The Obama Administration

Meet Trey Gowdy, GOP Benghazi Attack Dog

AP Photo/Cliff Owen
AP Photo/Cliff Owen Rep. Trey Gowdy of South Carolina Since House Speaker John Boehner announced the creation of a select committee to investigate the Benghazi affair, Republicans have been saying it will be a serious investigation, while Democrats have been saying it will be a partisan circus. To get a sense of who might be right, I spent some time watching YouTube videos of Rep. Trey Gowdy, the heretofore obscure second-term Tea Party congressman from South Carolina whom Boehner named to lead the committee. There are a lot of these videos of Gowdy in congressional hearings, posted by conservatives, with titles like "Gowdy DESTROYS Obama Admin Stooge!" He's obviously very popular among the base. To call Gowdy prosecutorial would be an understatement. Uniformly angry and outraged, these videos show Gowdy always seemingly on the verge of shouting, he's so damn mad. Like any good lawyer, he never asks a question to which he doesn't already know the answer. But when a witness gives him...

Daily Meme: Desperate Times, Desperate Measures

AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster
Our theme today is desperation, which seems to be gripping our nation's capital. Last night the House of Representatives voted to hold former IRS official Lois Lerner in contempt of Congress because she asserted her right not to answer their questions, a final desperate attempt to get people angry about yet another scandal that didn't turn out nearly as scandalous as they had hoped. Republicans may carry around copies of the Constitution in their pockets, but that Fifth Amendment can be awfully annoying. Republicans are also desperate for America to understand that their select committee on Benghazi will not just be a bunch of grandstanding and feigned outrage, producing nothi ng . "The goal here will be to select serious, sober-minded members who will make this about finding answers to some troubling questions and will not make this a partisan shouting match," an anonymous aide told Politico . "We’re not going to convene a kangaroo court." What would ever have made people think such...

What a Real Propaganda Campaign Looks Like

U.S. Navy photo by Photographer's Mate 3rd Class Tyler J. Clements
Unfortunately, I have the sense that I'll be writing quite a bit about Benghazi in the coming months, since Republicans are cranking up their scandal calliope and the news media will eventually turn its bored gaze to the noise and fireworks. As we should keep in mind, the alleged misdeed at the heart of this matter has been downgraded from "the administration allowed four Americans to be killed" to "the administration tried to spin the story to make sure they didn't look bad." That is, quite literally, the terrible crime Republicans now believe the Obama administration committed, and the thing about which we're all supposed to be outraged. That's it. They spun. And how can we get to the bottom of this spinning without a select committee, and hour upon hour of hearings, complete with a blizzard of feigned outrage, to pile on top of the hour upon hour of hearings we've already had? Last night, the Daily Show gave us a little reminder of what a real propaganda campaign looks like: The...

White House Action on Campus Sexual Violence: For Me, It's Personal

Photo: Aimee Lang
Aimee Lang At an April 2013 anti-rape protest, the author tells her story of surviving sexual assault at Tufts University. O ne of the biggest contributors to the perpetuation of sexual violence is silence. Time and time again, survivors have found themselves dealing with administrators who repeatedly opt to protect a school’s reputation rather than protect the students they are supposed to protect and serve. Universities have long been taking advantage of the silence of survivors to cover up the gross injustices they have been committing. Last week was pivotal moment in the movement to address the alarmingly high rates of campus sexual violence. On May 1, the Department of Education found Tufts University out of compliance with Title IX, the federal civil rights law that prohibits sex discrimination in education. This is the first time in the history of the 40-year-old law that a school has been found out of compliance by the federal government in regard to the way it addresses...

'Benghazi! The Musical': Dancing, Shouting, Not Much Plot

AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite
AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. I f Republicans in Congress really want to get Americans to pay attention to the Benghazi scandalette, they're going to have to do some creative thinking. Since hearings and periodic expressions of outrage haven't worked so far, maybe a musical would do the trick. A soaring ballad or two, some hopping dance numbers, maybe a pair of star-crossed lovers. Naturally, it would be called Benghazi! , kind of like Oklahoma! , only rather more grim. But in the meantime, they're going to go with a select committee to investigate the matter, as House Speaker John Boehner announced on Friday . One does wonder whether they think that if they just do some more investigating, they'll uncover the real crime. No one knows what it is yet, but just you wait. Or, as is far more likely, they're just hoping to create a lot of bad news days for the administration, where the whiff of "...

Daily Meme: The Demise of the Viral Obamacare Victim Story

The political ground on the Affordable Care Act seems to be shifting—perhaps enough to help Democrats in the fall, perhaps not. But as more and more information about the law's operation comes in, Republicans are having a harder time arguing that all those people getting insurance is a terrible thing. Yesterday, we learned that health care spending spiked in the first quarter of 2014. Even before Republicans could open their mouths, Jonathan Chait (among other people) informed them that this was exactly what everyone knew would happen . Because when you give millions of people coverage, they go to the doctor. Simon Malloy of Salon notes that "we seem to be past the era of the viral Obamacare victim story." And after that, what can Republican candidates say? Because weirdly, "It turns out that Americans really, really like having access to affordable healthcare, and when they finally get it, they use it." So Republicans are trying a new tack. They've released a report claiming that...

The Best Way to Deal With Putin? Take It Slow

AP Photo/RIA Novosti, Alexei Nikolsky, Presidential Press Service
(AP Photo/RIA Novosti, Alexei Nikolsky, Presidential Press Service) Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during a nationally televised question-and-answer session in Moscow on Thursday, April 17, 2014. “A nd then, in an instant, everything changed forever.” It’s one of the great clichés of literature and public policy. Not only overused, it’s often deployed in an overly-deterministic way: “9/11 changed everything.” Well, no it didn’t, at least not until officials acted as if it did, and then decided to change everything: torturing innocent people, building black site prisons, starting (and failing to win) two wars, collecting information on everyone’s phone calls. Sometimes, though, U.S. foreign policy discourse has the opposite problem: Failing to absorb change, it continues to move its legs in mid-air, like Wile E. Coyote, without never looking down to notice that it’s already gone over the cliff. That’s where we are right now with Russia. Putin-huggers and old Cold Warriors...

Who's Got the Political Will to Save the Middle Class?

Demonstrator blocks traffic at December fast-food workers' protest in Washington, DC. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
AP Photo/Charles Dharapak I t’s not easy being president during an epoch of downward mobility for the American people. The shrinking of the middle class--a phenomenon to which Americans are historically unaccustomed, most particularly during recoveries-- depresses the president’s popularity, drags down that of his party, and generally plays hell with incumbents’ election prospects. That the American people are downwardly mobile was underscored this weekend by a report from the National Employment Law Project demonstrating that while lower-wage jobs accounted for just 22 percent of the jobs lost during the recession, they account for 44 percent of the jobs created since the recession ended in 2010. Middle-wage jobs, by contrast, accounted for 37 percent of the jobs lost during the recession, but just 26 percent of the jobs created since. Median annual household income is still roughly $4,000 beneath its level before the recession started. Indeed, the most alarming polling for the...

For the U.S., Israel and Palestine: What's Plan B?

AP Photo/Brendan Smialowski, Pool
I f the Obama administration’s view of the Israeli--Palestinian conflict could be summed up in a sentence, it is this: The status quo is unsustainable. “The status quo is unsustainable for all sides. It promises only more violence and unrealized aspirations,” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s annual Washington policy conference in March 2010. “The status quo is unsustainable, and Israel must too act boldly to advance a lasting peace,” President Barack Obama said in his May 2011 speech at the State Department, laying out his vision of the U.S. role in the Middle East after the Arab Awakening. “Today’s status quo absolutely, to a certainty, I promise you 100 percent, cannot be maintained. It’s not sustainable,” Secretary of State John Kerry told the Munich Security Conference in February. “It’s illusionary. There’s a momentary prosperity, there’s a momentary peace.” Although the Obama administration may have coined the phrase, the...

Daily Meme: Embrace the Discomfort

Try to relax; today's meme is all about discomfort. And there's no one feeling more of it than Republicans, who were hit yesterday with the rhetorical stylings of their erstwhile hero Cliven Bundy—Nevada rancher, defier of laws, and racial philosopher. The Republican Party's chief spokesperson, for instance, can't figure out why anyone would associate Bundy with the GOP . "The issue with Cliven Bundy has absolutely nothing to do with his party, zero," he said. After all, it's not like the GOP's chief organ in the media had been giving the guy blanket coverage all the while Republican politicians were praising his crusade. I mean, c'mon. Republicans are also being made uncomfortable by their own candidates, who haven't all gotten the message on the "outreach" the party is supposed to be doing. Here's one who has proposed an effort to round up and deport every undocumented immigrant in the country , which he calls, no kidding, "Operation Wetback." Here's one who said it was an "...

Pardon Me, Mr. President?

Flickr/Salticidae
Flickr/Victoria Pickering T his week, the Department of Justice (DOJ) announced the start of a new initiative on clemency, encouraging thousands of inmates—particularly those convicted during the Drug War crackdown of the 1990s—to send in petitions to have their sentences commuted. The new initiative offers six new criteria by which petitioners will be judged, including the following: prisoners must have served 10 years of their sentence, must not have lengthy criminal records or gang convictions, and show that they would have gotten off with a lighter sentence had they been tried today. In his more than five years in office, Obama has been the stingiest president in history when it comes to granting pardons; the new program could make him one of the most generous. But the biggest news for criminal-justice reformers has been the administration’s appointment of a new pardon attorney to oversee the program: Deborah Leff , who spent her years at DOJ working on the Access to Justice...

The Religion of Unreason

Flickr/Dustin Grayson
I think it's safe to say that this period in history is one in which liberals have felt unusually exasperated with conservatives, perhaps more than ever before. I can say this with some confidence as a liberal who runs in liberal circles; it may well be that conservatives are also more exasperated with liberals than they have ever been. Our ability to feed that exasperation is driven by the fact that, for all the polarization of information sources, we're actually more aware of what people on the other side say than we ever have been before. Fifteen years ago, I would have had no idea if Rush Limbaugh said something offensive, but today (once it rises to a certain level of horror), Media Matters will record it and put it on their web site, the Huffington Post will put it on their web site, and half a dozen people in my Twitter feed will let me know it happened. So there are all kinds of new ways to become appalled with your opponents. And there's nothing we liberals find more...

Manly Men Condemn Obama's Lack of Manliness

Maybe one of these guys should run for president. (Flickr/David!)
Here's a question: If Hillary Clinton becomes president, what are conservatives going to say when they want to criticize her for not invading a sufficient number of other countries? I ask because yesterday, David Brooks said on Meet the Press that Barack Obama has "a manhood problem in the Middle East." Because if he were more manly, then by now the Israelis and Palestinians would have resolved their differences, Iraq would be a thriving, peaceful democracy, and Iran would have given up its nuclear ambitions. Just like when George W. Bush was president, right? It really is remarkable how persistent and lacking in self-awareness the conservative obsession with presidential testosterone is. Here's the exchange: DAVID BROOKS: And, let's face it, Obama, whether deservedly or not, does have a (I'll say it crudely) but a manhood problem in the Middle East: Is he tough enough to stand up to somebody like Assad, somebody like Putin? I think a lot of the rap is unfair. But certainly in the...

A Chance to Remake the Fed

J anet Yellen has only chaired the Federal Reserve for a few months, but you could forgive her if she feels like the new kid in school that nobody wants to sit with at lunchtime. With the resignation of Jeremy Stein earlier this month, there are only two confirmed members of the seven-member Board of Governors: Yellen and Daniel Tarullo. Three nominees—Stan Fischer, Lael Brainard and Jerome Powell, (whose term expired but has been re-nominated)—await confirmation from the Senate. Another two slots are vacant, awaiting nominations. One consequence of the shortage of Fed governors is that regional Federal Reserve Bank presidents, chosen by private banks, now outnumber Board members at monetary policy meetings, allowing the private sector to effectively dictate monetary policy from the inside, and creating what some call a constitutional crisis . The need for two more nominees, however, provides an opportunity to reunite the progressive coalition that prevented Larry Summers from getting...

Judging Obama's "Evolution" on Marriage Equality

White House photo by Pete Souza
Years from now, Barack Obama will almost certainly be seen as the most significant American president in the history of the gay rights movement. Under his watch, the military ended its policy of discrimination against gay servicemembers, the Defense of Marriage Act was abandoned by the administration and then overturned by the Supreme Court, and a majority of Americans came to embrace marriage equality—not least, the president himself. But there's another way to look at that story, which is that on marriage, at least, Obama had to be dragged to the position he eventually took. An article in next Sunday's New York Times Magazine , by Jo Becker, details just what the process was, and if you're looking for evidence that Obama's "evolution" on the issue was purely political, there's plenty. I don't know too many liberals who would doubt it—or conservatives either, for that matter. The former see a president whose heart was in the right place but was cautious about when it would be...

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