Archive for January 2010
…with only 51 votes. A strategy from Ian Millhiser of CAP.
Short video on the magic of scale once made for IBM. Here’s the Simpsons version. Still more scale games here.
* Rip Torn apparently tried to rob a bank. What? Not a hoax, not an imaginary story.
* ‘Godfather used Facebook to run empire from jail.’ Let’s hope the FBI doesn’t know about my Twitter account.
* Counternarrative watch: There seems to be little to endear citizens to their legislature or to the president trying to influence it. It’s too bad, because even with the wrench thrown in by Republican Scott Brown’s election in Massachusetts, this Democratic Congress is on a path to become one of the most productive since the Great Society 89th Congress in 1965-66, and Obama already has the most legislative success of any modern president — and that includes Ronald Reagan and Lyndon Johnson. The deep dysfunction of our politics may have produced public disdain, but it has also delivered record accomplishment.
* Yglesias has a quick primer on still another way our institutions make legislation terrible.
* And this all-white basketball league sounds like a great, totally not racist idea. “There’s nothing hatred about what we’re doing,” he said. “I don’t hate anyone of color. But people of white, American-born citizens are in the minority now. Here’s a league for white players to play fundamental basketball, which they like.” Naturally, this made Colbert.
Today was busy and tomorrow’s very busy, but after that I get a breather. Here are some links.
* With the upcoming retirement of the space shuttle and Obama’s quiet cancelation of the planned return to the Moon, America essentially no longer has a manned space program. (Via MeFi.) For a nerd I’m actually pretty bearish on space and think there’s probably nothing up there for us—but all the same this makes me really sad.
* Where are all the aliens? Maybe they killed themselves through geoengineering.
* Hard times in academia: college endowments lost $58 billion dollars last year, about 19%.
* How to Report the News. This is perfect.
* Pelosi for president: “You go through the gate. If the gate’s closed, you go over the fence. If the fence is too high, we’ll pole-vault in. If that doesn’t work, we’ll parachute in. But we’re going to get health care reform passed for the American people.”
* How Obama will double exports in five years: the magic of inflation. When you put it that way it sounds a lot less impressive.
Anyway, I keep picturing all these little kids playing some game in this big field of rye and all. Thousands of little kids, and nobody’s around—nobody big, I mean—except me. And I’m standing on the edge of some crazy cliff. What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff—I mean if they’re running and they don’t look where they’re going I have to come out from somewhere and catch them. That’s all I do all day. I’d just be the catcher in the rye and all. I know it’s crazy, but that’s the only thing I’d really like to be. Breaking in from a hectic day to report some sad news: J.D. Salinger has died.
This is a much looser SOTU than I got used to under George Bush—much more house of commons—applause is shorter, but more frequent, jeers are obvious, Mr Obama is anticipating it and working off Republican hostility like a stage comic with hecklers. Joe Wilson’s “You lie!” would still have been considered a breach of decorum tonight, but less so, than it was in September. The seething Republican id is officially the new normal, and, as we saw tonight, Obama is clever and flexible enough to score points off it when he wants to.
A reader at TPM says so:
I know I’ve never seen anything like that happen in a SOTU and if anything like that has ever happened before in a SOTU or a joint session, I must have been hung over the day of the lecture in college. Even the fireside chat in which FDR unveiled his court packing scheme, as dripping with patrician condescension and barely concealed venom as it was, didn’t go second person and directly in their face the way Obama did tonight.
The Supremes are used to wafting into the House in their black robes, sitting dispassionately through the speech and wafting ethereally out again on a cloud of apolitical rectitude. It’s like they forget they’re there because they’re one of the three branches. And I truly don’t think it ever occured to them that crassly injecting themselves into the sordid partisan fray of what they like to call “the political branches” with that catastrophic decision would cause the President to treat them like people who’d injected themselves into the sordid partisan fray. (And why should they? After all, they got away with Bush v. Gore with barely a dent in their credibility). I even thought I detected a bit of “told you” coming from the four in the minority.
I think we saw a bit of history made tonight, and no one noticed except the Supremes themselves.
Obama seemed genuinely conflicted about this moment; if you compare his spoken remarks to the prepared text you’ll see he seemed to be softening his attack on the fly. I was remarking to someone over GChat earlier tonight that part of the problem with Obama seems to be, perhaps, his genuine respect for the separation of powers; beyond the mere politics of cover he seems to actually want Congress to do its own work in drafting legislation. It’s a problem, and hurting him badly, because Congressional Democrats have no brains. (A case study in how virtue becomes vice.)
But here, then, is one answer to that criticism, in its own way arguably a vice: Obama is also the politician who finally stopped pretending the five-justice majority that gave us Bush v. Gore and now Citizens United v. FEC is nonpartisan, apolitical, or “above the fray.” It’s been clear for years that this SCOTUS majority is every bit as activist as the “liberal judges” it decries. Indeed, with Citizens United, we see it’s probably more.
UPDATE: Media Matters, in response to a Drudge five-alarm whine over this, says it’s not that rare after all. Contra MM, the moment is somewhat singular. Citizens United was a specific decision, made just last week; Reagan’s criticism of decade-old Roe v. Wade and Bush’s complaints about anonymous activist judges don’t quite measure up.
UPDATE 2: Of course, many are pointing to Alito’s visible response to Obama as evidence of the criticism I make of the politicized contemporary Court above, as well noting that this too is a breach of protocol. Here’s Greenwald:
There’s a reason that Supreme Court Justices — along with the Joint Chiefs of Staff — never applaud or otherwise express any reaction at a State of the Union address. It’s vital — both as a matter of perception and reality — that those institutions remain apolitical, separate and detached from partisan wars. The Court’s pronouncements on (and resolutions of) the most inflammatory and passionate political disputes retain legitimacy only if they possess a credible claim to being objectively grounded in law and the Constitution, not political considerations. The Court’s credibility in this regard has — justifiably — declined substantially over the past decade, beginning with Bush v. Gore (where 5 conservative Justices issued a ruling ensuring the election of a Republican President), followed by countless 5-4 decisions in which conservative Justices rule in a way that promotes GOP political beliefs, while the more “liberal” Justices do to the reverse (Citizens United is but the latest example). Beyond that, the endless, deceitful sloganeering by right-wing lawyers about “judicial restraint” and “activism” — all while the judges they most revere cavalierly violate those “principles” over and over — exacerbates that problem further (the unnecessarily broad scope of Citizens United is the latest example of that, too, and John ‘balls and strikes” Roberts may be the greatest hypocrite ever to sit on the Supreme Court). All of that is destroying the ability of the judicial branch to be perceived — and to act — as one of the few truly apolitical and objective institutions.
As I’ve been tweeting, I found that to be close to a home run for the president in terms of presentation and optics. Of course some of the policies advocated aren’t great, and are sometimes actively terrible—but in the end the State of the Union is just words. It doesn’t do anything. The point tonight was for Obama to re-seize control of the narrative and paint the Democrats as the sensible grown-up party they (sometimes) are. I think he did this; he made the Republicans look like chumps and dared them to keep voting “no” on everything. He got them to sit on their hands while Democrats applauded tax cuts and adorable puppies. He was charming and funny and came across as (by far) the smartest and most reasonable person in the room. This is what the SotU is for.
Tomorrow he still has to go to twist some Blue Dog arms and get things done, and if he can’t get some big stuff done soon he really will turn into Jimmy Carter—but tonight he looks like a winner. His presidency has been very frustrating lately, but perhaps this marks a turning point. (Let us hope.) Like it or not, a lot of the time style precedes substance in U.S. politics; Obama wasn’t going to get any victories looking like he looked last week. This SotU moves the needle in our direction, which means I’m happy.
Now, I’m not sure presidential speeches can actually hit do all that much in terms of moving public opinion, much less hit the reset button on a completely toxic political environment—but damned if Obama didn’t try. Home run tonight; tomorrow is another day.
* The State of the Union address Obama would give in a more honest world. Honestly not looking forward to the speech tonight; the policies have mostly all already been announced, so I imagine the new stuff will just be pointless rhetorical digs at progressives and the Left. Even the good stuff isn’t much; State of the Union promises are often just that. Bonus points at least to Bob McDonnell for finally realizing the opposition response needs an audience.
* Pessimism watch: Cap and trade is not looking good. Lieberman and Nelson positively gleeful about upcoming opportunities to stab the Democratic caucus in the back. Republicans once again reject their own ideas in their efforts to screw over Obama. But this time Lucy won’t kick the football. iPad questionable at best. And Howard Zinn has died. He’s memorialized at The Nation.
Responding to my post entitled “You’re Screwing Everything Up,” in which I characterize the spending freeze as an election-year pivot in response to the Scott Brown victory in Massachusetts, Shankar suggests instead this Noam Scheiber piece from TNR last month that demonstrates certain people in the administration have actually been invested in this plan for quite some time. I concede the point: the spending freeze is probably less brazenly opportunistic than I originally thought, though that still doesn’t in itself make it a good idea.
Here, for what it’s worth, is Scheiber’s pro-freeze brief:
But there is a logic to Orszag’s gambit, which runs roughly as follows: It’s almost certain that Congress will pass, and the president will sign, a jobs bill early next year, probably in the neighborhood of $100 billion to $200 billion. Given that, and given the difficulty of doing anything about the long-term deficit next year, the administration needs some signal to U.S. bondholders that it takes the deficit seriously. Just not so seriously that it undercuts the extra stimulus.