Executive Branch

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

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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...

Romney's Impatient Plan

(Flickr/Seansie)
Back in the brief window of time during which Newt Gingrich appeared to pose a threat to Mitt Romney’s candidacy, I spent a fair bit of time following him around Florida, crisscrossing suburbanized I–4, listening to Gingrich promote futuristic visions of space exploration and bemoaning the barrage of negative TV ads. Newt let things get to his head a little after his upset win in South Carolina; beyond overambitious pledges to build a moon colony by 2020, Gingrich began envisioning himself in the White House, spending more time talking about how he needed to have a Republican Congress alongside him rather than the urgent need to displace Romney. I began to track his most absurd claims of all: the exhausting list of items Gingrich would cross off on his first day in office before hitting the inaugural balls. Gingrich would ask Congress to convene that first afternoon to repeal Obamacare, Dodd-Frank, and Sarbanes-Oxley while issuing a host of executive orders ranging from one ordering...

The Republican Socialist

A new biography shows that Dwight Eisenhower was a more cunning and active president than he gets credit for. 

(AP Photo/Arthur Sasse)
Does anyone else remember the Western Hemisphere's only functioning socialist paradise? In that bygone land, the top income-tax bracket for millionaires was 90 percent. Thanks to a heavily—and proudly—unionized workforce, collective bargaining resolved most labor-management disputes. To stave off recession, the government instituted the largest public-works program in Country X's history, from which its now largely unwitting citizens still benefit today. Although Country X did possess a sizable nuclear deterrent, the trade-off was a reduction in spending on conventional military capabilities. "Our most valuable, our most costly asset is our young men. Let's don't use them any more than we have to," was the typically commonsensical explanation given by paradise's wildly popular leader for his reluctance to commit Country X to adventurist foreign wars. Despite an excruciating level of world tension at the time, not a single member of Country X's armed forces died in battle on his watch...

A Disaster Waiting to Happen

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Under President Obama, judicial vacancies—and “judicial emergencies”—have become a common feature of the federal bench. Vacant seats have gone unfilled for years, and as a result, district courts around the country have been unable to operate at full capacity. Liberals are quick to blame Republicans, and for good reason; from the moment Obama entered office, GOP senators were committed to an unprecedented campaign of obstruction. Legislation and nominees were held up for the most trivial of complaints, and sometimes, no reason at all. But the president bears responsibility as well; neither judicial nor executive branch nominations were ever a priority for his administration, and at this point— reports the Chicago Tribune —Obama is on track to have an incredibly ineffectual presidency when it comes to filling the federal bench: Barack Obama is close to becoming the first president in at least half a century to finish a full term without making an appointment to a U.S. appeals court,...

Burying Camelot

Mimi Alford's memoir marks the end of America's Kennedy fetish.

(Bettmann/Corbis/AP Images)
The publication last month of onetime JFK mistress Mimi Alford's Once Upon a Secret: My Affair With President John F. Kennedy and Its Aftermath provoked a variety of reactions. I wonder how many people shared mine, which was, "Bon voyage." Why? Because I figure Alford's book almost has to be The End. The torch has been passed and then some to a new generation of Americans. Few of its members give much of a damn about presidential peccadilloes half a century old. Barring the discovery of Marilyn Monroe's lost diaries, it's not inconceivable that America is finally done with its Kennedy fetish. As the elderly Tolstoy —or was it Sophocles?—once celebrated the loss of his sex drive, "At last I am freed from a cruel and insane master." There will, needless to say, be other books—most likely, a whole slew of them next year, the 50th anniversary of that day in Dallas. But that's a dimming industry's last hurrah, no longer reflecting any real public craving. Maybe the counsel for the defense...

Watergate Finally Gets Its Novel

Thomas Mallon's new fiction humanizes the ultimate D.C. scandal.

Watergate: A Novel . By Thomas Mallon, Pantheon Books, 448 pages, $26.95. Mrs. Nixon: A Novelist Imagines a Life . By Ann Beattie, Scribner, 282 pages, $26.00. T his year will mark the 40th anniversary of the break-in at Democratic National Committee headquarters by yeggs with White House connections that provoked the Watergate scandal and led to Richard M. Nixon’s resignation as 37th president of the United States. It’s the kind of benchmark that leaves people who lived through those days facing two realizations, fused by the unwelcome recognition that we’re pretty old. Something we experienced is now as dusty as Ginger Rogers in Gold Diggers of 1933 . An event we were convinced would always resonate turned out to be our random turn on the merry-go-round. All sorts of nefariousness later—from Ronald Reagan’s Iran-contra end run around Congress, arguably a worse assault on constitutional niceties, to Bush v. Gore , definitely a grimmer satire of the election process—Watergate’s Queen...

Why Should the Government Enforce Catholic Church Beliefs?

Flickr/Kim TD
When I was growing up, we had an infinite supply of Catholic babysitters, who all came from families of 7 or 9 or 12. If Margaret stopped babysitting, Mary stepped right in. Once Mary got too old, there was Anne. That was no longer true for my baby sister, born 14 years after me. By the 1970s, those Catholic families had mysteriously stopped adding a new child every year. Now we all know what happened to those families: After 1968, en masse, they rejected the Catholic Church's ban on contraception. In her column today, Gail Collins explains that, now, the Catholic hierarchy is furiously trying to get the U.S. government to come in and enforce its beliefs. Is it really the role of a secular government to take sides in internal theological debates between a church and its members? No one in the administration is making it mandatory for Catholics (or non-Catholic employees at Catholic institutions) to take the Pill, whether for contraception or for the myriad reasons that women try to...

Miracle in Vegas

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On Saturday night, as CNN’s wall-to-wall coverage of the Nevada caucuses was wilting from lack of anything to cover (candidates had yet to appear, vote totals were both low and unchanging, commentators had nothing to say), the network decided to air the one caucus still ongoing: the post-Shabbat Vegas caucus that the state GOP had set up to accommodate those observant Jewish Republicans who couldn’t turn out till the sun set. But the caucus was unbearable. Under caucus rules, the moderator was compelled to call on anyone who raised his or her hand to speak, and an inordinate number of Ron Paulistas, when duly recognized, droned on about the apocalypse to come now that we no longer peg the dollar to gold. (Of course, we ceased such pegging during Richard Nixon’s presidency, so the apocalypse has been a long time comin’.) When one speaker finished, another rose to repeat the previous speaker’s points—so much so that the event’s moderator politely suggested that if prospective speakers...

Conservatives Ditch Corporate Spending After Eastwood Ad

(Flickr/Sachyn)
Conservatives spent Monday being outraged about the Chrysler Super Bowl ad featuring Clint Eastwood. They were upset that the great Western hero and former Republican would highlight Detroit manufacturing, which they argued was an implicit endorsement of Obama's policies. “I was, frankly, offended by it,” Karl Rove said on Fox News. “I'm a huge fan of Clint Eastwood. I thought it was an extremely well-done ad, but it is a sign of what happens when you have Chicago-style politics, and the president of the United States and his political minions are, in essence, using our tax dollars to buy corporate advertising." "The commercial’s theme was more closely informed by Barack Obama’s recent SOTU call for the country to put aside its differences and march to the president’s tune than by the rugged individualism that one usually associates with the star who played Dirty Harry and The Man with No Name," National Review 's Charles C.W. Cooke wrote . I was more ambivalent. It's nice to see...

Super PAC's Little Guys

AP Photo
Federal Election Commission super PAC filings proved largely anti-climactic when the figures were released Tuesday. Suspicions were confirmed that Jon Huntsman's largest benefactor was his father, who chipped in 70 percent of the funds for the PAC supporting his son. And Wall Street bankers have poured millions of dollars into Mitt Romney’s campaign. Restore Our Future, the super PAC backing Romney that pummeled Newt Gingrich in Florida, had, according to the commission’s figures, countless individual contributions of hundreds of thousands of dollars. The group raised $17,947,952.77 off 199 donors in the second half of 2011. That levels out to an average donation of more than $90,000 per person. But, interspersed among the six-figure donations, were eight checks written for $100 or less. Three more people donated between $100 and $1,000. Who exactly were these people who believed that their $100 donation would make a difference among contributions from Wall Street figures like John...

Candidates in Glass Houses

AP Photo
ORLANDO, FLORIDA —No one—save perhaps journalists —is more disappointed than Democrats by Newt Gingrich's poor Florida finish. The former House speaker's continued relevance and attacks on Mitt Romney has provided great news fodder. As Romney's path to the nomination becomes easier by the day, Democrats have gone searching for new strategies to paint the Republican front-runner as a weaker candidate than he actually is. Their newest strategy is to suggest that Romney's success in Florida is nothing more than a monetary imbalance that he can't carry through to the general election. “Mitt Romney’s victory tonight in the Florida GOP primary comes as no surprise—Romney and his Super PAC outspent his nearest opponent by running 13,000 ads to Newt Gingrich's 200, carpet-bombing the airwaves with negative ads," Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz wrote in a press release. "In fact, Romney’s campaign has already spent more on negative ads than John McCain did during...

Newt's Vegas Odds

AP Photo
By one measure, at least, Nevada should be Newt Gingrich’s kind of state. Like the Newtster himself, it’s grown comfortable with divorce, having had the highest divorce rate of any of the 50 states in a succession of decennial Census reports. In a state full of weather-beaten tumbleweeds, Newt’s peregrinations should be distinctly no big whoop. Whether a man can build his campaign on his divorce record isn’t likely to be tested by the former speaker, however. In the state’s Republican caucuses coming up on Saturday, Gingrich’s base is clearly made up of the same Tea Party activists who inflicted Sharron Angle on state Republicans in 2010’s Senate contest. But caucuses don’t reflect or necessarily reward anger. They reward organization, of which Gingrich, by all available evidence, has none in Nevada, unless we count Sheldon Adelson. Both Mitt Romney and Ron Paul, by contrast, have more clearly defined constituencies behind them and, more important, actual organizations. Romney’s core...

Gingrich Campaign Math

ORLANDO, FLORIDA —"I think Florida did something very important coming on top of South Carolina," Newt Gingrich said last night after the results of his loss had already been confirmed. "It is now clear that this will be a two person race between the conservative leader Gingrich and the Massachusetts moderate." This is Gingrich's new line of defense: Mitt Romney may win elections but he has yet to prove he can win a majority of Republican votes. Gingrich used a similar variation during his press briefing on Sunday, arguing that the combination of support for him and Santorum dwarfed Romney's polling lead. Once Santorum dropped out, Gingrich implied, he would gain the full backing of the true conservative vote, and any remaining messy details would be sorted out through a brokered convention. The finals results bore out a different story. As expected, Romney won Florida by a wide margin. But it was such a wide margin that he did manage the feat that Gingrich had termed impossible less...

Behold the Power of Newt

ORLANDO, FLORIDA —Newt Gingrich has publicly pledged to have the single most productive day in presidential history. Gingrich has taken to listing his first-day proposals during recent stump speeches, but he promised to take it a step further when he spoke last night. He promised to release a new Contract With America during his non-concession speech— "a personal one between me and you"—that would detail his plans once he enters office. "We're going to put this together in a way that you will be able to see in writing with my signature, and you'll be able to hold me accountable," Gingrich said. For Gingrich, it's not enough to promise voters that you'll bring change to Washington—you have to bring about that change in the span of a few hours. By my assessment, it seemed like far too ambitious of a plan, just given the taxing schedule of inauguration, what with changing tuxedos between each ball and whatnot. But Gingrich offered a rebuke to my timekeeper's cynicism last night. "All of...

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