To pretend that the president can magically get an increasingly right-wing Republican House and Senate contingent to do his bidding is either naive or willfully misleading. The GOP really does hope that blocking whatever Obama wants will steadily weaken him. But the president also needs to ask himself why even his supporters are growing impatient.
Perhaps because the cynicism that dominates contemporary political discourse militates against taking any politician’s words at face value, surprisingly little analysis is devoted to what President Obama actually says in his principal public addresses. Americans are so busy figuring him out, they have stopped hearing him.
The presidents with whom Barack Obama is often compared, Lyndon Johnson and Ronald Reagan, did not face the obstacles he does. Obama has every right to be frustrated: When Republicans obstruct, he takes the blame. But even though his assessment of the situtation is correct, his response to it should be different.
Obstruction of legislative measures that a majority of voters support reveals the deep structural tilt in our politics to the right. This distortion explains why election outcomes and the public's preferences have so little impact on what is happening in Washington. At the moment, our democracy is not very democratic.
Many of the groups challenging the contraception mandate in the Affordable Care Act on religious-liberty grounds hang their hopes on one Supreme Court case: Gonzales v. O Centro Espirita Beneficente Uniao do Vegetal. But while the superficial attraction of O Centro is obvious, the facts of the mandate are quite different.
Rand Paul, the libertarian senator from Kentucky, has inadvertently called our attention to a deep contradiction within American conservatism.
It is now nearly forty years since the bishops of the Appalachian region of the United States published This Land Is Home to Me, a historic pastoral letter “on powerlessness in Appalachia.” Two generations later, poverty in Appalachia remains.
With signs of cooperation on gun control and immigration, and Rand Paul's filibuster against President Obama's drone policy shaking philosophical categories in a healthy way, life and substance are returning to our political debates.
Washington is wasting time on an artificial crisis driven not by economics but by ideology, partisan interest, and an obsession over a word -- "sequester" -- that means nothing to most Americans. But from the perspective of Republicans, the more months we fritter away on this dumb, fake emergency, the better.
The idea of politics as all-ideology, all-the-time is a relatively recent invention. Education reform, for instance, was a thoroughly bipartisan cause in the 1980s. But it will take considerable courage for Republicans to move their party back to a time when conservatives and progressives did not have to disagree on everything.
Free from the need to save an economy close to collapse and illusions that Republicans in Congress would work with him readily, President Obama has made clear his determination to shift the center of gravity in the nation's political conversation away from anti-government conservatism.
The final HHS rules are the product of a genuine and heartfelt struggle over the meaning of religious liberty in a pluralistic society. "What we've learned," HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said, "is that there are issues to balance in this area. There were issues of religious freedom on two sides of the ledger"—the freedom of the religious institutions and the freedom of their employees who might not share their objections to contraception.
Like Ronald Reagan, Barack Obama hopes to usher in a long-term electoral realignment. The Reagan metaphor helps explain the tone of Obama's inaugural address, built not on a call to an impossible bipartisanship but on a philosophical argument for a progressive vision of the country rooted in our history.
That President Obama has shed any illusions about his unique gifts as a national healer will increase his capacity to help us leave behind many of the debates that have torn our political world asunder. Tempered by the struggles of his first term, he now seems more at ease declaring exactly what he is for and what he is seeking to achieve.
The Deficit Scolds' Unsound Logic
The Bishops' Case Against the Mandate
Should our politicians dedicate themselves to solving the problems we face now? Or should they spend their time constructing largely theoretical deficit solutions for years far in the future to satisfy certain ideological and aesthetic urges?
Beware of any entitlement reform described by its advocates as “win-win.” Such proposals are almost always too good to be true. The proposal to raise the age of eligibility for Medicare from sixty-five to sixty-seven is a good example.
Conservatives who were once genuinely interested in finding market-based alternatives to government-provided health insurance have, since the rise of Obamacare, continued to make choices that are dysfunctional, even from their own point of view.
The truth is that costs for most medical interventions are going down. It's the spending that's going up, thanks to the very effectiveness of modern health care.
Rightward Tilt Clouds the Christian Message
Barack Obama should not be afraid to consider the hopes and expectations of the people who voted for him. But he should also think about the worries of those who voted against him. The two groups have more in common than we (or they) might imagine.
As Republicans dig out from a defeat that their poll-deniers said was impossible, they need to acknowledge many large failures. But President Obama and his party need to understand the difficulties they may face.
It is said after every election that the victors should put politics aside and work for the good of the country. If President Obama believed this pious nonsense, he would put his second term in jeopardy.
What Can Obama Do in a Second Term?
With the election over, responsible members of both parties acknowledge that a long-term budget deal, one that gets entitlement spending under control but also increases tax revenue, is necessary for the health of the economy and for restoring confidence in the nation’s political institutions.
Barack Obama took on a militant conservatism intent on reducing the responsibilities of government and cutting taxes on the wealthiest Americans. In the process, he built an alliance of moderates and progressives who still believe in government's essential role in regulating the marketplace and widening the circle of opportunity.
The Catholic Right’s False Nostalgia
If Teddy Roosevelt fought against the policies of the Gilded Age, President Obama is fighting a Republican Party determined to bring the Gilded Age back and undo the achievements of a century.
As the 2012 campaign closes, "working together" is in vogue because the few voters still up for grabs tend to be more moderate and less ideological. But beneath the embrace of comity lurks a central fact about American politics now: Democrats believe in compromise far more than Republicans do.
A Partisan Abuse of the Church’s Moral Teachings
It turns out there was no profound ideological conversion of the country two years ago. If Mitt Romney thought the nation was ready to endorse the full-throated conservatism he embraced to win the Republican nomination, he wouldn't be throwing his past positions overboard.
Ayn Rand, an atheist, considered charity a sign of weakness. Paul Ryan’s Randian views—notably his budget plan’s drastic cuts to food stamps, which now aid 46 million—have not sat well with many Catholics.
While Barack Obama may lack a crisp set of sound bites, he's been far more straightforward about challenges like the deficit than Mitt Romney--whose own five-point plan is quite vague and looks a lot like the five-point plans put forth by earlier Republican presidential candidates.
Starving the Government Won't Work
For Barack Obama's supporters, the fact that the president played offense and had a strategy was reason enough for elation. But the most electorally significant performance was Mitt Romney's: Under pressure this time, the former Massachusetts governor displayed his least attractive sides.
New Mitt Romneys appear on a monthly, weekly and sometimes daily basis. His campaign has been an exercise in identifying which piece of the electorate he needs at any given moment and adjusting his views, sometimes radically, to suit this requirement.
What a difference a week makes. Vice President Joe Biden stayed in Rep. Paul Ryan's face for the entirety of Thursday's vice presidential debate. In the process, he forced Ryan, and by extension the Romney campaign, onto the defensive for a large part of the evening.
Many factors will influence the outcome of the election. Swing states matter, as may voter turnout and voter-suppression efforts, job numbers, and events abroad. But is race playing any role in the 2012 election?
Sen. Sherrod Brown seems to invite the hostility of wealthy conservatives and deep-pocketed interest groups. He can live with that: His uncompromising advocacy on behalf of workers and progressive policies on other issues have helped him build a formidable organization across Ohio.
Translating Moral Principle into Public Policy
Having campaigned as a moderate when he ran for governor of Massachusetts, Mitt Romney veered to the right to win the Republican presidential nomination. But with polls showing him behind in the swing states, he used the debate to remake himself one more time, deciding to sound concerned about the middle class.
In this week's debate, Mitt Romney has too much to do. President Obama has a great deal to lose. Romney's is the most difficult position. Obama's is the most dangerous.
In Tampa, Republicans reveled in the glories of private enterprise. In Charlotte, Democrats celebrated togetherness. But in the weeks after Obama’s acceptance speech, interest in the election as horse race has nearly blotted out the substance of the president’s address and its relation to the broader themes of the campaigns.
In his impatience with those he accuses of casting themselves as "victims," Mitt Romney misses the real story of government in the lives of most Americans. So often, we combine our own exertions with a little assistance along the way -- the GI Bill, Social Security survivors' benefits, public education -- to become self-sufficient and independent.
Polls showing an Obama upturn since the conventions suggest the Obama-Clinton politics of balance is far more popular than ideological conservatism, and it seems part of` a trend toward moderation in many countries.
What the Bishops' Voting Guide Overlooks
President Obama heads into the fall with some major advantages, starting, as Ronald Reagan did, with a rock solid base. But Mitt Romney has the money edge, along with a chance to win over swing voters in the debates.
That Bill Clinton played such a central role at the convention reflected the extent to which it should be seen as a three-day tutorial designed not only to defend President Obama's economic stewardship, but also to advance a view of government for which Democrats have often apologized.
Like his recent predecessors, President Obama has moved on policy and personnel in ways designed to avoid the time-consuming gridlock that sometimes results from procedures mandated and constraints imposed by the Constitution. But in this election season, candidates on both the left and right need to show humility, restraint, and patience.
The Obama Democrats who gather in Charlotte this week have a big advantage over Tampa's Romney Republicans: Last week's GOP convention gave President Obama a peek at Mitt Romney's playbook.
Having given conservatives everything they had asked for -- from switching his positions on abortion and immigration to picking their favorite as his running mate -- Mitt Romney used his acceptance speech to try to convert some of President Obama's 2008 supporters into Republican voters.
Something odd is happening in Mitt Romney's Republican Party. The GOP is marketing the concept that a great many Americans need to suffer before they can prosper.
President Obama and Mitt Romney have chosen running mates who reflect their political philosophies. Both vice presidential candidates are also Roman Catholics, the first time this has happened in American history. Yet despite the obvious sincerity of their faith, their moral and political views reflect the positions of their political parties more than those of their church.
In 1964, George Romney walked out of the Republican National Convention during Barry Goldwater's acceptance speech, protesting his party's sharp turn rightward. This week, Mitt Romney is set to achieve what his father never could. But this family triumph will not represent a vindication of his father's principles.
Why hasn't one of this year's most exciting Senate candidates put the election away? Because Massachusetts voters like Scott Brown, a Republican incumbent who is making them forget that he's a Republican.
There is a difference between Obama saying that Romney and Ryan want to alter Medicare fundamentally, which is true, and the GOP saying that Obama wants to undercut Medicare, which is not.
If conservative ideologues are over the moon at having their favorite conviction politician as Mitt Romney's vice presidential running mate, many Republican professionals -- particularly those running this fall -- are petrified.
Mitt Romney's selection of Paul Ryan underscores how liberals and conservatives have switched sides on the matter of which camp constitutes the party of theory and which is the party of practice. Americans usually reject the party of theory, which is what conservatism has now become.
Here's your chance, conservatives. If you truly hate the Affordable Care Act, put your money where your ideology is and return those rebate checks you'll get from your insurance companies.
Progressives should put aside their disappointment with Barack Obama. The alternative is a presidency that would shred safety nets and regulations while running the country according to the cruel and primitive forms of individualism not seen since pre-New Deal America.
In his opinion on the Affordable Care Act, the chief justice had to clear a number of hurdles to uphold the law under the government’s taxing authority.
The broad structure of the largest domestic achievement of the Obama legacy remains intact as the chief justice wisely avoids the far shoals of conservative ideology.
A ruling against the Affordable Care Act could give its supporters the chance to describe the law and defend what it does, while prompting a fearless conversation on the role of the court's conservative justices in blocking progressive legislation.
Ongoing Analysis & Opinion
In the final installment of our series, William Galston responds to the U.S. Catholic bishops' latest statement on religious freedom.
There is a healthy struggle brewing among the nation's Roman Catholic bishops. A previously silent group, upset over conservative colleagues defining the church's public posture and eagerly picking fights with President Barack Obama, has had enough.
Is the Ban on Contraception Just an Identity Marker?
In March, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments about the Affordable Care Act. The question before the Court is straightforward: Can the federal government require all Americans to purchase a product (health insurance) on the private market? But the question underlying the case is one of the most basic in American political life: How much government is too much?
Bishops & Electoral Politics
Two years after the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act became law—and two years before many of its provisions are scheduled to go into effect—the Obama administration’s most important achievement faces an uncertain prognosis.
Recent articles in the National Review and the National Catholic Register charge once again that, under the health-care law, “tens of millions of Americans will be getting federal subsidies to pay for abortions” and that prolifers will be tricked by a sinister “secrecy clause” into inadvertently signing up for insurance plans that cover abortions. Not true.
Activist judges vs. health-care reform
Do the bishops know Obama is taking them seriously?
Catholicism is not the Tea Party at prayer
I’m a 65-year-old African American. I was excited enough by the election of the nation’s first black president that I would have cut him a thousand miles of slack. But the last thing I expected was that I would watch him meekly accept humiliation by his political opponents. And the second last thing I expected was that I would go into 2012 looking at the upcoming presidential election as a lesser-of-two-evils affair.
If health care is a right, must the government guarantee it? If it's not a right, what is it?
Obama owes more on religious freedom
Two years after the Affordable Care Act became law, it remains a subject of controversy. Some say that, by allowing the government to require citizens to buy health insurance or pay an extra tax, it goes too far. Others argue that, by failing to offer a public option for health insurance, it does not go far enough. Hadley Arkes belongs to the first group. Here's why he's wrong.
The bishops, contraception & religious freedom
Any time the Obama administration touches issues related to the Catholic Church, it seems to get itself caught in a rhetorical and moral crossfire that leaves all involved wounded and angry. This is what's happening in the battle over how contraception should be covered under the new health-care law.
How not to talk about assisted suicide
As you watch suits against the Affordable Care Act work their way through the courts, consider that what you are really seeing is a great republic tying itself in knots to avoid facing up to a challenge that every other wealthy capitalist democracy in the world has met.
We’re still debating whether what we’re doing in Libya can rightly be described as war, though bombs dropped amid an “intervention” are just as deadly. But where’s the debate over whether it’s fair or accurate to assert that Republicans in Congress have not-so-stealthily declared a “war on women”?
A review of 'Ourselves Unborn' by Sara Dubow
The bishops, health care & prudence
Moral teaching after ‘Humanae Vitae’
If House Republicans really wanted to make the health-care law less expensive, they could have voted to repeal only those parts of the Affordable Care Act that increase the deficit and kept the parts that reduce it. Why didn’t they?
Is it constitutional?
Health care & the new civility
When a patient arrives in extremis at a Catholic hospital in the rare situation reflected in the case of the Arizona woman whose life was endangered by her pregnancy, a conflict arises between the patient’s life and Catholic health care’s right to religious liberty in following its own precepts.
Benedict & condoms
Where is Obama's conciliatory impulse leading the Democratic Party?
The lame-duck session of Congress that kicks off this week will test whether Democrats have spines made of Play-Doh, and whether President Barack Obama has decided to pretend that capitulation is conciliation.
Discuss that and other issues at dotCommonweal's open thread on the midterm election results.
With the unemployment rate still hovering near 10 percent, Americans are understandably dissatisfied with the pace of economic recovery and apprehensive about the country’s future. What is perhaps less understandable is the degree of rancor toward President Barack Obama and the federal government as a whole.
More & more Democrats are running on the reforms
The outsized influence of the extreme Right
The principled case that must be made is that the brand of conservatism seeking power this year is irresponsible, incoherent, and untrue to the best of its own traditions.
Liberals may lament the administration’s failure to make progress on immigration and climate-change legislation in this congressional session, but it may be time to shift energies to protecting what has already been passed.
The notion that when we are fighting two wars, we're not supposed to consider raising taxes on wealthy Americans is one sign of a country that's no longer serious.
Helen Alvaré accuses me and Commonweal of being naive about the new health-care reform law, and suggests our analysis of the legislation is politically motivated. She's wrong.
When bishops speak about health-care policy, Catholics don't have to agree
Barack Obama's campaign promise of change did not include a pledge to transform American conservatism. But one of his presidency's major legacies may be a revolution on the American right in which older, more secular forms of politics displace religious activism.
Might the USCCB be wrong about the health-care law?
Compromise is not a dirty word in democratic politics, nor is the balancing of conflicting goods foreign to the church’s tradition of casuistic moral reasoning. So why do so many American bishops appear to spurn both in their prolife advocacy? Do they really think the hardest line is always the best one, or the most persuasive?
How the bishops conference gets health-care legislation wrong
This year's elections may exacerbate the difference between our two political parties, but not in the way most people are talking about. Republicans will end the year a more philosophically coherent right-wing party. But the Democrats will, if anything, become more ideologically diverse.
Ever heard the one about the guy who hated government until a deregulated Wall Street crashed, an oil spill devastated the Gulf of Mexico, a coal mine collapsed, and some good police work stopped a terrorist attack?
Among elected officials, journalists, and average citizens, intensifying partisan polarization is thought to be one of the dominant political trends of our times. Yet it has proved remarkably controversial among political scientists.
In praise of Rep. Bart Stupak's courage
Yes, the fight for health care seemed very much like the Greek myth: Every time the White House found itself on the verge of rolling the health-care stone up the hill, some event -- say, Scott Brown's win in Massachusetts -- would force it to start over with a new strategy.
Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli seems determined to use an attack on health-care reform to bring us back to the 1830s. Cuccinelli, to cheers from the Tea Party crowd, went to court this week to overturn the new law, which he says conflicts with a Virginia statute "protecting its citizens from a government-imposed mandate to buy health insurance."
America needs more than populism from the Right
In approving the most sweeping piece of social legislation since the mid-1960s, Democrats proved that they can govern, even under challenging circumstances and in the face of significant internal divisions. The result is a historic victory for President Barack Obama.
The health-care debate has been costly for prolife groups.
In a fit of radical judicial activism, the Montana Supreme Court has ruled that physician-assisted suicide does not violate state law, making Montana the third state (after Oregon and Washington) to legalize the "procedure."
Republicans don't want to talk much about the substance of health care. They want to discuss process, turn "reconciliation" into a four-letter word, and maintain that Democrats are just "ramming through" a health bill. What an astonishing exercise in hypocrisy.
If we learn nothing else in 2010, can we please finally acknowledge that our partisan divisions are about authentic principles that lead to very different approaches to governing?
If President Barack Obama gets to sign a health-reform bill, as I believe he will, one reason may be Rep. Jay Inslee's difficult experience renovating his kitchen.
As President Obama said in his State of the Union speech, members of Congress were sent to Washington to govern, not to engage in an endless political campaign. If the Democrats hope to convince voters that they can govern, they must take full ownership of the health-care reform package.
Who on the national stage today would knowingly blow up his or her political future for the common good, no matter how important the issue? Pushing through health-care reform could be politically perilous for today’s Democrats, but wouldn’t that be better than caving on such an important moral issue?
Why abortion shouldn't derail health-care reform
It turns out there were core contradictions in the promises Barack Obama made to the country in 2008. They caught up with his party on Tuesday in Massachusetts.
Reaching agreement on a health-care bill is harder in theory than it will be in practice. Between now and the day the measure goes to President Obama's desk, there will be many crisis points, much posturing, and dire warnings of impending failure. There are real differences between the the House and Senate bills. The last few votes are always the hardest to get.
Not even the most optimistic Democrats think their party can escape losing seats. But with so many states now unexpectedly in play, surprise Democratic victories could offset some Republican gains. On the other side, retirements -- not to mention the moves of a certain president and vice president out of the Senate -- have opened terrain for the Republicans that would normally be blocked.
The stars may—just—be aligned to squeeze a national health-care bill out of Congress within the next month or two. Both houses have (barely) passed bills, and now they must cobble together a lowest-common-denominator consensus that can survive one more vote in each house. President Barack Obama is almost certain to sign anything they send him.
This is the paradox of the moment: President Barack Obama's speech on Afghanistan and his subsequent jobs summit underscored why it's essential to get a health care bill done quickly. The calendar of politics has an urgency that the dilatory pace of the U.S. Senate doesn't match.
The U.S. bishops & health-care reform
Why Insurance Is the Wrong Way to Think About Health Care
Why doesn’t the common good enter into our national health-care debate?
Could the issue of abortion derail health-care reform legislation?
Solidarity and subsidiarity in Benedict XVI’s ’Caritas in veritate’
The biggest obstacle to health-care reform is political escapism.
How Obama can win the battle for health-care reform
How to navigate a political and financial minefield