Executive Branch

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The American Prospect 's contributing editor appeared on the June 29, 2014 edition of C-SPAN's Washington Journal .

Why the Fight Over Executive Authority Will Define the Rest of Barack Obama's Presidency

Official White House Photo by Pete Souza
Official White House Photo by Pete Souza President Barack Obama returns to the Oval Office after giving interviews in the Rose Garden of the White House, May 6, 2014. I t's axiomatic to the point of cliché that in their second terms, presidents turn their attention to foreign affairs, where they have latitude to do what they want without having to get Congress's permission. By the time they've been in office for five or six years, they're so fed up with wrangling 535 ornery legislators that they barely bother anymore, and without an election looming (and with approval ratings often sliding down), they concentrate on what they can do on their own. But faced with an opposition of unusual orneriness—perhaps more so than any in American history— Barack Obama has made clear that he won't just be concentrating on foreign policy. He'll be doing whatever he can to achieve domestic goals as well, even if Republicans have made legislating impossible. The conflict over the actions he has taken...

Memo to Next V.A. Chief: How Technology Allowed Corruption to Flourish, Hurting Veterans

President Obama has tapped Robert A. McDonald to run the embattled Department of Veterans Affairs. Here's what he'll need to understand about the limits of the V.A.'s vaunted electronic records program.

AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, File
AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, File This April 28, 2014 file photo show the Phoenix VA Health Care Center in Phoenix. Fake appointments, unofficial logs kept on the sly and appointments made without telling the patient are among tricks used to disguise delays in seeing and treating veterans at Veterans Affairs hospitals and clinics. They’re not a new phenomenon. VA officials, veteran service organizations and members of Congress have known about them for years. C orruption has been a part of American government since its inception. In principle, computers and electronic record-keeping promise greater transparency and honesty. E-government tools are now part of the most central tasks of citizenship, including voting, registering births and deaths, and paying taxes. Successful examples range from the utterly mundane: E-ZPass provides more effective traffic control, simpler toll payment for drivers, and collects real-time data about the use of public infrastructure—to the absolutely...

Why Did Bowe Bergdahl Walk Away?

The former prisoner of war may be no hero, but his walking into the night armed with only a knife raises questions about his state of mind.

AP Photo/Voice Of Jihad Website via AP video
AP Photo/Voice Of Jihad Website via AP video In this image taken from video obtained from Voice Of Jihad Website, which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl sits in a vehicle guarded by the Taliban in eastern Afghanistan. The Taliban have released a video showing the handover of Bergdahl to U.S. forces in eastern Afghanistan. The video, emailed to media on Wednesday, shows Bergdahl in traditional Afghan clothing sitting in a pickup truck parked on a hillside. More than a dozen Taliban fighters with machine guns stand around the truck and on the hillside. O ne question seems absent from the countless hours of coverage and debate surrounding the release of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl from Taliban captivity: Why did he walk away? Those attacking Bergdahl and his family liberally cite Michael Hasting’s 2012 Rolling Stone article detailing the circumstance that led up to the Army Private walking off his base in rural Afghanistan. To wit, MSNBC host...

Time for Democrats to Stop Celebrating Andrew Jackson

Democrats have rightly condemned the racist name of Washington, D.C.'s NFL team. So why do they continue to name their fundraising dinners after the president who presided over the genocide of Native Americans?

Sabotsabot.deviantart.com
Sabotsabot.deviantart.com I n February, Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA), then the chairwoman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, wrote an impassioned letter to National Football League commissioner Roger Goodell expressing her disappointment with the league’s stance on the racist name of Washington, D.C.’s NFL team, which stands by its franchise brand, the Redskins. “For you to pretend that the name is defensible based on decade-old public opinion polling flies in the face of our constitutionally protected government-to-government relationship with tribes,” she wrote. Rightfully, Democrats from Cantwell on up to President Barack Obama have joined in the condemnation of the team owners’ refusal to give up the offensive name. In her letter, Cantwell letter excoriated Goodell: “It is not appropriate for this multibillion dollar 501(c)(6) tax-exempt organization to perpetuate and profit from the continued degradation of tribes and Indian people.” Yet there is another large organization...

What Divides Democrats

AP Images/Paul Sakuma
AP Images/Paul Sakuma N ew York–area voters had the opportunity this fall to cast their ballot for one of two Democrats who are divided by more than the Hudson River. Cory Booker, the Newark mayor, whom New Jersey’s electors sent to the U.S. Senate in October, and Bill de Blasio, the Democratic nominee for mayor of New York City, personify two distinct futures for the Democratic Party. Booker is a corporate Democrat—more precisely, a Wall Street and Silicon Valley Democrat—who praises the beneficent rich as sources of charitable giving and policy ideas that can lift the poor. De Blasio is an anti-corporate Democrat who condemns big business and the financial sector for using their wealth to rig the economy in their favor and at everyone else’s expense. The divide between Booker and de Blasio matters because it defines the most fundamental fault line within the Democratic Party. Not so long ago, the Democrats generally agreed with one another on economics—hence the New Deal and Great...

If Obama Wants the GOP’s Help in Syria, He Must Deal with Torture First

AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File
A mong 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. What is missing, specifically? The Republican side of “establishment” foreign policy. That is, a group of people who are certainly Republicans, but are not particularly partisan and who are comfortable working with the similar set of Democrats. Think Dick Lugar; think Colin Powell; think, perhaps more than anyone over the last 50 years, George H.W. Bush. Those Republicans, as Lugar’s defeat for re-election last year demonstrated, have been driven to the fringes of their party (or perhaps out of it; Powell is still a Republican, but supported Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012). Why does that matter for Barack Obama? There just are not very many Republicans...

Central Florida's Corridor of Power

(Flickr/Kissimmee Convention & Visitors Bureau/Express Monorail)
An aerial photograph of Disney World in Kissimmee, Florida I f you want to know what’s different about Florida, both in general and in this election cycle, just ask José López. The organizer and leader of a laundry workers’ union that’s part of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), López has been walking precincts as part of SEIU’s campaign to re-elect President Obama since mid-summer. One day, as he was chatting with an elderly man on his doorstep, his canvassing partner interrupted and asked López, “How much do you know about snakes?” A rather large snake, it seems, had slithered between López’s legs. The elderly gentleman, who, like hundreds of thousands of new Florida voters, had migrated from Puerto Rico to the Orlando metropolitan area, excused himself, returned carrying a machete and proceeded to hack the snake not entirely to death. “The machete was too dull,” says López, shaking his head. “He ended up just beating that poor snake to death with that thing.” “Old...

The Grit and Grace of George McGovern

(AP Photo)
(AP Photo, File) In this August 9, 1972 file photo, with the pictures of former Democratic Presidents Kennedy and Johnson behind him, Senator George McGovern, introduces Sargent Shriver as his vice-presidential pick to the Democratic National Committee in Washington. A family spokesman says, McGovern, the Democrat who lost to President Richard Nixon in 1972 in a historic landslide, has died at the age of 90. According to a spokesman, McGovern died Sunday, October 21, 2012 at a hospice in Sioux Falls, surrounded by family and friends. T hroughout his sixty years in public life, a great deal was written about George McGovern. One of my favorite descriptions of him is by Pete Hamill. Back in the 1972 presidential campaign, he wrote: “George McGovern comes at you like one of those big Irish heavyweights in the 1930s—a little slow, but with the chin shut hard against the chest, the jaw breaching out, coming on, daring you to do your best. ... He might be beaten, but you will know he was...

Obama's Other War

What’s weighing President Obama down? In a brilliant essay, Garance Franke-Ruta of The Atlantic (and a Prospect alumna) argues that the emotional toll of his job—particularly, of presiding over two wars and having to reckon with their casualties—has emotionally “shut down” the president. “Running a drone war that kills innocent civilians, ordering the death of militants, overseeing a policy that’s led to an increase in American casualties in Afghanistan, and delivering funereal remarks at a ceremony honoring the returning remains of a slain American diplomat,” she writes, have taken a toll on the “easy swagger and rambunctiously playful enthusiasm” that he displayed in his 2008 campaign. I think my friend Garance is on to something serious here, but I want to broaden the diagnosis. Every night, we know, Obama reads ten of the multitude of letters that Americans send him to let him know what their lives are like, to ask him for some kind of help. At a time when the American middle...

The DOJ Takes Aim at DOMA

Late on Tuesday, when just about everyone had already left for their Fourth of July celebrations, the Department of Justice announced that it was asking the Supreme Court to take two DOMA lawsuits, promptly. The first was no surprise: You know that the First Circuit already, very cautiously, declared in the Massachusetts cases ( Gill v. OPM ) that DOMA’s Section 3 was unconstitutional. That’s the section that says that, for federal purposes, marriage is between one man and one woman—and therefore that the United States will refuse to recognize any state’s decision to marry same-sex pairs. It’s because of DOMA Section 3 that I’m married in Massachusetts but not in the United States. If that were overruled, the federal government would have to treat me as married, for purposes such as taxes, social security, inheritance, and so on. I wouldn’t have to file as single hither but as married yon. You recall the backstory here, right? Last year, Obama’s Justice Department declared that it...

Context Is Everything

President Obama, about to get yelled at. (White House video)
In the wake of Daily Caller reporter Neil Munro's heckling of President Obama the other day (I called him an "asshat," a judgment I'll stand by), many people argued that we should be respecting "the office of the presidency," even if you don't like the person who occupies it. Jonathan Chait says this is wrong: This wave of fretting over respect for the institution implies that we owe the president more respect than we owe other Americans — a common belief, but one at odds with the democratic spirit. In his farewell address, Jimmy Carter (or his speechwriter, Hendrik Hertzberg) summed up that spirit quite pithily when he said that he "will lay down my official responsibilities in this office to take up once more the only title in our democracy superior to that of president, the title of citizen." The problem with Munro's heckling of Obama is that heckling is wrong, whether the speaker is president or a candidate for the PTA. You don’t start screaming at somebody in the middle of...

Sabotage Makes Sense!

Over at Talking Points Memo, Sahil Kapur reports that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has pulled the “sabotage” card on his House counterpart, Eric Cantor: “You have heard, as I’ve heard, that there’s a battle going on between Cantor and [House Speaker John] Boehner as to whether or not there should be a [highway] bill,” Reid told reporters. “Cantor, of course — I’m told by others that he wants to not do a bill to make the economy worse, because he feels that’s better for them. I hope that’s not true.” Cantor’s office made a speedy response, calling the charge “ridiculous and patently false,” and John Boehner’s office was even more succinct: “That’s bullshit,” said his spokesman Michael Steel. It’s impossible to know whether Republicans have a strategy to sabotage the economy ahead of the election, but it’s hard to fault Democrats for their suspicions. Not only is the GOP obstinate on the question of stimulus—despite wide agreement among economists that the economy needs an...

You Say You Want an Evolution...

Pity poor Jay Carney, getting beaten up soundly yesterday for having to explain the inexplicable: President Obama's position on same-sex marriage. Okay, it's explicable—the White House is obviously calculating that now is not the right time to draw fire on gay and lesbian rights—but that's not the kind of thing you have your press secretary say, now, is it? And of course, I'm explicitly calling him "President Obama," as earlier incarnations of Obama had a quite different position, as Richard Kim shows nicely over at The Nation , where he argues that Second-Term-President Obama will attend a lesbian or gay staffer's wedding, have a moving revelation that it's All About Love And Love is Good, and the evolution will be complete. Patrick Caldwell is right , of course—no one trusts this cautious position, left or right, which is why Carney's getting the press conference equivalent of heckling. You just don't let your vice president and your secretary of education run around saying they're...

Motives, Principles, and Political Leadership

WikiMedia commons
Paul Waldman's post about the uselessness of motives in evaluating politicians reminds me of a question a student asked me this week when assessing the Johnson administration. To paraphrase, my student said that his impression was that while LBJ may have signed two important civil rights bills, his motives for doing so were far from altruistic. My answer was that 1) this is right, but 2) I don't mean that as a criticism of LBJ. One way of thinking about the importance of motives and principles is to consider Lincoln and slavery. While Lincoln was opposed to slavery in principle, the way he considered and dealt with slavery as a public figure was always intertwined with political considerations and compromises with evil. Injecting slavery into national political discourse was, among other things, a brilliant act of political entrepreneurship by the Republican Party. Lincoln was never an abolitionist, and consistently thought that the federal government should not interfere with slavery...

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