AP Photo/Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Johnny Crawford, Pool
When he leaves office in January of 2017—provided there isn't a terrible scandal or some kind of economic or foreign policy disaster between now and then—Barack Obama will likely be hailed as the greatest Democratic hero since John F. Kennedy. He got most of the way there just by winning a second term, before we even get to his already substantial policy successes. But the real reason is that for a long time to come, Obama will represent for Democrats the moment when they and their beliefs were ascendant. You can see it in the way some Democrats are already positioning themselves to run for president in 2016.
The sequester—a set of deep, across-the-board cuts to discretionary spending set to take effect if lawmakers cannot agree to a longterm budget deal—was never supposed to happen. But as the deadline for reaching an agreement ticks ever closer, Congress appears hopelessly deadlocked. Under the original agreement, sequestration would have triggered $100 billion in cuts to both defense and non-defense discretionary spending on January 1—an 8.2 percent reduction in non-defense expenditures. The “fiscal-cliff” deal reached in December reduced that amount to $85.3 billion and pushed the deadline back to March. Under the new deal, non-defense discretionary spending would be cut by $42.7 billion yearly for the next nine years. This is on top of $1.5 trillion in cuts over the next decade that have already been enacted.
Allison Chin, president of the Sierra Club, knows now is the moment to think big on climate. It’s been a year of “records”: A record number of droughts have hit towns across the country, record temperatures slowly roast the planet, and storms have left record amounts of snow and rain in their wake. Finally, too, a record number of people concede that we’re changing the environment for the worse. “Mothers, fathers, grandparents, children, businessmen, people of the faith—it’s not just environmentalists that are affected by this,” Chin says. She knows that environmentalists need to be practical—they need concrete demands that all people left adrift by a changing climate can endorse. But facing such long odds and high stakes, how can they be anything but ardent about the environment?
Barack Obama’s State of the Union address last week—which called for, among other things, universal pre-K and raising the minimum wage—offered a bold program for rebuilding the middle class. But the president’s continuing commitment to budgetary austerity makes these commitments hollow, if not cynical. And just as Obama and the Democrats paid the price in the 2010 midterm election for excess caution and conciliation, the results of tokenism are not likely to be pretty in the midterms of 2014.
In 2013, the wonders of our technological prowess never cease to amaze. We can launch remote-controlled planes to smite our enemies thousands of miles away. In your pocket right now, you probably have a tiny computer with more processing power than a Cray supercomputer had a few decades ago. Literally millions of photos of kittens and puppies are but a click away, increasing the sum total of human happiness immeasurably.
I want to expand on something I brought up yesterday on the utility, for the opposition party, of doing nothing more with your efforts than becoming the biggest pain in the president's ass you possibly can. As of now, Republicans have mounted an unprecedented filibuster against Chuck Hagel's nomination to be Secretary of Defense, the latest in a long line of cases in which they looked at a prevailing norm of doing business in Washington and realized that there was no reason they couldn't violate it. Sure, up until now we had an unspoken agreement that the president would get to appoint pretty much whoever he wants to his cabinet unless the nominee was a drunk, a criminal, or grossly unqualified. But Republicans feel perfectly free to cast that agreement aside. Why? Because screw you, Obama, that's why. In any case, it looks at the moment as though this filibuster will be temporary, and Hagel will eventually get confirmed.
So now, there are two ways to look at this. Having caused all this trouble, will the Republicans feel like they got it out of their system and calm themselves down a bit? Or will they be emboldened to find new and creative ways to throw monkey wrenches into the gears of government?
Chief Judge David Sentelle’s recent opinion in Noel Canning v. NLRB holding President Barack Obama’s recess appointments unconstitutional is a trenchant reminder that the D.C. Circuit is, as is often said, the nation’s “second most important court after the Supreme Court.” It has also been, historically, a stepping stone to the high Court. The court now faces four vacancies among 11 judgeships with Sentelle’s February 12 assumption of senior status. But the Obama administration is the first in decades which confirmed no D.C. Circuit judge and has only submitted two names for consideration. The importance and complexity of the circuit caseload means it requires all eleven judges to deliver justice. For this reason—and to increase ideological balance on the court, which has four active and five senior judges whom Republican presidents appointed—Obama and the Senate must expeditiously fill the D.C. Circuit openings.
Here we go again: the false hope, or in some cases fear, of a massive crack-up of the two major parties, with third- and fourth- and maybe more-party candidates running viable races for the presidency.
Imagine that after budget cuts force the dismantling of all law enforcement in your area and a natural disaster destroys any semblance of society, a horde of crazed cannibal zombies comes down your street, heading right for your door so they can kill and eat your entire family. Don't you want to be sufficiently armed to hold them off? You may say this is an unlikely scenario, but that's because OH MY GOD LOOK BEHIND YOU!
As of this afternoon, Republicans have vowed to filibuster Chuck Hagel’s nomination to head the Department of Defense. It’s not hyperbole to say this is unprecedented—the Senate has never filibustered a president’s Cabinet nominee. It would be one thing if the nominee were clearly unqualified—if Obama had nominated Diddy to lead Defense, then Republicans would have a point. But Hagel is a decorated Vietnam veteran who served two terms in the Senate and built a reputation for seriousness on defense issues.
It's easy to shake your head and laugh at the incredible things said by some of the nincompoops who occupy the GOP's backbench in Congress, whether it's Louie Gohmert ranting about "terror babies," or Paul Broun (an actual doctor, for whose patients I fear) saying "All that stuff I was taught about evolution, embryology, Big Bang theory, all that is lies straight from the pit of hell," or any of a thousand things Michele Bachmann has said over the years. But as we laugh, we know these people don't really shape policy, so the damage they can do is limited. Not that the rest of the Republicans on Capitol Hill are a bunch of geniuses or anything, but most of those who have that golden combination of crazy and stupid are pretty far down in the pecking order.
But looking forward to the next four years, you have to wonder if Barack Obama is, through little fault of his own, making the entire Republican party dumber with each passing day. Fred Kaplan, a thoughtful journalist who reports on military affairs for Slate, watched Chuck Hagel's confirmation hearings and can't contain his disgust at how little the Republican senators serving on the Armed Services Committee seem to understand about things related to the armed services:
For Illinois's same-sex couples wishing to wed, the Valentine's Day candy should be extra sweet. The state senate is expected to vote on a same-sex marriage bill today. “This is an exciting time to be a gay-rights lawyer,” Camilla Taylor, counsel for Lamdba Legal, told me.
Taylor has good reason to be excited. With a Democratic supermajority, just about everyone expects the chamber will pass the measure. Then the bill will go to the House, where the leadership is also supportive.
In his 2013 State of the Union, President Obama proposed a $9 federal minimum wage, indexed to inflation. Here to discuss the minimum wage as a policy is Arindrajit Dube.
Dube is a professor of economics at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and a widely respected scholar of labor markets and the minimum wage. Along with T. William Lester and Michael Reich, he is the author of Minimum Wage Effects Across State Borders: Estimates Using Contiguous Counties (2010), a major study that found no adverse employment effects of minimum wages increases by studying counties that cross state lines.
If you haven’t already, you should read Sharon Lerner on Oklahoma’s attempt to provide high-quality preschool education to all of its students. It offers a glimpse into what the Obama administration intends with its universal pre-K push, and it’s a hopeful story to boot.