Last week, the Census Bureau put out its annual income and poverty figures for 2012. The big news on the poverty front is that the percentage of Americans living in poverty is unchanged at 15 percent, which amounts to 46.5 million Americans. More than one in five kids under the age of 18 are in poverty, and nearly one in four kids under the age of six are impoverished as well. These are numbers we’ve all become accustomed to, but they can still shock the conscience if you make an effort to let them soak in again.
This week sees two big articles about the Clintons, one on Hillary in New York magazine, and one on the Clinton Global Initiative (but also about Hillary) in the New Republic. So it isn't too surprising to see Salon's Joan Walsh pen an article titled, "I have Clinton fatigue—and it's not even 2014 yet." I don't have much of a problem with any of the particulars Walsh cites, but since this is likely to be the first of about twelve zillion articles on the phenomenon of "Clinton fatigue" over the next couple of years, it's as good a time as any to point out that there's something problematic about the whole notion.
There are, without doubt, legitimate gripes you can have about the Clintons, whether it's their Third Way ideology or their accompanying comfort with corporate America (and of course, one can argue that in both these things, Barack Obama isn't much different). You can have legitimate concerns that Bill Clinton could find a way to "distract" (wink wink) from his wife's campaign. But I can't help but suspect that the real problem here is an emotional one, and it's about how Democrats felt in 2008.
Let's be realistic: neither of these guys is ever going to be president.
Do you have an opinion about John Boozman? How about Joe Donnelly? Any strong feelings about John Hoeven? Or Jim Risch? I'm guessing that you haven't actually heard of them, or if you have, you certainly know almost nothing about them. To most Americans they might as well be infielders for a double-A baseball team or Cedar Rapids-area plumbers. In fact, they're United States senators. So why is it that these guys are ignored (perhaps rightfully), while nobody can stop talking about Ted Cruz and Rand Paul? After all, the job of a senator is to make laws, and Paul has no more influence on that process than Boozman. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if no matter how long Rand Paul stays in the U.S. Senate, he never authors a law with any kind of meaningful impact on American lives. He'd hardly be the first; John McCain has been in Congress for over 30 years, and he wrote exactly one important piece of legislation, which eventually got overturned by the Supreme Court.
But the news media (and I'm including myself here) has collectively decided that the things that Paul and Cruz do and say are worth considering. Do a Google News search on "Ted Cruz" and you come up with 67,700 results. "Rand Paul" gets you 28,700 (for comparison, "John Boozman" gets a lonely 506, and "John Hoeven" only 572). Every once in a while it's worth stepping back to note that the decisions that lead to one lawmaker getting that kind of attention are pretty capricious.
Sorry to subject you to another post about the pending government shutdown (It's Friday—shouldn't I be writing about robots? Maybe later.), but I just want to make this point briefly. As we approach and perhaps reach a shutdown, Republicans are going to try very hard to convince people that this is all Barack Obama's fault. I'm guessing that right now, staffers in Eric Cantor's office have formed a task force to work day and night to devise a Twitter hashtag to that effect; perhaps it'll be #BarackOshutdown or #Obamadowner or something equally clever. They don't have any choice, since both parties try to win every communication battle. But they're going to fail. The public is going to blame them. It's inevitable. Here's why.
Earlier this week, top advocates of immigration reform met at the Washington, D.C., headquarters of the National Democrat Network (NDN), a center-left think tank, to discuss the prospects of getting a bill through Congress by year's end. "The fundamentals are stronger than at any time during the last ten years," Tamar Jacoby, president and CEO of ImmigrationWorks USA, told the audience. "[Immigration reform] is a plane on the runway ready to take off." Skeptics might counter that the jet has been sitting on the tarmac for months. In early June, House Speaker John Boehner said immigration reform was set to see the president’s desk by the end of the summer. The White House said the same thing. The Senate passed an omnibus bill in July, but August recess came and went without legislation getting through the House. Now, with the looming budget battle soaking up the Beltway’s oxygen, it seems House Republicans intend to slow-walk the bill to death.
For people who were living in the D.C. area during the Beltway sniper spree of October 2002, the big dislocation of Blue Caprice—Alexandre Moors's new movie about the killers, John Allen Muhammad and Lee Malvo, played here by Isaiah Washington and Tequan Richmond—is that we aren't in it. The surreally spooked atmosphere, the skittish way we'd scan the horizon on public errands, the Washington Post's film reviewer Stephen Hunter venting his gun fetish in the guise of providing useful information … nope, none of that is on-screen. Not that it matters much, since few Washington moviegoers are likely to want to revisit the episode the same week that the Navy Yard massacre topped Muhammad and Malvo's death toll in a single morning.
It's a basic rule of movie criticism that you don't scold a director by describing the movie he or she should have made. In this case, however, the subject matter is literally too close to home; I can't help it that I was living in Arlington at the time. The Home Depot where Muhammad and Malvo killed Linda Franklin—the ninth of the pair's ten victims—was my Home Depot, and so on. I remember having to go there when the duo was still on the loose, and how seeing the flowers in Franklin's memory out front got mixed up with jitters about psychotic lightning striking twice. Countless Washingtonians must have similar recollections, which they won't see recreated here.
A number of policymakers on both sides of the aisle cheered when, in April, the Arkansas Legislature passed a law both expanding Medicaid and transforming it into a service available in a marketplace of insurance options, a move known as the “private option.” Similar cheers erupted in June when Iowa Governor Terry Branstad approved a similar measure. The legislation marked a major accomplishment—not because the policies are necessarily improvements over traditional Medicaid but because they establish politically palatable paths for conservatives who want to increase access to health care. In Pennsylvania, GOP Governor Tom Corbett—who was against Medicaid expansion and this week announced he is is tepidly for it—has pointed to the these new plans as a model he might consider (among other, more controversial changes.) The private option may be a way to make comprehensive health-care coverage viable in other Republican states—but that depends largely on what happens in Arkansas and Iowa over the next several months.
Republicans are likely incur serious political damage in their effort to hold hostage continued funding of the government in exchange for deep spending cuts. This routine has become an annual ritual, and in the past President Obama has been the first one to cave. The 2011 Budget Control Act, which includes the automatic sequester, is one bitter fruit of the president’s past failure to hang tough in the face of Republican extremist demands.
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 actually 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 Washington Post/ABC News poll out today that, despite some rather poor numbers, could give him a bit of solace...
Just another of the dozens of mass shooting sites in America. (Flickr/NCinDC)
Here are some names that have been in the news in the last year; see if you can remember any of them: Andrew Engeldinger. Kurt Myers. Dennis Clark. John Zawahri. Pedro Vargas. Ring any bells? In another country, each of these men would be nationally famous. But not here; they were in the news for a couple of days, and then quickly forgotten. Each of them committed a mass shooting in 2013. We have so many mass shootings—over 50 in the last two decades alone—we don't even bother to recall the perpetrators' names.
And guess what: yesterday's horrific shooting at the Navy Yard in Washington will be forgotten pretty quickly, too.
In a democracy, politicians seldom counsel the public to be modest. They flatter and praise the voters, telling them that they are just and wise, hardworking and principled, possessed of boundless vision and common sense. And here in America at least, they also generalize those virtues from the people to the nation itself. America, Americans are endlessly reassured, is unique and special among the world's countries. It isn't just that we're the most important country, which is undeniable, since we have the biggest economy, the biggest (and most frequently deployed) military, and the most influential popular culture. Those things could change someday. Instead, what voters are told over and over again is that we're "exceptional." We're not just stronger or richer, we're better. Indeed, we're stronger and richer because we're better. And we may well be exceptional in how often we're told that we're exceptional. My knowledge of the electoral politics of other nations may be limited, but I don't recall hearing about presidential candidates in Portugal or Peru who feel the need to convince voters that their country is superior to all others and they are the world's best people.
The AFL-CIO Convention concluded Wednesday, having made some major structural changes in the way labor will operate—though nowhere near so major as the changes that the Federation’s top leader was advocating in the weeks leading up to the convention.
AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka iterated and reiterated that labor would no longer limit its members to those who had successfully convinced their employers to recognize their union. With employers able to flout labor law with impunity, illegally firing workers who sought to organize and refusing to sign contracts with those whose unions had won recognition elections, the number of workers who actually emerge with a contract grows smaller with each passing year. So the Federation’s unions would welcome workers who had tried to organize their workplace but didn’t prevail. It would welcome workers such as cab drivers, who were misclassified as independent contractors and legally proscribed from forming a union, though they were actually employees. It would welcome domestic workers, who also had been excluded from National Labor Relations Act coverage, and day laborers.
Among the lessons of Syria for Barack Obama, there is one that stands out: the destruction of the Republican foreign policy establishment makes his job harder, and the president is now suffering the consequences of his choice to avoid, as much as possible, dealing with the fallout from torture during the George W. Bush administration.
House Republicans' latest excuse for not passing immigration reform—that the congressional calendar is too stuffed with shutdowns and Syria dilemmas—is pretty silly. First, the debt ceiling hasn’t dropped into the fall session unceremoniously from the sky—this is an annual responsibility they knew would return since the last hellish time they raised our borrowing limit. Second, there’s absolutely nothing stopping the House from passing immigration reform ASAP. In a single day, Republican legislators could bring the Senate immigration bill for a floor vote in the House, where conventional wisdom says it has the votes to pass. "This is no longer a debate about policy. We've had ten years of debate," says Muzaffar Chishti, director of the New York office of the Migration Policy Institute, a nonpartisan think tank. "Every element of the policy discussion has been held and held repeatedly."