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  • In Political System Disconnected From Society's Ills, Remedies Pushed to Fringes of Public Debate

    (Kike Calvo via AP Images)
    (Kike Calvo via AP Images) More than 100,000 people march through midtown Manhattan on Sunday, Sept. 21, 2014 as part of the People's Climate March, a worldwide mobilization calling on world leaders meeting at the UN to commit to urgent action on climate change. F or half a century beginning with Franklin Roosevelt, there was a direct connection between the problems that afflicted American society and the remedies on offer from our democratic system. High unemployment? The New Deal, the World War II mobilization, and the postwar boom took care of that. Stagnant wages? With unions, growing productivity, minimum wage laws, and other regulation of labor standards, American real wages tripled. Education? The G.I. bill, massive investment in public universities, community colleges, and later in public elementary and secondary education produced a better educated and more productive population. And until the 1980s, public higher education was practically free. The exclusion of blacks from...
  • Separating the Presidential Wheat from the Chaff

    Flickr/Gage Skidmore
    Just what does it mean for someone to be qualified to be, or even run for, president? I thought of that question when watching this interview on Fox News Sunday with Ben Carson, who is preparing to be the first member of what we might call the nutball caucus of the 2016 Republican primaries, occupied last time around by Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain, and to a lesser extent (since he was actually briefly competitive) Rick Santorum. I've always found Carson to be a puzzlement. On one hand, he was a highly successful neurosurgeon, and you can't become that without being a relatively smart person. On the other hand, when he talks about politics and policy, it quickly becomes clear that the man is a complete lunatic. In this interview, Wallace asks him, "You said recently that you thought that there might not actually be elections in 2016 because of widespread anarchy. Do you really believe that?" Carson responds, "I hope that that's not going to be the case, but certainly there is that...
  • When the Next Terrorist Attack Comes, Will We Be Capable of Keeping Our Heads?

    (Yui Mok/PA Wire - Press Association via AP Images)
    (Yui Mok/PA Wire -Press Association via AP Images) I magine it's six months from now. A 19-year-old man—whom we'll later learn was in communication with members of ISIL in the Middle East—walks on to the Mall in Washington on a weekend afternoon. Groups of tourists are walking about from one monument to another. He takes his backpack off his shoulders, reaches in, and removes the semiautomatic rifle he bought a month before at a gun show in Virginia, where he didn't have to submit to a background check (though it wouldn't have mattered, because his record is clean). He opens fire on the crowd, and before U.S. Park Police are able to reach him and put him down, he has killed six people and wounded eleven others. In his pocket is a note announcing his devotion ISIL, and that he is striking at the United States in retaliation for its illegal war on the true Muslims building a caliphate in Syria and Iraq. Now that we have begun a new military engagement in the Middle East, this event or...
  • Chart of the Day

    Flickr/Rob Chandanais
    Our chart of the day comes from this article in Politico Magazine by Doug McAdam and Karina Kloos, about how the contemporary Republican party has its roots in the racial struggles of the 1960s. It's a good overview of that history, even if you may not find any shocking revelations there. But this chart they use is particularly striking, showing the racial makeup of Barack Obama's and Mitt Romney's voters in 2012: I've written a lot about how some people within the Republican Party, and the conservative movement more generally, find political value in fostering white resentment. Sometimes that resentment is directed at specific figures like Barack Obama, and at those times it usually reaches back to the 1960s to prey on white fears of angry black people coming to do you financial and physical harm (the best comment about Eric Holder's resignation yesterday undoubtedly came from Fox News host Andrea Tantaros, who said of Holder, "He ran the DOJ much like the Black Panthers would. That...
  • Might We Have Mitt Romney to Kick Around Some More?

    I've got a secret... (Flickr/davelawrence8)
    I often find it hard to get inside the heads of politicians, since the idea of running for office—particularly all that fundraising, glad-handing, and ass-kissing—has about as much appeal for me as spending a year or two eating nothing but live maggots every day. But I can appreciate that running for president, getting your party's nomination, and then losing must be positively tortuous, particularly if you spent your whole life thinking you'd be president one day. By the time you get to the end of the campaign, you've spent untold hours thinking about how your destiny is about to be realized, you will remake the world, people will carve statues of you, plus Air Force One is really cool and you can do stuff like say, "Hey, let's have Stevie Wonder come sing at our house this weekend." Then not only are all those dreams dashed, but a guy you've come to despise takes your place. What's surprising is that the likes of John McCain, John Kerry, and Al Gore don't suffer complete breakdowns...
  • Why the Culture War Will Never Die

    Official Democratic party vehicle. (Flickr/Brett Morrison)
    Depending on how you define it, the American culture war between liberals and conservatives can stretch back all the way to the nineteenth century. But I prefer to date its current iteration to the 1960s, when the hippies and the squares gazed across a high school football field at one another and said, "Man, I hate those guys." However the actual 1960s played out, in our memories, the hippies were definitely the good guys, and the winners in the end. (This is in no small part because liberals created all the novels, TV shows, and movies that chronicled the period.) They may have been a little silly, but there's one thing that's undeniably true: They had all the fun. While the squares were getting buzz cuts, convincing themselves that the Vietnam War was a great idea, and nodding along with Richard Nixon's encomiums to the Silent Majority, the hippies were getting high, dancing to cool music, and above all, getting laid . And the squares are still mad about it, even the ones who weren...
  • Why Are We Afraid of the Returning Expat Terrorist?

    This is not the training you get from ISIL. (Flickr/Andres Alvarez Iglesias)
    One of the common refrains we hear in the reporting on ISIL is that officials are worried that Americans will go to Syria or Iraq, fight with ISIL, and then return here to launch terrorist attacks on the United States. As a discrete category of terrorist threat, this is something very odd to be afraid of. It isn't that such people might not have the motivation to carry out a terrorist attack. But if they went to fight with ISIL, they probably already had the motivation. Ah, but what about the things they learned there? This morning, I heard a reporter on NPR refer to such returnees employing their "newfound terrorist skills" against the United States. But what skills are we talking about? If you want to learn how to make a bomb, you don't have to go to Syria to acquire the knowledge. There's this thing called "the internet" where it can be found much easier. The way these potential attackers are talked about, you might think that launching a terrorist attack is something you can only...
  • Missiles and Rebels: What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

    (Rex Features via AP Images)
    L ast weekend, the New York Times reported on a meeting President Obama had with a group of foreign policy experts and pundits to talk about combatting ISIL, among other topics. "Asked by one of the columnists what he would do if his strategy did not work and he had to escalate further," reporter Peter Baker wrote, "Mr. Obama rejected the premise. 'I'm not going to anticipate failure at this point,' he said." Now of course, this meeting wasn't about soliciting ideas so much as it was about convincing important opinion leaders that the administration is on the right track, so there was naturally going to be some spinning. But now that this military campaign has begun in earnest, there are few more important questions than this one: Is the administration anticipating failure? And what are they doing about it? We've been through this once before. In 2002 and 2003, the Bush administration and its supporters told us that the Iraq War would be a piece of cake. We'd storm into Baghdad, be "...
  • So Much For the End of the War on Terror

    U.S. Navy photo by Carmichael Yepez
    Remember when Barack Obama was going to end the War on Terror? Well today, not only did the U.S. launch air strikes within Syria to target ISIL, we also struck against the Khorasan group, a small al-Qaeda offshoot that was purportedly plotting to blow up American airplanes, and the al-Nusra front, an al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria. Back in May of last year, Obama gave a speech meant to signal a break with the prior twelve years, in which he said, "we must define our effort not as a boundless 'global war on terror,' but rather as a series of persistent, targeted efforts to dismantle specific networks of violent extremists that threaten America." One could argue that that's a distinction without a difference, that it's only about rhetoric. You might also say that the War on Terror isn't so much a set of military actions as it is a mindset. It's the state of being terrorized, in which the nation is constantly on the edge of panic, willing to approve almost anything in the name of staying "...
  • Are We Getting Enough Religion With Our Politics?

    Flickr/Harley Pebley
    The Pew Research Center's Religion and Public Life Project has a new survey out about the role of religion in politics (among other things), and the headline is that there has been something of an increase in the desire for religion to take a more active political role. So what would that look like? The survey only asks a few questions about that topic in particular, but here are the results: Not surprisingly, it's the religious group that already has the most political power as at least something of a bloc—white evangelical Christians—that is the most eager for more religious involvement on all these scores. But even they oppose church endorsements of candidates (by 54-42), which suggests that the idea of churches becoming real partisan players causes some discomfort. But let's be realistic: we have that already, on both the right and the left. Lots of evangelical churches function as a locus of organizing for the GOP at election time, just as black churches do for Democrats. The...

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