Over the last twelve years (since the Florida debacle of 2000), I've argued repeatedly that politics in America is characterized by an Audacity Gap. It may not hold in every situation and every controversy, but most of the time, Republicans are willing take actions both small (shouting at the president that he's a liar during the State of the Union) and large (filibustering everything or holding the economy hostage over the debt ceiling) that Democrats are far too timid to even consider. Often it occurs when Republicans decide to violate a norm of how business had been done previously, safe in the knowledge that since what's at issue is a norm and not a rule, there's really nothing to stop them. As I put it some time ago, Republicans are the party of "Yes we can," while Democrats are the party of "Maybe we shouldn't." It doesn't always work to Republicans' advantage, but much of the time it does.
When it works, it's often because the public doesn't know, doesn't understand, or doesn't care. This is probably the case with the dramatic increase in filibusters over the last four years. Republicans surely understood that there was a risk that they'd look like obstructionists and be punished at the polls, but they saw that risk as minimal compared to the benefits to be gained by thwarting Barack Obama's agenda. And the 2010 election seemed to prove them right. And now, they're hoping they can rig the entire presidential election.
Hillary Clinton making a point to Republicans at a hearing on Benghazi yesterday.
Today, Republicans are wondering why exactly they didn't manage to make Hillary Clinton fall whimpering into a fetal position of the floor of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing room, then get up and admit that the Obama administration had engaged in a massive cover-up of their terrible crimes in Benghazi. Senator Ron Johnson, one of the most intellectually challenged members of that august body, with whom Clinton had an exchange that ran on all the news programs, triumphally told a reporter he had got "under her skin," and said, ""I think she just decided before she was going to describe emotionally the four dead Americans, the heroes, and use that as her trump card to get out of the questions. It was a good way of getting out of really having to respond to me." Diabolical indeed, that she managed to evade your skillful cross-examination. John McCain, on the other hand, blamed an "adoring media" for not helping the Republicans really stick it to Clinton.
Could be. Or it could be that when you trump up some inane faux outrage over something, and then the person at whom you're directing said outrage actually has a chance to respond directly and decides to call bullshit on you, you don't end up looking too good.
A few years ago, the political operatives whose job it is to handle press coverage decided that the traditional dichotomy between "paid media" (ads you buy) and "free media" (press coverage you get) was insulting to their efforts. So they stopped using the term "free media" and began referring instead to "earned media." Because after all, when their boss got a glowing write-up in a newspaper, it didn't come for free, that press secretary and her staff earned it! And somebody sure as heck earned this piece in the Washington Post about Louisiana governor and likely 2016 hopeful Bobby Jindal. "Bobby Jindal Speaking Truth to GOP Power," reads the headline, establishing Jindal as outsidery, honest, and brave. The subject is a speech he'll be delivering to the RNC tonight, helpfully previewed to the Post's Chris Cillizza and Aaron Blake, who could be guaranteed to run their "scoop" without the barest shred of skepticism. Shield your eyes, lest the bright light of his truth-telling blind you:
Today, acting on the recommendation of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta announced that he is lifting the ban, in place since 1994, on women serving in combat roles in the United States military. One has to wonder how much longer this would have taken had we not had the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, but the reality on the ground—that women have been fighting and dying alongside their male colleagues for the last decade—made this almost inevitable. What changes now is that women can serve in units like infantry that are designated as combat units.
I'm sure some conservatives are going to start hemming and hawing about how the lack of upper body strength among your average lady-type means this will accelerate the wussification of the U.S. military, and how it was just inevitable under Barack Obama's plan to destroy America. No doubt we'll hear that from Rush Limbaugh, who probably couldn't do a push-up if there was a capital gains tax cut waiting at the top of it.
Just how old can a politician be before he's too old to do his job effectively? This is a question that a number of politicians are going to be grappling with soon. For starters, Vice President Joe Biden is making some noises suggesting the possibility of a run for president in 2016. Before we get to the question of his age, let's get this out of the way: Of course Biden wants to be president. That's not a guarantee that he'll run, but he ran twice before so he has obviously wanted it for a long time, his profile has never been higher, he probably feels like he saved his boss' bacon in his debate with Paul Ryan, he's plainly having a great time as a highly influential VP working on a broad range of issues both foreign and domestic, and like any reasonably successful politician, he no doubt thinks he'd be great at the job.
But Biden will turn 74 in 2016, which would make him the oldest president in American history.
I've spent a good deal of time in the last year pushing back against the twin myths that the NRA delivered Congress to the Republicans in 1994, and then delivered the White House to George W. Bush in 2000. And no one is more responsible for the propagation of those myths, and the fear they inspire among Democratic office-holders, than Bill Clinton. For years, he has told anyone who'd listen that Democrats lost the House in 1994 because he passed an assault weapons ban and gun owners punished his party for it. He'll also say that guns were the reason Al Gore lost to George W. Bush in 2000. And now, at a moment when the prospects for meaningful restrictions on gun proliferation are greater than they have been in two decades, he's at it again.
As I watched Barack Obama's speech yesterday, I couldn't help thinking of Ronald Reagan and what he has meant to conservatives since the day 32 years ago when he delivered his first inaugural address and said, "In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem. Government is the problem." Some have lamented the fact that no single line from Obama's speech stands to be repeated as often as that one. But could this speech, and the four years to follow, make Barack Obama into the Democrats' Reagan?
I don't necessarily mean that Obama will be treated with the kind of creepy fetishism Republicans treat Reagan. But the question is whether, like Reagan, Obama can define an era that continues even after he leaves office (in many ways, the Age of Reagan didn't end until January 2009), and give succor and guidance to his followers for years and even decades.
Every time during his first term that Barack Obama stumbled, had difficulty getting a piece of legislation passed, or got mired in the ugly realities of contemporary politics, conservatives could be counted on to say, "Ha! Where's your hope and change now, huh? Huh?" It's true that his 2008 campaign was an unusually idealistic one, both in its lofty rhetoric and in what it inspired in his supporters, so much so that the mundane realities of governing were bound to be disillusioning for many. As his second term begins, there's no question that Obama has learned a great deal. He understands Washington better, he understands Congress better, and he certainly understands the Republican party better. And that may just make for a more effective second term, despite all the obstacles in front of him.
A gentleman exercising his rights in a way that won't make anyone else uncomfortable. (Flickr/Teknorat)
As Jaime and I noted yesterday, many Democratic politicians feel the need to preface any discussion of guns with an assurance that they, too, own guns and love to shoot, as though that were the price of admission to a debate on the topic. But what you seldom hear is anyone, politician or otherwise, say, "I don't own a gun and I don't ever intend to" as a statement of identity, defining a perspective that carries moral weight equal to that of gun owners. So it was good to see Josh Marshall, in a thoughtful post, say, "Well, I want to be part of this debate too. I'm not a gun owner and, as I think as is the case for the more than half the people in the country who also aren't gun owners, that means that for me guns are alien. And I have my own set of rights not to have gun culture run roughshod over me." Let me tell you my perspective on this, and offer some thoughts on the question of what sort of a society we want to have when it comes to the question of guns. Because there are two radically different visions that are clashing here.
In October 2001, George W. Bush told the country he was sending the American military to Afghanistan in order to "bring justice to our enemies." It's safe to say support for the war would not have been as nearly unanimous as it was had he said, "Oh, and by the way, our troops are going to be fighting there for the next 13 years." But if all goes according to plan and Barack Obama follows up on his pledge to bring them home by the end of 2014, that's how long the Afghanistan war will have lasted.
President Obama unveiled his package of proposals to reduce gun violence today, a mix of executive actions he can undertake unilaterally (23 of them) and ideas that will require new laws passed through Congress. I'll tell you what I think about the package as a whole in a moment, but here are the major provisions:
In case you were waiting for the National Rifle Association's reasonable, constructive contribution to our current debate on how best to curb gun violence in America, your wait is over. They are locked, loaded, and ready to bring the crazy. This is an ad they put out yesterday, calling President Obama an "elitist hypocrite." Take a gander:
Tonight, PBS's Frontline will be broadcasting a documentary called "Inside Obama's Presidency," about the President's first term. The story told in this preview is about a now-somewhat-famous dinner that a bunch of Republican muckety-mucks held on the night of Obama's inauguration, during which they made the decision that the best way to proceed was implacable, unified opposition to anything and everything the new president wanted to do. As we all know, this plan was then carried out almost to the letter. Watch:
Joe Heck, a conservative white guy with a difference.
You may have heard that in the incoming Congress, white men will constitute a minority of the Democratic caucus for the first time. That's an interesting fact, but it's only part of the story. At National Journal, Ron Brownstein and Scott Bland have a long, Brownsteinian look at how "the parties glare across a deep racial chasm" not only in the members of Congress themselves, but in the people they represent. "Republicans now hold 187 of the 259 districts (72 percent) in which whites exceed their national share of the voting-age population. Democrats hold 129 of the 176 seats (73 percent) in which minorities exceed their national share of the voting-age population. From another angle, 80 percent of Republicans represent districts more heavily white than the national average; 64 percent of House Democrats represent seats more heavily nonwhite than the national average."
The implications for the GOP of the fact that most of their members represent mostly white districts are profound, touching on the continuous interaction between individuals and policy. Politicians are shaped by their political environments and the things they have to do to win, and the fact that most GOP members represent overwhelmingly white district means that as they rise through the ranks, the time they're going to have to spend talking to and listening to non-white people is going to be limited...
Independence is the new media thing. Andrew Sullivan is doing it. Trey Parker and Matt Stone are doing it. And Glenn Beck, who did it already when he got booted from Fox News and created his own internet TV...um...thing in response, is taking it even farther. Inspired by "Galt's Gulch," the place in Atlas Shrugged where the Randian übermenschen retreated, Beck is unveiling plans for an entire city he will build, a city to embody all that is right and good and libertarian about America, a true refuge where those who have proven their mettle by watching hundreds of hours of his programs can come and live just as the Founders intended. It'll be called, naturally, Independence, U.S.A. Behold: