The nomination announcement for Chuck Hagel as the next Secretary of Defense and Deputy National Security Advisor for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism John Brennan as the next director of the Central Intelligence Agency, in the East Room of the White House.
Today, President Obama officially nominated John Brennan to direct the CIA, since the previous director made a sudden departure (note to prospective Brennan biographers: Watch your step), but the other appointment, of former Nebraska Republican senator Chuck Hagel to be Secretary of Defense, is what got all the attention. Republicans dutifully trooped to the cable cameras to say somberly that they are "troubled" and "concerned" by Hagel's nomination. Though Hagel was once their esteemed colleague, he made them very angry by turning against the Iraq War after having voted for it in the first place. Because, as they will tell you, the war went swimmingly, and anyone who fails to understand that may not have the judgment to lead the Pentagon.
Over at Mother Jones, Kevin Drum marshals two charts showing—quite clearly—that the federal government has a revenue and aging problem, not a spending one. The first shows federal spending as a percentage of gross domestic product, from 1981 to the present:
I'm sure there are many reasons why President Obama nominated Chuck Hagel to be Secretary of Defense, but the fact that Hagel is a Republican surely played at least some part. After all, if he nominated a Democrat to head the Pentagon, congressional Republicans would surely oppose the nomination and charge that the nominee was too dovish. Which of course is exactly what has happened with Hagel (along with some truly despicable phony accusations of anti-Semitism*). I'm not the first liberal to be disappointed with the fact that Democratic presidents seem to feel the need to placate their opponents by picking Republicans for this particular position. As Michael Beschloss observed, Republican presidents have never picked a Democrat for this job, but about half the Secretaries of Defense in Democratic administrations have been Republicans.
What's most important to note about this is that there is no equivalent on the other side. Republican presidents don't feel the need to appoint Democrats to lead agencies whose missions are traditionally associated with Democrats. In fact, they have no problem appointing people whose goal is to fight against the missions of the agencies they lead.
It seems I was mistaken about the GOP’s stance toward raising the debt ceiling: Top Republicans won’t walk away from using the limit as leverage for cuts to Social Security and Medicare. Here is what Mitch McConnell had to say on Meet the Press yesterday:
Republicans straining to present opposition to Chuck Hagel as bipartisan had a small assist from retired Massachusetts lawmaker Barney Frank, who because of Hagel’s 1998 criticism of Ambassador James Hormel—he called him “openly, aggressively gay”—said he “strongly opposed” his nomination to head the Defense Department.
There may not be much point in trying to relitigate the torture question from the Bush years, but every once in a while that era's torture apologists come back around to make their case, and there is one vital question I've never heard any of them answer: How do the defender's of "enhanced interrogation" (perhaps the most vulgar euphemism since "ethnic cleansing") actually define torture? I'll explain more in a moment, but this was prompted by an op-ed in Sunday's Washington Post about the film Zero Dark Thirty by Jose Rodriguez, a CIA officer who has defended the administration's torture program on many occasions. Since I haven't seen the film I can't say anything about the way it depicts torture, but Rodriguez takes the opportunity to say this: "I was intimately involved in setting up and administering the CIA’s 'enhanced interrogation' program, and I left the agency in 2007 secure in the knowledge not only that our program worked — but that it was not torture." And why aren't the things the CIA did—which included waterboarding, sleep deprivation, and the use of "stress positions," which are used to cause excruciating pain without actually leaving a mark—torture? Here's the closest Rodriguez comes to an explanation:
The budget deal that just averted the supposed fiscal cliff was only a warm up. The next fiscal cliff is the $110 billion in automatic budget cuts (sequesters) that last week’s budget deal deferred only until March. But, as long as we are using topographic metaphors, this is less a cliff than a bluff.
On the Sunday talk shows, Republican leaders were full of bravado and swagger. Representative Matt Salmon of Arizona, on CBS “Face the Nation” said it was about time “for another government shutdown.”
There’s no way to spin the 2011 debt ceiling crisis as anything other than ridiculous, but it’s easy to understand the mentality that led to the GOP’s decision to hold the country hostage to their demands. Republicans had just won a massive victory in the House of Representatives and conservatives felt validated—the GOP majority was built with candidates who didn’t shy away from the right. Moreover—to the recently elected representatives—the public had sent them to Washington to cut spending, and the debt ceiling was a perfect opportunity to do just that.
In the midst of dealing with the fiscal cliff, Congress passed a one-year extension of the farm bill that eliminated funding for almost every even vaguely innovative agriculture policy and kept in place expensive and outdated subsidies that benefit big agribusiness. From the perspective of anyone interested in making change in America’s farm and food system, it was a disaster.
“There's much isn’t to be happy about with this extension,” David deGennaro, a legislative analyst with the Environmental Working Group, said.
“If you care about conservation, food production, or reforming the farm bill, this is a bad deal,” said Justin Tatham, the Union of Concerned Scientists’ senior Washington representative for food & environment. “It's worse than the status quo.”
Liberals felt rightfully disgruntled with the president's capitulations during fiscal-cliff negotiations. Obama abandoned his hard-line stance that tax rates must be increased on incomes over $250,000. Instead the deal made the Bush tax cuts permanent for the vast majority of the country, with rates only rising for individuals earning over $400,000—hardly a sensible definition of the middle class. Yet as he gave up his leverage on automatic tax hikes, Obama's compromise bill punted the sequestration cuts until March 1 and left the necessary hike of the debt ceiling as a lingering threat for the nihilistic House Republicans to exploit for further cuts to discretionary spending.
In two excellent posts, Elias Isquith at his blog, and Ned Resnikoff at MSNBC argue that the broader welfare state—and not just entitlements—is in a state of retreat, and that this has been helped along by liberals in and outside of Washington, who have accepted austerity as a necessary objective.
It’s been almost two months, but we now have an official tally for the 2012 presidential election. In the end, President Obama won 65.9 million votes—or 51.1 percent—to Mitt Romney’s 60.9 million votes, or 47.2 percent of the vote.