The Obama Administration

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...

How Barack Obama Trapped the GOP On Health Care

It was all downhill from here.
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...

Is the "Mend It" Period of the Affordable Care Act's Evolution Beginning?

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. Sure, cretinous congressional candidates will continue to display their seriousness by pumping paper copies of the law with bullets , probably for years to come. But with this year's open enrollment period coming to an end in a few days, a particular reality is starting to set in, namely that, however you feel about the law, millions of Americans have now gotten health insurance because of it. Repealing it would mean taking that insurance away. So let's look at...

After the Midterms: Impeachment?

AP Images/Peter Dejong
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. Loath as it...

Disrespecting Your Defender

AP Images/Reynaldo Paganelli/NurPhoto/REX
M oshe 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. Ya'alon, however, is not one of Obama's domestic political opponents. Rather, he is Israel's defense minister, responsible for the security of a client state that is heavily dependent on a superpower, of which Obama happens to be president. So it registered several points higher on the Richter Scale of rudeness and irresponsibility when Ya'alon gave a talk last week at Tel Aviv University describing the decline and impending fall of America. In Ukraine, and pretty much everywhere around the...

Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Retirement, and the Value of Term Limits

AP Images/J. Scott Applewhite
T here 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. The argument for Ginsburg stepping down now, made most recentl y by the eminent legal scholar and dean of the law school at the University of California-Irvine, Erwin Chemerinsky, is straightforward and compelling on its own terms. If Ginsburg remains on the Court and leaves the Court with a Republican occupying the White House, the most likely result would be Antonin Scalia or John Roberts being the median vote on the Supreme Court. This would be a disaster for the country and, more to the point, for the values that Justice Ginsburg has spent her life...

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