obama, and no one else really matters:

O’Reilly says that he really wants to interview former vice president Dick Cheney – something that the FOX host has persistently tried to do over the past decade. So far, he’s had no luck. The reason? O’Reilly says it’s fear of appearing in the “no-spin zone” that his show is known for.

“There is a fear factor,” O’Reilly explains. “I’ve watched four or five of [Cheney’s] interviews – I mean, it’s all cupcakes, you know? I ask ’em questions, all right? Obama. I mean, when Obama sits with me, he doesn’t know what the hell’s coming, and it’s exciting. It’s exciting.”

Yeah, he likes Obama. Obama will sit with him for an interview, as Obama recognizes O’Reilly as an equal – period, end of story.

But that is changing. Obama has called for “shared sacrifice” for wealthy Americans and corporations – his new debt reduction plan which includes the Buffet Rule and all that. That was the Monday morning address in the Rose Garden, and Bill O’Reilly opened his evening show on a tear, saying this “fair share nonsense has got to stop!”

O’Reilly says he is taxed enough already and that if he’s taxed anymore he just doesn’t know what he’ll do:

If you tax achievement, some of the achievers are going to pack it in. Let’s take me. My corporations employ scores of people. They depend on me to do what I do so they can make a nice salary. If Barack Obama begins taxing me more than 50 percent, which is very possible, I don’t know how much longer I’m going to do this. I like my job but there comes a point when taxation become oppressive.

Ed Schultz on MSNBC has a lot of fun with this – and starts a petition – raise that man’s taxes and maybe he really will go away!

Well, no one is suggesting raising the marginal tax rate over fifty percent. O’Reilly was getting hysterical and kind of clutching his pearls. But O’Reilly is setting up the confrontation between the only two important people in America, the only two with real power – him and Obama. And he’s mobilizing his troops to confront Obama’s troops.

But this is odd. The idea is to reduce the deficit through a combination of spending cuts and tax increases – and some of those will hit the rich. You don’t exempt the rich. As for that mix, does the American public want to reduce the deficit entirely with spending cuts, or does it support a combination of spending cuts and tax increases? It seems Bruce Bartlett has been collecting the results of every poll that asks this question and on average sixty-five percent of respondents want a combination of spending cuts and tax hikes. And in twenty-seven polls going back nearly a year, there are only two where the number is less than sixty percent. Who has the troops?

And it seems that every single poll shows that the American public overwhelmingly supports higher taxes on the wealthy as part of a package to cut the deficit. And it’s not even close. The New York Times poll shows a majority of 74-21 think that the millionaires and such really ought to chip in and maybe pay the same percentage in taxes that teachers and construction workers pay, not some super low rate for the rich. And even Rasmussen, funded by the right for the right, shows a majority on this of 56-34, and what president proposed is simply where the American people are on this. And that leads Andrew Sullivan to argue this:

If he keeps at it, if he turns his administration into a permanent campaign for structural fiscal reform, I don’t see how he loses the argument.

And Sullivan had earlier commented:

The president’s policy is simple, really. More stimulus now, more fiscal retrenchment later. And there is no way that we can – or should – balance the budget entirely on the backs of the poor and the middle class. There has to be some contribution from those most successful in an economy that continues to reward them more and more generously, even as the country’s debt escalates.

So the plan includes billions in adjustments to health and entitlement programs, including Medicare and Medicaid. But the Medicare cuts would not come from an increase in the Medicare eligibility age – so no one is sticking it to the poor folks. And the plan also counts a savings of well over a trillion dollars from the ending of the American combat mission in Iraq and the withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan – and every Republican but Ron Paul is on record saying we should stay in both those places, doing what we’ve been doing or doing even more of it. There was nothing here any Republican could support. But the final indignity was the Buffett Rule. Why should millionaires pay at least the same percentage of their earnings as middle-income taxpayers? Obama asked Americans to think about it, and Sullivan did:

So a Democratic president is prepared to cut Medicare even further than he already has, while taking us back to Clinton era tax rates for the wealthy and ending the Bush-Cheney wars. Isn’t this what he was elected to do?

Well, yes, and he got more votes than McCain and his sidekick Sarah. So Sullivan probably wouldn’t join O’Reilly’s army, and doesn’t see how anyone would:

If the alternative is gutting Medicare, or social security, while maintaining historically low tax rates for the super-rich, I just don’t see how this isn’t a winning argument.

Some believe that’s now irrelevant. By allowing the GOP to define his presidency in grotesquely misleading ways and by presiding over continued mass unemployment, Obama is, we are told, toast. But this is political gaming, not policy decision-making. I remain of the view that, in the end, arguments matter and proposals count. A two to one spending cuts to tax hikes ratio is substantively what many Americans support.

And Sullivan cites Greg Sargent here on a quite recent poll:

A solid majority, 56-30, favors significantly cutting payroll taxes for working Americans.

A majority, 52-40, favors Federal aid to state governments to avert public employee layoffs.

A huge majority, 80-16, favors spending money on the nation’s infrastructure in order to try to create jobs.

A big majority, 71, favors reducing the deficit through a combination of tax increases and spending cuts; a meager 21 percent favors only spending cuts.

A solid majority, 56-37, favors reducing the deficit with tax hikes on households earning $250,000 a year or more.

A solid majority, 56-29, thinks creating jobs should be prioritized over cutting spending.

Can O’Reilly, as the other actually powerful man in America – Obama’s equal – overcome those numbers? Well, now we all know the Fox News programming for the rest of the year. And Sullivan, seeing that Greg Sargent item, says this:

If these are the terms of the fiscal and economic debate, it seems to me that Obama has positioned himself on the majority side, and the GOP, especially if led by Perry, are on a dangerously long limb. I’d prefer major tax reform on the Bowles-Simpson lines. I’d prefer more Medicare savings. But this is a sensible set of proposals, hard to oppose without resorting to hard ideology, and worth trying.

What will O’Reilly do? It seems that Ezra Klein sees a trap:

The White House’s strategy here isn’t to appear so reasonable that Republicans can’t help but cut a deal. They feel they tried that during the debt-ceiling debate, and it failed. The White House’s strategy here is to produce a popular plan that strikes directly at Republican vulnerabilities on taxes and Medicare. If that scares the GOP – and makes them more interested in coming to an agreement in the supercommittee process – then great. If not, it gives the White House a message to base its reelection campaign off of.

And there’s Matthew Yglesias:

There’s no real chance of implementing this idea. Yet as a statement of vision it sets up the contrast with the opposition quite clearly. House Republicans want to repeal Medicare in order to make tax cuts for the rich affordable and President Obama wants to tax the rich in order to make Medicare affordable. Some critics will focus on the relatively small changes to federal health care programs here, but the President is essentially doing what progressives have been urging him to do for months – abandoning the strategy of pre-compromising, and planting his flag in a way that draws strong contrasts.

And there’s Steve Kornacki:

What we have here is the makings of a reelection strategy, one rooted in redirecting swing voters’ intense anxiety, frustration and anger away from Obama and onto the GOP. Obviously, there’s not much inspiring about this, but it’s probably Obama’s best bet for winning a second term – and maybe then having more leverage to actually enact some of his preferred economic policies.

And Greg Sargent:

There’s a ton of commentary out there today to the effect that this new posture is about nothing more than appealing to the Dem base. But that’s thoroughly bogus: Whether they’re right or wrong, Obama and his advisers have also decided that this is a good way to appeal to independents, too. Polling shows that while independents marginally disapprove of Obama’s jobs plan, and are deeply skeptical of his performance on the economy, solid majorities of them support his actual jobs-creation prescriptions.

And now what will the only other powerful man in America do? Well, he might ask this man to be his guest on Fox News soon:

Rep. John Fleming (R-LA) appeared on MSNBC with Chris Jansing this morning to attack President Obama’s new deficit reduction plan, which includes some tax increases on the wealthy. Taking up the typical GOP talking point, Fleming said raising taxes on wealthy “job creators” is a terrible idea that kills jobs because many of these people are small business owners who pay taxes through personal income rates.

Fleming is himself a business owner, so Jansing asked, “If you have to pay more in taxes, you would get rid of some of those employees?” Fleming responded by saying that while his businesses made $6.3 million last year, after you “pay 500 employees, you pay rent, you pay equipment, and food,” his profits “a mere fraction of that” – “by the time I feed my family, I have maybe $400,000 left over.”

And Steve Benen comments:

The conservative congressman’s $400,000 post-expenses profit would suggest he makes roughly eight times the average U.S. household income. It’s unclear if this “$400,000 left over” also includes his generous, six-figure, taxpayer-financed salary.

What’s more, I can’t quite wrap my head around Fleming’s arithmetic. If his businesses made $6.3 million, and he has 500 employees, and has a variety of expenses, and he still has “maybe $400,000 left over,” it would suggest he pays those workers about $10,000 a year.

Chris Jansing did comment that viewers at home may not see Fleming in “a sympathetic position” – but then Fleming just shifts into “class warfare” mode. Sigh. And Benen adds this:

If it seems like these incidents come up fairly often, it’s because they do. Last month, Rep. Steve Southerland (R-Fla.) complained that his $174,000 per year congressional salary is inadequate, given all “the hours” he works. In March, Rep. Sean Duffy (R-Wis.) complained to voters that he’s “struggling” on his $174,000 congressional salary, and to prove the point, he complained about “driving a used minivan.” In April, Rep. Denny Rehberg (R-Mont.), the 23rd richest member of Congress who owns millions of dollars in farm and ranch land, whined that he and his wife “are struggling like everyone else.”

And now John Fleming is complaining on national television about $400,000 in post-expenses take-home pay? What’s wrong with these people?

As a rule, politicians make an effort not to appear out of touch. These guys aren’t even trying.

But maybe Bill O’Reilly can fix this. He can just bring it to the people, and say, look, this has gotta be dealt with – and people will hear him loud and clear, and immediately stop picking on the rich. He’s that powerful, or says he is. So he will stop the Obama plan, all of it, dead in its tracks, and Obama will realize he’s met his equal in power.

Or maybe Bill O’Reilly has misjudged his own awesome near-presidential powers. We report, you decide.

About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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