Politics of the United States

We Hate Obamacare (But Like What It Does)

The word on Americans—one bit of conventional wisdom that is nonetheless true—is that they are ideologically conservative and operationally liberal. They are opposed to big government but support actual universal government programs like Social Security and Medicare. Confronted with Obamacare, conservative Americans have taken this paradox to new heights. They intensely dislike the program, but they like what it actually does. The New York Times has a poll of four Southern states (Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, North Carolina) out today, undertaken in conjunction with the Kaiser Family Foundation. It shows that most of those states’ residents “still loathe the law,” but that majorities in three of those states and a plurality in the fourth don’t want Congress to repeal and replace it. They just want Congress to improve it. In Kentucky, which established its own exchange under Obamacare’s stipulations, a majority believed that the exchange was working well. In Arkansas, which has...

Daily Meme: Ladies' Choice

Nothing sparks speculation in Washington like a new political memoir, but two are a true bonanza, enough fodder for days of online chatter. Last week, Hillary Clinton announced that the story of her four years as Secretary of State, the unimaginatively named Hard Choices , will appear in bookstores in June. Although Clinton has yet to officially declare her candidacy for the presidential nomination in 2016, publishing the book is as good as throwing her hat in the ring, at least according to some . Or maybe she just needs a book tour to stroke her ego , says Peggy Noonan. Just as the mania over the new Clinton opus began to wane today, Elizabeth Warren's memoir hit the shelves , bringing the debate over Clinton's chances roaring back to life. Warren continues to insist that she isn't running for president in 2016. But the book reads a lot like a campaign ad . There's also the question of why she chose to write the book in the first place. Political memoirs, after all, rarely sell well...

How Big Data Could Undo Our Civil-Rights Laws

iStockPhoto
iStockPhoto B ig Data will eradicate extreme world poverty by 2028, according to Bono , front man for the band U2. But it also allows unscrupulous marketers and financial institutions to prey on the poor . Big Data, collected from the neonatal monitors of premature babies , can detect subtle warning signs of infection, allowing doctors to intervene earlier and save lives. But it can also help a big-box store identify a pregnant teenager —and carelessly inform her parents by sending coupons for baby items to her home. News-mining algorithms might have been able to predict the Arab Spring . But Big Data was certainly used to spy on American Muslims when the New York City Police Department collected license plate numbers of cars parked near mosques, and aimed surveillance cameras at Arab-American community and religious institutions. Until recently, debate about the role of metadata and algorithms in American politics focused narrowly on consumer privacy protections and Edward Snowden’s...

Republicans on the ACA: Wrong, but Rational

Courtesy of earloftaint.com
I find it strange," said Barack Obama on Thursday as he announced that the total of Americans getting private insurance through the exchanges has now exceeded 8 million, "that the Republican position on this law is still stuck in the same place that it has always been. They still can't bring themselves to admit that the Affordable Care Act is working." But it really isn't so strange. The Republicans' continued refusal to grant that anything good could possibly come from a law they've fought so bitterly for five years, even as encouraging news continues to roll in, is quite understandable. What's more, it's perfectly rational, even when all the predictions they made about its inevitable self-destruction fail to come true. Therein lies one of the paradoxes of our politics: At times, the most rational politician is the one who appears to be acting like a fool. Let's say that you're a Republican running for Senate. Perhaps you're whichever congressman will out-crazy his primary opponents...

The Circle of Scam Keeps Turning

Flickr/Kevin Trotman
A couple of times in the past I've written about what I call the conservative circle of scam, the way so many people on the right are so adept at fleecing each other. Here's a piece about high-priced consultants milking the Koch brothers for everything they can get, and here's one about my favorite story , the way that, in 2012, Dick Morris played ordinary people who wanted to see Barack Obama driven from office (he solicited donations to a super PAC for that purpose, laundered the money just a bit, and apparently kept most of it for himself without ever spending any of it on defeating Obama). The essence of the circle of scam is that everybody gets rich at some stage of the game, with the exception of the rank-and-file conservatives who fuel it all with their votes, their eyeballs, and their money. Today there are two new media stories showing that the circle of scam is humming along nicely. The first comes from Michael Calderone at Huffington Post , who reports on an interesting...

Hillary Clinton, Youth Candidate

Who is this hip and with-it young person? (Photo from the Clinton Library)
Our old colleague Patrick Caldwell has an interesting article up at Mother Jones about the way the Hillary Clinton campaign—or whatever we can call it at this point, since it isn't actually a campaign but it isn't exactly just a bunch of independent people doing their own thing either—is going after college students. I had forgotten how idiotically hostile the Hillary '08 campaign was toward college students in Iowa, but that's just one of innumerable mistakes that one presumes she'll attempt to correct this time around. This, though, is the part that caught my eye: I was an Iowa college student myself during the last Democratic nomination, and I remember all my friends rallying around Obama with only a handful of holdouts canvassing for Clinton. She represented everything old news to my generation. We came of age during the tail end of Bill's presidency. The Clintons were our parents' Baby Boomer obsession. The old fights over draft dodging and inhaling were quaintly out of touch...

Strike a Pose

A salt-of-the-earth Louisianan nods approvingly while Mary Landreiu gets mad on his behalf.
One of the central dynamics of American politics in the last few decades has been the sorting of the parties, the way that the Republican and Democratic coalitions have become ideologically clearer and more narrow. There are some ways in which this has been a salutary development; for instance, if like many Americans you're a low-information voter, its easier to figure out which party to vote for than it once was. But while the GOP has become particularly unified—the northeastern liberal Republicans who once constituted a substantial faction within the party are all gone—there are still some moderate Democrats around, even in the South. That means, among other things, that other Democrats have to put up with those Southern moderates doing things that would get them excommunicated if they were Republicans, like making bashing a Democratic administration one of the centerpieces of their campaigns. To wit, this new ad from Louisiana senator Mary Landreiu, who is facing a tough race this...

Stephen Colbert Isn't the Only One With a Fictional Character

Flickr/Reid Rosenberg
So Stephen Colbert will be replacing David Letterman when Letterman retires next year, and you'll be shocked to learn that at least one conservative is spitting mad about it. "CBS has just declared war on the heartland of America," said Rush Limbaugh . "No longer is comedy going to be a covert assault on traditional American values, conservative values—now it's just wide out in the open." Funny, I thought Hollywood's assault on traditional American values was pretty overt already. But this is actually fitting, because I'll bet Limbaugh couldn't care less who's on CBS at 11:30. But Colbert's a liberal, so Limbaugh has to pretend to be angry about it. In other words, he's reacting exactly the way Stephen Colbert's character would. Now it's true that Colbert based his character not on Limbaugh but (mostly) on Bill O'Reilly. And like Colbert, O'Reilly is himself playing a character named Bill O'Reilly, the only difference being that the Bill O'Reilly character is just a slight...

Why Clinton's Gender Problem Will Not Be Like Obama's Race Problem

Here's an SAT analogy question for you: Barack Obama's 2008 campaign IS TO race as Hillary Clinton's 2016 campaign IS TO _______. If you said "gender," you're only half right. I'll get to what I mean in a moment, but this is something Isaac Chotiner raises today at The New Republic : in 2016, we'll get into a similar dynamic we see now, in which "the attacks on Clinton will be seen as sexist by liberals, which in turn will lead to conservatives feeling falsely accused of sexism. You can count on MSNBC, for example, to turn nearly every attack on Clinton into an attack on Republicans for hating women." It's true that there will be an extraordinary amount of sexism directed at Clinton, just as there always has been . But unlike Barack Obama, who spent years planning how to make white people comfortable with his race (which worked for a while , until his victory became a real possibility), Clinton has never tried to make her gender unthreatening. I suppose we could mention the way she...

How Barack Obama Trapped the GOP On Health Care

It was all downhill from here.
Barack Obama has done many dastardly things to Republicans. He regularly ridicules their arguments. He insists on being treated as though he were legitimately the president of the United States. And most cruelly of all, he beat their standard-bearers in two national elections. Is it any wonder they loathe him so? But one thing Obama has done to the GOP has gone unnoticed: he made it impossible for them to be serious about health care policy. By now you're well familiar with how the core of the Affordable Care Act—a ban on insurance companies denying coverage for pre-existing conditions (also known as "guaranteed issue"), accompanied by an individual mandate and subsidies for people of moderate incomes to purchase private insurance—was originally a conservative proposal. The idea was that unlike in most other western countries where a large government program like Medicare covers all citizens, you could achieve something close to universal coverage and health security through the use...

The News Isn't the Silencing. It's the Debate

AP Images/Nanette Kardaszeski
The event was billed as a discussion about "What It Means To Be Pro-Israel." It was actually a screening of a new film ostensibly aimed at proving that the pro-Israel, pro-peace lobbying group, J Street, is aligned "with the Arab side" against Israel. The film, The J Street Challenge, features talking heads of the Jewish right haughtily describing their opponents as arrogant. It begins with a quote from George Orwell, an unintentionally appropriate touch in an thoroughly Orwellian movie. By the final credits, it turns out that the film is also somewhat mislabeled: Its ultimate target isn't J Street or its support for a two-state agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. The target is American Jewish liberalism as such. The screening took place last Thursday in a rented hall at the University of Pennsylvania, under the auspices of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia—the umbrella organization of the city's Jewish community, which could reasonably be expected to stay...

More Than Corruption Threatens the Integrity of Our Democracy

AP Images/Pablo Martinez Monsivais
W hat does it mean to corrupt an elected official? A coal executive walks into a member of Congress’s office with a $100,000 check in hand and says, “I will hand you this check if, and only if, you vote against any fracking permits on federal land—it’s bad for the local water supply, and besides I don’t need the competition.” The Representative accepts the check and then votes “nay” when the time comes. Is that corrupt? Most people would say yes—it’s a paradigm case. After all, there is a quid pro quo exchange—you do this, I give you that. Does it make a difference if that check goes into the Congressman’s personal pocket, his campaign account, or to an allied Super PAC? Probably not to most people. The Congressman wants to be re-elected, probably more than he wants a Porsche, so either of the latter scenarios certainly provides a thing of value. Now what if an environmental group walks into the same Congressman’s office and says “We’re here to talk to you about the upcoming vote on...

Is It Time to Take Rand Paul Seriously?

You're up to something, aren't you, you naughty boy? (Flickr/Gage Skidmore)
Some candidates come to a presidential race with a résumé that demands that they be immediately treated like serious contenders—a governor, a long-serving senator, a former or current vice president. Others have the less tangible quality we might refer to as "talent," which reporters can easily identify and can make up for a shorter list of accomplishments (e.g. Barack Obama in 2008). And there are usually one or two candidates who have the résumé but turn out to be duds on the trail, failing to raise significant money or win over significant numbers of voters (think Tim Pawlenty in 2012 or Chris Dodd in 2008), eventually getting downgraded from "serious" to "we no longer have to pay attention to this guy." But what do you do with someone like Rand Paul? Of course, at this stage you don't have to actually decide how seriously to take him—it isn't as though news outlets are stretched to the breaking point with all the reporters they've assigned to cover the campaign and need to make...

No, Fracking Is Not Making the U.S. More Secure

AP Images/Brennan Linsley
AP Images/Brennan Linsley W hen it rains, it pours, so they say, but pouring rain is not exactly what you want in a drought. The big storm that hit the parched American Southwest at the end of February only scratched the surface of the problem. The land is far too dry and hard-packed to absorb the deluge; instead of recharging the earth, much of the water bounced off the dirt, turning into wasted runoff and even flash floods. These dry lands are dryer than they would otherwise be because of global warming-driven climate change . As it turns out, its not just the burning of oil, gas, and coal that's accelerating the loss of available freshwater, but also the drilling for two of the fuels themselves. A report by Ceres, a non-profit organization that promotes sustainability, found that almost half of the wells that were dug between January 2011 and May 2013 to hydraulically fracture (or "frack") shale rock to extract natural gas and "tight" oil were located in regions with "high or...

If a Candidate Goes to Iowa and No Reporter Pays Attention, Has the Presidential Campaign Begun?

Flickr/Angela Radulescu
There's a ritual we go through around this time, in which reporters and commentators start writing about the next presidential campaign, but while making sure to alert their readers that they feel kind of guilty about it. It's absurd to talk about this stuff when the actual election is still two and a half years away, and now that we've admitted that, let's go ahead and dive deep into who are the leading candidates to be Hillary Clinton's field director! After the midterm elections in November, the obligatory mea culpas, which were never all that sincere to begin with, will begin to disappear from the articles. I say they weren't sincere because those of us who do this for a living love writing about presidential campaigns, no matter how far away the next one is. It's our thing. That, in fact, was number 6 on a 7-point listicle I wrote all the way back in August of last year, explaining why there's so much coverage of the presidential campaign so early. And today, Alex Seitz-Wald of...

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