Every time during his first term that Barack Obama stumbled, had difficulty getting a piece of legislation passed, or got mired in the ugly realities of contemporary politics, conservatives could be counted on to say, "Ha! Where's your hope and change now, huh? Huh?" It's true that his 2008 campaign was an unusually idealistic one, both in its lofty rhetoric and in what it inspired in his supporters, so much so that the mundane realities of governing were bound to be disillusioning for many. As his second term begins, there's no question that Obama has learned a great deal. He understands Washington better, he understands Congress better, and he certainly understands the Republican party better. And that may just make for a more effective second term, despite all the obstacles in front of him.
It would be easy to gloat over the fact that Republicans backed down (sort of) from their threat to cripple the American economy by destroying the full faith and credit of the United States government if they don't get everything they want. True, they didn't withdraw their debt-ceiling threat, they just said they're going to put it off for three months. But we can give them a bit of credit for stepping back and realizing that they were acting like a bunch of crazy people.
I wasn’t sure to expect when President Obama announced that he would oppose anything other than a clean debt-ceiling increase. The incentives that led Republicans to the brink in 2011 haven’t gone away, and Tea Party lawmakers still hold considerable influence with the House Republican conference. What’s more, as Jonathan Bernstein points out, there isn’t much of a positive GOP agenda; Republicans have no ideas that could appeal to swing voters, and form the basis of a genuine opposition. All they have, instead, is an inchoate rage at the fact of Obama’s presidency.
Included in President Obama’s plan for reducing gun violence is an idea made famous, or infamous, by the National Rifle Association in its press conference following the massacre in Newtown, Connecticut. After railing against violence in movies and video games, NRA spokesperson Wayne LaPierre called on Congress “to act immediately to appropriate whatever is necessary to put armed police officers in every single school in this nation.”
A gentleman exercising his rights in a way that won't make anyone else uncomfortable. (Flickr/Teknorat)
As Jaime and I noted yesterday, many Democratic politicians feel the need to preface any discussion of guns with an assurance that they, too, own guns and love to shoot, as though that were the price of admission to a debate on the topic. But what you seldom hear is anyone, politician or otherwise, say, "I don't own a gun and I don't ever intend to" as a statement of identity, defining a perspective that carries moral weight equal to that of gun owners. So it was good to see Josh Marshall, in a thoughtful post, say, "Well, I want to be part of this debate too. I'm not a gun owner and, as I think as is the case for the more than half the people in the country who also aren't gun owners, that means that for me guns are alien. And I have my own set of rights not to have gun culture run roughshod over me." Let me tell you my perspective on this, and offer some thoughts on the question of what sort of a society we want to have when it comes to the question of guns. Because there are two radically different visions that are clashing here.
In October 2001, George W. Bush told the country he was sending the American military to Afghanistan in order to "bring justice to our enemies." It's safe to say support for the war would not have been as nearly unanimous as it was had he said, "Oh, and by the way, our troops are going to be fighting there for the next 13 years." But if all goes according to plan and Barack Obama follows up on his pledge to bring them home by the end of 2014, that's how long the Afghanistan war will have lasted.
In case you were wondering how many shotguns Joe Biden has, the answer is two, a 20-gauge and a 12-gauge. That's what he told the U.S. Conference of Mayors today, though his audience was that larger group of Americans looking for reassurance that the Vice President is indeed a gun-totin' man. Or perhaps no one was looking for such reassurance, but he gave it to them anyway.
If you need proof that nothing short of a Soviet-style blockade along our Southern border will satisfy immigration hardliners, look no further than Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies—a think tank that, as the Southern Poverty Law Center points out, "has never found any aspect of immigration it liked." Krikorian has previously used his space at the National Review Online to grouse about the "unnatural" pronunciation of Sonia Sotomayor's name and to suggest that the United States slough off Puerto Rico to end the "gravy train." Last week, he used it to denounce a recent Migration Policy Institute report showing the United States spends approximately $18 billion per year on immigration enforcement, which exceeds federal spending on all other federal criminal law-enforcement efforts combined.
When was the last time you contributed $1,000 to a political candidate or cause? If you’re like most people, the answer is “Never—if I have that kind of money it’s in the college savings account.”
Well, candidates for the U.S. Senate this election got nearly 64 percent of the money they raised from individuals in contributions of at least $1,000—from just four one-hundredths of one percent of the population.
Every Thursday, the federal government releases data on new jobless claims, and for the last several months, they’ve hovered between 350,000 and 400,000. For the sake of context, a number below the latter is evidence of an improving jobs landscape, and a number below the former is a sign that jobs are growing at a fast pace. Today, the Department of Labor announced there were only 335,000 new jobless claims for the previous week:
The Guttmacher Institute has a useful set of charts detailing the state of abortion in 2013, apropos of Roe’s 40th anniversary. The short story is that abortion is far more widespread than Americans tend to think; by age 45, almost half of American women will have an unintended pregnancy, and nearly one in three will have an abortion. Sixty percent of women who have abortions already have one child, 44 percent are married or have a partner, and 69 percent are economically disadvantaged. Conservative rhetoric notwithstanding, the vast majority of abortions occur in the first trimester, and 73 percent of women who have abortions are “religiously affiliated.”
With Israel's national election just five days off, it's worth remembering two principles of politics here: First, Israel polls do have more predictive power than tea leaves, but not enough to inspire confidence. Second, it's definitely not over when the fat lady sings. The vote tally is only the end of the first act. The second act is putting together a ruling coalition; the third is holding it together in order to rule.
One of the most misleading things that high school civics classes teach is that the United States government is based on strict separation of powers: Congress legislates, the executive branch carries out those laws, and courts judge.
Just after Barack Obama signed the Affordable Care Act into law on March 23, 2010, Joe Biden came up to him and, thinking they were out of range of the microphone, said to the president, “This is a big fucking deal.” If I understand the concept of a BFD in the technical sense that Biden must have had in mind, it’s a historic reform that changes America in a fundamental way. Presidents have other imperative responsibilities, such as upholding the Constitution, keeping the nation safe from foreign threats, and promoting a strong economy. As critical as those are, they are not BFDs; a president who does all those things will probably get re-elected yet receive only brief mention in the history books. To be celebrated by future generations requires the accomplishment of substantial change with enduring benefit. In the language of the political scientist James MacGregor Burns, that is the work of a transformational leader, not merely a transactional one.