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.
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.
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.
Jess Bravin’s The Terror Courts: Rough Justice at Guantánamo Bay traces the vexed history of the military commissions at Guantánamo, established to try terror suspects captured in Afghanistan and elsewhere.
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.
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.
War is war and murder is murder. The law draws the distinction. The American armed drone is a weapons system of war, not of policemen. And even if it were a police weapon, the United States does not have a commission to police the world of its radicals, jihadists, and religious fanatics, although for too many years it has acted as if it did.
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.
Many of the groups challenging the contraception mandate in the Affordable Care Act on religious-liberty grounds hang their hopes on one Supreme Court case: Gonzales v. O Centro Espirita Beneficente Uniao do Vegetal. But while the superficial attraction of O Centro is obvious, the facts of the mandate are quite different.
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.
A conservative judge dedicated to the principle of judicial restraint might be expected to defer to the legislative branch in its exercise of powers explicitly granted to it by the Constitution. But Antonin Scalia and his fellow Republican-appointed justices seem inclined, in this case, toward clear judicial activism.
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.
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.
Antonin Scalia speaks favorably, and provocatively, of a “dead” Constitution. But an eighteenth-century reading of the Second Amendment doesn't serve a public that supports sensible control of the guns in use today.
Iran will be our next war, if neo-conservatives and certain advisers to the Obama administration have their way -- all acting with the support of the American public, which one might think has had enough of war, after nearly seventy years of it and gaining nothing.
Why the reluctance among conservative opponents of gun control to criticize America’s gun culture, with its vocal enthusiasm for weapons designed specifically to kill people as efficiently as possible?
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.
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.
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.
Are northern Mali and southern Algeria about to be declared the new front in the war on terror that still preoccupies the American political class and the foreign affairs community?
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.
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.
'Argo' & 'Zero Dark Thirty'
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
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.
The Bishops' Case Against the Mandate
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.
Confronting Gun Violence
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.
Beware of any entitlement reform described by its advocates as “win-win.” Such proposals are almost always too good to be true. The proposal to raise the age of eligibility for Medicare from sixty-five to sixty-seven is a good example.
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 threat posed by weapons of mass destruction was infamously used to justify the U.S. invasion of Iraq. That's why clear evidence and a convincing argument must be presented before any action on Syria's chemical weapons.
When Israel wins its campaign to create a single, unchallenged Jewish state on all of the land given by the U.N. in 1948 to make parallel Jewish and Arab homelands, what happens to the Palestinian people left in the country?
Breaking with the Present?
President Obama's aggressive campaign of targeted killings against Al Qaeda and the Taliban is the source of bitter resentment toward the United States. Many legal questions about the deployment of drones outside a recognized war zone also remain in dispute. Is the United States establishing a dangerous precedent?
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.
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.
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.
As the leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, President Mohamed Morsi has been looked upon by Washing with apprehension. But he has same well-founded words for the United States in how it should approach relations with Egypt and the Middle East.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Banks in Control of Their Customers
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.
In his opinion on the Affordable Care Act, the chief justice had to clear a number of hurdles to uphold the law under the government’s taxing authority.
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.
A ruling against the Affordable Care Act could give its supporters the chance to describe the law and defend what it does, while prompting a fearless conversation on the role of the court's conservative justices in blocking progressive legislation.
Ongoing Analysis & Opinion
Some Catholics have likened the Obama administration to that of 1920s authoritarian president Plutarco Elías Calles. The comparison is erroneous, misleading, and ahistorical.
President Obama's Cleveland speech highlights the fundamental difference between his vision of the future and Mitt Romney's.
In the final installment of our series, William Galston responds to the U.S. Catholic bishops' latest statement on religious freedom.
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.
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?
Bishops & Electoral Politics
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.
Recent articles in the National Review and the National Catholic Register charge once again that, under the health-care law, “tens of millions of Americans will be getting federal subsidies to pay for abortions” and that prolifers will be tricked by a sinister “secrecy clause” into inadvertently signing up for insurance plans that cover abortions. Not true.
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?
Catholicism is not the Tea Party at prayer
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.
Conservative Catholics complain that liberal Catholics instinctively greet every statement from the Vatican with suspicion. Fair point. Patient attention to the legitimate concerns of others and the presumption of goodwill on the part of those we disagree with are essential virtues. Unfortunately, patience and the presumption of goodwill were not much in evidence in the response of the U.S. bishops to President Obama’s contraception compromise.
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.
Obama's Contraception Compromise
Is the National Defense Authorization Act of 2012 constitutional?
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
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.
The Afghan government's order a week ago to the U.S. to close its prison at Bagram Air Base near Kabul, where it holds unidentified prisoners, came as a shock to Washington, although President Karzai has before asked the U.S. to cease operations because of what he considered infringements upon Afghan sovereignty.
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.
Should Obama have signed the National Defense Authorization Act?
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 bishops, contraception & religious freedom
The president channels his inner Roosevelts
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.
Should the president of the United States be able to authorize the assassination of a U.S. citizen anywhere in the world without telling the public why—or even acknowledging that he has done so? The question is not theoretical. On September 30 a missile fired from an unmanned drone aircraft operated by the CIA killed two American citizens in Yemen.
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
The Week that Changed Politics
Will the United States ever leave Afghanistan?
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?
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.
Obama's poll numbers are dropping. Time to mount an offensive
When former President George W. Bush joins President Barack Obama at “Ground Zero” in lower Manhattan on September 11 to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the United States, the nation will be reminded, if only for a few hours, that the preservation of democracy requires real sacrifices and the willing embrace of duties, not just the pursuit of private interests and freedoms.
“I don’t oppose war in all circumstances,” Obama said in a speech about Iraq in 2002. “What I am opposed to is a dumb war.... Even a successful war against Iraq” would “require a United States occupation of undetermined length, at undetermined cost, with undetermined consequences.” That speech captures much of what was exhilarating about Obama in 2008—and what is frustrating about him in 2011.
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.
Is Accommodation a winning hand?
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.
Thinking clearly about a slogan & a slur
Up with moderation
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
When the Tea Party comes home to roost
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?
When Qaddafi is finally deposed, the world may agree that “all’s well that ends well.” But first, some questions: Why did France & Britain lead the way? Why did the United States join the effort? How humanitarian is this humanitarian intervention? Is Qaddafi’s fitting end being achieved by doubtful means?
Undoubtedly, in the killing of Osama bin Laden, a certain kind of justice was done, and the relief and satisfaction felt by many of the families of those murdered at bin Laden’s direction cannot be denied. Yet questions about the circumstances of bin Laden’s death remain.
The atomization of American society
There was much in Obama’s speech announcing the killing of Osama bin Laden—and in the scenes of chanting and jubilant flag-waving across the country that followed—that ought to give Christians, and not only pacifists such as myself, great pause.
The U.S. government faces few challenges more important than renewing people’s trust in the honesty and fairness of our financial institutions and economic system.
Saving Motown worked
Who is Obama? Now we know
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?
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.
What budget cuts can tell us
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.
Will Obama take on the GOP's irresponsible budget plan?
Did the GOP overplay its hand in the Midwest?
Yes & no
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.
The growing irrelevance of American power
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.
Washington's confused response misses the mark on Egypt
Whatever one’s political commitments, facing the question of Iraqi civilian deaths as honestly and objectively as possible is both an intellectual and a moral imperative.
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.
What's our end game in Afghanistan?
How Obama can define moderation
Health care & the new civility
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?
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?
What the success of the Tea Party portends
Did Obama Learn the Wrong Lessons from Carter?
Republicans are risking the nation's security for short-term political gain
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.
The results of the midterm elections were both emphatic and ambiguous: a strong message was sent, but no one is entirely sure what it is. It’s easier to say what Americans are feeling right now—frustration, impatience, and, increasingly, anger—than to know what policies they expect their elected representatives to adopt.
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
The 2010 midterms will go down as one of the most fiercely fought campaigns in our political history. What was this strife all about? Yes, there were policies to fight over. But above all, there was a tsunami of money.
Discuss that and other issues at dotCommonweal's open thread on the midterm election results.
"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.
What will the nation’s politics look like if, as expected, the Republicans take back the House on November 2? Indiana’s Mike Pence, chairman of the House Republican Conference, issues a warning and a prediction. “There will be no compromise on repealing Obamacare,” he said. “There will be no compromise on stopping Democrats from growing government and raising taxes. And if I haven’t been clear enough yet, let me say again: No compromise.”
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.
Open hearts & minds at Princeton
The GOP's disturbingly brilliant midterm strategy
How 'Citizens United' is deforming our elections
Can Virginia Democrat Tom Perriello Run on his convictions & win?
With the unemployment rate still hovering near 10 percent, Americans are understandably dissatisfied with the pace of economic recovery and apprehensive about the country’s future. What is perhaps less understandable is the degree of rancor toward President Barack Obama and the federal government as a whole.
More & more Democrats are running on the reforms
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
Where are the serious Republicans?
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.
Europe's Role in Obama's Mideast Negotiations
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.
During his recent tour of TV news programs, Petraeus suggested that sending troops home a year from now might be premature. Defense Secretary Gates then intervened to say that the promise given the president in 2009 by the military would be kept. Who's right?
The prospect of giving Afghanistan a functioning and competent democratic government and a new and functional army is slight. That was what the counterinsurgency doctrine drafted by Gen. Petraeus was supposed to do. It has rarely succeeded.
Jonathan Alter's 'The Promise: President Obama, Year One'
The Bridge is the latest entry in an already crowded field, the Obama biography sweepstakes. Remnick is editor of the New Yorker, and this unfailingly lucid narrative has the welcome feel of a leisurely magazine profile.
Liberals may lament the administration’s failure to make progress on immigration and climate-change legislation in this congressional session, but it may be time to shift energies to protecting what has already been passed.
It's not yet time to withdraw from Afghanistan.
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."
Helen Alvaré accuses me and Commonweal of being naive about the new health-care reform law, and suggests our analysis of the legislation is politically motivated. She's wrong.
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.
General McChrystal gets out just in time
Conservatives have long decried “activist” judges who supposedly “legislated from the bench,” but the Roberts Court is hardly shy about breaking new legal ground.
American arms spending is supposed to make Americans safe from its problems, but that is not working. Congressional attempts to reduce military spending over the years have consistently failed because military spending is a politically irresistible cause, even when the results are irrational.
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.
Lessons from the BP debacle
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."
Compromise is not a dirty word in democratic politics, nor is the balancing of conflicting goods foreign to the church’s tradition of casuistic moral reasoning. So why do so many American bishops appear to spurn both in their prolife advocacy? Do they really think the hardest line is always the best one, or the most persuasive?
How the bishops conference gets health-care legislation wrong
Why Washington's conventional wisdom of impending Democratic catastrophe is one of the best things Obama's party has going for it.
The European Union doesn’t know where it stands at the moment. NATO thinks it knows and is gambling.
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?
Among elected officials, journalists, and average citizens, intensifying partisan polarization is thought to be one of the dominant political trends of our times. Yet it has proved remarkably controversial among political scientists.
The Democrats’ financial-reform plan doesn't go far enough.
Why President Barack Obama's next Supreme Court nominee is so important
As President Obama said in his State of the Union speech, members of Congress were sent to Washington to govern, not to engage in an endless political campaign. If the Democrats hope to convince voters that they can govern, they must take full ownership of the health-care reform package.
President Obama must do a better job of explaining our mission in Afghanistan.
Why Obama should have kept the Council on Bioethics
What is it about Afghanistan, possessing next to nothing that the United States requires, that justifies such lavish attention?
Obama & the autoworkers
Obama Meets the Catholic Press
Was it wrong to invite the president to deliver the commencement address?
Cleaning up after the Bush administration
The unborn need more than prophets.
The American people have turned to a man with a first-class mind & temperament. He’ll need both.
The senator’s Philadelphia speech on race was brilliant—but also troubling.
A life-long Democrat explains how his party lost his vote.
Hope is a theological virtue.