Executive Branch

What Can Replace Social Security?

AP Photo/Evan Vucci
Manchester, New Hampshire— Last night, some of Ron Paul’s younger supporters—and Ron Paul supporters are disproportionately young—held a pub crawl through the bars of downtown Manchester. During the first two hours (after which time I crawled away), about 50 largely male Paulists, behaving far too decorously for serious pub crawlers, drank and munched and yacked. Paul himself had arrived in the state just that afternoon—electing, for some mysterious reason, to spend Wednesday, Thursday and Friday morning back in Texas. At a welcome rally at Nashua’s small-plane airport, he spoke in his usual generalities about libertarian values, interspersing occasional anecdotes about unnamed congressional colleagues who had voted to fund one damned project after another. He was hailed, of course, as a conquering hero—Paul’s supporters are the only true zealots among the Republicans this year. One such zealot who turned up at the pub crawl was Nick, who’d driven all the way from Boston. Like many if...

One Strapped Santorum

AP Photo/Donald Traill
Manchester, New Hampshire— The fact that Rick Santorum doesn’t have much of an organization or an appreciable number of dollars has been increasingly apparent during the past several days in New Hampshire. Late yesterday afternoon, his campaign had scheduled a town hall in the back room of Belmont Hall, a modest restaurant in a working-class neighborhood of Manchester. The room was far too small for the crowd that turned out but everyone who’d turned out managed to squeeze in nonetheless. But shortly before the event was scheduled to begin, the restaurant owner stepped to the podium and announced that a fire marshal had shown up and ordered all but 100 of the attendees to leave, which would have meant 150 people would have to go. (Who called the fire marshal? Someone from another campaign, or someone who doesn’t like Santorum?) The volunteer representing the Santorum campaign called a campaign staffer and the decision was made to move the event into the restaurant’s parking lot. And...

Santorum the Moderate?

AP Photo/Elise Amendola
Windham, New Hampshire— Rick Santorum, the darling of the cultural-religious right, came here last night for a town-hall question-and-answer session with 500 eager listeners, only to find that his questioners were so far to his right that he was compelled to sound moderate by comparison. The disappointment— Santorum’s and the crowd’s—was mutual. The event—which was moved to a high-school auditorium three times larger than the venue originally scheduled, and where every seat was nonetheless filled— was hosted by a radical-right local group called the 9/12 Coalition. Alas for Santorum, the 9/12ers selected the first seven questioners, who peppered him with queries at once so arcane and so fantastical that Santorum must have harbored suspicions they’d been planted either by Mitt Romney or Ron Paul. Two of the questions were libertarian, even civil libertarian, though suffused with a conspiracy theorist’s fear that the government in general and Barack Obama in particular was on the verge...

The Wrath of Newt

AP Photo/Eric Gay
Concord, New Hampshire— As the wrath of Achilles was kindled by the slaying of his best friend Patroclus, so the wrath of Newt Gingrich has been set ablaze by the slaying of his own best friend—his ego. Finishing a distant fourth not just to Mitt Romney but also to Rick Santorum and Ron Paul, after Romney’s Super PAC had run a brutal ad campaign against him, Gingrich was fairly blazing in his concession speech last night in Iowa. He not only declined to congratulate Romney but attacked him and his ads, making clear that he’d hang in the race if only to bring Romney down. It was a more subdued and tired-looking Newt who came before a group of college students and then answered questions from reporters this morning in Concord. What was striking about his first appearance was his lack of interest in creating any rapport between himself and the students. What Newt delivered was a lecture, not a speech, on the duties of citizenship as he saw them, which consist chiefly of the duty to...

King of the Playground

President Obama's recess appointment of Richard Cordray shows Republicans who's boss.

AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta
Since Barack Obama took office, the Republican minority in the Senate has abused the institution's anti-majoritarian procedures and "advise and consent" role to prevent President Obama from filling dozens of important executive-branch positions . The unwillingness to hold a vote on the appointment of Richard Cordray to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is a particularly striking example of this. The Republicans do not object to Cordray specifically; they object to the idea of having a watchdog with any teeth acting on behalf of consumers at all and have refused to consider any appointment for the position. As Kevin Drum says, this goes beyond obstructionism and is just straightforward nullification . A minority of one house is trying essentially to repeal legislation duly passed by majorities of both houses and signed by the president. The framers did, however, provide one remedy for the constitutional defect being exploited by Senate Republicans: the recess appointment...

Bye Bye Bachmann

AP Photo/Chris Carlson
WEST DES MOINES, IOWA —Less than 12 hours ago, Michele Bachmann seemed determined to prove all the haters wrong and vowed to waste the next several weeks of her life in South Carolina. Turns out it was all a ruse to gather the media for one last headline-grabbing event. Bachmann announced that she would suspend her presidential campaign this morning at the Marriott in west Des Moines. For the first time in her career, Bachmann seemed to have landed on planet Earth. "Last night, the people of Iowa spoke with a very clear voice, so I have decided to stand aside," she said. Boy, they sure were clear. She came in second to last, just ahead of Jon Huntsman, who drew 5 percent of the vote. That equals 6,073 votes, only a slight increase from the 4,823 people who supported her at the Ames Straw Poll in early August. Back then it looked as if Bachmann could threaten Mitt Romney for the GOP nomination. But the entry of Rick Perry into the race stole her momentum, and she never recovered. Her...

Party Crasher

Rick Santorum supporters marked their candidate's surprise Iowa finish with a subdued celebration.

AP Photo/Charlie Riedel
JOHNSTON, IOWA—The conference room at the Stony Creek Inn in this suburb of Des Moines isn't your typical setting for a winner's party. Then again, Rick Santorum isn't your typical successful politician. The candidate, who had languished at the bottom of the polls for most the year, rose meteorically over the last week before the Iowa caucuses and finished eight votes shy of first place last night. The room was a tight space, but only a small crowd of supporters—around 150—bothered to stop by anyway. It was a calm scene around 9 p.m., when the early results started to favor Santorum. The Iowans milled about, celebrating and waving their signs only when it was necessary to mug for the TV cameras. Besides the two TVs set up without volume on the sides of the room, there was no reliable way for the crowd packed near the stage to receive the results; instead of relying on televised news reports, supporters got the latest caucus numbers from the reporters packed near the exits of the hall...

Gingrich's Judicial Attack Wins Over Religious Right

CEDAR RAPIDS, IOWA —Newt Gingrich's redefinition of separation of powers from the understanding of the past few centuries continues to come under fire from his fellow conservatives. "His comments about the justices and the Congress, sending the Capitol police to bring in judges—that’s not exactly a practical idea or a constitutional idea,” Mitt Romney said on Fox News last night. Former Bush Attorney General Michael Mukasey shared that sentiment, telling The New York Times that "it would lead us to become a banana republic, in which administrations would become regimes, and each regime would feel it perfectly appropriate to disregard decisions of courts staffed by previous regimes." The impractical proposal is doing Gingrich no favors with national conservatives, but I speculated yesterday that they weren't his true audience; he's instead signaling to evangelicals—particularly in Iowa—that he is on their side. Gingrich hosted a town hall in Davenport, Iowa Monday where a small crowd...

The War on Terror Comes Home

Passage of the NDAA brings issues of indefinite detention and military trials to American shores.

AP Photo/Brennan Linsley
It is usually difficult to find an issue, particularly in the form of current legislation, that unites retired generals and admirals, civil libertarians, Tea Party activists, retired intelligence officers, current Obama administration national-security officials, and former Bush administration officials. But this year's defense authorization bill, which passed both houses of Congress this week, did just that. The 666-page bill is a vast document that authorizes $662 billion in defense spending for the fiscal year. Nestled in in this overarching bill are a series of controversial provisions that authorize the president to indefinitely detain terror suspects and require the military to take custody of anyone deemed to be a member of al-Qaeda. The White House issued a veto threat to both the House and Senate versions of the bill. Just about every member of the administration’s national-security team—the director of national intelligence, secretary of defense, secretary of state, CIA...

Your Brain Is Racist

ICYMI : ProPublica and the Washington Post took a look at whether people of any particular race are more likely to receive presidential pardons. You'll be shocked, I'm sure, by what they found: White criminals seeking presidential pardons over the past decade have been nearly four times as likely to succeed as minorities... Blacks have had the poorest chance of receiving the president's ultimate act of mercy, according to an analysis of previously unreleased records and related data . Current and former officials at the White House and Justice Department said they were surprised and dismayed by the racial disparities, which persist even when factors such as the type of crime and sentence are considered. "I'm just astounded by those numbers," said Roger Adams, who served as head of the Justice Department's pardons office from 1998 to 2008. He said he could think of nothing in the office's practices that would have skewed the recommendations. "I can recall several African Americans...

One Small Step for Newt

AP Photo/Bill Ingalls
GRINNELL, IOWA—The emerging narrative for Newt Gingrich is that that he is an unstable politician prone to indulging in crazy theories more fitting a fantasy author than a presidential contender. He's been doing his best Chicken Little impression for years, running around warning about the threat of an EMP attack knocking out the nation's electrical grid (hint: it's not much of a threat). And, he is such a Steven Spielberg fan that he became convinced that the U.S. should invest in building a real-life “Jurassic Park.” During the debate last weekend, Newt's stance on space policy got Mitt Romney chuckling. "Places where we disagree?" Romney said in response to some prodding from debate moderator George Stephanopoulos. "Let's see, we can start with his idea to have a lunar colony that would mine minerals from the moon, I'm not in favor of spending that kind of money to do that." The Republicans in the crowd laughed it up with Romney, who had used a similar line of attack the day before...

No One Can Win the Republican Nomination

AP Photo/Eric Gay
With the air going out of the Newtster’s balloon—not surprisingly, as everyone who has ever worked with him (possibly, everyone who has ever met him) has declared him too unstable and egomaniacal to win—the latest smart-money bet in Iowa is Ron Paul, whose libertarian delusions render him unelectable as well. Mitt Romney, having entered that phase of the campaign where he has to campaign among actual people, is trending downward, too. That leaves Jon Huntsman, who can take votes from Romney but not likely from anyone else, and Rick Perry, who can still boast of impressive credentials but who’s still saddled with an unimpressive brain. None of these guys can win, yet one of them must, unless the gods decree that most unlikely of outcomes, a deadlocked convention. None of these candidates has been substantially damaged by his rival candidates. Their unelectability is the result of their own failings and marginalities—theirs, and their party’s, which has required of its nominees a...

Calm, Cool, and Collected

AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall
There are plenty of reasons to remain skeptical of Newt Gingrich's surge over the past few weeks. Sure, he's ahead in recent polls out of Iowa, South Carolina, and Florida. But Republican voters have proved fickle this election, bouncing from one candidate to the next gaffe after gaffe. After his campaign almost ran out of money and his staff fled over the summer, Gingrich had one of the thinnest field operations of any candidate—it was so disorganized that he won't even be on the primary ballot in Missouri after missing the filing deadline. But Gingrich hasn't been subject to much scrutiny, thanks to the Thanksgiving news slowdown and a break from the debates. When the candidates gathered in Des Moines on Saturday night, it was just the second debate—and the first one unrelated to foreign policy—since Gingrich entered the spotlight, and the candidates were bound to attack the front-runner. For a candidate who had spent most of his time at debates arguing with the moderators'...

Occupy Our Ovaries

Here's a prediction: The Plan B backlash is going to reverberate for quite a while. The ladies are furious that, once again, the administration has backed the bus right over their ovaries, overruling scientific research in the name of patronizing paternalism. If boys and men can pick up condoms as easily as a bag of Skittles, why can't girls and women also bypass a potentially conscience-ridden pharmacist and buy an easy-to-use pill to prevent pregnancy after—after — having sex? Come on, people, it's already happened; if she's too young to have sex, surely she's also too young to have a baby and raise a child. As for wanting parental oversight, well, if the 11-year-old is potentially pregnant by her father or stepfather or uncle, wouldn't it be terrific for her to be able to skip that little nicety? There have been some brilliantly scathing pieces written about the decision. Katha Pollitt announces that the Department of Health and Human Services has decided to treat all women like...

The Journal vs. Fox (Huh?)

Hard though it be to believe, a Wall Street Journal editorial Monday actually had the temerity to criticize Fox News. Not by name, of course—Murdoch editorialists are nothing if not discreet when going after other parts of the Murdoch empire—but the criticism was directed at some unnamed organization that puts Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly on television every night. The criticism came in an editorial on the late, lamented Herman Cain campaign. After noting that Cain was in no way ready for prime time, the editorial asserted that Cain had too many flaws to take on President Barack Obama. At that point, the Journal dipped its toe, gingerly, into criticism of the right-wing media. Cain’s unelectability, it said, is the weakness that the talk-radio establishment overlooked when it dismissed the sexual-harassment accusations against Mr. Cain as one more left-wing conspiracy. Whether true or not, the accusations resulted in settlements by the National Restaurant Association, where he had...

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