Illinois

The White House Press Corps Is as Mad as Hell: A Reprise

AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster
AP Photo Circumventing the Press 101 When Stephen Colbert gave the keynote address at the 2006 White House Correspondents Dinner, he suggested to President Bush that he ought to hire him. "I think I would have made a fabulous press secretary," Colbert said, looking out at the assembled reporters. "I have nothing but contempt for these people." These days, a lot of people think the Obama administration is even more hostile to reporters and what they do than that of his predecessor. When it comes to the relationship between the White House and the men and women assigned to cover it, there are a few things that have been true in every recent administration. The new president takes office promising to be open, candid, and accessible. Not far into his tenure, he grows terribly frustrated with the media, believing they are too focused on trivia, too quick to assume the worst and focus on his missteps, and uninterested in his accomplishments. His staff works hard to find ways to get its...

Over-Interpreting Mundane Poll Results

So disillusioned he's just going to lie here until dinner. (Flickr/Corey Thrace)
Have the young turned on Barack Obama? That's the assertion coming out of a poll from Harvard's Institute of Politics, reported in the National Journal with the breathless headline, "Millenials Abandon Obama and Obamacare." "The results blow a gaping hole in the belief among many Democrats that Obama's two elections signaled a durable grip on the youth vote," writes Ron Fournier. In the poll, approval of the President among those 18-29 has fallen to 41 percent. Sounds terrible. But wait—what's his approval among all voters these days? About 41 percent . So is it possible we don't need a special, youth-oriented explanation of the latest movement in the polls? When there's a change in public opinion, it's tempting to pick out different demographic groups and impose on each of them some unique interpretation of what's happening. Here's what the poll's director told Garance Franke-Ruta: "People are disappointed because they are passionate," Della Volpe said. "They're passionate about...

Conservative Billionaires Selflessly Provide Economic Stimulus

Don't worry - they still have plenty left.
It's sometimes said that you can stimulate the economy by burying a bunch of money, then paying people to go dig it up. It may not be all that productive or useful in the long run, but it'll get the job done. You might think that's what the conservative billionaires who funded the outside campaigns to defeat Barack Obama and other Democrats in 2012 were up to when they poured millions upon millions of dollars into an ultimately futile campaign. And now we're finally getting an idea of just how much money there was. First, there's this report from the Center for Public Integrity: Americans for Prosperity — the main political arm of billionaire industrialist brothers Charles and David Koch — spent a staggering $122 million last year as it unsuccessfully attempted to defeat President Barack Obama and congressional Democrats, according to a Center for Public Integrity review of documents filed in Colorado. That's more than the total amount the group had previously spent from its formation...

Darrell Issa, the Obama Administration's Best Friend

Darrell Issa smiles uncomfortably upon realizing he's posing with Judy Collins, whom he's pretty sure is some kind of hippie. (Flickr/Music First Coalition)
When Darrell Issa filled the chairmanship of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform after Republicans took back the House in the 2010 election, he promised that he was going to be a dogged pursuer of the Obama administration. But at this point, I'm genuinely curious about how Republicans feel about Issa. Conservatives sincerely believe that the Obama administration is riddled with corruption, starting with the villainous president and going all the way down to the intern who makes copies in the basement of the Commerce Department. Yet Issa has turned out to be a strikingly incompetent clown, screwing things up spectacularly every time he tries to embarrass the administration and being so transparently sleazy in the way he goes about his work that he never succeeds in pinning anything on Obama. Think about all the times Republicans thought they had Obama dead to rights and Issa couldn't deliver the goods. There was Solyndra, "Fast and Furious," the IRS scandal, and of...

Another Phony Obamacare Victim Story

NBC News' Obamacare victim, who it turns out is not actually a victim.
In the last couple of decades, a particular technique of news-story construction has become so common that I'm sure you barely notice it as something distinctive. It's the use of a device sometimes referred to as the "exemplar," in which a policy issue is explained through the profile of one individual, whose tale usually begins and ends the story. It's ubiquitous on television news, but print reporters do it all the time as well. As the Affordable Care Act approaches full implementation, we're seeing a lot of exemplar stories, and I've been noticing one particular type: the story of the person who seems to be getting screwed. If it were true that most Americans were indeed being made worse off by the law, that would be a good thing; we'd learn their stories and get a sense of the human cost of the law. The trouble is that in the real world, there are many more people being helped by the law than hurt by it, and even those who claim to be hurt by it aren't being hurt at all. To see...

Continuing the Republican Civil War with Immigration Reform

Flickr/Elvert Barnes
Even before the shutdown crisis was over, President Obama was already making it clear that his next priority was going to be immigration reform. So can it actually happen? Right after the 2012 election, one Republican after another was saying that if reform didn't pass, their party was all but doomed, since they'd be blamed for stopping it. The country's largest minority group would be driven even further away from them as a result. You might think that after the political disaster of the shutdown, Republicans would be even more eager to find something, anything that would improve their party's image. But maybe not. Over the weekend, Marco Rubio said that Republicans wouldn't allow immigration reform to pass because Obama was super-mean during the shutdown. "The president has undermined this effort, absolutely, because of the way he has behaved over the last three weeks." Rubio's not the only one with hurt feelings. "It's not going to happen this year," said Representative Raul...

American Public Oddly Reasonable on Syrian War

President Obama addressing the nation on Syria.
When public opinion is running against the position you've taken on something, it's natural to conclude either that the people just haven't yet heard your argument clearly, or even that opinion doesn't matter. And in one sense, it doesn't. If you're right, you're right, even if most Americans disagree. Not long ago, most Americans had a problem with people of different races to get married; they were wrong about that even if they were in the majority. Of course, that's a matter of substance, which is distinct from matters of politics, which can constrain your behavior whether you're substantively in the right or not. So I wonder what Barack Obama thinks of public opinion on Syria these days. I doubt that he's like George W. Bush, who was forever certain that "history" would judge the Iraq War to be a smashing success. By now Obama may have concluded that he'll probably never win the public over on this question, so he should just try to move things along as best he can. There's a new...

The War on Terror Is Still Everywhere

AP Photo/Doug Mills
In May of this year, Barack Obama gave a speech effectively declaring the end of the "War on Terror." Like many people, I was pleased. The War on Terror, which embodies the idea that terrorism is such an existential threat that all other threats the United States has faced pale before it and therefore we had permission abandon every moral standard we ever held to and wage a global military campaign that never ends, has been a poison coursing through our national bloodstream. Its effects can be seen in things that don't on their surface seem to have almost anything to do with terrorism. And despite Obama's speech, it doesn't seem like much has changed. It was only a few weeks after that speech that Edward Snowden's revelations about the scope of NSA surveillance began to come out, and it wasn't as though President Obama said, "You know what? This just shows how things have gotten out of hand. We're going to be dialing this stuff back." He defended every bit of it as necessary and...

The Syria Debate Is Very Good for Some People

Flickr/Gage Skidmore
My assumption all along, one I'm still (uneasily) holding to, is that when the debate is over, Congress will give Obama the authority he's asking for to attack Syria, just as it has every other time a president has asked. (There have been a couple of occasions in which Congress voted against a military action, but in those cases the president hadn't actually requested the vote; they were congressional protests against something that had already begun.) But a congressional rebuke, particularly in the House, is starting to look like a real possibility. This is a Congress unlike any that came before it, and the unusual nature of this proposed action—offered mostly as a punishment for something that already happened, with barely a claim that it will do much if anything to stop future massacres so long as they're done with conventional weapons—may combine to set a new historical precedent. It was pretty remarkable to see Republican members of Congress yesterday yelling at John Kerry about...

Let's Not Give the White House a Blank Check in Syria

With Congress highly unlikely to take the initiative, Barack Obama did something unexpected and good for American constitutionalism: he asked for congressional approval for military action against Syria. His recognition that warmaking is fundamentally a shared rather than a unilateral presidential power is most welcome. But this victory for a more rational policy process will ring hollow if Congress gives the Obama administration everything it's asking for. Admittedly, not everyone sees Obama asking Congress to fulfill its constitutional responsibilities as a good thing. You may remember the second Bush administration from such events as ... oh, I don't know ... the several catastrophic foreign policy blunders that happened under its watch. Rather than permanently hiding their heads in shame, several architects of these military and human rights disasters are publicly complaining about Obama's turn from presidential unilateralism. John Yoo, the arbitrary torture advocate and producer...

President Obama Wants to Talk to You

President Obama at today's press conference, talking about talking.
When Barack Obama made remarks about the Trayvon Martin case, saying there isn't much value in "national conversations" led by a president, it was an unusual kind of candor. After all, having a national conversation is a great way to not do anything about a problem—particularly one that seems nearly impossible to solve. (If there's a problem that's quite possible to solve but would require politically difficult steps, one appoints a commission to study it.) I thought of that watching his press conference today, when he was asked about the various surveillance programs that have come to light as a result of Edward Snowden's revelations. After a somewhat rambling discussion of all the safeguards already in place to make sure nothing bad could possibly come of the government tracking your phone and Internet traffic, Obama said he's "looking forward to having a conversation" about these matters with all kinds of people who have an interest in the topic. A conversation! In fairness, the...

Exporting America's Campaigner-in-Chief

AP Photo/Charles Dharapak
AP Photo/Charles Dharapak B arack Obama's 2012 campaign was without question the most complex and technologically sophisticated in history. That's true simply because the tools available to campaigns grow more advanced each year; the president's most recent campaign was able to understand and appeal to voters in more granular ways than the 2008 campaign did, and the 2008 campaign in turn did things the 2004 campaigns barely dreamt of. But it's also because the people who ran the Obama effort were better at their extremely difficult jobs than their Republican counterparts, just as they had been four years before (having a more skilled candidate didn't hurt, either). So it wasn't a surprise to hear that Jim Messina, who ran the 2012 Obama campaign, has been hired to consult on the next British election, which won't take place until 2015. What did surprise some was that he'll be working for the Conservative Party of Prime Minister David Cameron. So does this make Messina a cynical...

Not Much, But Better than Nothing

President Obama yesterday in Chattanooga with Amazon workers. (White House photo/Chuck Kennedy)
President Obama offered a "grand bargain" yesterday, and although it wasn't particularly grand, it was a bargain: Republicans would get a lowering of the corporate income tax rate, something they've wanted for a long time, and Democrats would get some new investments in infrastructure, job training, and education. Inevitably, Republicans rejected it out of hand. "It's just a further-left version of a widely panned plan he already proposed two years ago, this time with extra goodies for tax-and-spend liberals," said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. At this point, Obama could offer to close the E.P.A., eliminate all inheritance taxes, and rename our nation's capital "Reagan, D.C." if Republicans would also agree to give one poor child a sandwich, and they'd say no, because that would be too much big government. Just as inevitably, in-the-know politicos are wondering, why does he bother with this stuff if he knows what the result will be? Didn't we get enough of this I'm-the-...

The Slow Burn Nature of Climate Politics

During the dog days of summer, most peoples' lazier impulses take over, even more so in Washington, a muggy city built ill-advisedly on top of a swamp. President Obama, however, seems immune to the soporific effects of the heat and is filling up the days with speech after speech of ambitious agenda-making. Last week saw the kick-off of a new five-point economic plan. A few weeks before that, in a speech mostly forgotten by the amnesiatic chattering class (but not so far away as his national security speech, which seems so long ago to be nearly nonexistent), Obama laid out his administration's plan for the environment, a distillation of his views on climate change heard before only in soundbites. Much of that speech was devoted to initiatives that, like the Affordable Care Act, will burn on a slow fuse. EPA standards and weaning the country off coal are important, but we won't see how they affect the environment until decades from now. Because of the tortoise-like pace of climate...

New Look, Same Great ... Boring Taste

In 2005, Barack Obama delivered a commencement address at Knox College in Illinois. It was one of the clearest expressions of progressive ideology a national figure had delivered in decades, an argument against "Social Darwinism" and the trickle-down policies that had gripped Washington for years in favor of a realization that our fates are bound together—and that government's policies should reflect that. It told the story of American history as one in which the forces of radical individualism faced off against those who wanted to act collectively for the benefit of all, and those who believe we're all in it together triumphed. He returned to Knox College today to deliver another speech on the economy. This one was much longer, clocking in at over 5,000 words. There were echoes of that speech eight years ago, as when he said, "We haven't just wanted success for ourselves—we've wanted it for our neighbors, too. When we think about our own communities, we're not a mean people, we're...

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