Ben Buchwalter


Dean Should Replace Daschle
February 3, 2009, 4:23 pm
Filed under: 2008 Election, Health Care | Tags: ,

As you have undoubtedly seen today (because its everywhere) Tom Daschle has withdrawn his name from consideration to lead the Health and Human Services Department admidst tax controversy. This is an incredibly important position in the Obama administration because the HHS leader will have a large stake in guiding the forthcoming changes in healthcare policy. 

Daschle was a great choice because he is generally considered a legislative wizard. He would have worked with the House and Senate to get a reasonable bill passed without much fanfare. Also, Obama has a history with Daschle. So Obama’s pick to fill the spot is incredibly important. Ezra Klein presents some ideas. So does Matt Cooper.

Though he’s not on the lists, I like the Howard Dean suggestion

The argument for Howard Dean as Secretary of Health and Human Services is quite straightforward. He’s a medical doctor, and has more executive experience than anyone else in Congress or the White House. In his six terms as Governor of Vermont he paid off the state’s public debt, expanded health insurance for children, lowered taxes, signed civil unions into law, and delivered a balanced budget every year. And of course as Chairman of the DNC he implemented the 50-state strategy that gave Obama the foundation for victory. 

Also, he’s a liberal Democrat. And Obama’s Cabinet isn’t exactly overflowing with those. This is a very unlikely choice, but not a bad one.

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Oh So Secy
January 28, 2009, 9:41 am
Filed under: 2008 Election, Random

Hillary Clinton (Secy of State), Janet Napolitano (Secy of Homeland Security), and Susan Rice (Ambassador to the UN), despite decades of experience between them, have been branded “Obama’s Angels.”  Spencer Ackerman and Matthew Yglesias mock.



In Democrats’ Future, Bennet Stands Out

I wrote a few months back about the significant void left by Senators Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden as they embarked to begin their new fancy government positions. Since they were arguably the three most high profile Democratic senators, careful choices for their replacements was especially important. To adequately fill those positions, we needed Obama’s vision, Biden’s experience, and Clinton’s clout.

The choices fell far short of this standard. Roland Burris was appointed by the scandal-plagued Illinois Governor to fill Obama’s seat. Though Burris seems like a good man, the controversy surrounding his appointment was not exactly inspiring. And from what I can tell, Burris has offered no substantial vision or agenda. I had high hopes for the potential appointees Jesse Jackson Jr. and Tammy Duckworth, but Blago’s controversy unfortunately disqualified each of these contenders.

In New York, Caroline Kennedy – though severely imperfect – would have fulfilled Hillary’s standard of clout in the Senate. As a Clinton, Hillary was able to draw upon Bill’s successes and the movement they both inspired as a complement to her intellect and political competence. As a Kennedy, Caroline could have done the same. But it was not meant to be. The support behind Caroline Kennedy was weak and short lived. Kristin Gillibrand, the eventual choice to replace Hillary Clinton, is a moderate in one of the country’s most liberal states and is sometimes referred to as “Tracy Flick,” a reference to the film Election about a ruthless candidate for High School Students’ Council. Though I hope she will deliver, Gillibrand doesn’t exactly symbolize clout or vision.

Biden’s replacement, his long time aide Ted Kaufman, is the oddest but it fills Biden’s experience niche well. The choice is odd because many agree that Kaufman will hold the seat until Biden’s son, Beau Biden, Delaware’s Attorney General, returns from a tour in Iraq, when he will run for Senate in 2010.

Among this rag-tag group of boring appointments, the replacement for Colorado Senator Ken Salazar – the incoming interior secretary – stands out. Michael Bennet, the superintendent of Denver Schools, has some serious potential to be a powerful voice in the future of the Democratic Party. Prior to serving as superintendent, he was the Chief of Staff for the popular Mayor of Denver, John Hickenlooper, who was also considered to replace Senator Salazar.

Bennet, also considered for Education Secretary, has a serious record of education reform. But he was the least experienced candidate considered for Salazar’s Senate seat so we’ll have to wait to see his positions on other important issues.

A former Denver School Board member, Lucia Guzman, indicated that Bennet’s inexperience and vision could be a strength in his forthcoming Senate career.

“He’s like how Barack Obama has been depicted, constant and confident […] He’s a visionary, able to look far and wide and very deep into the issues at hand.”



Stem Cell Research Tests Postive – Guest Post
January 26, 2009, 6:48 pm
Filed under: 2008 Election, Barack Obama

By Akshay Krishnamurty

Medical research jumped to a new level last Friday when the FDA announced that it had approved the first ever human embryonic stem cell therapy trial. This marks a historical day in terms of how far we have come in our efforts to gain answers to pressing medical needs. As someone who has a passion for medicine and research, I found this to be a huge step in the right direction to getting answers to some of the most harmful medical diseases people face today.

Stem cells are undifferentiated cells that can be grown and transformed into more specific cells. In the trial, participants have all had serious spinal cord injury resulting in complete paralysis. The goal is to insert the stem cells, which have been developed into oligodendrocytes, precursors of nerve cells, into the spinal cord at the site of injury and monitor cell growth in that area.

While the FDA claims that this essential approval does not have political motivations, one cannot shy away from the fact that the announcement came three days after President Obama was sworn in.

Embryonic stem cell research is a delicate subject because many claim that the cells are taken at the expense of life. Yes, the isolation of these cells causes the destruction of an embryo. But this oversimplifies this very complicated procedure. Many of the embryos obtained are from in vitro fertilizations that produce a large number of unused embryos which otherwise would be destroyed. Thus, by using them in scientific research, they are not wasted.

I find it hard to argue against the potential to save a paraplegic’s life, a person whose brain cells are dying due to Alzheimer’s, or one day find a treatment for those inflicted with Parkinson’s disease. Under proper approval, guidelines, and oversight, safety to those involved should not be an issue.

We all knew that with the inauguration of Barack Obama, many of these delicate issues would come to light. I could not be more ecstatic that we have seen changes already. Science should not be restricted by ideals. It is natural to explore all possibilities, and stem cell research can provide answers to a vast number of medical issues still awaiting answers.



Governing the Difficult Choices
January 21, 2009, 1:04 pm
Filed under: 2008 Election, Barack Obama, General Politics, Health Care | Tags: , ,

I guess its time to get things started. Unfortunately, though, that does not mean the anticipation period is complete. It just means that the anticipation is more pressing. At any moment, President Obama could do something huge!

He has already issued the order to stop all trials at Guantanamo Bay. And in his first foreign call as President, Obama reached out to Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas, the leader of the moderate Fatah party. And it looks like Obama is going to ask for even more money for the economic stimulus package, now nearing $900 Billion.

And that’s in 24 hours, many of which were filled with dancing and (I’d imagine) sleep. That makes you wonder what will happen in the remaining 1,460 days of Obama’s first term.

Politico says be afraid, be cautiously afraid. Though I don’t agree with many of their reasons to be skeptical, this one stood out: beware “the herd instinct.”

But the instinct for bipartisanship overlooks an inconvenient fact: Some of Washington’s biggest blunders occur when the government moves to do big things with big support. Bush won the much-regretted Iraq war resolution of October 2002 with strong Democratic backing.

The current economic crisis produces similar pressure to get on board the train — never mind for sure where it’s going.

While I think that a large, wide-reaching stimulus plan must pass for us to have any chance of surviving this economic downturn, I hope that our leaders will strive for the best plan, even if its not the quickest or the most politically safe.

I was expecting the inaugural address to ask Americans to sacrifice in order to help weather this storm. After 9/11, former President Bush wasted enormous political capital to unite Americans behind a common purpose. Instead of asking us to sacrifice for our country, he told us to shop. And he has been widely criticized for it. I think Obama is faced with a similar opportunity to unite Americans through simple sacrifices for their country.

But will a request for sacrifice, when actually made, be lauded or rebuked?

Ultimately, it depends on what kinds of sacrifices are requested. In Politico’s The Arena today, policy wonks and writers guess what kinds of sacrifices President Obama might ask for. This entry, by a contributing editor for the Daily Kos, stood out to me:

The main thing to understand is that fixes will not be quick. That means unemployment isn’t instantly reversed. Race relations aren’t instantly made whole. Iraq isn’t instantly evacuated. Gitmo is not instantly closed. These things will be addressed. They will not be completed today or in the next 100 days. And since things aren’t so great as they are right this second, it will rightly feel like sacrifice to be patient and build for the long term.

Other sacrifices mentioned were doing away with 8-figure salaries on wall street and throughout the corporate world and enduring some uncomfortable changes to health care policy.

But a lot needs to get done. And even if the Obama administration hits the ground running, some important promises are going to have to take a back seat to the pressing concerns of today, including the economic stimulus plan and the turmoil in the Middle East.

But I’m ready to give more than patience; and I think lots of others are too.



Guantanamo Bay to Sing Fat Lady Song

Watching 24 definitely makes you think about the morality of torture in a fictional world. But as a liberal in the real world, is it possible to enjoy 24 despite its implicit support for terrorism? This week’s season 7 premier proves the answer to be yes, but AmericaBlog asks this difficult question.

Wherever you land on that important issue, it is difficult to deny that by far the most horrendous legacy of President Bush’s two terms is the torture at Guantanamo Bay that was not only approved by the President, but became de-facto law. AmericaBlog reports that Obama will announce his plans to close Guantanamo after he is inaugurated on January 20. This does not mean that the detention facility will close immediately. President-elect Obama has already said that it could take a year to finalize the end of Guantanamo Bay because of the deeply complicated nature of international law and the difficulty of placing the 250 terrorist suspects, many of whom have not been charged with any crime, in an appropriate setting.

Although it is not soon enough, this is an extremely encouraging development that says a lot about the Obama administration. First, the United States no longer supports torture. Throughout the campaign I was surprised by how few times Obama, Biden or other democratic surrogates mentioned torture. Under the leadership of George W. Bush, this country that has stood as a beacon and freedom for so many across the world for hundreds of years, embraced torture as national policy. The reality of that is both terrifying and deeply sad. Though closing Guantanamo Bay does not make up for that, it shows that we are at least willing to admit this error and attempt to rebrand our moral image.

It will be interesting to see how Obama closes the detention facility. Back in November, the newly elected Obama unveiled plans to pursue out-of-the-box methods of prosecuting terrorists. They endorsed a “hybrid approach” which would combine necessary aspects of military courts with the liberties associated with civilian courts. As I wrote back in November, Republicans oppose this approach because it could bring terrorist suspects to US soil, and Democrats are weary about it because these suspects would not receive all the rights guaranteed for American citizens. For that reason, the plan is constitutionally unstable and, if implemented, would probably require the Supreme Court’s attention.

The closing of Guantanamo Bay also indicates, as AmericaBlog writes, “that Team Obama is starting to realize that it needs to reach out to the left, and not just the right.” This is the third issue that surfaced in the past few days on which Obama has made statements that satisfied the liberal base of the Democratic party.

But the meaning of closing Guantanamo Bay seriously transcends politics. It shows that Obama might make good on the hope that he inspired during his campaign to begin a process that re instills pride in our country.

In an interview with The Atlantic this week, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the internationally acclaimed peace activist, spoke of his disappointment that the United States now uses torture.

He must close Guantanamo Bay immediately. That must be one of the first things he does. You know, for someone who comes from South Africa, it is one of the greatest letdowns I’ve ever experienced that America, Britain, whom we had regarded as—I mean, they were our starlode. Or is it lodestar?

Hoo hoo! Yes, our lodestar. These countries were so insistent in the days of apartheid. When we had detention without trial in South Africa, they condemned it out of hand. I mean, it is one of the greatest letdowns that these countries should, without batting an eyelid, be using the same arguments that were used by the apartheid government. You feel so, so despondent.



Basking in Idiocy
December 11, 2008, 11:08 pm
Filed under: 2008 Election, Environment, Republicans

Do you remember “Drill Baby Drill?” Against all logic and the advice of almost all energy experts, John McCain stuck to this mantra of “Drill Baby Drill.” He even got Obama to say that he’d consider it and many liberals to believe that it was actually necessary to decrease the price of gasoline across the country. Well walking home from work today, I saw a gas sign that read $1.79 for a gallon of unleaded. And as far as I know, we aren’t drilling off shore.

So this is just a memory of one of John McCain’s stupidest campaign stunts.