The Obama Administration

'Benghazi! The Musical': Dancing, Shouting, Not Much Plot

AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite
AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. I f Republicans in Congress really want to get Americans to pay attention to the Benghazi scandalette, they're going to have to do some creative thinking. Since hearings and periodic expressions of outrage haven't worked so far, maybe a musical would do the trick. A soaring ballad or two, some hopping dance numbers, maybe a pair of star-crossed lovers. Naturally, it would be called Benghazi! , kind of like Oklahoma! , only rather more grim. But in the meantime, they're going to go with a select committee to investigate the matter, as House Speaker John Boehner announced on Friday . One does wonder whether they think that if they just do some more investigating, they'll uncover the real crime. No one knows what it is yet, but just you wait. Or, as is far more likely, they're just hoping to create a lot of bad news days for the administration, where the whiff of "...

Daily Meme: The Demise of the Viral Obamacare Victim Story

The political ground on the Affordable Care Act seems to be shifting—perhaps enough to help Democrats in the fall, perhaps not. But as more and more information about the law's operation comes in, Republicans are having a harder time arguing that all those people getting insurance is a terrible thing. Yesterday, we learned that health care spending spiked in the first quarter of 2014. Even before Republicans could open their mouths, Jonathan Chait (among other people) informed them that this was exactly what everyone knew would happen . Because when you give millions of people coverage, they go to the doctor. Simon Malloy of Salon notes that "we seem to be past the era of the viral Obamacare victim story." And after that, what can Republican candidates say? Because weirdly, "It turns out that Americans really, really like having access to affordable healthcare, and when they finally get it, they use it." So Republicans are trying a new tack. They've released a report claiming that...

The Best Way to Deal With Putin? Take It Slow

AP Photo/RIA Novosti, Alexei Nikolsky, Presidential Press Service
(AP Photo/RIA Novosti, Alexei Nikolsky, Presidential Press Service) Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during a nationally televised question-and-answer session in Moscow on Thursday, April 17, 2014. “A nd then, in an instant, everything changed forever.” It’s one of the great clichés of literature and public policy. Not only overused, it’s often deployed in an overly-deterministic way: “9/11 changed everything.” Well, no it didn’t, at least not until officials acted as if it did, and then decided to change everything: torturing innocent people, building black site prisons, starting (and failing to win) two wars, collecting information on everyone’s phone calls. Sometimes, though, U.S. foreign policy discourse has the opposite problem: Failing to absorb change, it continues to move its legs in mid-air, like Wile E. Coyote, without never looking down to notice that it’s already gone over the cliff. That’s where we are right now with Russia. Putin-huggers and old Cold Warriors...

Who's Got the Political Will to Save the Middle Class?

Demonstrator blocks traffic at December fast-food workers' protest in Washington, DC. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
AP Photo/Charles Dharapak I t’s not easy being president during an epoch of downward mobility for the American people. The shrinking of the middle class--a phenomenon to which Americans are historically unaccustomed, most particularly during recoveries-- depresses the president’s popularity, drags down that of his party, and generally plays hell with incumbents’ election prospects. That the American people are downwardly mobile was underscored this weekend by a report from the National Employment Law Project demonstrating that while lower-wage jobs accounted for just 22 percent of the jobs lost during the recession, they account for 44 percent of the jobs created since the recession ended in 2010. Middle-wage jobs, by contrast, accounted for 37 percent of the jobs lost during the recession, but just 26 percent of the jobs created since. Median annual household income is still roughly $4,000 beneath its level before the recession started. Indeed, the most alarming polling for the...

For the U.S., Israel and Palestine: What's Plan B?

AP Photo/Brendan Smialowski, Pool
I f the Obama administration’s view of the Israeli--Palestinian conflict could be summed up in a sentence, it is this: The status quo is unsustainable. “The status quo is unsustainable for all sides. It promises only more violence and unrealized aspirations,” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s annual Washington policy conference in March 2010. “The status quo is unsustainable, and Israel must too act boldly to advance a lasting peace,” President Barack Obama said in his May 2011 speech at the State Department, laying out his vision of the U.S. role in the Middle East after the Arab Awakening. “Today’s status quo absolutely, to a certainty, I promise you 100 percent, cannot be maintained. It’s not sustainable,” Secretary of State John Kerry told the Munich Security Conference in February. “It’s illusionary. There’s a momentary prosperity, there’s a momentary peace.” Although the Obama administration may have coined the phrase, the...

Daily Meme: Embrace the Discomfort

Try to relax; today's meme is all about discomfort. And there's no one feeling more of it than Republicans, who were hit yesterday with the rhetorical stylings of their erstwhile hero Cliven Bundy—Nevada rancher, defier of laws, and racial philosopher. The Republican Party's chief spokesperson, for instance, can't figure out why anyone would associate Bundy with the GOP . "The issue with Cliven Bundy has absolutely nothing to do with his party, zero," he said. After all, it's not like the GOP's chief organ in the media had been giving the guy blanket coverage all the while Republican politicians were praising his crusade. I mean, c'mon. Republicans are also being made uncomfortable by their own candidates, who haven't all gotten the message on the "outreach" the party is supposed to be doing. Here's one who has proposed an effort to round up and deport every undocumented immigrant in the country , which he calls, no kidding, "Operation Wetback." Here's one who said it was an "...

Pardon Me, Mr. President?

Flickr/Salticidae
Flickr/Victoria Pickering T his week, the Department of Justice (DOJ) announced the start of a new initiative on clemency, encouraging thousands of inmates—particularly those convicted during the Drug War crackdown of the 1990s—to send in petitions to have their sentences commuted. The new initiative offers six new criteria by which petitioners will be judged, including the following: prisoners must have served 10 years of their sentence, must not have lengthy criminal records or gang convictions, and show that they would have gotten off with a lighter sentence had they been tried today. In his more than five years in office, Obama has been the stingiest president in history when it comes to granting pardons; the new program could make him one of the most generous. But the biggest news for criminal-justice reformers has been the administration’s appointment of a new pardon attorney to oversee the program: Deborah Leff , who spent her years at DOJ working on the Access to Justice...

The Religion of Unreason

Flickr/Dustin Grayson
I think it's safe to say that this period in history is one in which liberals have felt unusually exasperated with conservatives, perhaps more than ever before. I can say this with some confidence as a liberal who runs in liberal circles; it may well be that conservatives are also more exasperated with liberals than they have ever been. Our ability to feed that exasperation is driven by the fact that, for all the polarization of information sources, we're actually more aware of what people on the other side say than we ever have been before. Fifteen years ago, I would have had no idea if Rush Limbaugh said something offensive, but today (once it rises to a certain level of horror), Media Matters will record it and put it on their web site, the Huffington Post will put it on their web site, and half a dozen people in my Twitter feed will let me know it happened. So there are all kinds of new ways to become appalled with your opponents. And there's nothing we liberals find more...

Manly Men Condemn Obama's Lack of Manliness

Maybe one of these guys should run for president. (Flickr/David!)
Here's a question: If Hillary Clinton becomes president, what are conservatives going to say when they want to criticize her for not invading a sufficient number of other countries? I ask because yesterday, David Brooks said on Meet the Press that Barack Obama has "a manhood problem in the Middle East." Because if he were more manly, then by now the Israelis and Palestinians would have resolved their differences, Iraq would be a thriving, peaceful democracy, and Iran would have given up its nuclear ambitions. Just like when George W. Bush was president, right? It really is remarkable how persistent and lacking in self-awareness the conservative obsession with presidential testosterone is. Here's the exchange: DAVID BROOKS: And, let's face it, Obama, whether deservedly or not, does have a (I'll say it crudely) but a manhood problem in the Middle East: Is he tough enough to stand up to somebody like Assad, somebody like Putin? I think a lot of the rap is unfair. But certainly in the...

A Chance to Remake the Fed

J anet Yellen has only chaired the Federal Reserve for a few months, but you could forgive her if she feels like the new kid in school that nobody wants to sit with at lunchtime. With the resignation of Jeremy Stein earlier this month, there are only two confirmed members of the seven-member Board of Governors: Yellen and Daniel Tarullo. Three nominees—Stan Fischer, Lael Brainard and Jerome Powell, (whose term expired but has been re-nominated)—await confirmation from the Senate. Another two slots are vacant, awaiting nominations. One consequence of the shortage of Fed governors is that regional Federal Reserve Bank presidents, chosen by private banks, now outnumber Board members at monetary policy meetings, allowing the private sector to effectively dictate monetary policy from the inside, and creating what some call a constitutional crisis . The need for two more nominees, however, provides an opportunity to reunite the progressive coalition that prevented Larry Summers from getting...

Judging Obama's "Evolution" on Marriage Equality

White House photo by Pete Souza
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...

Uncivil Disobedience and the Opposite of Patriotism

BLM land in Nevada (Flickr/Ken Lund)
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. Briefly: for 20 years Bundy has...

The Missing Generation of Obama-Inspired Politicians

You can see the disillusionment on their faces.
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: But if Mr. Lesser, who is on leave from Harvard Law School to run for office, is the face of the promised Obama political generation, he is also one of its few participants. For all the talk about the movement that elected Mr. Obama, the more notable movement of Obama supporters has been away from politics. It appears that few of the young people who voted for him, and even fewer Obama campaign and administration operatives, have decided to run for office. Far more have joined the high-paid consultant ranks. Unlike John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan, who inspired virtual...

Poof! Israelis and Palestinians Head for the Brink

AP Images/Brendan Smialowski
O n 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. In a much more basic way, Lieberman really doesn't know where he's going, nor does Secretary of State John Kerry, with whom Lieberman met in Washington, nor Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas, and sleepless anxiety is the proper state of mind for anyone involved in the triangular Israeli-Palestinian-U.S. non-negotiations. Abbas's logical, desperate...

Yes, Being a Woman Makes You Poorer

AP Images/Susan Walsh
S enate 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. Elsewhere, pundits and writers wanted to discuss whether the pay gap really existed. A few years ago, some conservatives and a few liberals began to attack the much-talked-about fact that women make 77 cents to every man’s dollar as untrue, based largely on the idea that the gap itself was mostly accounted for by...

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