Illinois

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...

Brave Words, Awaiting a Stronger Program

AP Photo/Susan Walsh P resident Barack Obama gave a fine speech at Knox College, the scene of one of his most effective pre-presidential moments—a 2005 commencement address he gave as an Illinois senator. Now we need to see whether he follows up with a clear and comprehensive program and brave politics to match. On the plus side, he did not shrink from calling out the Republicans for their sheer negativity and their embrace of trickle down economics. If you ask some of these Republicans about their economic agenda, or how they’d strengthen the middle class, they’ll shift the topic to “out-of-control” government spending—despite the fact that we have cut the deficit by nearly half as a share of the economy since I took office. Or they’ll talk about government assistance for the poor, despite the fact that they’ve already cut early education for vulnerable kids and insurance for people who’ve lost their jobs through no fault of their own. Or they’ll bring up Obamacare, despite the fact...

The Privilege of Whiteness

flickr/shaire productions
A s a biracial child who spent part of his youth abroad, Barack Obama learned the feeling of otherness and became attuned to how he was perceived by those around him. As a politician, he knew well that many white people saw him as a vehicle for their hopes of a post-racial society. Even if those hopes were somewhat naïve, they came from a sincere and admirable desire, and he was happy to let those sentiments carry him along. Part of the bargain, though, was that he had to be extremely careful about how he talked about race, and then only on the rarest of occasions. His race had to be a source of hope and pride—for everybody—but not of displeasure, discontent, or worst of all, a grievance that would demand redress. No one knew better than him that everything was fine only as long as we all could feel good about Barack Obama being black. So when he made his unexpected remarks about Trayvon Martin on Friday, Obama was stepping into some dangerous territory. By talking about his own...

How the Conservative Media Are Eating Up the Zimmerman Trial

George Zimmerman during his interview with no-nonsense journalist Sean Hannity.
George Zimmerman's trial in the shooting of Trayvon Martin is coming to a close. For what it's worth, I think he'll probably get acquitted, since 1) the lack of any eyewitnesses leaves room for doubt, and 2) my impression is that in Florida it's perfectly legal to pursue somebody, confront them, and then when the confrontation turns physical and you begin to lose the fight, shoot them in the chest. You know—self defense. In any case, conservative media are feasting on the Zimmerman trial (as are some other media). Their basic storyline goes like this: Trayvon Martin was a thug. George Zimmerman's gated community was beset by roving gangs of vicious black teen criminals. Zimmerman was in the right. And most critically, this whole thing is being drummed up by racial provocateurs, most especially Barack Obama and Eric Holder, to continue their ongoing war on white people, who are the real victims of racism in America today. Let's take, for instance, this little story. After Martin's...

The Magic of Leaked Memos

Flickr/World Economic Forum
Supposedly, people in the White House are told when they start working there that you shouldn't put anything down on paper or email that you wouldn't like to see on the front page of The Washington Post . Not only are lots of documents subject to open records laws, they can be subpoenaed by Congress or a court, or much more likely, just get leaked by one of your co-workers. So you'd think White House staff would exercise some care when it comes to memo writing. Alas, they apparently do not. The time is ripe for some juicy behind-the-scenes tales from the Obama administration, which we'll apparently be getting from This Town , an upcoming book from New York Times Magazine reporter Mark Leibovich. In an excerpt released (leaked?) today, we learn that some staffers circulated a memo with talking points for people to repeat about senior adviser Valerie Jarrett, a longtime confidant of the President's who hasn't exactly been the most popular person on Pennsylvania Avenue. There's nothing...

President Obama. Stop Talking. You're Not Helping.

pamhule/Flickr
You can attribute some of the success of the current immigration bill to President Obama’s absence from the debate. A large number of Republicans are simply unable or unwilling to support a proposal that has Obama’s name attached. By stepping away from the process and leaving it to Democratic and Republican lawmakers in the Senate, Obama set the stage for cooperation and allowed a chance for success—a permission structure, as it were. Yes, there have been hiccups and obstacles—in particular, Florida Senator Marco Rubio’s occasional threats to abandon the bill—but the general view is that, for the first time since 2007, comprehensive immigration reform has a real chance at passing. Which is why it was a bad move for President Obama to reinsert himself into the process with a speech this morning. There was nothing interesting or remarkable about the president’s address—it was one in a long list of immigration speeches that focused on a particular category of immigrants (the DREAMers, in...

Ringside Seat: Following the Law Is an Impeachable Offense

Today, President Obama continued his reign of terror with an act of tyranny that would have made old Joe Stalin blush. If you can believe it, he nominated three people to fill the vacant seats on the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, often called the second most important court in the land. The gall! You might say that it's the president's duty under the Constitution to appoint judges, but that's not how Republicans see it. These appointments are just part of Barack Obama's sinister scheme to remake this great country according to his twisted socialist vision. "It's hard to imagine the rationale for nominating three judges at once for this court given the many vacant emergency seats across the country, unless your goal is to pack the court to advance a certain policy agenda," said Iowa senator and increasingly crotchety grump Chuck Grassley. Yes indeed, "pack the court," by appointing people to fill vacant judgeships. Just like every president has before him. Obama has...

Ringside Seat: There's a Reason It's the "First" Amendment

Of all the scandalettes currently limping around Washington, the one about the Obama administration's aggressive pursuit of leakers, which some argue has led to a near-criminalization of certain kinds of news gathering, has the distinction of being the least compelling to the public and the most compelling to journalists. When Quinnipiac asked respondents which of the three controversies was most important, only 15 percent picked the seizure of journalists' phone records. Not surprisingly, reporters think it's quite important, yet not all that surprising, given how aggressive the Obama administration has been in prosecuting leakers. Subpoenaing reporters' phone records and tracking their movements was not what people imagined the Obama administration would do when it came into office in 2009 promising a new era of transparency. So Attorney General Eric Holder is trying to mend fences by inviting some elite news organizations to come talk with him about how the Justice Department...

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