The Obama Administration

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...

Did the Right Set Obama's Agenda?

AP Images/Pablo Martinez Monsivais
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. In his initial essay, Reed argued that progressives had to face up to the "absolute impotence" of the left in American politics and the extent to which Democratic Party elites had limited...

Barack Obama Considers Punching Zach Galifianakis In the Face

Yes, this actually happened.
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-...

Dealing with Iran's Two Faces

AP Images
I srael’s announcement on Wednesday that its naval commandoes had seized a civilian ship laden with Iranian rockets bound for militant groups in Hamas-ruled 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. “You see on the one hand there is this charm offensive” from Iranian President Hassan Rohani and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, Steinitz told The Daily Beast . “And now you discover underneath the mask of this charm offensive, that Iran is still the same Iran.” Make no mistake, this is bad news, the latest exhibit in a sizable portfolio demonstrating again Iran’s destabilizing support for violent extremist groups in the...

The Disgraceful Rejection of Debo Adegbile

AP Images/J. Scott Applewhite
Debo Adegbile, President Obama's nominee to head the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice, was rejected by the Senate earlier this week. This is a dismaying vote, a combination of Republicans increasingly hostile to civil rights and a small but crucial number of Democratic senators too timorous to stand up to Republican smear campaigns. The primary ostensible basis for the rejection of the eminently qualified Adegbile was his small role in the legal defense of Mumia Abu-Jamal. Abu-Jamal was convicted for the 1981 murder of a Philadelphia police officer, and as Michael McGough says it's fair to say that Abu-Jamal has been "the beneficiary of uncritical adulation and a form of 'radical chic'" from some activists and celebrities both home and abroad. Certainly, Abu-Jamal is not my idea of a hero, but this is all irrelevant to Adegbile. He wasn't spending his time leading "Free Mumia" rallies or defending the murder of police officers. He simply part of the team at the NAACP...

Daily Meme: "Free Mumia" Backfires Once Again

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. So yesterday, the United States Senate voted down the nomination of Debo Adegbile to lead the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division, the reason cited by all being that when Adegbile was head of the NAACP's Legal Defense and Education Fund, the Fund filed an amicus brief in support of Abu-Jamal's appeal of...

A Confederacy of Dunces

President Obama is not afraid of this man. (Flickr/Gage Skidmore)
You probably saw a news item about a hearing yesterday of the House Government Oversight Committee. The reason you saw it is that it ended with some shouting, which is a relatively rare occurrence on Capitol Hill, and therefore that became an irresistible piece of news. But what really mattered about that hearing wasn't Darrell Issa cutting off Elijah Cummings' mike, causing Cummings to get extremely angry. It was that the hearing was happening at all. I'm not sure if there's ever been an opposition party more thoroughly convinced of a president's corruption yet so utterly incapable of doing anything about what they see as his crimes. You might think that's because Barack Obama is not particularly corrupt, and that's part of the story. But the Republicans' buffoonery—and Issa's in particular—when it comes to making Obama pay for his alleged misdeeds seems to know no bounds. If I were a Republican, I'd really be wondering right now whether Issa can tie his own shoes, much less whether...

Daily Meme: Vladimir Putin is Delusional Like a Fox

In the wee hours of yesterday morning, while you were still blissfully asleep, Russia's president and tiger-fighter-in-chief , Vladimir Putin, gave a strange, rambling press conference. In it, he insisted to reporters that there were no Russian troops on the ground in Crimea , and likened U.S. foreign policy to a dark science experiment. "They sit there across the pond as if in a lab running all kinds of experiments on the rats," he said. “Why would they do it? No one can explain it.” The strange remarks prompted immediate speculation about the state of Putin's mental health. A few days ago, the New York Times reported that Angela Merkel had tried—and failed—to talk sense into Putin, concluding that the world leader is "in another world. " Julia Ioffe says that Merkel is right—Putin has lost his marbles . But is dealing with Putin really, as Mark Halperin claims, like "playing Russian roulette" ? Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates is "amused" by the headlines. Putin, he says, isn't...

Conservatives Condemn Weak Weakness of Weakling Obama

If Obama started on the Charles Atlas program, no one would kick sand in America's face.
Am I the only one seeing a new sense of purpose in the old neoconservative crowd, an almost joyful welcoming of a good old-fashioned Cold War showdown with the Russkies? Nobody's saying they don't love the War on Terror, but let's be honest, it's getting a bit old. Best to forget all about Iraq, and Afghanistan isn't much better. That jerk Barack Obama ended up getting Osama bin Laden, which was—well, let's be kind and call it bittersweet. But this Ukraine thing is just like old times. It's us against them, a battle of the big boys! Well, sort of anyway. So now is the time for action! Aren't there some missiles we can move into Turkey or something? Ukraine is providing a great opportunity for the muscle-bound manly men of the right, who are totally not overcompensating so shut up, to demonstrate how tough and strong they are. Action!, they demand. Not words! We have to show Putin who's boss! He thinks we're weak! Obama is weak! We must be strong! Strong strong strong! One big problem...

The Left, Viewed from Space

AP Images/Mike Groll
It is, I suppose, theoretically possible to get the big picture right even when you can’t see the small pictures at all. That seems to be the achievement of political scientist Adolph Reed Jr. in his cover story in the March issue of Harper’s. As Reed sees it, both political parties have been captured by neo-liberalism, by Wall Street, by the cult of laissez-faire. The Democrats have succumbed while maintaining, or even increasing, their liberalism on social and cultural issues, even as the Republicans have moved rightward on those same social issues. More troublingly, as Reed sees it, the American left has acquiesced in the Democrats’ rightward movement, backing a passel of candidates and two presidents—Bill Clinton and Barack Obama—who adhered to the economics of Robert Rubin and his protégés. The Left, says Reed, has always had an excuse: If the Republicans are elected, the world will lurch to the right. Backing Clinton and Obama and the Democrats is a defensive exercise, and a...

The Political Failure Behind the Healthcare.gov Debacle

You haven't heard much about healthcare.gov lately, and that's because it's working pretty well. So this is a good moment to think back on both what went wrong and how it got fixed, which we get in a timely article from Steven Brill. The fixing story is an interesting one, but before it's too late, I want to do a little more blame-placing. It goes without saying that much of the responsibility lies with the contractors who did such a terrible job of creating the site. Another way to think about the problems is that there was a missing middle: you had people who understood the technology but didn't grasp the politics, and people whose job was politics who didn't understand the technological challenges. That's intuitively appealing, but I think it lets the political people off the hook. Their screw-up wasn't a result of their unfamiliarity with technology. It was a political failure, full stop. What I mean by that is that the people who are supposed to understand politics should have...

The ACA Can't Fix Our Mental Health Crisis

AP Images/Bob Wands
AP Images/Bob Wands A s more people sign up for insurance under the Affordable Care Act, the next few months will usher in a fundamental change in mental health care. Under the ACA, insurers are for the first time required to cover mental health and substance abuse treatment as one of ten “essential benefits.” This is good news for the millions of Americans who suffer from some form of mental illness but don’t seek treatment. The question now is whether the country’s mental health infrastructure is equipped to deal with an avalanche of new patients. The answer? Probably not. Mental health care is saddled with two problems: It’s expensive and inaccessible. A 2012 survey by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration found that more than 18 percent of American adults suffered from some form of mental illness in the past year . Of the forty percent who sought treatment, more than one-third paid for it out-of-pocket. To put this in perspective, only about 16 percent of...

John McCain Says Ignorant, Belligerent Things; Press Swoons

Protesters in Kiev, a place John McCain knows as little about as everyplace else. (Flickr/streetwrk.com)
I'll admit that I know next to nothing about Ukrainian politics. And when it comes to the current crisis there, I don't have any brilliant ideas about how the United States could solve this problem, but that's partly because the United States probably can't solve this problem . My limited knowledge and lack of transformative ideas puts me on equal footing with John McCain. Yet for some reason, McCain is once again all over the news, now that the situation in Kiev is turning uglier by the hour . What does McCain have to say? Well, he believes that it's all Barack Obama's fault. "This is the most naive president in history," he said, citing as evidence the fact that five years ago , the Obama administration said it wanted to "reset" relations with Russia. Got 'em there, John. Obviously, if a certain someone was president, and he's not not naming any names here, this whole thing could be wrapped up in an afternoon. What does McCain actually think we should do about Ukraine? We'll get to...

Conversations with My Mother

AP Images/Jacquelyn Martin
L ast week I had lunch with my mother. At 86 going on 66 she’s remarkable, alert and energetic, in generally high spirits; in the last decade she’s found the church, which I figure is fair enough for anyone who knows they must be somewhere near the end. Now this enters her conversation more, which I accept as well as someone can who has a higher opinion of God than of religion. Mom and I used to talk about politics a lot, something that always unnerved my wife, who didn’t understand how our contentiousness could be so good natured. But starting with the Iraq War, which made me madder than anything in my political life (including the Vietnam War, when I was a potential draftee), and moving into the Age of Obama, we’ve tiptoed around the subject of politics, for reasons that became clear at last week’s lunch when we skirted the subjects of Fox commentator Bill O’Reilly’s Super Bowl interview with the president, health-care reform, and the weather. Mom is an O’Reilly fan; she requested a...

Horrible Bosses

AP Images/John P. Johnson
AP Images/Warner Brothers D o you believe everything your boss tells you? The answer probably depends—if he tells you the Cubs are going to win next year's World Series then maybe not, but if he tells you your benefits are being cut and explains the reason why, you'll probably take him at his word. After all, he's in charge of the business, so he should know. But Tim Armstrong, the CEO of AOL (company motto: "More Than Just Your Grandmother's Email, Really!") must have thought his employees were pretty darn stupid when he told them last week that he was cutting their 401(k) contributions and blamed the change on the Affordable Care Act. He explained in an interview that the company had incurred $7 million in "Obamacare costs," whatever that's supposed to mean, and later complained that two employees who had "distressed babies" had cost the company $1 million each. It's been said many times that once he passed significant health care reform, Barack Obama came to "own" the health care...

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