Archive

  • Thoughtful, Prudent and Faltering: The Paradox of Obama

    Official White House Photo by Pete Souza
    (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza) President Barack Obama meets with advisors in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, Aug. 4, 2014. N ew York Times columnist Tom Friedman's extended interview with President Obama shed some light on how Obama can be well-informed, thoughtful, prudent—yet still be seen as faltering as a foreign policy president. If you compare Obama with George W. Bush (OK — a low bar), Obama wins, hands down. Unlike Bush, Obama inhabits the reality-based foreign policy space, with no apologies. Unlike Bush, he has no messianic zealots among his advisers. He gives the kind of well-considered responses that suggest a president who carefully engages with truly difficult policy conundrums. Yet at the end of the day, he often comes across as vacillating and indecisive—an impression that can be fatal in his dealings with allies, adversaries, and, of course, any electorate. In the case of Iraq and ISIL's murderous assault on religious minorities and rivals, not to...
  • If Having a Foreign Policy Doctrine Is So Important, Why Won't Hillary Clinton Spell Hers Out?

    Official State Department Photo
    J effrey Golberg has an interview with Hillary Clinton which is being billed as a rebuke of, or maybe a distancing from, her old boss, Barack Obama. While you'll probably think that an overstatement when you read the transcript, she does express a desire for a foreign policy "doctrine" of her own, even if she doesn't actually deliver it. While there are a few unsettling things in the interview (her comments on Israel could have come from Bibi Netanyahu himself), the doctrine question is worth paying attention to. As I've argued before , President Obama doesn't have a foreign policy doctrine, and that's by design. He explicitly rejected the idea that it was necessary to have some kind of bumper-sticker-ready idea guiding all his foreign policy decisions, a single phrase or sentence that sums up everything he'd be doing in foreign affairs. Even though doctrines don't have a particularly good track record of late, in this interview, Clinton says that a doctrine is necessary (though she...
  • The New York Times Finally Comes Around on "Torture"

    An enhanced interrogation chair from the Inquisition. (Flickr/Anguskirk)
    The New York Times has finally decided, only a decade or so too late, that it will now use the word "torture" to describe the torture techniques used during the Bush years by the United States government on prisoners believed to be connected to terrorism. While we should certainly be glad that they've finally come around, the statement by Executive Editor Dean Baquet explaining their decision shows just how wrongheaded the editors' thinking this issue has been all along. You should read the whole thing (it's pretty brief), but here are some particularly troubling parts: When the first revelations emerged a decade ago, the situation was murky. The details about what the Central Intelligence Agency did in its interrogation rooms were vague. The word "torture" had a specialized legal meaning as well as a plain-English one. While the methods set off a national debate, the Justice Department insisted that the techniques did not rise to the legal definition of "torture." The Times described...
  • The Inevitability of Republican Reactions

    This is never going to be Barack Obama and John Boehner. It just isn't. (Flickr/RayMorris1)
    Ron Fournier of the National Journal has become (to liberal bloggers anyway) the embodiment of multiple sins of the Washington press corps. Most notably, there's the High Broderism, in which the blame for every problem is apportioned in precisely equal measure to both parties, and the embrace of the Green Lantern theory of the presidency , in which anything can be accomplished, including winning over a recalcitrant opposition, by a simple act of will from the Oval Office. The latter's most comical manifestation is Fournier's frequent pleas for President Obama to "lead," with the content of said "leadership" almost always left undetailed (though one suspects it might involve giving a great speech, after which Republicans would decide to come together with Democrats to solve the nation's problems). Though lately I've been trying to limit my pundit-bashing to once or twice a month, I couldn't overlook this passage in Fournier's latest column expressing his dismay that Obama might take...
  • What Is the 2016 GOP Primary Going to be About?

    This guy is ready to throw down. (CC photo by Ed Schipul)
    Consider this disturbing possibility: Rick Perry, who in 2012 was the gun-totin'-est, God-fearin'-est candidate in the bunch, might be the most sober, responsible Republican candidate in 2016. As you can tell by his bold new specs, Perry is reinventing himself as he prepares for another run at the presidency in 2016, a reinvention Michelle Cottle documents in this long article (with particular attention paid to those glasses). The "new" Perry thinks social issues are a distraction, says he can reach across the aisle, and wants to focus on his executive experience and economic record. Whatever else you might say about Perry, it at least appears that he's thinking this whole thing through and has some idea of what his next candidacy will be about. Which leads me to the question in the title of this post: What is the GOP primary as a whole going to be about? The easy answer is that it'll be a "battle for the soul of the Republican party," a phrase I'm guessing we'll hear about a zillion...
  • The Dumbest Affectation in Congress

    You know why I sleep on the couch every night? Because I'm a dog, not a member of Congress. (Flickr/Justin Quan)
    There are a lot of stupid things members of Congress do to show the folks back home that though they moved hell and high water to get their jobs in Washington, D.C., they find everything about the place repugnant and despicable, and can't wait to get away. But there are few pieces of posturing more inane than the decision to sleep in your Capitol Hill office as a demonstration that you haven't gone native like all those sellouts with their apartments and closets and bathrooms. I can see how a newly elected member might decide to sleep in her office while she gets settled and looks for a place. And being in Congress can be financially and logistically taxing, particularly for those who come from the West coast—you have to maintain two homes, and are expected to fly back nearly every weekend to shake hands at the county fair and pose for pictures at the senior center. But in the last few years it's become de rigueur , particularly among Tea Partiers, to make a statement of their...
  • The Agony of the Red State Democrat

    A voter giving West Virginia Senate candidate Natalie Tennant a piece of his mind.
    Yesterday, conservatives enjoyed a moment of pleasure at the expense of Natalie Tennant, a Democratic candidate for Senate in the formerly Democratic state of West Virginia (more on that in a moment). The video is a little hard to understand without knowing the context of what she and this voter are talking about, but the essence is that he's unhappy about a decision by the EPA that apparently has something to do with coal, Tennant says she agrees with him, and he asks how she could support President Obama. I'm pretty sure this guy isn't going to vote for her in a million years, but since she's running for office, Tennant has to act like she might be able to win this fellow over, and the result is a terribly awkward few moments. It ends when a supporter of hers, who turns out to be a retired general who led the West Virginia National Guard, steps in to help her in her floundering and says that "on most of [Obama's] policies and stuff she supports," but not his policies on coal. The...
  • Why Moderate Districts Don't Produce Moderate Congressmembers

    Flickr/KP Tripathi
    As I was writing this piece about the difference between conservative Republicans and liberal Democrats in Congress and why the latter don't act in the same ways as the former, I began thinking about those members who don't represent the ideology of their districts very well. How many of them are there, and how far away are they from their voters? In particular, I thought about the case of Scott Garrett, the congressman who represents the swing district in the northern New Jersey suburbs where I grew up. Romney beat Obama in that district by 3 points in 2012, so you'd think it would be represented by a moderate Republican. And for many years it was (with somewhat different borders prior to the post-2010 redistricting), by Marge Roukema, one of the last of the moderate, pro-choice Republicans. But Garrett votes more like he comes from Alabama than New Jersey. In 2013, he was one of only 15 House Republicans to get the American Conservative Union's "Defenders of Liberty" award for...
  • Cold Porridge For Regular People: The Myth of the Goldilocks Economy

    This article originally appeared at The Huffington Post . T he economy grew at an impressive rate of four percent in the second quarter of this year, according to a government report released on Wednesday. But the stock market promptly tanked. The Dow lost more than 317 points Thursday and another 70 points Friday. What gives? Financial markets like it when the economy grows fast enough to signal that the recovery is continuing—but not so fast that labor markets might tighten and workers get more bargaining power to get raises. Markets also worry that if the economy grows too fast, the Federal Reserve might pull back from its policy of low interest rates. Not to worry, brave investors. The Labor Department weighed in with a report on Friday, revealing that the economy added only 208,000 more jobs in July, down from the June performance. The number of long-term unemployed was basically unchanged. Likewise the rate of labor-force participation. And the percentage of people employed...
  • Liberal Heroes Miss the Mark in Today's Times Columns

    (AP Photo/ Francisco Seco)
    New York Times columnist Charles Blow sure blew one this morning and, for good measure, so did Paul Krugman—our two most reliably liberal and intelligent columnists! Blow’s subject was the do-nothing Congress. Ordinarily thoughtful and original, this time Blow fell into the media cliché of assigning symmetrical partisan blame for Congressional inaction, as if the two parties were equally culpable. The piece was full of Blow’s signature: accurate statistics. This Congress has passed only 108 pieces of substantive legislation, the lowest in decades, he reports. It was in session an average of only 28 hours a week. Citing the usual cause of “polarization,” Blow indignantly concluded: “Legislating is only a hobby for members of this Congress. Their full time job is raising hell, raising money and lowering the bar of acceptable behavior.” Excuse me, but the problem is not “Congress.” One party—the Democratic Party— behaves quite normally, seeking to do the public’s business. The other...

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