Barack Obama doesn't do many press conferences, so when he came into the White House briefing room today it was because he had something important to say. Obama announced that Vice President Joe Biden will be heading a task force, or perhaps a working group—whatever you're going to call it, don't call it a commission ("This is not some Washington commission," Obama said)–to figure out just what can be done to reduce gun violence. "I will use all the powers of this office to help advance efforts aimed at preventing more tragedies like this," he said. "We won't prevent them all, but that can't be an excuse not to try."
What do you say when a public figure you find repellent dies? Do you hold your tongue, not speak ill of the dead, and wait some decent interval before saying what you really thought of them? After all, there's no time like their death. Robert Bork died today, and the truth is that in a few months nobody is going to be talking much about his legacy. So now's the time to weigh in, which Jeffrey Toobin does, in a rather unrestrained way:
Robert Bork, who died Wednesday, was an unrepentant reactionary who was on the wrong side of every major legal controversy of the twentieth century. The fifty-eight senators who voted against Bork for confirmation to the Supreme Court in 1987 honored themselves, and the Constitution. In the subsequent quarter-century, Bork devoted himself to proving that his critics were right about him all along.
Hard to disagree — Bork's philosophy was a particularly nasty one, and he spent much of his public life expressing his boundless contempt for modern America, particularly the ways it had become more humane than it once was...
This afternoon, Drew Linzer—whose election forecasting site, Votematic, rivaled Nate Silver’s for accuracy–tweeted two charts showing key election fundamentals: Second quarter GDP growth, and the president’s net approval rating in June. Those presidents with a growing economy and a positive approval rating almost always win, and those with a shrinking economy and a negative approval rating almost always lose. And while Republicans spent the year thinking this wouldn’t be true for President Obama, as Linzer shows, it was.
Here’s where 2012 fell on a graph showing 2nd quarter GDP growth and the incumbent party’s share of the two-party vote:
After a year where Republicans—even so-called “moderates,” like Mitt Romney—devoted themselves to dividing the public into “makers” and “takers,” a new survey from the Pew Research Service shows that most Americans—55 percent, in fact—are “dependent on government” in some form.
Thanks to the tireless efforts of the NRA and the gun manufacturers, 49 states now issue concealed carry permits to people for whom merely owning guns is not enough. As we focus our attention on military-style rifles and high-capacity magazines, we need to remember that the most important change in recent years isn't in the equipment, but in the spread of a new kind of mentality among many gun owners, one that seeks to make fear the organizing principle of American society.
This has been the essential focus of gun advocates' work in recent years: changing laws so that as many people as possible can carry as many guns as possible into as many places as possible. Since the people who want to do so have driven the discussion and the laws on guns, it's important to understand where they're coming from. And frankly, it's an ugly place.
The horrific mass killing of elementary schoolchildren in Newtown, Connecticut has served as another reminded that the United States is an unusually violent country. And the evidence is overwhelming that lax regulations of private firearms plays a major role in this unnecessarily high rate of violent death. And yet, it is very unlikely that any federal legislation will be passed in response to the Newtown killings, let alone regulations comparable to those in other liberal democracies.
In the president’s first term, a gauntlet of procedural hurdles stood in the way of progressive change. As Majority Leader Harry Reid promises to reform the filibuster—on the magical day when the new Senate convenes and can make new rules—most progressives are wondering whether it’s an end to many of President Barack Obama’s problems. After all, without the constant threat of a filibuster, Senate Democrats wouldn’t have had to scramble for votes from the centrists who watered down health-care legislation and stalled action on climate change in Obama’s first two years, when he had an outright majority in the Senate.
He’s back. Larry Summers is running hard to succeed Ben Bernanke as chairman of the Federal Reserve when Bernanke’s term expires in early 2014. This is not a great idea, for three main reasons. The first is Summers’ famous temperament. The problem is not just that he’s less than sensitive to women. It’s that he’s a bully in general, cocksure of himself, using others as foils and prevailing by controlling the agenda.
There are some serious, perhaps insurmountable obstacles to any new gun-safety measures being passed through Congress. Specifically, the House of Representatives is controlled by Republicans, and nearly all of them have been endorsed by the National Rifle Association. Those endorsements didn't come for nothing; they're an acknowledgement of past service and a warning against future heresy. And as the GOP has grown more Southern and rural in recent years, the NRA's grip has only tightened.
We're about to start the portion of this debate where we actually begin discussing specific actins the government might take to address gun violence. And as we do, particularly when it comes to those measures that concern the guns themselves (as opposed to measures focused on the people who can get them or the conditions of their purchase), it's likely that gun advocates will start complaining that there's a problem with all these effete urban northeastern liberals making laws governing guns they know nothing about. This isn't new; for instance, gun advocates have long hated the term "assault weapon," since it doesn't really mean anything in particular (after all, every gun is a weapon designed for assault).
We should be very wary of the argument that people who have a lot of experience with guns have some kind of greater moral claim to a voice in this debate (and we should also be wary, as Elsbeth Reeve writes, of coastal urbanite conservatives claiming to speak for "real America" about guns). Yes, having everyone get their facts straight is important. But every one of us is potentially affected by guns, whether we ever bother to pick one up or not. That's kind of the whole point. You don't have to know how to disassemble and clean a Glock to want your kid not to be shot by one.
The optics of Susan Rice’s withdrawal from consideration for secretary of State are disheartening. Ruth Marcus of The Washington Post and Representative Marcia Fudge of Ohio attributed racism and sexism to the campaign against Rice, with Marcus writing that “the attack had something to do with Rice’s gender, and her sharp elbows and sometimes sharper tongue,” while Fudge said “[Republican senators] have never called a male 'unqualified,' 'not bright,' 'not trustworthy,' …there is a clear sexism and racism that goes with these comments.”
AP Photo/St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Christian Gooden
Every mass shooting, there’s a brief flare-up of discussion about gun control, followed by an inevitable dropping of the subject as liberals give up hope that anything can be done about guns when conservatives control the discourse so thoroughly. It’s become so predictable that even lamenting the process has in itself become a cliché. The notion that owning semi-automatic assault rifles that can shoot off six rounds a second is a “right” has become so embedded that many people, including our president, have calculated that it’s fruitless to even try to start drafting legislation that would restrict the sale of such weapons.
Once again, President Obama seems to be on the verge of folding a winning hand. Widely leaked reports indicate that the president and House Speaker John Boehner are making a fiscal deal that includes hiking tax rates back to the pre-Bush levels with a threshold of $400,000 rather than the original $250,000, and cutting present Social Security benefits. Obama, the reports say, will now settle for as little as $1.2 trillion in tax increases on the rich rather than the $1.6 trillion that he had originally sought. The difference, in effect, will come out of the pockets of workers, retirees, the young, and the poor.