E. J. Dionne Jr.
We know American politics are dysfunctional. But after a week of scandal obsession during which the nation's capital and the media virtually ignored the problems most voters care about -- jobs, incomes, growth, opportunity, education -- it's worth asking if there is something especially flawed about our democracy.
Scandalmania is distorting our discussion of three different issues, sweeping them into one big narrative -- everything is a "narrative" these days -- about the beleaguered second-term presidency of Barack Obama. Forgive me for feeling cynical and depressed about our nation's political conversation.
Mayor Tom Barrett of Milwaukee, one of the earliest members of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, has made curbing urban bloodshed a personal cause. Every year between Mother's Day and Memorial Day, he organizes a "Cease-Fire Sabbath" that enlists clergy around the city to preach against violence. It's a faith-based initiative that everyone can believe in.
Perhaps the Almighty did inspire those who drew the boundaries of South Carolina's 1st Congressional District. They packed it with so many Republicans that Mark Sanford was able to engineer a comeback in the polls by debating a flat piece of cardboard bearing the image of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.
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.
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.
Why is it that conservative Republicans who freely cut taxes while backing two wars in the Bush years started preaching fire on deficits only after a Democrat entered the White House? Probably because their central goal is to hack away at government. Then along come academic economists to bless the anti-deficit fever with the authority of spreadsheets.
When the news from Boston first hit, there was an immediate divide between those who saw an Islamic terrorist attack and those who saw the hand of domestic, right-wing extremists. We then moved, without delay, to show how the event proved that our side was right in any number of ongoing debates. The response suggests that we live in an age of shrink-wrapped, prepackaged opinions.
Victories often contain the seeds of future defeats. So it is -- or at least should be -- with the Senate's morally reprehensible rejection of expanded background checks for gun buyers.
A Wondrous Bundle of Contradictions
The accounts from the Sandy Hook families have been so wrenching that it is common to say that a gun bill is being carried along "on a wave of emotion," implying that we are acting in a way we would not act if our judgments were based on pure reason or a careful look at the evidence. This has it exactly backward.
Margaret Thatcher and David Kuo represented two sides of the conservative disposition and two forms of the "conviction politics" for which the Iron Lady was known. Because of that, they have much to teach us about the debate we need now.
Assessing the legacy of Margaret Thatcher in this piece from the January 11, 1991, issue of Commonweal, E. J. Dionne Jr. wrote that the prime minister was far more popular in the United States (especially among the American right) than she was in Britain, for reasons both good and bad.
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.
These days, the Repuiblican party is all about trying to improve its image. But on guns, it may prove once again that when it matters, extremists rule.
If you are tired of seeing the debate on guns dominated by the National Rifle Association and yearn for sensible weapons laws, you have to love New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. When most politicians were caving in or falling silent, there was Bloomberg, wielding his fortune to keep hope alive that we could move against the violence that blights our nation.
The administration has set expectations for President Obama's trip to Israel so low you'd think he was making another visit to Ohio. Yet this is a very consequential journey because it comes at a moment when hopes for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are fading away.
Rand Paul, the libertarian senator from Kentucky, has inadvertently called our attention to a deep contradiction within American conservatism.
In winning election as Pope Francis, Jorge Mario Bergoglio defied the papal pundits, even though they should have seen him coming. His rise marks the decisive shift within Roman Catholicism toward Latin America and the developing world.
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.
There are, believe it or not, grounds for hoping that the sequester, stupid as it is, might open the way to ending our budget stalemate. It starts with Senate Republicans like Lindsey Graham and others who are open to President Obama's outreach.
Divisions in the church are usually seen as mimicking those of secular politics. Conservatives or traditionalists are pitted against liberals or progressives. But Timothy Radcliffe, a Dominican friar and the former head of his order, suggests a more fruitful way to understand the Catholic split.
The old formula held that when government was divided between the parties, the contending sides should try to "meet in the middle." But the current Republican leadership doesn't know the meaning of the word "middle," so intimidated has it become by the tea party. Here's what President Obama can do.
After nearly two decades in which established opinion insisted that it would never again be possible to pass sensible regulations of firearms, the unthinkable is on the verge of happening.
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.
Benedict is a traditionalist who was affected by modernity. He would not be troubled that he had to reach far back to find a precedent for papal resignation. He knows that a pope hobbled by sickness and weakness would be a dispiriting symbol in a media age. Then again, perhaps his traditionalism inclined him to this decision.
Recent comments from Republicans like Bobby Jindal and Eric Cantor suggest awareness among the leadership that the party moved too far to the right, and the GOP now seems to be backing off long-standing positions on tax increases, guns, and immigration. But does the new flexibility really signal a change in direction?
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.
Until Barack Obama was re-elected, party competition translated into Republican efforts to block virtually everything the president wanted to accomplish. But on immigration, the parties are now competing to share credit for doing something big. It's wonderful to behold.
Mitch McConnell, the Republican minority leader, perfectly encapsulated the effort to diminish the importance of all else (including growth) when he declared that "deficit and debt" constitute the "transcendent issue of our era." No, it's not.
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.
President Obama went big in offering a remarkably comprehensive plan to curb gun violence, and good for him. We are in danger of having mass shootings define us as a nation. As a people, we must rise up against this obscenity.
We are about to have a major foreign policy debate in the guise of a confirmation battle over Chuck Hagel's nomination as secretary of defense. President Obama should use this opportunity to stand up for his broader vision of how American power can be sustained and used.
Since the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School, attention to sensible gun control has not waned. But a political truth that must be faced: Nothing positive will happen on this issue unless a substantial number of Republicans insist that we act.
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?
A lot was wrong with how Congress, particularly the House of Representatives, dealt with the so-called fiscal cliff. But in the end, some very important and positive things happened: A significant number of Republicans voted to raise taxes, the tax code has become more progressive, and an election had real impact on public policy.
How often must we note that no other developed country has such massacres on a regular basis because no other comparable nation allows such easy access to guns? And on no subject other than ungodly episodes involving guns are those who respond logically by demanding solutions accused of "politicizing tragedy."
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.
One school of thought on the right rejects adjusting to a new electorate; strategies for future victories are based on a naked use of government power to alter the political playing field. Michigan's Republican-led right-to-work law is an example.
The Music Keeps Speaking
Breaking with the Present?
President Obama's victory blew up the framework created by the 2010 elections, which forced him to play defense. Now, he finally has room to move. That's the only way to understand the ongoing budget talks.
Without making a single substantive concession, Republicans get loads of praise just for saying they are willing to ignore those old pledges to Grover Norquist. But kudos for an openness to compromise should be reserved for those who put forward concrete proposals to raise taxes.
Rightward Tilt Clouds the Christian Message
In our tendency to lay so much stress on the role of famous generals, we forget both the centrality of midlevel military leadership and the daily sacrifices and bravery of those in the enlisted ranks who carry out orders from on high.
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.
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.
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.
President Obama almost certainly needs states like Michigan, Ohio, and Wisconsin to win re-election, and if he does, manufacturing is destined for a larger role in the American economic conversation.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Who better than a group of women who have consecrated their lives to the Almighty to remind us that our decisions in November have ethical consequences? Those who serve the impoverished, the sick and the dying know rather a lot about what matters -- in life, and in elections.
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.
Our antiquated Electoral College should give Republicans an advantage: By guaranteeing every state three electors regardless of population, the system offers outsized influence to smaller, mostly Republican rural states. But In 2012, the system is working in President Obama's favor.
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.
Elections are supposed to decide things. The voters render a verdict on what direction they want the country to take and set the framework within which both parties work. But President Obama's time in office has given rise to a new approach. Republicans decided to do all they could to make the president unsuccessful. How can Washington work again?
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.
A specter is haunting the affluent societies of the West. Across the rich countries, and across the political spectrum, there is an unstated but palpable longing for a return to the 1950s.
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.
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.
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.
The Republican Party seeks to eke out a narrow victory in November on the basis of a radical program. It's a gamble that could pay off.
The gun lobby barely had to say a word before the media sent advocates of saner gun regulation shuffling off in defeat. In a political version of Stockholm syndrome, even those who claim to disagree with the National Rifle Association's absolutist permissiveness on firearms lulled themselves into accepting the status quo by reciting a script of gutless resignation dictated by the merchants of death.
Cutting back government, gutting unions and reducing taxes on the rich won't re-create an America of opportunity. On the contrary, we need more active and thoughtful government policies to become again the nation we claim to be.
Mitt Romney's GOP critics are wrong in citing his specifics-lite approach as his core problem. His difficulties lie elsewhere.
Two Colorado moderates and an Ohio liberal identify the keys to creating a philopsophically coherent cross-coalition of critical blue-collar and middle-class voters.
We do a disservice to ourselves and the Founders alike if we take them out of history and demand that they settle arguments that we ought to settle on our own.
Voters are showing resistance to the core conservative claim that job creation is primarily about rewarding wealthy investors and companies through further tax cuts and less regulation.
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.
Antonin Scalia has long ignored the obligation to be or even appear impartial, but offering a bench statement questioning President Obama's decision on immigration should be the end of the line.
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.
The real lesson from Europe is not that we should all tighten our belts and endure more pain, but that we need to get the global economy moving.
President Obama's Cleveland speech highlights the fundamental difference between his vision of the future and Mitt Romney's.
A modest proposal: build an alliance of public-spirited citizens who can help destroy the incentives for the very rich to buy the election.
Events of recent weeks suggest that if progressives do not speak out on behalf of government, they will be disadvantaged throughout the election-year debate.
The failed recall of Gov. Walker gives conservatives confidence and progressives pause, but both sides need to consider the bigger picture.
Let's try an experiment: Can we at least reach consensus on the sort of debate between now and November that could help us solve some of our problems?
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.
In this election, we're not having an argument that pits capitalism against socialism. We are trying to decide what kind of capitalism we want. In light of the rise of inequality and the financial mess we just went through, it's a discussion we very much need to have now.
The Freedom from Religion Foundation may not see the Gospel as a liberating document, but I do, and I can't ignore the good done in the name of Christ by the sisters, priests, brothers and laypeople who have devoted their lives to the poor and the marginalized.
Ann Romney Never Had To Work a Day in Her Life
We expect some hypocrisy in politics, but it was still jaw-dropping to behold Republicans accusing President Obama of politicizing the anniversary of the killing of Osama bin Laden. Wasn't it just eight years ago that the GOP organized an entire presidential campaign around the attacks of 9/11, and George W. Bush's response to them?
Last week Connecticut Gov. Dan Malloy signed a law repealing the state's death penalty. There are now seventeen states without capital punishment. What happened in Connecticut shows that not everything that's happened in the states since the midterm vote embodies a steady shift rightward.
We are about to have the worst presidential campaign money can buy. One state is showing us the way back to sane campaign-finance law.
It's understandable if unfortunate that the controversy surrounding the killing of Trayvon Martin has polarized the country along both racial and ideological lines. But there is one issue that should not have any racial connotations: the urgency of repealing "Stand Your Ground" laws.
Santorum's parting gift to Romney
Conservatives are not accustomed to being on the defensive. They have long experience with attacking the evils of the left and the abuses of activist judges. They expect their progressive opponents to be wimpy and apologetic. Not this time.
Right before our eyes, American conservatism is becoming something very different from what it once was. Yet this transformation is happening by stealth because moderates are too afraid to acknowledge what all their senses tell them.
Activist judges vs. health-care reform
Europe’s Left Shows Signs Of Life
Catholicism is not the Tea Party at prayer
Mitt Romney is grinding his way to the GOP nomination not by winning hearts but by imposing his will on a party that keeps resisting him. He's assembling the peripheral elements of the party as his rivals divide the votes of the true believers. His campaign is part McCain, part Dukakis, and part Nixon.
There are two storylines in Ohio on the eve of Super Tuesday. First, Santorum has to win to keep his candidacy alive. Second, Republicans must win the state in November to have any chance of defeating Obama. The problem for the GOP is that the two storylines aren't coming together.
Romney's plan is simultaneously extreme and very, very boring. It draws on the one and only idea that today's conservatives offer for solving any and every problem that comes along: just throw even more money at rich people.
The biggest concern for the Democrats (and the best hope for the GOP) is that the president’s lead is far from overwhelming, even though Republicans — and particularly Mitt Romney — have been badly weakened by their nomination battle and Obama has been left largely unmolested by the conservative super PACs.
They say that President Obama is a Muslim, but if he isn't, he's a secularist who's waging war on religion. Or he's a socialist. Or an elitist. Whatever Obama is, he is never allowed to be a garden-variety American who plays basketball and golf, has a remarkably old-fashioned family life, and, in the manner we regularly recommend to our kids, got ahead by getting a good education.
Can conservatives finally face the fact that they actually want quite a lot from government, and that they are simply unwilling to raise taxes to pay for it?
Obama's Contraception Compromise
What Clint Eastwood & Rick Santorum Have in Common
Obama owes more on religious freedom
Everyone expected President Obama's State of the Union address to include reference to the killing of Osama bin Laden. Fewer anticipated Obama's use of the episode to present a community-minded worldview that contrasts so sharply with the highly individualistic and antigovernment message that has been heard over and over from the Republicans seeking to replace him.
What Newt Learned from Nixon
Thanks to Mitt Romney and such well-known socialist intellectuals as Rick Perry and Newt Gingrich, the United States is about to have the big debate on the nature of modern capitalism that should have started back in 2008. The focus will be on whether some kinds of capitalism are bad for the system as a whole.
If the Republicans want to have a genuinely searching debate about the future of their party, they'd send Santorum and Huntsman off for the long fight.
Can Obama overcome post-election disappointment?
The president channels his inner Roosevelts
Two pols who speak their minds
The problems the United States faces are large but not insoluble. Yet sensible solutions can't be enacted. Why? Because an ideological bloc that sees every crisis as an opportunity to reduce the size of government holds enough power in Congress to stop us from doing what needs to be done.
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.
Will the Occupy movement play into the hands of its enemies by living up to the stereotypes they are trying to create? Or will it instead move to a new phase that builds on its success?
If Congress simply fails to act between now and January 1, 2013, the tax cuts passed under President George W. Bush expire, $1.2 trillion in additional budget cuts go through under the terms of last summer's debt-ceiling deal, and a variety of other tax cuts also go away. Are you still sure that a "failure" by the congressional supercommittee to reach a deal would be such a disaster?
What Perry & Cain Say about Today's GOP
This week's elections around the country were brought to you by the word "overreach," specifically conservative overreach. Given an opportunity in 2010 to build a long-term majority, Republicans instead pursued extreme and partisan measures. On Tuesday, they reaped angry voter rebellions.
Paul Ryan Decries the Politics of Division
When the Vatican Confounds Conservatives
This is a party that was once innovative in thinking about affirmative uses of government. The GOP instituted the Homestead Act and created land grant colleges, the interstate highway system, student loans, the Pure Food and Drug Act and, yes, a prescription drug benefit under Medicare. What happened?
Does Rick Santorum Understand What Keeps a Household Together?
Why Elizabeth Warren Makes George Will Nervous
The Week that Changed Politics
Why hasn't there been a Tea Party on the left? And can President Barack Obama and the American left develop a functional relationship? That those two questions are not asked very often is a sign of how much of the nation's political energy has been monopolized by the right since Obama took office.
Conservatives must lead the way
When socialism saves capitalism
With apologies to Winston Churchill: The talk in the political class is that this is the beginning of the end of the Obama administration, while the talk in the Obama administration is that this is the end of the beginning. Which will it be?
The Republican establishment is said to have grave qualms about Gov. Rick Perry. Here's the problem: the GOP establishment squandered its authority by building up the Tea Party's brigades and then fearing them too much to do anything to check their power. Worse for those who think Perry would be a general-election disaster is the growing confidence among conservatives that President Barack Obama will be easy to beat.
Our political system is not accustomed to the kind of battle that is going on now. President Barack Obama has been slow to adjust to it. The voters are understandably mystified and frustrated by it. In the meantime, the economy sits on the edge between stagnation and something worse.
What we lost in the decade since 9/11
How workers vanished from our national consciousness
Obama's poll numbers are dropping. Time to mount an offensive
The Legacy of Martin Luther King Jr.
If unemployment were now at 6 percent, would President Obama be getting pummeled for not having us back to full employment already? The question comes to mind in the wake of the Libyan rebels' successes against Qaddafi. It's remarkable how reluctant Obama's opponents are to acknowledge that despite all the predictions that his policy of limited engagement could never work, it actually did.
President Obama should not be constrained by what the Tea Party might allow subservient Republican leaders in Congress to do. He should state plainly, eloquently, and in detail what he thinks needs to be happen. Neither history nor the voters will be kind to him if he lets caution and political calculation get in the way.
For President Obama, these are the days of never hearing an encouraging word. Not since his own supporters were losing faith in his presidential campaign in the summer of 2007 has Obama confronted so many bad reviews and such widespread frustration and angry criticism from his own side.
The first week of August 2011 will be remembered as a singularly irrational, wasteful, and shameful moment in the political and economic history of the United States. It reflected much of what is wrong with the priorities of our political elites and the obsessions of those who now hold effective veto power over our government.
Up with moderation
The debt 'crisis' distracts from the real problem: unemployment
Time for the GOP to cut the Tea Party loose
The debt 'crisis' has kept the government from doing its job
Danger remains in the the debt debate
Our love affair with capital punishment
When the Tea Party comes home to roost
What our Declaration really said
The Supreme Court's preferential option for the rich
President Barack Obama finds himself almost alone in his effort to define a broad new middle ground in international affairs. It's not that the center isn't holding. It's that most politicians don't seem to want to go near it.
Does moderate Republican Jon Huntsman stand a chance?
Whatever the punditocracy may have made of Mitt Romney's formal announcement of his presidential candidacy last week, we could all give the guy credit for trying to reassure us that not everything in politics has changed.
Why Paul Ryan is losing the argument
While the United States remains utterly frozen in a debate about budget deficits and all the things that government shouldn't do, other countries are marrying public and private resources to make themselves stronger and more competitive.
It's likely you didn't hear much about the controversy over John Boehner's recent commencement speech at Catholic University. There are many reasons for this, but one of them is that Boehner's critics were civil and respectful.
Republicans holding the debt ceiling increase hostage to their efforts to eviscerate programs know perfectly well that Congress will not risk a financial crisis. They even acknowledge this.
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.
Saving Motown worked
Who is Obama? Now we know
How Republicans are gaming the debt-ceiling issue
It's time for St. John XXIII
The idea that "false choices" are distorting our politics is under attack. I want to defend the concept for both substantive and personal reasons.
The GOP candidates might be more formidable if President Obama were less strongly favored. And over time, what Congress does will be shaped by the campaign's direction. Views of 2012 are heavily influenced by the metaphors that prognosticators invoke. Will it be 1984, 1988, or 1992?
The American ruling class is failing us—and itself.
President Obama has finally decided to take his own side in the philosophical struggle that is the true engine of this nation's budget debate. After months of mixed signals about what he was willing to fight for, Obama laid out his purposes and his principles.
In no serious country do threats to shut down the government become a routine way of doing business. Yet in our repertoire of dysfunction, we are on the verge of adding shutdown abuse to the abuse of the filibuster in the Senate. The GOP, however, was rewarded for going to the brink.
The Ryan budget reveals the Right's extremism.
Will Obama take on the GOP's irresponsible budget plan?
Did the GOP overplay its hand in the Midwest?
Republicans changed attack strategies in response to Obama's moves after the 2010 election designed to place himself above partisan infighting and to cast him as a nonideological voice trying to talk reason to politicians mired in the past's unproductive bickering.
Why I'm betting on Japan
Why won't Obama stand up to the NRA?
The GOP is using a bogus metaphor to cut programs & bust unions
What Wisconsin can teach Washington
Richard Nixon espoused what he called "the madman theory." It's a negotiating approach that induces the other side to believe you are capable of dangerously irrational actions and leads it to back down to avoid the wreckage your rage might let loose.
Why the Wisconsin fight matters
Consider the political conversation in our nation's capital. You'd never know that it's taking place at a moment when unemployment is at 9 percent, when wages are stagnating, and when the United States faces unprecedented challenges to its economic dominance.
Obama & the failure of the deficit hawks
After Obama delivers his budget proposal to Congress today, it will be hard to pretend anymore that the president and House Republicans even live in the same political galaxy, let alone have a chance of reaching lots of bipartisan agreements.
On a unanimous voice vote last Thursday, the Senate passed a bipartisan resolution urging Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to hand power over to a caretaker government. That slipped through the news cycle with barely a nod.
The democratic uprising in Egypt has brought into relief a gradual and little-noticed transformation in American politics. Over the past decade, ideological divisions over the role of democracy and human rights in American foreign policy have been scrambled.
Enacting sweeping legislation gets far more attention than the hard work of implementing programs, hiring people to carry them out, and managing (and, yes, inspiring) one of the largest work forces in the world. But that's exactly what Obama must do.
This State of the Union address laid out a rationale for Obama's presidency that stands a chance of enduring through 2012. The choice is between Republicans who talk about government spending and "Obamacare," and Democrats who would use government to restore American leadership and a humming economy.
How Obama can define moderation
On January 20, 1961, John F. Kennedy began his presidency with a speech at once soaring and solemn. Fifty years on, we have not heard an inaugural address like it. Tethered to its time and place, it still challenges with its ambition to harness realism to idealism, patriotism to service, national interest to universal aspiration.
Health care & the new civility
Not without moving beyond violent political talk
Gabrielle Giffords & the rhetoric of violence
Is the GOP interested in solving real problems?
There is already a standard line of advice to Speaker-to-be John Boehner that goes like this: Democrats overreached in the last Congress by ignoring "the center." Republicans should not to make the same mistake, lest they lose their majority, too. That counsel is wrong.
How are we to square the achievement of so many goals that have long been on progressive wish lists with the resounding defeat suffered by supporters of these measures in November?
The Civil War should be a no-spin zone
Bipartisanship is not the same as political moderation.
The country's desire to reverse its sense of decline was central to Obama's victory. Consider his emphasis on "Hope" and "Change We Can Believe In." Those sentiments were responses to fears of lost supremacy and explain the religious overtones of the Obama crusade.
What does President Barack Obama think of those who fought and bled to pass his bills in Congress (in some cases losing in this year's election for their pains) while also defending him against wild charges from the right wing?
Three defeated Democrats offer their party advice on making Washington work again.
Where is Obama's conciliatory impulse leading the Democratic Party?
Republicans are risking the nation's security for short-term political gain
Nancy Pelosi promised a vote if 14 members of Obama's deficit-cutting commission could agree on a plan. If John Boehner and his new GOP majority are as serious about deficit cutting as they say, he should make clear he'll hold such a vote in the next Congress since there will be little time for debate in the lame-duck session.
For liberals, the publication of Bush’s memoirs has largely been an occasion for revisiting the areas in which they rate his presidency a catastrophic failure. It’s hard for liberals to fathom that there are any parts of the Bush legacy we might miss. But there are.
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.
Funny, isn't it? When progressives win, they are told to moderate their hopes. When conservatives win, progressives are told to retreat.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is calmly assessing the political cyclone that routed her Democratic majority and will, at least temporarily, force her to vacate one of the best offices in the city, with its inspirational view of the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial.
The election was a setback for Democrats, not permanent defeat
"People want to know you're fighting for them when they're hurting," argues Pennsylvania Congressman Patrick Murphy. If enough incumbent Democrats like Murphy survive on Tuesday, they will contain the damage of a difficult night.
Is Joe Sestak leading a Democratic surge?
Secret money is corrupting our democracy.
Let us contemplate the joys of being in the political opposition when unemployment in your state tops 10 percent.
The GOP's disturbingly brilliant midterm strategy
Carl Paladino & the politics of anger
How 'Citizens United' is deforming our elections
Can Virginia Democrat Tom Perriello Run on his convictions & win?
More & more Democrats are running on the reforms
Obama's trip to Madison reflected the White House's realization that there is no substitute for a president making a coherent argument, taking on his opponents, and acknowledging his dependence on those who brought him to office.
The emergence of the Northeast as a Democratic firewall has been a long time in the making. The realignment of the South with the GOP, which made the party more conservative, called forth a counter-realignment among Northern moderates. That trend is accelerating.
The outsized influence of the extreme Right
Why isn't anyone talking about Obama's tax cuts?
Where have all the moderate Republicans gone?
In deciding Citizens United, the Supreme Court broke with decades of precedent and said Congress had no right to ban corporate or union spending to influence elections. In order to fix that mistake, three GOP senators will have to step up.
Until Obama's Labor Day speech in Milwaukee and his Cleveland-area statement of principles today, it was not clear how much heart he had in the fight, or whether he'd ever offer a comprehensive argument for the advantage of his party's approach over the other's. Now we know.
The nation's extraordinary prosperity from the end of World War II to the 1970s was in significant part the result of union contracts that, in words the right-wing hated Barack Obama for saying in 2008, "spread the wealth around." A broad middle class with spending power to keep the economy moving created a virtuous cycle of low joblessness and high wages.
By insisting that "it's time to turn the page," the president was talking about more than Iraq. He was also trying to turn the page on a particularly rough period for the Democrats and for his presidency.
The Democrats are in a hole because Obama has not engaged in an extended dialogue about what holds his achievements together, or why his view of government makes more sense than the GOP's attacks on everything Washington might do to improve the nation's lot.
Republicans are in the midst of an insurrection. Democrats are not. This vast gulf between the situations of the two parties—not some grand revolt against "the establishment" or "incumbents"—explains the year's primary results.
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.
When I sat down last week at the Capitol with Dodd to talk about his thirty-six years in Congress, he didn't change my attitude toward the longest-winded legislative body in the world. But he reminded me of something missing in our public life: an ebullient joy about what democratic politics can accomplish.
Dear Republicans, do you really want to endanger your party's greatest political legacy by turning the Fourteenth Amendment to our Constitution into an excuse for election-year ugliness?
Don't for an instant imagine that the comeback of the nation's rescued car companies, particularly General Motors, will change the way we debate government's role in the economy. When it comes to almost anything the government does, ideology trumps facts, slogans trump reality, and loaded words ("socialism") trump data.
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.
The mainstream media and the Obama administration must stop cowering before a right wing that has forced its own propaganda to be accepted as news by persuading journalists that "fairness" requires treating extremist rants as "one side of the story."
It's rare to see a dry run for an election campaign. But over the next month, Australia will provide a testing ground for some of the core themes in this November's American elections.
The titans of the private sector say President Barack Obama is antibusiness. Many progressives say he coddles business. How does the administration manage to pull that off?
The minute you say there are racist elements in the Tea Party—reflected in signs at rallies, billboards, and speeches from some of its major figures—the pushback goes from cries of persecution to charges that those who are criticizing divisiveness are themselves the dividers.
If the midterm elections were held now, Republicans would likely take control of the House of the Representatives. It's as hard these days to find a Democrat who's not alarmed as it is to find a Cleveland Cavaliers fan who's cheering for LeBron James.
A general's tasks involve executing policies made by the commander-in-chief, plotting strategy and winning wars—not playing politics in the media to get at civilian rivals inside the government.
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.
Democrats should feel a lot better than they do. They enacted major health-care reform, pulled the country out of economic spiral, and are about to pass the biggest reform of Wall Street since the New Deal. The GOP seems to be making itself unelectable. Yet Democrats are petrified—and this was true before the oil spill made matters worse.
An interview with Larry Summers
How the Obama administration deals with a challenge even more complicated than it looks will determine the kind of summer the president has and the kind of election the Democrats will face this fall.
It should become the philosophical shot heard 'round the country. In a speech that received far too little attention, former Supreme Court Justice David Souter took aim at conservatives' favorite theory of judging. Souter's verdict: It "has only a tenuous connection to reality."
What veterans can teach us
The fact that the answer to that question seems as murky as the water around the exploded oil platform in the Gulf of Mexico suggests that this is an excellent moment to recognize that our arguments pitting capitalism against socialism and the government against the private sector muddle far more than they clarify.
Why Washington's conventional wisdom of impending Democratic catastrophe is one of the best things Obama's party has going for it.
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.
Brace yourself for several months of occasionally biting but essentially meaningless political theater over the nomination of Solicitor General Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court.
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?
Maybe the next time someone calls Barack Obama a socialist, the president shouldn't issue a denial. He might instead urge his accuser to read the hearing transcript of this week's congressional testimony from the Goldman Sachs guys in their beautiful suits.
Why President Barack Obama's next Supreme Court nominee is so important
Only after disasters such as the collapse at Upper Big Branch Mine do we remember that regulations exist for a reason. We will eventually learn what went wrong at the mine and whether the safety violations were part of the problem. But then what will we do?
The men and women of the IRS collect the revenue that allows the government to finance our troops who are in harm's way, help our wounded warriors, and do so many of the other things the vast majority of us want our government to accomplish. Yes, if you support our troops, you have to support the work of the Internal Revenue Service.
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 bishops' take on the health-care bill is wrong
There is a pathetic quality to our discussion of deficits and fiscal responsibility because we never face up to how much we need government to do. Our debates are also characterized by a politically convenient amnesia.
In a city where the phrase bipartisan initiative is becoming an oxymoron, the urgency of containing the damage the Supreme Court could do to our electoral system creates an opportunity for a rare convergence of interest and principle.
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?
Young Americans are the linchpin of a new progressive era in U.S. politics.
If the summit fails to shake things up and does not lead to the passage of a comprehensive health-care bill, Democrats and President Barack Obama are in for a miserable time for the rest of his term.
Why has this middle-of-the-road president inspired such enthusiastic counter-organizing, and called forth such venom? The most popular theory on the left is that Obama's race is a big part of the story, and that we are seeing a reaction among some whites against his multiracial, multicultural political coalition.
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.
Joe Biden on the Economy & American Power
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 Democrats are at each other's throats over health care legislation that should be seen as one of the party's greatest triumphs. They are being held hostage by political narcissists and narrow slivers of their coalition. An increasingly bitter and negative Republican Party may not be able to win the midterm elections, but Democrats definitely can lose them.
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.
If we wanted to be successful in Afghanistan, we wouldn't choose to start from where we are now. We wouldn't have put this war on the back burner for so long, and we would have dealt much earlier with the debilitating deficiencies of President Hamid Karzai's government.
If the uninsured can’t count on the do-gooders to help them, where else can they turn?
How mean-spirited will we allow our politics to become?
The biggest obstacle to health-care reform is political escapism.
How Obama can win the battle for health-care reform
Why Rome views the president more favorably than U.S. conservatives
The year’s most dramatic legislative showdown was over climate change.
Is bipartisanship more important than passing a good health-care bill?
How the Speaker of the House confounds her critics
The odd mix of boldness and caution in the president’s economic plan
What President Obama must do at his press conference tonight
Rethinking religion’s public role
And how that book’s author (Steven Englund) imagines Napoleon might correspond with George W. Bush in The Last Word