Tag Archives: Barack Obama

Reading Barack Obama

Writers overestimate the erudition of politicos. Alfred Kazin, watching with amazement at the number of poets and novelists cozying up to John F. Kennedy, suggested a sentimentality at work whereby writers, shunned by mass culture, suddenly find validation when a president has memorized one of their book titles. Continue reading

Ranking reeking presidents

The latest presidential rankings suggest #metoo and a reckoning with the men’s prejudices affected several reputations, notably Andrew Jackson (out of the top ten and tumbling, thank the lord or Jon Meacham) and Woodrow Wilson’s (same). The late Poppy Bush, stretching his legs and aglow with the knowledge that obituary writers praised him as the Last Sane Republican, gets comfortable in the top twenty. Andrew Johnson remains as reviled as ever, perhaps more so as we re-examine the catastrophe of the abandonment of Reconstruction. Ron Chernow’s superb bio has rehabilitated Ulysses Grant’s reputation much as David McCullough’s did John Adams seventeen years ago. But why Warren Harding gets more shit than Calvin Coolidge (who actually did sleep while the fires were set for the burning of Rome) I’ll never know;  he needs the Meacham Treatment, I suspect. But what the bloody hell is George W. Bush doing above Chester Arthur and Benjamin Harrison?

At the bottom, chewing on James Buchanan and Franklin Pierce while trapped in ice, is the current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Here is the aforementioned top ten: Continue reading

Obamacare in danger again

Last night’s gleeful ruling from Judge Reed O’Connor of the Federal District Court in Fort Worth, according to Ezra Klein, presents Democrats with, to use that most baleful of modern jargon, an opportunity. “But with Obamacare under constant threat, Republicans have refocused Democrats on building what they failed to build in 2010: a universal health care system simple enough and popular enough that it is safe from constant political and legal assault,” Klein writes. “And that means some version of Medicare-for-all.” His conclusion:

Imagine a world where Judge O’Connor’s ruling is upheld. In that world, a Republican judge cuts tens of millions of people off health insurance mere weeks after Republicans lost a midterm election for merely trying to cut those people off health insurance. The aftermath of that would be a political massacre for the GOP, and a straightforward mandate for Democrats to rebuild the health system along the lines they prefer.

It’s true that states like Virginia that have expanded Medicaid coverage have seen declining enrollment in the ACA. Yet Klein’s arguments are too clever by half. It’s not 2010, Joe Lieberman is gone, therefore Medicare For All isn’t anathema in polite circles. But on what grounds does Klein assume (a) the Joe Manchins in the Senate will embrace Medicare For All (b) the consequences of stripping insurance from millions of people will sober up Republicans because they didn’t want so drastic a decision from the Texas court — a decision, I should note, silly on its face? Congress repealed the individual mandate in 2017; what was left to overrule unless the judge wanted to revel in the “judicial activism” that conservatives have accused liberal judges of?

I gave up accusing the GOP of hypocrisy years ago, and I trust Ruth Bader Ginsberg and Stephen Breyer will still live by the time the Supreme Court grants cert to the appeal.

Joe Biden as nominee: a terrible f—— deal

“Morning” Joe and partner “Mika” Brzezinski is have evolved since the days when their MSNBC morning show turned into a Donald J. Trump telecenter in 2015-2016. They acknowledge the impacts of gerrymandering and James Comey’s FBI announcement on the 2016 election; they accept that the new Democratic coalition comprises women and people of color; they pay lip service to the environment; Scarborough gels his hair, keeps the sides shaved, and wears the occasionally chic sweater. Willie Geist, who looks like Michael Shannon playing Jason Isbell, has a quiet, mordant wit. Continue reading

‘Insurers are figuring out how to make money’

Green shoots spotted in the once fallow Obamacare field:

There are promising signs across the country that Obamacare rate hikes for the 2019 enrollment season won’t approach the eye-popping increases of the past two years, though rates won’t be finalized until the fall. Enrollment reopens Nov. 1, days before the midterm elections.

For example, one year after Tennessee’s market seemed on the verge of collapse, BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee plans to decrease rates by 10 percent and Cigna wants to lower rates by 5 percent. In Minnesota, all four of the state’s insurers are looking to lower premiums. And in several other states — including the key political battlegrounds of Indiana, Nevada, Michigan and Pennsylvania — proposed rate increases are 5 percent or less.

“The market is starting to stabilize,” said Nate Clark, CEO of Minnesota’s marketplace. “Insurers are figuring out how to make money.”

Those surprisingly positive signs may also complicate Democratic talking points ahead of November’s elections, given their eagerness to attack Republicans for “sabotaging” the marketplaces and driving up premiums. It’s a reversal of roles from the past eight years, when Republicans pilloried Obamacare on their way to winning total control of the federal government.

And the president has once again taken to the Twitter machine in a distraction effort while his Justice Department wants the pre-existing clause in the Affordable Care Act declared unconstitutional.

The effect of repealing the individual mandate

A year ago I said to my friend Mari, “We’re in for it now” enough times that she wanted to kick my teeth in. It’s December 2017, and we’re in it: tax bill signed, GOP congressmen calling for investigations into Robert Mueller’s own investigation and Uranium One, GOP and Donald Trump sewn together so tightly that they’re feeding KFC into the same shared mouth. I like to believe that the vaporizing of the individual mandate has not destroyed the Affordable Care Act.

“President Barack Obama’s signature domestic achievement,” the New York Times observes, “is becoming more like what conservatives despise — government-run health care — thanks in part to Republican efforts that are raising premiums for people without government assistance and allowing them to skirt coverage.” In other words, the poor get some form of access to health care while Americans who can afford or get it through their jobs are off it entirely.

While the marketplaces, or exchanges, have struggled with a series of problems since they opened in 2014, Medicaid, administered by an experienced corps of state officials, has gone from strength to strength. Public appreciation for the program has steadily increased as people come to understand its importance in the health care system, including its central role in combating the opioid epidemic.

And though Congress has effectively repealed the requirement for people to have health insurance, federal subsidies are still available to low- and moderate-income people who want insurance. The federal government pays, on average, about three-fourths of the premium for more than three-fourths of the people who buy insurance through the Affordable Care Act marketplace.

Even officials who work for local health providers have admitted that the subsidies are the incentives, not the mandate or penalty. Nevertheless, four million more Americans will be uninsured by 2019 and thirteen million more by 2027, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

The Obama presidency’s ‘profound psychological wound’ on white Americans

For the first time in my life, my family and I are leaving town for Thanksgiving (details of which will follow). Because it’s a smaller group, I predict no arguments about kneeling football players, Harvey Weinstein, Hillary Clinton and uranium, or Roy Moore. Alas, I can’t say the same for the rest of you.

One of the paradoxes of Cuban experience is the vehemence with which we identify as white despite the U.S. Census declaring otherwise. I knew parents of friends who checked off “white” on the census or when forced to write “other” wrote “Cuban.” Essentialism also gets sprinkled in this broth. Woe be the relative or family friend whose eyes are almond-shaped: he is called, affectionately, el chino. You are what you look like. If you look white, you are white. Acting white matters too. To be white and Cuban is to reject behavior that would inspire a scowl from abuela. It isn’t that you have “class” — it’s that the non-whites lack it. It isn’t that you’re sophisticated — it’s that the non-whites, poor things, can’t help their vulgarity. Exceptions are common, especially if the non-whites were nannies, neighbors of your great grandmother’s in Olguin, or movie stars.

An continuation of fine work by The New Yorker‘s Peter Hessler’s fine work unearthing the unfettered racism animating Donald Trump overs, Adam Serwer’s Atlantic story contextualizes his reporting with history: the candidacies of David Duke and George Wallace, the birtherism phenomenon. This passage struck me:

Trump’s great political insight was that Obama’s time in office inflicted a profound psychological wound on many white Americans, one that he could remedy by adopting the false narrative that placed the first black president outside the bounds of American citizenship. He intuited that Obama’s presence in the White House decreased the value of what W. E. B. Du Bois described as the “psychological wage” of whiteness across all classes of white Americans, and that the path to their hearts lay in invoking a bygone past when this affront had not, and could not, take place.

Although Trump voters understand that “the president’s policies and rhetoric target religious and ethnic minorities, and behave accordingly,” Serwer writes, they stop short of calling these policies racist. Racism has nothing to do with endorsing Muslim bans or believing that statues of Confederate traitors should remain in place as a tribute to history. To be a racist is to endorse lynchings, use the n word, or never to invite a Mexican to your home — evils, radical and banal, unlikely to happen in a suburb. Violence, devoid of ambiguity, that offends liberty and affects property is the only racist act. Serwer even addresses an argument I’ve heard from Beltway hacks since last November: you can’t be racist and have voted for Barack Obama, the sort of balderdash peddled by the same voters who loved their black nannies and boast of their many black friends.

“For centuries, capital’s most potent wedge against labor in America has been the belief that it is better to be poor than to be equal to niggers,” Serwer writes. The rhetoric force of the sentence is attractive. Better to say that the blacks most attractive to the Duke or Trump voter are those who most fit expectations of white class and sophistication.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Responses to violence

Julia Azari reviews the history of presidential responses to acts of violence on black citizens:

In 1906, for example, a group of African-American soldiers in Brownsville, Texas, was accused of shooting multiple people. They were acquitted by a court and there was no real evidence of their guilt — but President Theodore Roosevelt issued a dishonorable discharge for all of the accused soldiers. Roosevelt’s critics accused him of placating the angry mob for political reasons, as Roosevelt’s Republican Party had long tried to make electoral progress in the South.

Later in the 20th century, several presidents struggled to respond to lynchings, the violent, extra-judicial killing of African-Americans accused of crimes. (Recent estimates suggest that nearly 4,000 people died this way in the South between 1877 and 1950.) The NAACP had to lobby both Democrat Woodrow Wilson (who held and acted on racist views) and his Republican successor Warren G. Harding. Wilson did eventually speak out against lynching, but it took several years of lobbying by the NAACP to convince him to do so. As political scientist Megan Francis has written, “Only through an unyielding onslaught of protest was [the NAACP] able to obtain support from Wilson.” Harding, meanwhile, made some initial statements about lynching, Francis found, but did not continue to pressure Congress to adopt anti-lynching legislation. Like Theodore Roosevelt, he was limited by his party’s ambitions in the South.

Including Wilson among them is a tonic. Readers may recall a time in the early Obama administration, sometime around 2010 and 2011, when the legacy of Wilson obsessed Glenn Beck and his ilk; in Barack Obama they saw the Wilson who signed legislation creating the Federal Reserve and approving a federal income tax. This segment of the right was more obsessed with Wilson the than the left. As the incarnation of early twentieth century Progressivism, Wilson was a complicated figure who should have lost his re-election bid (Charles Evans Hughes may not have kept us out of the Great War, but this is an argument for another time). The left hasn’t had trouble assessing his legacy. When National Review and its kind smugly confuse the Democratic Party and liberalism, their writers act as if they didn’t know the two weren’t synonymous and, more importantly, forget that the Republican Party was the more liberal party – the more Progressive party – between Reconstruction and 1920.

Democrats and leftists have long since come to terms with Woodrow Wilson. The GOP and conservatives have not come to terms with Ronald Wilson Reagan’s legacy.

Meanwhile a belief in progress continues to be a symptom of the economically secure. “The belief that America is somehow better than its white-supremacist history is sometimes an excuse masquerading as encouragement, and it’s part of the reason why the K.K.K. is back in business,” writes Jia Tolentino, a University of Virginia graduate, in a disturbing essay for The New Yorker.

On circular firing squads

While House and Senate Republicans voted on a millionaires tax cut called health care reform, many noticed that not a single Democrat in Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer’s respective caucuses broke rank — not Heidi Heitkamp, not Joe Manchin. With the Trump White House set to encourage coal mining on lands owned by the federal government and Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III prepared to unleash the Justice Department on defenseless, underappreciated whites, I need to remind myself that shopping for good congressional and presidential candidates in 2018 and 2020 shouldn’t blind me to the consequences of getting ensnared in internecine arguments, many of which take place on the internet between people who can drink water safely out of the tap and needn’t worry about bullying. A friend shared this Melissa McEwan essay that acted like smelling salts. Her piece rebukes liberals who still boast about cutting “red states” lose (accepting without question the jargon of our political elites, by the way) and forgetting the number of Democrats and liberals who dwell in those cities and towns. We don’t all have that luxury of thinking big, she writes. McEwan:

The Democratic Party, for all its perceived and actual flaws, means a lot to people in red states. Like in Indiana and Wisconsin and Texas, where Democratic state legislatures left the states and went into hiding to try to stop Republicans from running roughshod over voters’ rights and needs.

Many marginalized people in red states depend on the Democratic Party in ways that privileged people in true blue states don’t need to. We don’t have the luxury of being contemptuous of the Democratic Party for not being as progressive as we might like them to be, because our basic rights are constantly under assault.

There are certainly a number of people who voted for Clinton who appreciate and value Sanders’ critiques of corporate corruption, yet bristle at his disdain for establishment politics, because we depend on them. In many red states, the near-total lack of progressive infrastructure means that the Democratic Party — the establishment — is the only well-funded institution prepared to hold the line against conservative oppression.

A revolution that includes the decimation of establishment politics risks leaving many Democratic voters in red states without any functional defense at all.

That’s why when we see Bernie Sanders declare “the establishment wing of the Democratic Party” an enemy, or see “Sanders Democrats” launch attacks on Democrats like Kamala Harris, it can feel like an attack on the only institution that has had our backs while our rights are under assault.

And it’s no fucking surprise that people who believe choice is negotiable don’t understand why “establishment Democrats” who have stood the line for us, even if imperfectly, are important to us.

It’s never too early for me to decide, at last, whether Cory Booker or Kamala Harris deserves my ire. Parties are a congeries of ambitions, some of which have aligned with chambers of commerce and what we like to call “Wall Street” to force conservative legislatures into supporting trans rights, and some of which are murmuring about allowing potential candidates to moderate their commitment to reproductive freedom. Yet the official party platform in 2016, which may be meaningless as policy but resonates as a symbol, was the most radical of my lifetime. Similar contradictions existed in the party in 1972 and in 1936. For many people, access to health care is enough.

I have finally accepted that for millions of Americans, the election of Barack Hussein Obama was a radical act: a black man with that name served as president for eight years. Whether he blinked in front of John Boehner during debt ceiling negotiations in 2011 (remember that?) or lacked a coherent policy toward Libya and Syria mattered less than his election. In a development that leaves me uncomfortable, it turns out that Obama’s calculations were correct: he didn’t have to be so liberal because, to quote that awful campaign, his election represented for millions the change we’ve been waiting for.

I don’t like the cut of Booker’s jib, and I know next to nothing about Harris. Let us by all means scrutinize their deeds. But note to self: next time I fight with a college-educated man on social media I’ll remember the people who aren’t. It’s possible that the election of an Obama awakens voters into thinking more is possible, and that even Obama wasn’t enough.

Barack Obama’s legacy, Part #32

Because Hillary Clinton would have nominated these federal judges had she won the election:

He has already received attention for calling Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy a “judicial prostitute”; said he “strongly disagree[s]” with the Supreme Court’s decision in Lawrence v. Texas, which struck down statutes criminalizing sodomy; and criticized a school district for teaching that “homosexual families are the moral equivalent of heterosexual families,” arguing that it remains an open question. Shockingly, in May 2009, Schiff wrote that, for the same reason, he would have objected “to an anti-racism curriculum being taught in 1950s Arkansas.” Not to be outdone, Schiff provided his own take on Dred Scott—saying that the court’s dead-letter affirmation of slavery is no different from efforts to remedy segregation and increase diversity. In a 2011 law review article, Schiff said that Grutter v. Bollinger, which upheld race-conscious college admissions programs to further student diversity, repeated the same mistakes of the Supreme Court’s most infamous decisions, including Dred Scott, Plessy v. Ferguson, and Korematsu.

Besides replacing the Democratic Party machinery with a coterie devoted to his cult of personality, Barack Obama’s worst offense as president was not caring enough about the federal judiciary – a delicious irony considering how his failure reflects an institutional failure by his party. There simply isn’t a liberal or Democratic equivalent of the Federalist Society (hell, the Federalist Society would argue that most of the federal bench consists of hostile liberal peaceniks). In a depressing recent article, David Dayen points out that by this point in his first term, during which Democrats were a vote shy of a filibuster-proof majority, Obama had sent nominations to the Senate as opposed to Donald Trump’s twenty-two. The difference? “Republicans see appointing ridigly conservative judges as a central part of their policy strategy,” Dryer writes. “Obama, like Bill Clinton before him, used judicial nominations as an opportunity for bipartisan comity.” Clinton would clear nominees with Senator Orrin Hatch, who would recommend the least worst options for Republicans. Democrats play by the rules, Republicans want to set the rules on fire:

Under Obama, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy honored the blue-slip tradition, and Republicans predictably invoked the privilege, making it impossible to nominate judges to a state with a Republican senator. Under Trump, the GOP has already talked about eliminating the blue slip rule for the circuit courts, or even doing away with it altogether. (Trump’s recent nominees, including two from states with Democratic senators, will be the true test; will Pennsylvania’s Bob Casey or Colorado’s Michael Bennet withhold support from these judges, and will Republicans honor the request?)

Why, I don’t know. Will they?

Deferring to ‘our self-evident wonderfulness’

Damon Linker rebukes the pundits who equate American leadership with bombing sovereign countries:

But let’s start with absolute basics: Launching even one missile at another country is not, as we euphemistically like to presume, a “military action,” a “military operation,” or even a “humanitarian intervention.” It is an act of war. Full stop. That many countries in the world, including Syria, are far too weak to consider launching a retaliatory counter-attack against the United States for such a bombardment is utterly irrelevant. How would a more powerful country — China, for example — respond if we fired even one cruise missile at its territory? How, for that matter, would we respond if China fired just one at us?

The answer is patently obvious: We would respond furiously, and with complete justification, because it would be an act of war.

Linker doesn’t let the Obama administration off the hook in the slightest; he doesn’t go so far as to call Obama’s reluctance to topple dictatorships after aiming drone rockets across borders cynical and amoral, an act of preening, but I will. Whether Obama’s policy was morally superior to what Jeet Heer calls the Trump White House’s commitment to “impulse and whim” is a question too fraught to leave to the Brookings Institute.