Illinois

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...

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

Why the Justice Deparment needs some guidelines for how to approach leaks and reporters

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...

Republicans Land a Solid Blow on the Obama Persona

Intel Photos / Flickr
Intel Photos / Flickr President Obama’s key asset as a politician has always been his personal brand. Most Americans have always held him in high esteem, even as they disapproved of his overall job performance. During the presidential election, for instance, Obama’s approval ratings always lagged behind his favorability. For Republicans, this has been a difficult problem to overcome. The GOP hasn’t had much trouble convincing the public that Obama isn’t up to snuff on his handling of the economy, or his overall ability to get stuff done (although a large chunk of that has to do with the Republican stance of categorical obstruction). Even still, the public hasn’t rejected Obama, for the simple reason that voters like the president, and want him to succeed. Which is why Benghazi and the scandal at the Internal Revenue Service has been such a godsend for the Republican Party. Does the White House have anything to do with the IRS decision to heighten scrutiny for conservative groups...

Can the President Create a "Culture"?

Margaret Mead, who would not have bothered to study the administration's culture. (Photo by Edward Lynch, Library of Congress/Wikimedia)
As you may have noticed, the biggest problem with the IRS scandal (from the perspective of Republicans) is that it remains stubbornly removed from the President himself. It's all well and good to get a couple of scalps from mid-level managers, but for it to be a real presidential scandal you need to implicate the guy in the Oval Office in the wrongdoing. Confronted with Obama's non-involvement, conservatives have turned to vague and airy accusations about the "culture" Obama has created. Mitch McConnell, for instance, is warning darkly that Obama may be not too far removed from Tony Soprano: "I think what we know for sure is that there is a culture of intimidation across this administration—the president demonizing his enemies, attempting to shut people up. There is certainly a culture of intimidation." The idea that Barack Obama—whom Republicans regularly accuse of being a foreign-born anti-American socialist communist marxist who is slowly carrying out a plan to destroy America—is...

Michelle Obama Sends the Wrong Message

Over the weekend, the Obamas—both Barack and Michelle—gave commencement speeches to historically black colleges and universities. At Bowie State University in Maryland, the First Lady mixed praise and encouragement with the kind of moral scolding that is familiar to anyone who has spent time with a certain generation of African Americans: But today, more than 150 years after the Emancipation Proclamation, more than 50 years after the end of “separate but equal,” when it comes to getting an education, too many of our young people just can’t be bothered. Today, instead of walking miles every day to school, they’re sitting on couches for hours playing video games, watching TV. Instead of dreaming of being a teacher or a lawyer or a business leader, they’re fantasizing about being a baller or a rapper. […] And as my husband has said often, please stand up and reject the slander that says a black child with a book is trying to act white. Reject that. The perennial problem with this kind of...

Damage Control!

White House/Flickr
Official White House Photo by Pete Souza In the last 24 hours, President Obama has gone full throttle on damage control on the three scandals that have emerged over the last week. To address concerns over Benghazi—which resurfaced last week, following a new (mistaken) report on the administration’s approach—the White House released 100 pages of emails made between the government agencies responsible for drawing up talking points for the attacks. Far from showing a cover-up, or an attempt to protect the president’s re-election bid, they confirm the administration’s long-standing position—that White House officials weren’t involved in framing talking points. This won’t kill Republican conspiracy mongering, but it should lead journalists to dismiss Benghazi as a “scandal” worthy of heightened scrutiny. Likewise, in a press conference yesterday afternoon, Obama moved to deal with the controversy at the Internal Revenue Service by dismissing the acting commissioner, Steven Miller. Now,...

Benghazi Was Neither a Terrorist Attack Nor an Act of Terror

Pinocchios for everyone! (Vladimir Menkov/Wikimedia Commons)
I am hereby declaring 99 Pinocchios on Barack Obama, all the people who work for him, everyone in the Republican party, and most everyone in the press who has reported on Benghazi. This is about what has to be one of the most inane disagreements in the history of American politics, the argument about whether Obama called the Benghazi attack an "act of terror" or a "terrorist attack." Incredibly, people are still bickering over this. The other day Darrell Issa expressed his outrage that Obama had, in his diabolical attempt to cover up the incident, used the phrase "act of terror," which, let's be honest, is almost like saying, "Way to go, al Qaeda!", instead of using the far, far, far more condemnatory phrase "terrorist attack." It's like the difference between saying "steaming pile of bullshit" when you ought to say "steaming bullshit pile"—anyone who can't tell the difference between the two obviously can't be trusted to run the country. Then the ordinarily reasonable Glenn Kessler,...

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