The New York Times' big story today, detailing President Obama’s role in the country’s counterterrorism efforts, should ignite a slow burn of new coverage and heated questions in the upcoming weeks. The scene, which presents Obama looking through Al Qaeda members' biographies and making the final life-or-death call of which suspects make their way onto what the Times calls "macabre 'baseball cards' of an unconventional war," feels ripped right from the third episode of The West Wing, "Proportional Response," where President Jed Bartlet struggles with the difficult decisions of war, in a cinematically presidential way.
Last week Scott offered a great defense of the Voting Rights Act, arguing that Section Five—a clause that requires southern states to receive preclearance before changing any voting procedures—is a necessary correction to the limits of the Fifteenth Amendment. That provision was recently overturned by the D.C. Circuit, setting up a hearing in the Supreme Court that could possibly strike down the landmark civil rights legislation. Given the recent conservative tilt of the Supreme Court, some legal experts are predicting that the circuit court's decision will be upheld, with the majority arguing that the act was crafted during circumstances no longer relevant to the political climate.
Medical marijuana for sale in California. (Flickr/Dank Depot)
Later today, I'll have a post up at MSNBC's Lean Forward blog explaining why the "Choom Gang" revelations from David Maraniss' new biography of Barack Obama didn't seem to make anybody mad (with the exception of libertarians who took the opportunity to make the entirely accurate point that Obama's Justice Department is vigorously prosecuting people for doing pretty much the same thing Obama did as a teenager, and if he had been caught he might have gone to jail and certainly wouldn't have grown up to be president). Briefly, it comes down to a couple of things: Obama had already admitted he smoked pot "frequently," so it wasn't much of a revelation; and around half of American adults have too, meaning they weren't going to be outraged. Furthermore, most of the reporters who would write about the story are probably in the pot-smoking half, making them less likely to treat it as something scandalous. But this raises a question, one posed by Jonathan Bernstein: Why do Democratic politicians overwhelmingly support the status quo on drug policy? Do they actually think it's good policy, or is it just politics?
After last week’s fight over Bain Capital, the Romney campaign is returning to safer ground with a renewed attack on Obama’s handling of the economy:
“President Obama has never managed anything other than his own personal narrative. He has never created a job and never run a business. President Obama not only doesn’t understand the economy - he also opposes the free-market principles that built it. His policies have prevented businesses from growing, thriving, and creating jobs, and he has no plans to change course.”
For a moment last fall, it looked as if the last-minute debt-ceiling deal was all for nothing. Democrats had caved to Republicans’ demands to cut spending in order to keep the government funded. But Standard and Poor’s decided that the brinkmanship displayed by John Boehner and Republicans reflected poorly on the country’s ability to pay its bills, and decided to lower the U.S.’s credit rating anyway from AAA to AA+. Luckily, that decision was taken more as a reflection of the rating agency than a proper assessment of the country’s credit-worthiness. The U.S. continues to sell Treasury bonds at record low interest rates, a sign that investor confidence hasn’t been shaken.
In a state as red as Texas, general elections are mostly formalities; GOP primaries are the main events. That’s one explanation for the national focus on Tuesday’s U.S. Senate primary, where Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst faces a field led by former Solicitor General Ted Cruz in a quest to replace retiring Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison. As the name indicates, Cruz is far from a traditional Republican candidate—which is the main reason the right has been buzzing about this race for months. He’s not only the son of a Cuban-American father, he’s also a darling of the Tea Party, with Sarah Palin and Rick Santorum’s stamps of approval.
For political junkies, it’s easy to think that campaign tussles make a difference in presidential elections. Washington was consumed with the story of Mitt Romney the high school bully, but voters could care less—in a recent poll from ABC News and TheWashington Post, 90 percent said that it wouldn’t be a factor in their view of the GOP nominee. Likewise, the massive controversy over Elizabeth Warren’s Native American heritage has had zero effect on Massachusetts voters—69 percent say they simply don’t care.
Congress is deadlocked on a host of issues that will need to be solved before the end of the year lest the country plunge off a fiscal cliff at the start of 2013. If no action is taken, all of the Bush tax cuts will expire, the payroll tax will return to higher rates, and the full-sequester spending cuts will go into effect, with the debt ceiling hitting its limit shortly thereafter. Estimates from the Congressional Budget Office released early this week paint a horror story for the start of 2013, with the economy contracting by 1.3 percent.
The President, engaged in a vulgar activity. (White House photo by Pete Souza)
As I mentioned the other day, reporters are both repulsed by and attracted to negative campaigning, and I think that probably goes for most of us as well. On one hand, we want to say, "Tut, tut, you shouldn't be doing that." On the other hand, not only can't we look away, but we desperately want our own favored candidate to go negative, so we can get the visceral satisfaction from watching our disfavored candidate get assaulted. It's analogous to the way we feel when watching a movie or reading a story: if the bad guy doesn't get killed in the end, we're left feeling unsatisfied.
But we also have a series of campaign conventions regarding what kind of behavior is acceptable that have little or nothing to justify them. One that has always mystified me is the idea that it's impolite to mention your opponent by name. Instead, you're supposed to say "my opponent" and speak of "the other party," as if to make clear whom you're talking about is somehow rude. This is supposed to be doubly true for the president, for whom it is perfectly acceptable to criticize the guy running to take his job, but unseemly to do so by saying the man's name.
Beneath the skirmish over whether President Obama should use Bain Capital against Mitt Romney (simple answer: duh), you could detect a deeper—and far more edifying—theme that’s starting to define the presidential campaign. Obama’s ringing response in Chicago to critics of his Bain criticisms made the plainest logical sense: If Romney’s going to claim his business experience as his main qualification for the presidency, then of course that business experience is part of the debate.
Perhaps Newt Gingrich's presidential campaign wasn't meaningless after all. During the Florida primary, I tracked Gingrich and his ludicrousproposals to overhaul the entire federal government so quickly upon taking office that he would barely have time to change into a tux for the inauguration parties. His extensive list of promises for day one was absurd, yet it seems to have influenced Mitt Romney. Romney's first general-election ad was titled "Day One," and now the Republican nominee revisits the same idea in a new ad, unimaginatively called "Day One, Part Two."
Marco Rubio spent much of the past year denying his ambitions to attain higher office. He would shoot down reporters every time they questioned his desire to join the 2012 Republican ticket as vice president, claiming his intent was solely to learn the ins and outs of the Senate. "I don't want to be the vice president right now, or maybe ever. I really want to do a good job in the Senate," he said in an interview last month.
But now that the veepstakes has kicked, off Rubio's adopted a far different tone. From a speech in D.C. yesterday:
Despite what the average voter probably thinks, presidential candidates keep the overwhelming majority of the promises they make. And most of the ones they don't keep aren't because they were just lying, but because circumstances changed or they tried to keep the promise and failed. But that's in the big, broad strokes, while the details are another matter. It's easy to put out a plan for, say, tax reform, but even if you achieve tax reform, it's Congress that has to pass it, and they will inevitably shape it to their own ends. This happened to a degree with President Obama's health care reform: it largely resembles what he proposed during the 2008 campaign, but not entirely. He had said he wanted a public option, for instance, but eventually jettisoned that, and had rejected an individual mandate, but eventually embraced it as unavoidable.
Which brings us to Mitt Romney's health care plan...
Mitt Romney is unsettled by your questions. (Flickr/Gage Skidmore)
I've been on a long crusade, which began before this campaign and will probably continue after it, to get everyone to think more clearly about what it means when a politician says "I'm not a politician, I'm a businessman." It's particularly important this year, of course, because one of the major party candidates is putting forward his business experience as the primary rationale for his candidacy. I don't know if that's ever happened before, and it certainly hasn't happened in the modern era. We're still waiting to hear what stunning business insights Mitt Romney will bring to the White House that no other person could possibly have. And yesterday, Time's Mark Halperin — himself the target of a lot of well-deserved derision over the years — made an admirable effort to try to pin Romney down on this question in an interview. Unsurprisingly, he failed. Let's read an excerpt:
There’s been a growing sense over the last month that Barack Obama is winning battles but losing the war—until this past week, when he lost the battle too. Governor Mitt Romney, repudiating an effort by the former chairman of a major online brokerage firm to underwrite a $10 million advertisement that raises anew questions about the president’s former minister, equated the tactic to the “character assassination” represented by questions about Romney’s experience with the private-equity company Bain Capital.