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.
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.
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.
The blood runs cold when one fully appreciates how vulnerable Western policymakers are to slogans and magical thinking. The Reinhart-Rogoff case is the latest, and certainly will not be the last, in which the credulity and carelessness of experts wreak havoc among millions of ordinary people.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
What Can Obama Do in a Second Term?
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
With the Siena conference on euro reform ending in an even divide, the survival of the European Union seems at ever greater risk.
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.
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.
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.
Ongoing Analysis & Opinion
President Obama's Cleveland speech highlights the fundamental difference between his vision of the future and Mitt Romney's.
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.
Is Mitt Romney Right about Envy?
The great economic crisis has given birth to a smaller and tighter monetary union in Europe, under the influence of a Germany that is undergoing a certain estrangement from its European partners. This amounts to a possibly dangerous wager on what the European Union will ultimately become, which not everyone may like.
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.
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?
The small-government movement has created resistance to the reasonable proposals in the recent Vatican statement on financial reform. Yet, separate from the many strengths of the statement and the many problems in the way it’s been received in this country, there remains a significant hole in official Catholic social teaching on the economy.
The deficit hawks in Congress are ardent promoters of the economic well-being of future generations. And yet, when you look at the cuts, both those proposed and those enacted by these wizards of finance, you have to ask what kind of future they imagine will follow from their slashing frenzy, if not for their own children and grandchildren then for everyone else’s.
How Americans can save themselves from plutocracy
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.
Nearly three years ago Dennis Blair, President Obama’s director of national security, garnered headlines when he reported to Congress that the most serious threat to the United States and to world peace was not terrorism, or Iran, or the rise of China, but the economic crisis. Blair worried about a backlash against the United States, and especially against its promotion of increasingly unregulated financial and commercial markets. The Vatican, as it turns out, appears to agree with much of this assessment.
Americans are waking up to income disparity
Can Americans Save Their Country from Plutocracy?
In which our reporter joins Wall Street's new occupants
Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker has chosen the low road.