Archive

  • Thinking Small

    Flickr/Kevin Gebhardt

    There's a discussion starting to bubble up in some corners, one that will grow in intensity as we approach 2016, asking where the left should go as Barack Obama heads for the exits a couple of years hence. In the latest issue of Harper's, Adolph Reed offers a critique from the left of not just Obama but the liberals who support him. Our own Harold Meyerson offered a typically thoughtful criticism, to which Reed responded, but I'll just add briefly that one of the many things I didn't like about Reed's piece was the way he poses a dichotomy for liberals between investing too much in winning presidential elections even if the Democrat is imperfect (not a complete waste of time, but close) and building a movement (much better), but doesn't say what, specifically, this movement-building should consist of.

  • Meaningless Special Elections and the Press's Consequential Imperative

    Failed congressional candidate Alex Sink, putting on her victory face. (Flickr/Village Square)

    If it were up to me, I would eliminate special elections for the House of Representatives entirely. They make sense when it comes to the Senate, where every state has only two senators and terms run six years, meaning a vacancy can leave a state without significant representation for an extended period of time. But when a congressman dies or retires and there's another election to fill that critical 1/435th portion of the lower house's lawmakers in a few months, do we really need to mobilize the state's electoral resources, spend millions of dollars, and get a bunch of retirees to haul themselves down to the polls, only to do it all again before you know it? Hardly.

    The other objectionable thing about special elections is that because they're almost always the only election happening at that moment, they not only get an inordinate amount of attention, the results also get absurdly over-interpreted. This is a symptom of what we might call the Consequential Imperative among the press (note: if you have a better moniker for this that could propel me to the front rank of contemporary neologism-coiners, hit me up on Twitter). The Consequential Imperative is the impulse, the desire, the need to assert that whatever a journalist happens to be reporting on is very, very important. So for instance, if your editor sent you down to Florida to do a week's worth of stories on the special election that just concluded there, you are extremely unlikely to write that this election was a contest between a couple of bozos, and means next to nothing for national politics (unless you're Dave Weigel, who for some reason seems to be almost the only reporter capable of saying such a thing). It's the same impulse that causes every gaffe, polling blip, and faux-controversy of every campaign to be presented as though it could dramatically alter the outcome of the election, despite all the experience telling us it won't.

  • Barack Obama Considers Punching Zach Galifianakis In the Face

    Yes, this actually happened.

    When people think back on the attempts of presidents and presidential candidates to engage directly with pop culture, they usually date the modern era to Bill Clinton donning shades and playing sax on the Arsenio Hall Show in 1992. There were a few awkward attempts prior to that, like Richard Nixon participating in the "sock it to me" gag on Laugh-In in 1968. But Barack Obama has probably done more of these appearances than anybody else, not just going on shows like The Tonight Show and The View to be interviewed, but actually becoming part of the entertainment.

    He slow jammed the news with Jimmy Fallon, but in that case he was essentially the straight man, which is the safe place for a president to be. After all, he needs to be in on the fun, but not sacrifice his dignity. Nixon may have said "Sock it to me," but his advisers were smart enough not to let him get hit in the head with a giant club. This morning, however, we get a look at what may be a new high in presidential pop culture performance. Believe it or not, Barack Obama sat down with Zach Galifianakis for an episode of "Between Two Ferns."

  • This Is Your Camry On Drugs

    The change in the social perception of drunk driving is one of the great public health success stories of the last half-century. It went from being perceived as an amusing bit of recklessness to something truly despicable, and today drunk driving deaths are half of what they were a few decades ago. And now that recreational marijuana is legal in Washington and Colorado, almost surely to be followed by other states, there's a renewed need to discourage driving while high.

    The key to the success of the drunk driving campaign was creating a new social norm, one in which people would discourage each other from driving drunk. It also gave people a means to avoid it, by popularizing the idea of the designated driver. Washington state is starting a campaign to discourage driving while high with three PSAs soon to be airing in the state. No frying eggs here:

  • Can the Koch Brothers Be a Political Asset for Democrats?

    Flickr/Donkey Hotey

    For while there, conservatives saw the hand of George Soros behind every conspiracy. It was always a little strange, not because there wasn't a certain truth underneath it—Soros has, in fact, given lots of money to liberal political causes (and he is an actual international Jewish financier, which certainly set a certain type of mind buzzing)—but because the idea of a billionaire using his money to shape America's politics isn't something conservatives object to. Quite the contrary; they think there ought to be a lot more of it.

    Democrats, on the other hand, are not so friendly to the idea, which is why it's understandable that Charles and David Koch have taken on a larger role in the liberal imagination than Soros had in the conservative one (they've also spent a lot more money on politics than Soros ever did). But can Democrats convince voters who are not already liberals to be mad at the Kochs? That's how they're responding to the brothers' involvement in multiple Senate races this year, fighting back against the Koch's ads with with a public campaign against them.

    While I don't think it's impossible that this could work, I'm skeptical. Greg Sargent explains the thinking:

  • The Mythological "Cold-Blooded" Killer

    Not a real person.

    In the wake of Debo Adegbile's rejection by the Senate and the sudden reemergence of the Mumia Abu-Jamal case, there's an interesting piece of rhetoric I wanted to draw attention to, because it's so common yet at such odds with reality. As Adegbile's nomination was discussed, one of the things his opponents would say is that he should be rejected because his organization filed an amicus brief in Mumia's case, and Mumia is a "cold-blooded killer." Delaware senator Chris Coons, for instance, explained his vote against Adegbile by saying that Abu-Jamal is "a heinous, cold-blooded killer." An op-ed in the Philadelphia Daily News described Abu-Jamal's victim being "gunned down in cold blood." Another Philadelphia writer said Abu-Jamal "murdered a cop in cold blood." The Philadelphia D.A. called Abu-Jamal a "cold-blooded murderer." We even heard Senator Tom Harkin, speaking in support of Adegbile's nomination, bring up the fact that Chief Justice John Roberts once defended "someone who killed eight people in cold blood."

    What's odd about this is is that in the real world, there are almost no cold-blooded killers, and almost nobody is ever killed in cold blood.

  • Conservatives Have All the Best Talismans

    Gaze upon me holding this fire stick, you easily mollified rubes.

    Mitch McConnell is the GOP's shrewdest politician, but he's not exactly beloved by the party's base; he's got a Tea Party challenger in his re-election race this year, and he's regularly pilloried by hard-right conservatives as an establishment sellout. So he'll take whatever opportunity he can to do a little strategic outreach to that great grumbling mass that is, to paraphrase Howard Dean, the Republican wing of the Republican party. Fortunately, that yearly ritual of spittle-flecked rage, breathtaking extremism, and passionate theological debates about how many Reagans can dance on the head of a pin known as the Conservative Political Action Conference is going on right now. And when it was his turn to speak, Mitch made quite an entrance. Check this out:

  • A Confederacy of Dunces

    President Obama is not afraid of this man. (Flickr/Gage Skidmore)

    You probably saw a news item about a hearing yesterday of the House Government Oversight Committee. The reason you saw it is that it ended with some shouting, which is a relatively rare occurrence on Capitol Hill, and therefore that became an irresistible piece of news. But what really mattered about that hearing wasn't Darrell Issa cutting off Elijah Cummings' mike, causing Cummings to get extremely angry. It was that the hearing was happening at all. I'm not sure if there's ever been an opposition party more thoroughly convinced of a president's corruption yet so utterly incapable of doing anything about what they see as his crimes. You might think that's because Barack Obama is not particularly corrupt, and that's part of the story. But the Republicans' buffoonery—and Issa's in particular—when it comes to making Obama pay for his alleged misdeeds seems to know no bounds.

  • Time to Dump "Pro-Israel"

    An Israel Day parade in New York. (Flickr/Johnk85)

    There have been a lot of angry debates recently about Israel, complete with the requisite accusations of anti-Semitism hurled at just about anyone whose opinions about the country's history and policies contain any complexity whatsoever. Which means that this month is pretty much like any other. So let me make a proposal: Isn't it about time we just banished the very ideas of "pro-Israel" and "anti-Israel" once and for all?

    Think about it this way: When was the last time you heard the designation "pro-Israel" or "anti-Israel" and found it a useful distinction that added to rather than subtracted from the discussion at hand? Ever? Instead, the terms are used almost exclusively as ad hominem, a way of shutting down debate by proclaiming that someone's intentions are sinister and therefore their arguments can be dismissed out of hand without addressing their substance.

  • Why Does the National Media Get Texas So Wrong?

    AP Images/Eric Gay

    Tuesday, as Texas primary voters headed to the polls, Politico published an article entitled “The Texas tea party’s best days may be behind it.” Below the headline were photographs of Governor Rick Perry, the state’s junior U.S. Senator Ted Cruz, and Congressman Steve Stockman, who had decided to wage a last minute, barely visible campaign again Texas’s senior U.S. Senator John Cornyn. The article focused on the Cornyn-Stockman race, and mentioned a congressional primary in which incumbent Pete Sessions faced a tea party challenge from Katrina Pierson.

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