Most observers, with the exception of those who fervently believe in a “colorblind” America, accept the role race plays in perceptions of Barack Obama. His blackness influences supporters—generating enthusiasm for his candidacy—and detractors, from right-wing provocateurs like Rush Limbaugh. to left-wing critics like Cornel West.
So far, there are three items on President Obama’s second-term agenda: Gun control, immigration reform, and a “grand bargain” on debt and deficits. And so far, Obama has yet to make real headway on either one, despite winning a solid victory in last year’s elections, and gaining allies in the Senate.
Since Obama entered office, liberals have developed a rhetorical trick meant to highlight the extremism his opponents. When Mitch McConnell or John Boehner or anyone else comes out against a policy or approach—new taxes, Keynesian spending—liberals will note these policies weren’t always anathema to conservatives.
Immediately after the shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, the conventional wisdom was that Congress would act to pass new gun control laws. How else, after all, would you respond to the massacre of twenty children? But while Sandy Hook galvanized gun control supporters—including President Obama—to act, it didn’t dissolve opposition.
Having won re-election comfortably and with poll after poll showing majority support for most parts of his agenda, President Obama will soon submit a budget to Congress that features significant cuts to Social Security and Medicare. Why? Well, they are "entitlements," and all right-thinking people in Washington agree that "entitlements" simply must be scaled back.
Job creation slowed to just 88,000 in March, signaling a sluggish economy. And President Obama, with unerring timing, picked this moment to put out an authorized leak that he is willing to put Social Security and Medicare on the block as part of a grand budget bargain that will only slow the economy further. The deterioration in economic performance was all too predictable, given the combined lead weights of the March 1 $85 billion of budget cuts in the sequester and the January deal to raise payroll taxes by about $120 billion. (The tax hike on working people was almost double the much-hyped tax increase on the top one percent, which totaled a little over $60 billion.)
If there’s anything that’s always struck me about the GOP’s response to Barack Obama, it’s the extent to which conservatives have grossly underestimated Obama’s political prowess. It seems obvious to me that the first African American president would be a terribly effective politician, but it’s a lesson Republicans are only beginning to learn—four months after Obama won a second term in the White House.
Conservative writer John Podhoretz has a skewed view of Obama’s priorities—he calls the center-left Democrat a “statist” who holds an “anti-exceptionalist” view of America—but he understands the extent to which Barack Obama is a formidable opponent that Republicans underestimate to their peril:
After a couple of days for careful reflection, it's clear: Barack Obama gave an amazing speech. The president of the United States stood in a hall in Jerusalem, and with empathy and with bluntness that has been absent for so long we forgot it could exist, told Israelis: The occupation can't go on. It's destroying your own future. And besides that, Palestinians have "a right to … justice" and "to be a free people in their own land."
In the Bible, the Devil doesn’t show up until relatively late. Most people assume he’s the snake in the Garden, but actually the Devil’s first appearance is around Chronicles, the two books that sum up the rest of the Old Testament. While it wouldn’t be accurate to say that the Devil is an invention of Christianity, it would be fair to suggest that he doesn’t have the kind of mythic resonance for Jews that he has for Christians or, for that matter, Muslims, perhaps because in Judaism no single figure embodies God in the way that Christ and Muhammad do in the religions founded in their names. Over the millennia, as Christians have revised Jesus himself from the at-once historical and obscure figure in Mark (the gospel actually written before Matthew, whose more fantastical and spectacular take on Jesus and particularly the resurrection upstaged Mark and thus became definitive) to the judgmental, fire-and-brimstone Jesus of John, the Devil has become more charismatic as well.
Let's be honest here: Congressional Republicans really, really dislike Barack Obama. Yes, they disagree with his agenda, and sometimes they engage in some half-sincere posturing against him for effect, but you can be pretty sure that deep down they just can't stand him. Which is fine—lots of us felt the same way about George W. Bush. But at times, their dislike only serves to make them look silly.
When President Obama got Republicans to raise taxes on the top one percent of income earners as part of the January deal that ended the threat of the fiscal cliff, some Democrats gloated that Republicans had been made to go back on the famous Grover Norquist pledge never to raise taxes. It appeared that Obama, fresh from his November victory and taking advantage of Republicans’ divisions, had won big.
The Prospect's Jamelle Bouie makes an important point about Rand Paul's rare Mr. Smith Goes to Washington-style filibuster on Wednesday. Before Paul started speaking to hold up the nomination of John Brennan to head the CIA, the Senate silently continued to filibuster Caitlin Halligan's nomination to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. Paul's filibuster will get more attention, but the filibuster of Halligan is more telling.
For years, most Americans have labored under the delusion that a "filibuster" is when a United States senator gets up in front of his or her colleagues and proceeds to talk, and talk, and talk some more, not stopping until the opposition crumbles or voices fail and knees grow weak. In truth, these days a filibuster actually consists of nothing more than the Senate Minority Leader conveying to the Senate Majority Leader his party's intent to stop a bill or a nominee, and the deed is done. That doesn't mean, however, that a senator can't do the endless talking thing if he so chooses. And yesterday, one senator did in fact so choose, as Rand Paul refused to give up the floor and allow the nomination of John Brennan to be CIA director to proceed.
Like any number of liberals, I have from time to time complained about the difficulty of having substantive arguments about politics when your opponents refuse to acknowledge plain facts about the world. It's hard to have a discussion about what to do about climate change, for instance, if the other person refuses to believe that climate change is occurring. It's hard to discuss how to handle market failures in health insurance when the other person holds that markets are always perfect and government health insurance is always more expensive. As frustrating as those kinds of impasses are, at least you're talking about complex systems that require at least some investment of time to understand.
But there's a rather incredible dance going on right now in the dispute over the budget that takes every stereotype liberals have about know-nothing Republicans and turns it up to 11. To sum it up, Democrats are being forced to negotiate with a group of people who are either so dumb they can't figure out what the White House's negotiating position is (unlikely) or so incredibly irresponsible that they don't care enough to find out, when doing so would literally take them about 30 seconds (probable). It's hard to find words to describe this kind of behavior. The Republican position is that this negotiation is of vital importance to the future of the country, indeed, so important that they may be willing to shut the government down and let the full faith and credit of the United States be destroyed if they don't get what they want; but they also can't be bothered to understand what it is the other side wants. And these people hold our nation's fate in their hands.