The Obama Administration

Can Bibi Take Yes for an Answer?

AP Photo/Seth Wenig T he weeks leading up to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s address to the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday had been the most positive between the U.S. and Iran in decades. Conciliatory gestures from both sides, as well as a reportedly productive meeting between Secretary of State John Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif, culminated in a phone call between Presidents Obama and Rohani, the first ever between a President of the United States and a President of the Islamic Republic of Iran, on Friday. Netanyahu clearly saw it as his job to put the brakes on, like a sitcom father dashing down the stairs to stop the kids from making out on the couch. Except that Rohani hasn’t even gotten to first base. While Obama’s speech at the UN made clear that the U.S. desires a diplomatic solution, with the possibility of a better U.S.-Iran relationship in the future, he has also made clear that Iran’s deeds will matter more than its words. "...

R-E-S-P-E-C-T, Find Out What It Means to the Tea Party

Newly famous Rep. Marlin Stutzman, seen here at left playing dress-up with other members of Congress. (Flicrk/SpeakerBoehner)
I'm always reluctant to make too much of any particular off-the-cuff statement a politician makes, to play that game where people on the other side say, "Aha! You have revealed yourself to the be the scoundrel we always knew you were, and this is the proof!" But sometimes, politicians do say revealing things, particularly in a situation like the one we're in now, where the outcome of a controversy that is already affecting millions of people and could threaten the entire economy is dependent on things like hurt feelings and the desire to feel like you won. So the quote of the day comes from this article in the Washington Examiner , in which a Tea Party congressman sums up nicely the fight over the government shutdown: "We're not going to be disrespected," conservative Rep. Marlin Stutzman, R-Ind., added. "We have to get something out of this. And I don't know what that even is." And there you have it. The part that's most important isn't that Stutzman doesn't know what they want,...

What Happens to Conservatism When the Obamacare War Is Over?

Flickr/Fibonacci Blue
When we look back decades from now, one of the keys to understanding this period in our political history will be the story of how a set of market-based health insurance reforms that started as a proposal from the Heritage Foundation and then were successfully implemented by a Republican governor who later became the GOP presidential nominee, ended up being viewed by virtually all conservatives as not just an abomination but the very essence of statist oppression. Liberals have often expressed wonder or exasperation about the way conservatives changed their opinions about this particular brand of reform. But now that it's driving a government shutdown (and soon a potential default on the debt), we have to acknowledge that it's more than just a policy conservatives hate. The Affordable Care Act is far, far bigger than that. It has become the most important definer of conservatism in America circa 2013. It isn't that conservatives don't still want to cut taxes for the wealthy, or slash...

Eric Holder's Big Voting-Rights Gamble

AP Images/Manuel Balce Ceneta
J ust about everyone who goes through a musical-theater phase at some point falls in love with Sky Masterson of Guys and Dolls . In the movie version, Marlon Brando plays the gambler who will wager “sky high” stakes and finds himself singing “Luck Be a Lady” while rolling the dice to see if he gets the girl. Going all in may be what you’d expect in a fictional singing crapshooter, but it’s a bit more surprising in a U.S. attorney general. Eric Holder’s announcement Monday that the Justice Department was going to bring a lawsuit against North Carolina’s new and wide-sweeping election law , which includes a laundry list of voter restrictions and changes making it harder to vote, showcases just how high he’s willing to make the stakes when it comes to voting rights. His department is now going to be litigating two high-profile cases—one against a voter-ID law in Texas, and the other against the omnibus bill in North Carolina. The DOJ is also involved in a case to show that Texas’s...

Obama's Opening Salvo In the War of Words

President Obama making a statement today.
Starting today, Americans are going to learn three things when they watch media coverage about the government shutdown. First, they'll see Republicans say that Obamacare totally sucks and everybody hates it, and also that President Obama is being super-mean by not giving them what they want. Second, they'll learn that their fellow citizens have a pox-on-both-their-houses view on this whole thing, because nothing says "journalism" like going out on the Mall or to the local diner and getting a few quotes from average folk saying, "They're all acting like children!" And third, they'll hear Barack Obama say that with their intransigence, Republicans are hurting regular Americans. And not just regular Americans generally, but actual, specific regular Americans. Many of these Americans will be seen standing patiently behind the President as he tells their stories. That's what he did today in his first post-shutdown statement, which combined a celebration of the opening of the health-care...

This Madness Will Never End

AP Photo/Marcy Nighswander
I wish I could write something optimistic as we begin the government shutdown. I wish I could, but I can't. In fact, this morning I can't help but feel something close to despair. It isn't that this shutdown won't be resolved, because it will. It will be resolved in the only way it can: when John Boehner allows a vote on a "clean CR," a continuing resolution that funds the government without attacking the Affordable Care Act. It could happen in a week or two, whenever the political cost of the shutdown becomes high enough for Boehner to finally find the courage to say no to the Tea Partiers in his caucus. That CR will pass with mostly Democratic votes, and maybe the result will be a revolt against Boehner that leads to him losing the speakership (or maybe not; as some have argued, Boehner's job could be safe simply because no one else could possibly want it). But the reason for my despair isn't about this week or this month. It's the fact that this period in our political history—the...

Budget Roulette: The Uncertain End Game

AP Images/Carolyn Kaster
AP Images/Carolyn Kaster This budget crisis, weirdly, has nothing to do with the budget. It is the expression of the Tea Party Republicans’ animus against Obamacare, their general loathing of government, and their willingness to resort to wildly destructive tactics. As Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, one of the few heroes in this mess, put it so aptly, “They’ve lost their minds.” A fine irony is that one of the few things that the government shutdown doesn’t affect is the Affordable Care Act, which takes effect today. The Act is a mandate to purchase affordable insurance via hybrid “exchanges,” which are not closed by the failure to approve a budget. In a just world, the extremist Republicans would take the fall. Republicans as conservative as Dana Rohrabacher of California, who came to prominence as an ally of the John Birch Society, and arch conservative Karl Rove, have warned that the Republicans are courting political suicide. “What we’re doing here is shooting ourselves in the...

Why the Tea Partiers Think They'll Win

Their fearless leader. (Flickr/Gage Skidmore)
Way back in the days when bloggers carved their missives out on stone tablets (by which I mean 2005), Digby noted , in response to the nascent trend of conservatives deciding that George W. Bush wasn't a conservative after all, wrote, "Get used to hearing about how the Republicans failed because they weren't true conservatives. Conservatism can never fail. It can only be failed by weak-minded souls who refuse to properly follow its tenets." We've seen that a lot in the years since—the interpretation of every election Republicans lose is that they weren't conservative enough, and if they had just nominated a true believer or run farther to right, victory would have been theirs. There's already a tactical division within the Republican Party about the wisdom of shutting down the government in an attempt to kill the Affordable Care Act. The members who have been around a while understand that no matter what happens, Barack Obama is not going to bend on this one. He won't dismantle his...

Have Too Many Cooks Spoiled Obamacare?

AP Images/J. Scott Applewhite
It's safe to say that if Americans don't understand the Affordable Care Act (ACA) by now—and they don't —they never will. The slightly better news is that consumers don't have to understand it in order to benefit from it, but even so, almost all the problems the ACA has encountered or will encounter are a result of the law's enormous complexity. That complexity grew out of early decisions made by Barack Obama, but along the way Congress added their own layers of complexity in order to pass it, then conservatives on the Supreme Court added some more. There were reasons, most of them perfectly good, for each of these decisions; everyone thought they were responding to reality or doing what was in the best interests of the country. But as full implementation of the law is upon us, we should acknowledge how much damage has been done by all this complexity. In a recent article in National Affairs , Johns Hopkins political scientist Steven Teles bemoans the rise of "Kludgeocracy." The term...

Memo to Republicans: You Lost. Now Deal with It.

Artist's rendering of the House Republican Caucus. (Flickr/Ian Turk)
Imagine you're a third-grade teacher, and the school announces that all the classrooms are going to be repainted, and the kids will get to choose the colors. You let your students each make a case for the color they'd like for their classroom, and it comes down to a choice between blue and green. The two sides give cute little speeches to the class about their favorite colors, and then you take a vote. There are 20 kids in the class; 12 choose blue and 8 choose green. Blue it is. But then the kids who wanted green insist that the color has to be green. They go to the principal's office and make their case that blue sucks and green rules. The principal tells them that the class chose blue, so the walls are going to be blue. Then the pro-green kids return and say that since there was a new kid who joined the class since the vote, we have to have the vote again. Another vote is held; it's still blue. Then the pro-green kids announce that because anyone can see that blue is sucky, they're...

I Was Wrong about Elena Kagan

AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File
AP Photo/Susan Walsh O ne of the central arguments made by In the Balance , Mark Tushnet's terrific new book about the current Supreme Court bench ( reviewed here by Garrett Epps ), concerns the counterweight to the conservative faction led by Chief Justice John Roberts. If Democratic nominees are able to wrest control of the Supreme Court back from the Republican nominees who have controlled the median vote on the Court for more than four decades, Tushnet argues, it is Elena Kagan who is likely to emerge as the intellectual leader of the Democratic nominees. And despite what many liberals feared, there is every reason to think that this would be an outcome supporters of progressive constitutional values would be very happy with. When I say "many liberals," I include myself . My skepticism about the nomination, I should clarify, was not because I thought Kagan was a bad or unqualified nominee, or because I thought she was a closet reactionary. In the context in which Democrats had a...

Boom Times for the NRA

Flickr/Sea Grape
There's a lot happening at the moment—government shutdown, war in Syria, Iranian president sort of maybe not denying the Holocaust—so there was very little attention given to the fact that yesterday, the United States government signed the United Nations Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), commonly known as the small-arms treaty. It's meant to prevent the arming of human-rights abusers—potential perpetrators of genocide, and the like—by obligating states not to sell conventional weapons, from small arms up to tanks and helicopters, to foreign governments or entities that are going to use them to commit war crimes and massacre civilians. When it was voted on by the UN, the only countries that voted against it were Syria, Iran, and North Korea. And today, the National Rifle Association is celebrating. That might strike you as odd, but the ATT is political gold for them. It's the international equivalent of a failed gun control effort in Congress, which is far, far better than no gun control effort...

Hawks at Home—Obama and Rohani's Shared Obstacle

U nless you’re someone who relishes the prospect of U.S.-Iran conflict, President Barack Obama’s speech to the United Nations General Assembly yesterday didn’t disappoint. Recognizing the opportunity presented by the new Iranian president, the speech marked a return to the conciliation of Obama’s first term, only this time backed up by several years’ worth of economic sanctions. While it’s easy to dismiss Obama’s reiteration of America’s commitment to the United Nations at the top of the speech as the usual internationalist boilerplate, the importance of robust American participation in multilateral institutions is something that has underpinned his administration’s approach to foreign policy. (For a wide-angle view of the speech, read John Judis’s excellent take .) It’s this approach—pursuing U.S. goals within a broader multilateral framework—that has facilitated the ongoing international effort to pressure and cajole Iran to address concerns over its nuclear program. Notably, the...

Senator Talks for Hours, While in Real World, Things Proceed According to Plan

Politics is, to a degree we don't often notice, mostly about talking. Politicians describe what they do in heroic, usually martial terms—they "fight" for things, they wage "battles," and so on—but what they actually do is talk, and talk, and talk some more. They talk on the floor of Congress, they talk in committees, they talk to constituents, they talk to each other. There are a few of them, oddly enough, who are not particularly good at talking. But the successful ones are almost all good talkers. So it isn't too surprising that Ted Cruz, the former debate champion who is known as an exceptionally good talker, is able to get up and talk about the satanic plot that is Obamacare for 18 hours straight. There's something fitting about this last stand. Let's recall that just a few days ago, Cruz was being branded a traitor by Tea Partiers simply for acknowledging that the defunding effort will fail in the Senate. So what better way to get back in their good graces than a grandiose,...

Obama’s Foreign-Policy Realism

AP Images/Meisam Hosseini
AP images/Meisam Hosseini President Obama’s attempted rapprochement with Iran and Syria takes him full circle, back to the Obama of the 2008 campaign and the Obama who was (prematurely) awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Evidently the United States is now willing to foreswear the use of force if these still-nasty regimes will give up weapons of mass destruction. It’s both a remarkable shift, and a low bar. This new course presents a tricky set of diplomatic challenges. It falls squarely within the school of foreign policy known as realism: give up on ideals that are unattainable and focus on those that serve core national interests and that can be achieved at proportional cost, even if that means making peace with regimes you detest. In modern times, Henry Kissinger, sponsor of détente with China, was the great advocate of realism—with the notable exception of the failed crusade in Vietnam. Realism says that we should try to get along with even brutal status-quo powers, not topple them,...

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