Two years ago, when S&P downgraded the credit rating of the United States, they didn’t site our debt or our spending. Instead, they knocked our political system, and in particular, the dysfunction and institutional creakiness that made a debt ceiling stand-off possible: “The downgrade reflects our view that the effectiveness, stability, and predictability of American policymaking and political institutions have weakened at a time of ongoing fiscal and economic challenge,” said the company in a statement released that summer.
Joe Heck, a conservative white guy with a difference.
You may have heard that in the incoming Congress, white men will constitute a minority of the Democratic caucus for the first time. That's an interesting fact, but it's only part of the story. At National Journal, Ron Brownstein and Scott Bland have a long, Brownsteinian look at how "the parties glare across a deep racial chasm" not only in the members of Congress themselves, but in the people they represent. "Republicans now hold 187 of the 259 districts (72 percent) in which whites exceed their national share of the voting-age population. Democrats hold 129 of the 176 seats (73 percent) in which minorities exceed their national share of the voting-age population. From another angle, 80 percent of Republicans represent districts more heavily white than the national average; 64 percent of House Democrats represent seats more heavily nonwhite than the national average."
The implications for the GOP of the fact that most of their members represent mostly white districts are profound, touching on the continuous interaction between individuals and policy. Politicians are shaped by their political environments and the things they have to do to win, and the fact that most GOP members represent overwhelmingly white district means that as they rise through the ranks, the time they're going to have to spend talking to and listening to non-white people is going to be limited...
No one ever went broke, the saying goes, by underestimating the intelligence of the American people. And no one ever lost a political fight for the same reason. Nevertheless, at the press conference he conducted today, Barack Obama seemed hopeful about his ability to inform and persuade, even while acknowledging that folks might not have the clearest understanding of topics like the debt ceiling. "I just want to repeat, because I think sometimes the American people understandably aren't following all the debates here in Washington," Obama said. "Raising the debt ceiling does not authorize us to spend more. All it does is say that America will pay its bills. And we are not a deadbeat nation."
In general, I’m skeptical about the prospects for new gun-control laws. The universe of people whose political activism is centered on opposing gun control is still much larger than the reverse, and few Republican lawmakers have any incentive to sign on to any kind of comprehensive law.
Independence is the new media thing. Andrew Sullivan is doing it. Trey Parker and Matt Stone are doing it. And Glenn Beck, who did it already when he got booted from Fox News and created his own internet TV...um...thing in response, is taking it even farther. Inspired by "Galt's Gulch," the place in Atlas Shrugged where the Randian übermenschen retreated, Beck is unveiling plans for an entire city he will build, a city to embody all that is right and good and libertarian about America, a true refuge where those who have proven their mettle by watching hundreds of hours of his programs can come and live just as the Founders intended. It'll be called, naturally, Independence, U.S.A. Behold:
Writing for The New Yorker, George Packer has a succinct but excellent look at the South’s political distinctiveness. In short, national trends are creating even more distance between the South and the rest of the country, and this doesn’t bode well for either:
Two years ago, President Obama welcomed the debt ceiling as an opportunity to negotiate deficit reduction with congressional Republicans. This backfired—rather than work in good faith with the president, Republicans used this as an opportunity to hold the economy hostage to a list of narrow demands: for a balanced budget amendment, for regressive changes to entitlements, for large cuts to the social safety net.
Artist's rendering of the House Republican Caucus. (Flickr/Rafael Edwards)
As any parent knows, when your children are young, you have one distinct advantage over them: you're smarter than they are. It won't be that way forever, but if it comes down to an argument, using words, with a six-year-old, you're probably going to win. Faced with this disadvantage, children often resort to things like repeating the thing they've already said a hundred more times, or stomping their feet. Which brings us, of course, to the House Republicans.
For those involved in state-level battles for gay rights, timelines are getting shorter. Take Delaware: The state's first bill that would have banned discrimination based on sexual orientation was introduced back in 1998. The state’s gay-rights community had to fight for 11 years to finally see it pass in 2009. Just two years later, however, the legislature passed a civil-unions law by a relatively large margin less than two months after it was introduced.
Now, as activists turn their attention to marriage, they’re hoping lawmakers will continue to step up the pace and pass a bill this session. “We are confident that we will have the votes in both houses to pass marriage,” says Lisa Goodman, president of the state’s leading advocacy group, Equality Delaware.
The Republican Party is given these days to hysteria, and what appears at the moment to be a white-guy cabinet in the second Obama term is more likely the result of botched orchestration than anything. That doesn’t mean there isn’t something to South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham’s contention that the president is deliberately getting in the opposition’s face with his recent nominations. As those of us who have been supportive of the president wrestle with the moral question of whether he deserves as much grief as we would have given a newly elected Mitt Romney for filling the three biggest jobs in his administration with old white males, or whether Obama’s first term—including a female secretary of State and two female Supreme Court appointments—earns him some slack, the Machiavellian genius of the choices is lost. The Republicans are in disarray not because they drew some particularly wacky names from a hat when it came to fielding congressional candidates but because their constituency is wacky, something so obvious that the only option for pols and pundits alike is to ignore it: A third of the country is fucking out of its mind. Of course some portion of the country always has been out of its mind, which is what Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln and Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained are about, and the country’s task always has been transcending this. But now that Republican psychosis has become so pronounced even the party itself is beset by flashes of self-awareness, a cleave has developed into which Field Marshal Barack drives his pincer division of Kerry, Hagel, and Lew.
If there’s anything frustrating about American politics at this moment, it’s the disappearance of mass unemployment as an area of elite concern. Now that joblessness is on the decline, Washington has moved away from efforts to further address the problem, despite the fact that unemployment isn’t expected to reach pre-recession levels for another four years.
You can say the same for Washington’s attitude towards growth. Gross domestic product increased by 3.1 percent in the third quarter of 2012, up from 1.3 percent in the second quarter, and 1.9 percent in the first. Average GDP for the year will probably fall near 2 percent.
If you’re looking for evidence that Republicans will—despite their rhetoric—eventually cave on the debt ceiling, it’s worth noting a recent statement from Rand Paul, to Business Insider, on how he thinks the GOP should approach the ceiling. Rather than force a shutdown, Paul thinks Republicans should pass a bill that would prioritize payments to bondholders if the limit is reached. This would, he says, “force us immediately to have a balanced budget.”
In the days since Wayne LaPierre of the NRA blamed the Sandy Hook massacre on violent movies and video games (in particular, for some reason, Natural Born Killers, a film that came out 19 years ago and was actually a critique of the media's obsession with violence), a number of people in the entertainment industry have been asked about whether their products contribute to real-world violence, and they've seemed extremely uncomfortable answering the question. Actually, they seem to have no idea what the answer might be. As it happens, this is a question that has been studied extensively, although the research is a bit ambiguous and unsatisfying. Nevertheless, I thought it might be worthwhile to go over just what evidence there is for the assertion. So if you're a Hollywood big shot, read on so you'll have some idea what to say next time the question comes up.
Very few men are rapists. Very few men are abusers. Or stalkers. Predators are the minority. The vast majority of men are decent people who want to do the right thing.
What would it take to shift from a rape culture to a respect culture, and end violence against women? You have to involve the decent men. You have to let them know they are our allies, not our enemies. You have to let them know what they can do to help—to interrupt violence, to help spread new norms—without having to call themselves feminists or become full-on activists.