Years from now, Barack Obama will almost certainly be seen as the most significant American president in the history of the gay rights movement. Under his watch, the military ended its policy of discrimination against gay servicemembers, the Defense of Marriage Act was abandoned by the administration and then overturned by the Supreme Court, and a majority of Americans came to embrace marriage equality, not least the president himself.
But there's another way to look at that story, which is that on marriage at least, Obama had to be dragged to the position he eventually took. An article in next Sunday's New York Times Magazine by Jo Becker details just what the process was, and if you're looking for evidence that Obama's "evolution" on the issue was purely political, there's plenty. I don't know too many liberals who would doubt it—or conservatives either, for that matter. The former see a president whose heart was in the right place but was cautious about when it would be possible for him to embrace same-sex marriage, while the latter see a president who dishonestly hid his radical agenda.
Back when George W. Bush was president, liberals were regularly accused of being disloyal or anti-American if they disagreed with the policies the administration was undertaking. As Bush himself said, you were either with us or with the terrorists, and as far as many of his supporters were concerned, "us" meant the Bush administration and everything they wanted to do, including invading Iraq. You may have noticed that now that there's a Democrat in the White House, conservatives no longer find disagreeing with the government's policies to be anti-American; in fact, the truest patriotism is now supposedly found among those whose hatred of the president, and the government more generally, burns white-hot in the core of their souls.
We've gotten used to that over the last five years, but I've still been surprised at the conservative embrace of Cliven Bundy, the Nevada rancher who has been in an argument with the Bureau of Land Management over grazing fees.
The 2008 Obama presidential campaign, you'll no doubt remember, was a marvel of social engagement, particularly among young people. They got involved in politics, they saw the potential for change, they sent emails and posted to Facebook and knocked on doors. But as Jason Horowitz reports in The New York Times, not too many of them decided to run for office. I'll solve that mystery in a moment, but here's an excerpt:
On the El Al flight from New York to Tel Aviv, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman wandered into the economy section looking for an aide, or perhaps just too tense after a long week in America to sit still. Lieberman wore the uncertain smile of a man in strange territory who doesn't know where he's going. The young muscular guy sitting next to me, wearing a dark jacket and a shirt open at the collar, the uniform of muscular men who accompany Israeli ministers, constituted an immediate warning against buttonholing his boss. He did mention, however, that no one in the foreign minister's party had slept in the past week.
Senate Republicans blocked the Paycheck Fairness Act yesterday, a bill that would make it illegal for employers to punish workers for discussing wages and would require them to share pay information with the Employment Opportunity Commission. President Barack Obama has already signed an executive order prohibiting federal contractors from punishing employees who talk about their pay. These two actions were pegged to the somewhat made up holiday called “Equal Pay Day” celebrated Tuesday, and were discussed by many in Washington in merely political terms: evidence of attempts by Democrats to woo women voters and a continuing sign of Republicans “difficulties” with them.
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 of markets. When Mitt Romney installed it in Massachusetts, it worked quite well and everybody was pleased. But then Barack Obama came along and embraced it, so all good and true conservatives had to conclude that it was not only a terrible idea in practical terms but a vile and wicked plot to rob Americans of their freedom.
And that has left Republicans in a difficult spot. They would very much like to have market-based health care ideas they could rally around, if nothing else than to demonstrate to the public that they sincerely want to fix what's wrong in America's health care system. But the theft of the guaranteed issue-plus-mandate-plus-subsidies framework has left them with nothing but unappetizing scraps off the health care table, none of which will do much of anything to address problems like the large number of uninsured Americans.
All of a sudden, people in Washington seem to want to fix the Affordable Care Act. And regardless of their motivations, that should be—well, maybe "celebrated" is too strong a word, but we can see it as a necessary and positive development. Is it possible that the arguments about whether the ACA was a good idea or should have been passed in the first place are actually going to fade away, and we can get down to the businesses of strengthening the parts of it that are working and fixing the parts that aren't? It might be so.
As analysts and strategists and politicos keep reminding us, Barack Obama isn’t on the ballot this coming midterm election, except for the way in which he is. It’s now clear to anyone who doesn’t need it spelled out—and if you do, increasingly in recent weeks it’s being spelled out for you anyway—that the stealth issue of the upcoming congressional contest is the president’s impeachment. On the right, impeachment has become the wildfire crucible, and the purest purity test yet for those sanctified few who have managed to pass the others; that Obama hasn’t actually done anything to warrant impeachment, or at least anything as egregious as misleading a public into war, couldn’t be more beside the point. He’s Obama; his very existence calls for nullification; the historic fact of his presidency is a transgression against the national image of those Americans who more and more come to the conclusion that things started going very wrong in this country sometime around 1861.
Moshe Ya'alon thinks that President Barack Obama is a wimp and that Secretary of State John Kerry is mentally incompetent. If Ya'alon were a GOP senator, this wouldn't be worthy of comment. He'd be doing what has come to be the job of Republican politicians: to blame every international crisis on Obama's alleged lack of machismo and to presume that action-hero growls will attract votes this November and two years hence. The job requirements do not include providing realistic policy alternatives.
There is a debate among liberal intellectuals about whether it's appropriate to urge Ruth Bader Ginsburg to step down with the Democrats still in control of the Senate and White House. It's a discussion that brings up a lot of fascinating questions of public obligation and the respect due to individuals. But the key takeaway should be this: The decision about whether to retire should be taken out of the hands of individual justices.
Adolph Reed Jr.'s powerful March Harper's cover story has generated a valuable discussion about the relationship between the left and the Democratic Party. This discussion has been joined at the Prospect, with Harold Meyerson responding to the original essay and Reed countering. While we may be reaching the saturation point for discussion, however, I did want elaborate on a point made by Meyerson about where the Democratic Party is now. A core question posed by Reed's essay is whether the Democrats have continued to shift to right since their retrenchment in the Reagan era, or whether the left's influence is on the increase. Like Meyerson, I'm not persuaded by Reed's argument that the Obama era represents a continuation or worsening of the left's marginalization during the Clinton administration.
When people think back on the attempts of presidents and presidential candidates to engage directly with pop culture, they usually date the modern era to Bill Clinton donning shades and playing sax on the Arsenio Hall Show in 1992. There were a few awkward attempts prior to that, like Richard Nixon participating in the "sock it to me" gag on Laugh-In in 1968. But Barack Obama has probably done more of these appearances than anybody else, not just going on shows like The Tonight Show and The View to be interviewed, but actually becoming part of the entertainment.
He slow jammed the news with Jimmy Fallon, but in that case he was essentially the straight man, which is the safe place for a president to be. After all, he needs to be in on the fun, but not sacrifice his dignity. Nixon may have said "Sock it to me," but his advisers were smart enough not to let him get hit in the head with a giant club. This morning, however, we get a look at what may be a new high in presidential pop culture performance. Believe it or not, Barack Obama sat down with Zach Galifianakis for an episode of "Between Two Ferns."
Israel’s announcement on Wednesday that its naval commandoes had seized a civilian ship laden with Iranian rockets bound for militant groups in Gaza came a day late to be included in the bill of particulars against Iran in Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s annual conference. But it did come in time for a briefing of the House Foreign Affairs Committee by Israeli Intelligence Minister Yuval Steinitz, who used it to bolster the argument that Iran’s only true face is the terrorist one.
In other words, the extraordinary stupid arguments that Republican Senators raised about Abu-Jamal shouldn't be allowed to conceal their real agenda: kneecapping federal efforts to do things like protect voting rights, address police brutality, oppose employment discrimination. The Republican rejection of Adegbile is of a piece with a broader anti-civil rights agenda, such as their ongoing efforts to suppress the vote of racial minorities and the poor and a bare majority of the Supreme Court gutting the Voting Rights Act based on incoherent arguments with no basis in the text of the Constitution.
For some time, a few liberals (like yours truly), and many more conservatives, have used the "Free Mumia" cause as a shorthand for a kind of ineffectual yet harmless activism that always exists in some corners of the left. Whatever the merits of Mumia Abu-Jamal's case, if you brought a "Free Mumia" sign to an anti-war rally in 2003 (as some people actually did), you weren't doing anybody any good.
But over three decades after his conviction for killing police officer Daniel Faulkner in 1981 as the officer conducted a traffic stop of his brother, Mumia Abu-Jamal's case continues to exert power, most particularly the power to strike fear and rage in the hearts of certain people.