Over the past few years, liberals like me have pointed out countless times that the Republican party was being (or would be soon, as the case might have been) terribly damaged by the ideological extremism and general nuttiness of the faction that took over the party between 2009 and 2010. But we have to be honest and acknowledge that it didn't always work out that way. They were able to win a number of tangible victories despite the fact that the public doesn't look favorably on the things they wanted to do. In many cases, an extremist Republican ousted a perfectly conservative Republican in a primary, and now the extremist Republican is in possession of a safe seat. And of course, they won a huge victory in the 2010 elections. For all the fun we've had at the expense of people like Michele Bachmann, the damage they did to the GOP wasn't always as serious as we thought it would be.
But I think we're seeing the limits that the House Republicans' extremism imposes on their ability to accomplish a practical political task. The task in question is taking full advantage of an administration scandal or two in order to do maximum damage to the President. And they can't seem to manage it.
When a party suffers electoral losses, it often engages in a particular kind of internal debate. On one side are those who say, "We have to come up with some new policies to appeal to the voters who are rejecting us." On the other side are those who say, "The policies aren't the problem—we need to communicate better." Maybe it's the substance, or maybe it's the packaging. But what if it's both? What if voters dislike you not only because of what you're advocating, but of how you talk to them and who you are to boot?
The collection of DNA evidence is a powerful crime-control tool, but it also has the potential to lead to greater invasions of privacy. Today, a bare majority of the Supreme Court held in Maryland v. King that the former considerations should outweigh the latter. The Court's ruling both creates important Fourth Amendment law and illustrates some important facts about the personnel on the Court. The question at issue in Maryland v. King is whether DNA information could be collected (via a cheek swab) from someone arrested for—but not convicted of—an offense.
Frank Lautenberg, the senator from New Jersey, died today. He wasn't the most charismatic guy around, and his record of legislation may not rival someone like Ted Kennedy, but he worked hard on a few issues that were important to him, particularly environmental protection and containing the spread of guns, and he was a reliable advocate for liberal values and programs over a long career spanning two tours in the Senate. A World War II veteran and one of the founders of payroll giant ADP, Lautenberg made millions in business, but unlike many others who take their wealth into politics, he didn't believe people should be punished for being poor. In the last year he made news mostly for some spats with Cory Booker, who was planning to run against him in next year's Democratic primary, and for spurring some debate on when a politician becomes too old to serve. But now, Chris Christie, of whom Lautenberg was none too fond, will be appointing his temporary successor.
Yes, it's crass and cynical to begin the political speculation the moment someone dies. But to paraphrase Hyman Roth, this is the business they chose. So what happens now?
Unless you live in Connecticut or read the right-leaning press, you probably haven’t heard this story. Two men in Glastonbury, Connecticut, a couple who adopted nine children and lived in a fabulous remote Victorian, are accused of abusing at least two (and maybe more) of their boys. Let me get this on the record: If true, this is nothing less than horrifying. I’ve written enough, here and elsewhere, against the sexual abuse of children that I hope I can leave that reaction as is, for now.
We Americans tend to think of Canadians as almost exactly like us, except less interesting. They're polite and considerate, they don't start wars, and though they can be rather brutal if you put them on ice and give them a hockey stick, on the whole, Canada is sort of the Ned Flanders of North America. There's a reason many believe that the most boring headline ever to appear in an American newspaper is "Worthwhile Canadian Initiative," which adorned a 1986 New York Times column by Flora Lewis.
One of Google's self-driving cars. (Flickr/Guillermo Esteves)
Futurists have been predicting self-driving cars for decades, but for a long time it wasn't because the idea was a natural extrapolation of existing technology. Instead, from the standpoint of the 1950s or so, it just seemed like something we'd have in The Future, along with robot maids, vacations on the moon, and a spectacular network of vacuum tubes in every home. Today, almost all the technology necessary to allow cars to drive themselves is either already in existence or in the development process, and Google has already allowed its driverless cars to go hundreds of thousands of miles on their own. So the Department of Transportation has issued a policy statement laying out some of the issues that are likely to be confronted as these technologies develop, and establishing its research agenda to address the questions they'll need to answer in order to properly regulate driverless cars.
This Saturday marks one-third of a century since CNN debuted as the world's first 24-hour news channel in 1980 (if you're looking to get them a gift, the traditional 33rd anniversary gift is amethyst). Prospect intern/sleuth Eric Garcia came across this video of the network's first hour on the air, which begins with Ted Turner giving a speech about the new era of global understanding they're launching. He makes special note of the fact that he's standing under three flags: the U.S. flag, the Georgia flag (its old confederate version, which was adopted in 1956 as a protest to Brown v. Board of Education or to honor the nobility of the Confederacy, depending on your perspective), and...the flag of the United Nations! Cue conservative spit takes.
Back in those days, of course, the UN was considered a well-intentioned if often ineffectual organization, and not a sinister black helicopter-wielding global conspiracy to take your guns and impose a one-world government with George Soros as Supreme Ruler (and the UN was a particular cause of Turner's; he later gave the organization a billion dollars). But let's take a look at the video; once you get past Turner's speech, it doesn't look much different from what cable news remains today, apart from the fact that the anchors are reading off of actual papers on the desks in front of them and not off teleprompters (go to the 8 minute mark):
President Barack Obama’s speech at the National Defense University last week represented the latest and probably most significant rhetorical shift away from the “war on terror” since he took office in January 2009. “Our systematic effort to dismantle terrorist organizations must continue,” he said in one of the speech’s key passages. “But this war, like all wars, must end. That’s what history advises. That’s what our democracy demands.”
“Core al-Qaeda is a shell of its former self,” the president said. “Groups like AQAP [Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula] must be dealt with, but in the years to come, not every collection of thugs that label themselves al-Qaeda will pose a credible threat to the United States.”
Time will tell whether Obama puts real weight behind some of the changes articulated in the speech. There’s no question that it marked another important turn toward a more nuanced assessment of the threat posed by Islamic terrorism. But like kids who have just had their favorite toy taken away, conservative hawks are freaking out.
Earlier this week, the White House announced that President Barack Obama would name nominees to fill three vacant seats on the D.C. Circuit Court, touching off a new battle between the White House and Republicans over filibusters and presidential privileges. Despite the fact that appointing judges is one of the powers given to every president by the Constitution, some Republicans reacted as though Obama were doing something horrible by fulfilling this obligation. (You'd almost think they didn't accept the legitimacy of his presidency.) In any case, this argument is likely to heat up over the next few weeks, so we might benefit from some context as charges and counter-charges start flying.
Of all the scandalettes currently limping around Washington, the one about the Obama administration's aggressive pursuit of leakers, which some argue has led to a near-criminalization of certain kinds of news gathering, has the distinction of being the least compelling to the public and the most compelling to journalists. When Quinnipiac asked respondents which of the three controversies was most important, only 15 percent picked the seizure of journalists' phone records. Not surprisingly, reporters think it's quite important, yet not all that surprising, given how aggressive the Obama administration has been in prosecuting leakers.
The liberal media may be in a funk. MSNBC is getting some of its worst ratings in years, and Digby tells us that liberal blogs have experienced serious declines in traffic since the election as well. So why might this be happening?
There are two answers, neither of which would give you much solace if your job depended on raising TV ratings or bringing in more ad revenue for your web site. The first is that outside events, in the form of the natural ebb and flow of the political world, have conspired against the liberal media. The second is that the model—liberals talking about politics—is affected by that ebb and flow in a way conservative media aren't.
President Obama’s key asset as a politician has always been his personal brand. Most Americans have always held him in high esteem, even as they disapproved of his overall job performance. During the presidential election, for instance, Obama’s approval ratings always lagged behind his favorability.
Regular order. For the past few months, it’s been a Republican byword, the potential cure to all that ails Washington. “The right process is the regular order,” Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions, the ranking Republican on the Budget Committee, said in a statement this past January. “A second term presents the opportunity to do things differently, and in the Senate that means a return to regular order,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said on the Senate floor earlier this year. “I believe that it’s time to do regular order,” House Speaker John Boehner told ABC News in March.
The ceaseless parade of commissions, super committees, and gangs of six and eight could be traced back to the lack of a Democratic budget for these regular-order evangelicals. After all, Senate Democrats hadn't even managed to propose a budget since the first year of Barack Obama's presidency.
What she knows about the culture of the country she claims to represent wouldn't fill an action toy's gym sock. That's why Michele Bachmann—who announced she was retiring from Congress a couple of days ago—probably has no idea that she was played by one of the greatest actresses in Hollywood history two years before her own birth.
I mean, of course, Mercedes McCambridge—the witch-hunting villainess of Nicholas Ray's 1954 Johnny Guitar. In later life, she also voiced Satan in The Exorcist, but let's not stoop to such low-hanging fruit. McCambridge was a formidable performer, and she understood the hysterical roots of Bachmann's political persona better than our own Michele ever will.