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.
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.
At his 2009 inauguration, President Obama pledged to close Guantánamo within a year. Many of those imprisoned there have been held for more than a decade without facing any charges, and in recent months, an increasing number of desperate detainees have engaged in hunger strikes to call attention to their plight.
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.
Bills deceptively described as “technical fixes” to the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial-reform law have both Republican and Democratic backers. So far, neither the White House nor the Treasury Department has taken an active role in opposing these bills, which threaten to undermine one of the most important legislative achievements of President Barack Obama’s first term.
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.
Despite Evangelical Catholicism’s hectoring tone and the particular set of political judgments into which it straitjackets John Paul II, readers ultimately can’t afford to ignore George Weigel.
When William F. Buckley Jr. founded the National Review, he proclaimed that its mission was to “stand athwart history, yelling Stop, at a time when no one is inclined to do so, or to have much patience with those who so urge it.” American conservatism as we have known it for three generations began with this imperative, which has now led it to a political impasse. Yelling “Stop!” may be good theater but it does little to thwart history.
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.
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?
Efforts at immigration reform have come surprisingly far, surprisingly fast, and we should hope the progress continues. The current immigration regime is a dysfunctional and often cruel system that imposes huge economic and humanitarian costs on citizens and noncitizens alike, with few justifying policy benefits.
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.
President Obama's nomination of Chuck Hagel for defense secretary signals a repudiation of the aggressive foreign policy that has kept the United States fighting wars for over a decade.
What’s the matter with white people? Answering that question is the objective of Salon editor Joan Walsh’s new book.
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.
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?
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.
Breaking with the Present?
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
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.
As a method of war, unmanned drones are illegal and unconstitutional. But the two presidential candidates have each indicated a commitment to the continued use of drones for programmed unilateral killing of selected individuals in Muslim society.
A Partisan Abuse of the Church’s Moral Teachings
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.
The third debate added to the evidence that the United States is intellectually adrift when it comes to policies concerning the Middle East, and perhaps blundering into serious trouble with Russia and China.
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.
Two books sketch the fragmentation that pose obstacles to the efforts of President Obama, or any national political leader, to promote a more common vision.
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.
Does Mitt Romney possess a serious understanding of American foreign relations, their past, their present, and the problems they will pose for a new administration?
Translating Moral Principle into Public Policy
In this year’s first presidential debate, Mitt Romney told a great many half-truths about his platform and his record, but he told them all with stunning self-assurance. No one seemed more stunned than Barack Obama.
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.
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.
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?
Diplomacy Still the Least Bad Option
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
Political Journalism in the Digital Age
The GOP seems to have given up on attracting more minority voters in time for the 2012 election, and has switched to another strategy: Pass laws that make it harder to vote. Some have been blocked as violations of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, but others have been upheld.
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.
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.
Republicans and Democrats wrap some portion of their party’s identity and self-image in the conflict over national-security policy. But at this point the script is nonsense, masking a remarkable common ground between the parties on the legal and policy issues surrounding terrorism.
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.
Polarization, incivility, and partisan squabbling are weakening our system's ability to respond to major national crises, and recent events provide cause for more concern. Two new books investigate why this is happening now.
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.
A new suit challenges President Obama's 2012 National Defense Authorization Act on the definition of "support" for terrorism, and the possible expansion of presidential power beyond constitutional limits.
Afghanistan and Iraq remain awkward and troubling topics for both political parties.
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.
Neither Mitt Romney nor Paul Ryan seem close to the hawkish ideology that gave the United States its military deployments in Asia and Central Asia. But they seem to have no clear intellectual position at all, which is to say that they might easily become the instruments of others with aggressive ideologies of their own.
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.
Mitt Romney’s off-the-cuff foreign-policy remarks, at home and abroad, carry a menacing tone, though he’s usually attacking President Obama, not Putin or the Taliban.
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.
Overwrought warnings from both campaigns suggest there will be no end to the current stalemate.
In fending off calls to release more of his tax returns and complaining about “personal” attacks, Mitt Romney tries to avoid the serious debate Americans want about the role of private equity firms such as Bain in the modern economy.
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.
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.
Republicans complain that President Obama’s executive order makes permanent immigration reform more difficult—an ungrounded assertion intended to obscure the fact that most Republican lawmakers still want nothing to do with real reform.
Romney, Bain, & Catholic Social Teaching
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.
John Burnham may be known as the godfather of neoconservatism. But as the election approaches, it's his seminal work on the rise of the managerial class that should be recalled.
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.
Ongoing Analysis & Opinion
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?
It is widely considered improper to ask a presidential candidate about his religion and its political implications. The notion is derived from the final clause of Article VI of the Constitution, which says that “no religious test shall ever be required as a Qualification” for any federal office. But that notion is mistaken.
In the final installment of our series, William Galston responds to the U.S. Catholic bishops' latest statement on religious freedom.
Ann Romney Never Had To Work a Day in Her Life
Those of us who write about elections tend to treat each new one as path-breaking. Finally, we tell ourselves, this time there will be an explicit choice between two different understandings of American purpose. Then the election happens, politics returns to normal, and not much changes. But this time I really believe it.
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?
The perils of income inequality
Americans Elect has collected nearly 2.5 million signatures and gained ballot access in 19 states. The effort could spawn a major third-party candidacy this fall. That’s why it’s important to understand why third-party enthusiasts are so wrong.
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.
Do the bishops know Obama is taking them seriously?
The Silence at the Center of Our Politics
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.
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?
Super PACs Place Their Bets
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.
How Romney made his millions
What Clint Eastwood & Rick Santorum Have in Common
How Bad Policies Brought Us a New Gilded Age
Can the federal government finally say no to Big Oil?
Obama owes more on religious freedom
Is Mitt Romney Right about Envy?
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
It was not supposed to end this way. Although President Barack Obama deserves credit for bringing an end to the war in Iraq that he inherited, if he had had his wishes, thousands of U.S. troops would nevertheless have remained stationed in Iraq indefinitely.
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.