Episode 85 – In with Petraeus, Out with McChrystal and Crisis Management for Your Next Vacation

The PoliTalk team survives a Tornado; General McChrystal is taken out by Rolling Stone. Will Tony Hayward and Barack Obama survive an Oil Spill?  What lies ahead for the War in Iraq? Glenn and Guest Blogger Jeff analyze and critique the decision making process that led to replacing McChrystal with Petraeus. Was Obama worried about a coup? Was he just thin skinned? Did Joe Biden actually end up biting anyone?  Later the team discusses the pros and cons of leaders taking vacations, as well the incompetence of the PR people who manage them.  And finally, as if you have not heard enough about the growing national debt, we decide whether Republicans are truly evil for denying the extension of unemployment insurance to out-of-work folks. Is this the beginning of politicians being straight with us about the fact that there is just no more money left, or do Republicans want people to hurt even more going into the mid-terms? PoliTalk – Refreshing political discussion…without the fighting…and with a few laughs. Hosted by Glenn Gaudet and Jeff Kimball.

PoliTalk: Best Friends. Vast Political Experience. Refreshing political discussion…without the fighting…and with a few laughs. Hosted by Glenn Gaudet and Jeff Kimball.

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17 responses to “Episode 85 – In with Petraeus, Out with McChrystal and Crisis Management for Your Next Vacation

  1. One reason I really enjoyed past episodes of Politalk was that neither commentator allowed the other to frame a debate as left or right. I admit, I am especially sensitive to views from the right because the right is so good at framing discussion in ways that avoid the heart of the issue and play to the listener’s emotions.

    Well, this last poscast was framed terribly, in terms of Petreus, who was “attacked by Move-On” and the left, etc. Criticisms of a general from a left wing group was framed to sound treasonous, at least (this is just one example I heard). If I hear another episode that is so slanted in this right wing frame, I will certainly unsubscribe from the podcast. I hope you can find your mojo back.

  2. Thanks for the honest feedback Paul! I’d be interested in how others felt as well.

  3. Paul – Thanks for the comment. Just as I would defend vigorously MoveOn’s right to run the Petraeus ad, I’m happy it compelled you to voice your 1st amendment rights.

    First let me say how incredibly ironic it is that we are talking about the right framing the argument to their advantage, and the group being offended is MoveOn.org.

    With that out of the way, you may have missed my point. The point being; How ticked off is MoveOn that President Obama chose Gen. Petraeus, their poster child for all things bad with War, and one of their better Bush bashing proxies, as his man to run the War?

    It’s no surprise that within the last several days, as reported by many news outlets, MoveOn has pulled any mention of the ad, and the ad itself from their website.

    Talk about trying to frame the argument in your favor! First attacking (yes I used the word attack) Gen. Petraeus in a full-page ad, then, when politically inconvenient to their President, pulling their support for their own position.

    I did not use the word “treason” in Episode 85, or even coming close to a reference. In fact interjecting that word to take my comments out of context is a great example of avoiding the heart of the matter, and appealing to people’s emotion.

    MoveOn being able to run that ad is something that makes America great. It also means that they put themselves out there for the same criticism which when they ran the ad, came from both the left and the right.

    Sen. John Kerry, D-Massachusetts, called the ad “over the top.”

    “I don’t like any kind of characterizations in our politics that call into question any active duty, distinguished general who I think under any circumstances serves with the best interests of our country,” said Kerry, the 2004 Democratic presidential candidate and a decorated veteran.

    What you are right to point out is that any issue framed purely politically does do the public a disservice. Which is exactly what we don’t do here.

    Here’s to my right to disagree with MoveOn, your right to disagree with me, and both our right to talk about it here!

  4. Thanks for the response! That was great. I think you made your point really well.

    I guess my point has to do with this focus on Moveon.org during the show, instead of Obama or some particular position from the administration. To frame this argument, you seemed to qualify Moveon.ord as the strawman that will represent liberal thought. True, this is a progressive organization that has been a great watch dog and promoter of liberal thought, but it’s just one organization and doesn’t represent the democratic party. As an example, I know you would never allow a liberal to frame the debate by making Sarah Palin to be the sole representative of the conservative thought on these arguments. Know what I mean?

  5. Paul – great point and great insight! I totally get it and agree. I did paint a broad brush in talking only about MoveOn, your reference to Sarah Palin put that in perspective. It’s like the concept of “epistemic closure” that Jeff and Glenn addressed a few episodes back. I’ll call us both passionate but not partisans. And as such we are both on guard for these broad-brush statements each from the other side.

    Unfortunately what it means is that the extremes crowd out the views in the middle. I’ll call you and I, and most of the Politalk audience, “the rational middle” of the debate. I can’t talk about MoveOn without it really rubbing people the wrong way, even though I thought I made a good point, and you couldn’t criticize someone like Glenn Beck or Sarah Palin without just being dismissed as partisan. Even though all of the above are less than perfect and often polarizing.

    Because of the crazy things that get said on both sides, even rational debate sometimes get lumped in with the noise, dismissed, or misinterpreted. I have been guilty of it myself many times.

    I’m glad we can get past that stuff here. It could not be closer to the whole purpose of Politalk.

    Thanks for the dialogue.

  6. Obama had to replace GEN McChrystal. There should be no tolerance for that level of insubordination. Unfortunately, the aftermath of the article was a debate on what to do with GEN McChrystal and what to do about Afghanistan, not addressing the root of the problem the article simply brought to light.

    The General and his staff had many problems with the civilian administration, that is evident. There is also great disparity between the military and the current civilian leadership that reaches all levels of military leadership. The inexcusable comments made hinted at this disparity. Unfortunately, the meaningful discussion that could have taken place to address this did not. Instead, it became a media frenzy of what to do with the angry General.

    The tough questions, why was he so mad and what can we do about it, were never asked.

  7. One of the things that I enjoy about your podcast is the give and take between left and right, and how you often seem to find a reasonable middle ground. When there are two right-wingers talking with no leftie for balance, the show seems to devolve to unchallenged presentation of right-wing ideology. The discussion of unemployment benefits and the national debt in this episode is a perfect example. It was seriously one-sided, with right-wing fiscal assumptions being laid out uncritically as fact (“we’re headed down the path that Greece was on, and will get there sooner than anyone thinks” is not a fact, it is an opinion) and someone listening naively would assume that the arguments being presented without disagreement must somehow be “true”.

    Come on, guys. You do your audience a disservice with these ideological broadcasts. If one of you has to be away, find someone of like political philosophy as a stand-in. Don’t subject unreconstructed lefties like me to an hour of back-slapping Republican ideology. Or, better yet, if you have to do a show with two right-wingers, balance it out with a subsequent show that has two left-wingers on. That’s something I would probably listen to over and over again 🙂

  8. Hi Paul,

    Yes, it was a bit of a Libertarian Love In. I think I am hardly a right winger, but point taken. What did you think of Episode 86?



  9. I admit I have a hard time distinguishing libertarian positions from right-wing positions these days, so I apologize for my ignorance.

    Listening to 86 right now. I’m a little behind the curve 😉

  10. Paul

    I am a little confused as to how the national debt is a partisan right wing issue but I did want to share with you some additional thoughts and give some insight into where I do my research on issues. Its difficult to lay out lots of data in the 1 hour format we have, especially with multiple topics, so there is a lot of background that goes into it. When talking about the national debt and fiscal issues, I get my data and form my opinions generally from the following sources.

    * CBO – Congressional Budget Office – Non-Partisan arm of the federal government whose job it is to develop fiscal projections. There is a great Long Term Budget outlook posted in June that can be found here.

    * Peter G Petersen Foundation – Non-Partisan fiscal Think Tank founding by Peter G Petersen, former Sect of Commerce, and currently run by David Walker, former Comptroller General of the United States. They have a great piece which is a primer for the average person on the current debt which can be found here.

    * Concord Coalition – Non-Partisan Think Tank on Fiscal responsibility founded by former Senator Paul Tsongas (D-Mass.), former Senator Warren Rudman (R-N.H.), and former U.S. Secretary of Commerce Peter Peterson. Former Senator Bob Kerrey (D-Ne.) was named a co-chair of the Concord Coalition in January 2002.

    * The Cato Institute – Libertarian Think Tank. Caution, these guys are a bit extreme they support legalization of drugs, guns for everyone, and gay marriage. Showing how Libertarians are outside the traditional party spectrum. But they have great stuff on the debt in their daily podcasts.

    And like most I watch cable news, The NY Times and Wall Street Journal. If you look at the data, there are no experts out there saying that our current fiscal condition is anything less than “untenable”. That’s the word I keep hearing both sides use.

    I do form opinions based on this information and that’s why I can say things like “We are on the tack of Greece” and be informed about it. I’m missing how that’s a partisan statement? Please clarify.

    I applauded President Obama and was extremely disappointed with those on the conservative side regarding the newly appointed Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform co-chaired by former Senators Bowles and Simpson. It could not be more hypocritical for folks like John McCain to back this effort, then pull support when Obama embraced it.

    I’ve attached the recent testimony from this commission a week or so back, which I think is an eye opener for all Americans. Click here for the recent testimony.

    When every dollar we spend today is borrowed from our people or foreign governments (fact not opinion) then it’s really time to do something. I’d encourage everyone to do their homework, research this, and form your own opinions.

  11. As a bit of a WordPress novice, I did not realize that my embedded links in the previous comment would not come through.

    Here they are for reference….




  12. Jeff —

    Thanks for the info. Let me say that I think you guys do a great job, and I can imagine how difficult it is to lay things out during an hour of rough-and-tumble conversation. Remember, though, the basis of my comments wasn’t really so much the deficit as it was the lack of opposing perspectives when it’s just you & Glenn talking, and “podcast Jeff” is unavailable.

    That said, especially since comments about the deficit were featured in both episodes 85 and 86, let me lay out why I think what you guys were espousing in 85 is in fact partisan.

    There’s much talk in Washington about the size of the national debt, and how manageable it will be for future generations. This conversation is right and proper, and it is also very familiar. I remember hearing the same gloomy predictions of fiscal doom when Ronald Reagan ran large deficits, but somehow our economy managed not only to survive but to thrive. The 90s were a little bumpy in the early years, but the economy stabilized and expanded nicely in the second half.

    Federal deficits are not inherently evil. Deficit spending provides stimulus to the economy by injecting cash; of course, this stimulus needs to be governed by judicious application of interest rates so that inflation stays under control. If you have a look at the federal deficit over time, you’ll see that it tends to average around 5-7% or so of GDP (I just made that number up, but my memory tells me it’s in that range). Historically, we can maintain deficits of that size as a spur to economic growth without inflation raging out of control.

    The second balance to deficit spending is the attitude of the bond market toward acquiring the federal debt, and the best indicator of that is the yield on the government bonds. Lower bond rates means that there is greater demand.

    Okay, with all of that as prelude, here is what I see happening: There are some countries in Europe with shaky finances (especially Greece) that had had some pretty good times in the bond market through about 2008. Their ability to borrow appeared to be unhinged from the underlying strength (or weakness) of their economy, but there was so much cash sloshing around back then that nobody seemed to care. With the subprime meltdown and the subsequent drying up of financial markets, the underlying weakness of the Greek economy was laid bare and they were brought to the brink of default.

    To say that America is turning into Greece is exaggerated at best, and (I would say) hyperbolic. Even in its current sluggish state, the American economy is significantly sounder than Greece’s. Our overall debt is much lower, our bond rates are lower, and we are not tied to the Euro which means that our cost of borrowing is not tied directly to what European economies are doing.

    Now let’s consider where the American economy is. Tax receipts are up, businesses are returning to profitability, but job creation and hiring are lagging. Businesses, in fact, are sitting on $2.4 trillion in cash right now, but are afraid to invest it in the labor market because there is simply no demand for their goods. The only way to get the economy moving again is to stimulate demand, and that means putting money in people’s pockets, either by creating jobs or by maintaining unemployment benefits (unemployment benefits, by the way, are highly stimulative, since people who receive them usually need to spend the money they receive and don’t just stick it in a savings account).

    And here is where the discussion of deficit spending becomes partisan. There are some — mostly on the right — who would have us believe that any further stimulus money not already appropriated is off the table because we need to be fiscally prudent and not turn into Greece. By doing this, they are almost ensuring that demand will remain weak heading into the fall, and that in turn will fuel voter resentment and raise the chances of kicking the Democrats out of office.

    However, if you look at what is happening in the bond market right now (bond rates for US debt are still historically low) you’ll see that lenders still love US debt and are competing to underwrite it. I think bond rates are still around 3%. That means that the fed would borrow money at 3% in order to stimulate our economy and get it back on its feet. To me, that sounds like a great investment.

    I agree that, in the long run, the debt needs to be manageable. No question. The problem is in trying to enforce fiscal austerity now, when the economy is still weak and dependent on federal spending; this will lead inexorably — especially if state employees start being laid off — to lowered demand, increased unemployment, increased mortgage defaults, and potentially slipping back into recession. The deeply cynical part of me says that this is exactly what the Republicans want to bolster their chances in November.

    So in my opinion: Get the economy out of the dumps first, then start managing the debt. A year or two more of the feds spending at 12 to 15% of GDP won’t kill us and will almost certainly help us.

    If you made it this far, thanks for reading 🙂

  13. Paul – great data here but I come to a different conclusion and I’ll try to sum up my position. The root of my argument essentially is “if not now, then when”? That counts for the debt and for extending unemployment benefits.

    If you go back to the Reagan days as you pointed out accurately, we have had a steadily increasing national debt. Most economist agree that a 3% yearly deficit in relation to GDP is a manageable number long term, as you pointed out, we are higher than that and getting worse every year. The national debt when Reagan left office was equal to 43% of GDP. The National debt now is 83% of GDP through the collective fiscal incompetence of 3 Republican Presidents and a Democratic Congress that controlled the budget for about ¾ of that time. Clear incompetence on both sides. I never thought I’d say this but where’s Bill Clinton when we need him.


    1. Starve the beast – did not work. Reagan tax cuts to take money out of Congresses hands spurred the economy but did not deter Congress from spending money it did not have. Then pile on defense spending to win the Cold War.
    2. First Iraq War
    3. Massive Bush Jr. Tax Cuts
    4. Afghanistan and 2nd Iraq War
    5. Additional tax cuts in the face of increasing war costs and declining treasury revenue – nobody working for Bush understood a balance sheet
    6. Medicare Part D
    7. Recovery and Re-investment Act – Primarily went to filling gaps in state public sector employment, little new job creation
    8. Obamacare (first 10 years of savings already eaten by the IRS expansion to administer which was not counted by CBO until after bill was passed)
    9. Sprinkle in 4 Recessions and the associated reduction in tax revenue

    At each of these decision points over the past 30 years, Congress and the President chose to kick the can down the road to the next folks. There was always a good reason – stimulus, war, healthcare, seniors need help. The reasons to spend will never go away. Just one more drink, then I’ll go on the wagon….

    My point – we are going to have to sacrifice in ENORMOUS ways to get this under control. If not now, then when? Please go understand the math. Your argument is completely logical, but the math (debt) is so staggering that we can’t grow out of it, and our choices are limited. It’s going to mean tax increases, and substantial reduction in top line spending (not just curbing spending, but spending less next year), and a fundamental restructuring of Social Security, Medicare/Medicaid, and how we view the revenue side (taxes).

    It is unfortunate that it’s going to get tabled as partisan, and yes, it’s incredibly valuable for the Republican’s to beat this drum right now for the elections. That doesn’t make it any less real though! That’s just another reason to kick the can down the road. This issue is far from partisan and I think when we talk about it as partisan we lose the point. There is blame to go around.

    Please read the Citizens Guide to Understanding the National Debt from the link above to Peter G. Petersen Foundation. You will find it non-partisan, and sobering.

    Growing out of this with stimulus unfortunately does not even make a dent in the problem. Nor do tax cuts. That’s the scale of the mess we have gotten ourselves into.

    Imagine if every dollar you spent today on coffee, breakfast, lunch, was borrowed. And every dollar tomorrow needed to be borrowed as well. Imagine also if you had no plan or financial model that showed anything but that scenario getting worse every day in perpetuity. That’s the current CBO projection for our financial position.

    I’m going to fall and crack my head open if I stay up on this soapbox much longer….

  14. Good exchange! I think I’ll add a couple of comments and then bow out. Like you, I’m a little worried I might get a nosebleed from being on my soapbox.

    So a couple of points: First, deficit spending by the government is stimulative, and helps the economy grow. If the deficit is on par with the expansion of the economy, then the tax base will rise, tax receipts will increase, and the amount borrowed today will become a smaller part of tomorrow’s revenues. That’s how the economy has managed to thrive since the second world war, and I don’t think there’s anything fundamental that’s changed. Our current deficit is very large, no question about it, but I think there’s quite a distance from where we are to where Greece is, and the bond market appears to agree with me. The US government can borrow money at 3% on a 10 year note right now.

    Second, the economy is clearly in bad shape right now. Job creation in the private sector is faltering, unemployment benefits are expiring for hundreds of thousands of workers, state governments are getting ready to lay off many more, the stock market is tanking, large companies have literally trillions in cash on hand and are unwilling to use it because there is no demand for their products. Now is the time for the federal government to intervene, not impose even stricter austerity measures that will almost certainly send the economy back into recession.

    As to your question: If not now, when? I’d say that when unemployment is back down around 7% and job creation is up, then it will be time for the feds to step back and re-institute pay-go (by the way, I really don’t get why the Republicans torpedoed that one. It makes no sense to me at all).

    Getting the debt under control is important, but getting the economy moving is vital. Getting the debt under control helps to prevent some hypothetical future crisis in the bond market. Getting the economy moving solves the current and very real problems of unemployment and state revenues. I prefer to solve the real problem first, then attack the hypothetical one.

  15. Oh, PS: Great list of bungled spending priorities, and I agree with you completely on that part of your analysis. The real elephant in the room, though, is the cost of Medicare, and I don’t just mean part D. I wish the federal government would enact some sort of Medicare reform that is not inherently a giveaway to the health insurance industry and big Pharma.

  16. Agree with your entire analysis – except for your premise. The urgency of the debt crisis is not a hypothetical. Its real and its urgent. And it gets more real and more urgent with every Treasury auction. It’s true that our debt is more secure than most, but I believe that to be short lived, maybe 5 years. It’s sort of like being the best junk bond on the market. Moody’s and S&P have already warned that a downgrade to US debt is inevitable if the current trajectory is not changed in a fundamental way. If you look at the scenario the UK is in, with over 400% debt to GDP ratio, someone is going to have to bail them out soon. When they go down, which I think is inevitable, then it’s going to shine a huge spotlight on the US, and everyone is going to wonder what to do.

    We do have several more years for this to play out, we are in agreement there, but every year we wait, the required spending cuts get deeper, the public sector layoffs will be larger, and the tax hikes higher. Pain now, or more pain later, that’s the choice.

    I think we only differ on the timing in the end……

  17. Maureen Williams

    Wow. I always learn a lot from Politalk, and in fact I listened to this episode twice (once while unconscious – it wasn’t the show, I swear, it was the airplane air and the wine!!), and for once I learned as much if not more from the discussion (discussion!!!) in the comments than I did from the show. Great job, all of you!! This is the only place where the comments educate me as much as the content that generates them. Keep up the good work, all the Jeffs, all the Pauls, and (the one and only) Glenn!!

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