The Obama Administration

Bill de Blasio's Elements of Style

AP Photo/Seth Wenig

When he wins New York City's mayoral election today, Bill de Blasio will have succeeded in branding himself the next big thing in progressive politics. But it remains to be seen which de Blasio shines through over the next four years: the former Hillary Clinton operative who admires neoliberal Governor Andrew Cuomo and is friendly with the real-estate industry, or the activist lefty who got arrested protesting the closure of a Brooklyn hospital and has promised to take on income inequality and the NYPD's sprawling anti-terrorism apparatus.

Long Live the Kludge

AP Photo/The Daily Progress, Jonna Spelbring

Last week’s buzzword was “kludge,” as everyone from Paul Krugman to Michael Lind decided that the Affordable Care Act was a perfect example of “What’s Wrong With America.” It’s an argument that Steven Tales made recently in an important essay at National Affairs.

No, Obama Isn't Trying to "Pack the Court"

AP Photo/Evan Vucci

Like a not very bright seven-year-old with a shiny new toy, the National Review has found an inane talking point to run into the ground. "Republican AGs vs. Obama’s Court-Packing Plan" announces one headline. "House Testimony on D.C. Circuit Court-Packing Plan" says another.

Super Sad Spy Story

AP Images/Julian Stratenschulte

Let’s face it, unless Democrats win back the House in 2014, Obama will soon become a lame duck president. To some degree or another, it is a universal truth that second term presidents turn to foreign policy to burnish their historical legacy. Yet the continuous drip of revelations about the NSA’s vast array of surveillance programs is not only shaping up to be the biggest headache for the Obama administration but potentially, part of its defining legacy. And that is sad. Super sad.

Another Phony Obamacare Victim Story

NBC News' Obamacare victim, who it turns out is not actually a victim.

In the last couple of decades, a particular technique of news story construction has become so common that I'm sure you barely notice it as something distinctive. It's the use of a device sometimes referred to as the "exemplar," in which a policy issue is explained through the profile of one individual, whose tale usually begins and ends the story. It's ubiquitous on television news, but print reporters do it all the time as well.

As the Affordable Care Act approaches full implementation, we're seeing a lot of exemplar stories, and I've been noticing one particular type: the story of the person who seems to be getting screwed. If it were true that most Americans were indeed being made worse off by the law, that would be a good thing; we'd learn their stories and get a sense of the human cost of the law. The trouble is that in the real world, there are many more people being helped by the law than hurt by it, and even those who claim to be hurt by it aren't really being hurt at all.

To see how misleading some of these exemplar stories can be, let's take this piece from last night's NBC Nightly News, which uses an exemplar named Deborah Caballaro (sorry if I've misspelled her name), a self-employed realtor from Los Angeles who buys insurance on the individual market:

The Biggest Design Flaw in Healthcare.gov

The pathway to disaster.

In my column today, I argue that the healthcare.gov disaster has its roots in the government contracting system, where big projects that go past deadline and over budget is standard operating procedure. There is one particular design flaw, however, that I didn't get a chance to discuss there but is worth noting. My guess is that it wasn't given all that much thought, or at the very least, somebody had what sounded like a good reason at the time to do it the way they did. But the result was that the administration needlessly multiplied the headaches it would have with the rollout and made everyone's experience significantly worse, and it didn't have to be that way.

The Next Battle at the Fed

AP Images/Pablo Martinez Monsivais

With the Administration’s stunning decision to name Janet Yellen to chair the Federal Reserve, at least one major government institution will weigh in strongly on the side of economic recovery, right?

Well, maybe.

Mission Affordabled: Why Obama’s Website Problems Aren’t “His Iraq”

AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

Yes, the Affordable Care Act website rollout has been a fiasco. And, as always happens when political catastrophe strikes, the wave of bad analogies has rushed in its wake. One in particular that’s gaining ground: Healthcare.gov is for Barack Obama’s presidency what the invasion of Iraq was to George W. Bush’s administration, complete with outraged liberal reactions to it.

Here’s the funny thing: it’s a bad analogy, which could turn out to be accurate … but probably won’t.

No, Healthcare.gov's Problems Will Not Offer the GOP Political Deliverance

Some of the healthcare.gov contractors testifying today.

Today marks the beginning of what will surely be a series of hearings in Congress at which members will fulminate and shake their fists at various people who had responsibility for creating healthcare.gov. It's quite something to see some congressman who's still struggling to figure out how to work the Blackberry his staff gave him asking questions about beta testing and error logs and a bunch of other stuff he doesn't begin to understand. But maybe the weirdest thing is the feeling one gets from the GOP over the last few days, which can be summarized as, "We got 'em now!" They seem to believe that the web site problems are going to provide the deliverance they've been waiting for after the political disaster of the government shutdown.

Here's a little prediction: Feigned Republican outrage over the ACA web site is going to be just as effective in reversing the GOP's current fortunes as feigned Republican outrage over Benghazi was in undoing Barack Obama's re-election bid.

Big Bank Punishments Don't Fit Their Crimes

AP Images/Richard Drew

With the Justice Department desperate to rehabilitate its image as a diligent prosecutor of financial fraud, securing a headline like “the largest fine against a single company in history” is a lifeline. A tentative deal would force JPMorgan Chase to pay a $9 billion fine and commit $4 billion in mortgage relief, to settle multiple investigations into their mortgage-backed securities business. The bank stands accused of knowingly selling investors mortgage bonds backed by loans that didn’t meet quality control standards outlined in its investment materials. JPMorgan Chase wants to “pay for peace” in this deal, ending all civil litigation around mortgage-backed securities by state and federal law enforcement (at least one criminal case would remain open).

Before Long, We'll Forget about the Problems with Healthcare.gov

I'll confess that I was pretty surprised about the difficulties healthcare.gov has been having. After all, despite all the complexities of creating this system, and de it wasn't exactly hard to foresee that the workability of the exchange website would be a very big deal. So you'd think that once a day or so for the last six months, the President would be calling the Secretary of Health and Human Services and saying, "This is going to go smooth as silk, right? Don't let me down, Kathleen." And she'd light a fire under everybody reporting to her to make damn well sure it did, so they wouldn't have to scramble like mad to fix a hundred problems once it had already launched. While the different things the site has to do certainly present technical challenges, they're hardly insurmountable.

Now, you might just put it down to the fact that the whole thing was outsourced to private corporations, and we all know you can't trust the private sector to do anything without screwing it up (ha!). But while there's no doubt the Obama administration deserves plenty of criticism for the difficulties, ask yourself this: Ten years from now, will the workability of healthcare.gov be something we as a nation are going to be spending a lot of time talking about?

Continuing the Republican Civil War with Immigration Reform

Flickr/Elvert Barnes

Even before the shutdown crisis was over, President Obama was already making it clear that his next priority was going to be immigration reform. So can it actually happen? Right after the 2012 election, one Republican after another was saying that if reform didn't pass, their party was all but doomed, since they'd be blamed for stopping it, and the country's largest minority group would be driven even further away from them. You might think that after the political disaster of the shutdown, Republicans would be even more eager to find something, anything that would improve their party's image.

But maybe not. Over the weekend, Marco Rubio said that Republicans wouldn't allow immigration reform to pass because Obama was super-mean during the shutdown. "The president has undermined this effort, absolutely, because of the way he has behaved over the last three weeks." Rubio's not the only one with hurt feelings. "It's not going to happen this year," said Rep. Raul Labrador (R-ID). "After the way the president acted over the last two or three weeks where he would refuse to talk to the Speaker of the House ... they're not going to get immigration reform. That's done."

OK then. The thing is, even if Obama were sure there was next to no chance of succeeding in passing reform, there are few things he could spend time talking about over the next few months that would do more damage to his opponents.

Four Reasons We Don’t Need to Count Down to a January Shutdown

AP Photo/ Evan Vucci

The government has re-opened, the debt limit disaster was avoided, and something resembling peace has broken out in Washington. The cynics, however, have been quick to note that all of this is only temporary, with the next shutdown deadline falling on January 15. This round of budget squabbling resolved basically … nothing, so another debacle is likely. Ted Cruz is already threatening a repeat of what he just put the nation through.

Don’t count on a sequel to the 16-day hell we just witnessed, though.

Beware a Grand Bargain

AP Photo/ Evan Vucci

Will President Obama and the Democrats win a major battle only to lose the war?

The longterm war that Republicans are fighting is a deadly serious struggle to destroy the most important and valued achievements of the New Deal-Great Society legacy, Social Security and Medicare.

Wall Street billionaires like Peter G. Peterson and Stanley Druckenmiller have been softening the ground for decades by claiming that Social Security is bankrupting the country and destroying future prospects of America’s youth.

A Spine Is a Useful Thing to Have

AP Photo/Charles Dharapak

How much damage have the Republicans done to themselves going into the elections of 2014 and 2016? And has President Obama resolved to hang tough, not just in this round, but in the one that follows and the one after that?

The contrived shutdown crisis proved two things.

Pages