Welcome to TNR’s 2011 List Issue. In putting the issue together, we had one major priority: to avoid creating a power list featuring anyone who regularly dominates headlines. Instead, we had a different idea: What if we revealed something about D.C. by documenting who quietly wields power? From there, we began to hatch other ideas for lists, and we realized that—while they can certainly be cheap gimmicks—lists can also convey a lot about a city. Below is the first list from the issue: Washington’s most powerful, least famous people.
Sunday’s announcement that King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia had granted Saudi women the right to vote and stand for office in municipal elections was big news around the world. At a glance, it certainly sounded like terrific news—what, after all, is a more direct emblem of the march of progress than the right to vote? But while the announcement may represent some very marginal progress, Saudi Arabia remains one of the worst places on earth to be a woman.
Elizabeth Warren, the Harvard law professor now running for U.S. Senate, is getting a lot of attention for the video of a speech she made recently. It wasn’t just because she was taking on Republican talking points more forcefully than most Democrats do these days.
It was an ugly moment at the September 7 Republican debate when the discussion turned to the death penalty. “Governor Perry, a question about Texas,” moderator Brian Williams began. “Your state has executed two-hundred thirty-four death-row inmates, more than any other governor in modern times.” Suddenly, Williams was interrupted by an outburst of applause and cheers from the audience. The point being made by the Republican spectators could not have been clearer: The death penalty was not just a policy they favored. It was something to celebrate.
After September 11, a rough consensus developed in America about what had happened to us. The day itself was horrific: A great national melancholy filled the voids in lower Manhattan. Before there were geopolitical implications and debates about how to respond, there was grief and the simple fact of human death on a massive scale: people jumping from the Twin Towers and then the buildings falling, crushing thousands of people inside. The suffering was not a matter of ideology. It was sickening in the most basic human terms. In its wake, Americans were heartbroken and angry and terrified.
There is a long tradition in American foreign policy of doing the right thing but doing it late. This is an understandable phenomenon: Democracies by their very nature move cautiously, and, for any number of reasons, this is often a good thing. But America is also the most powerful country in the world, and so our labored pace can be maddening to those who look in our direction for help, or at least for moral support. To take one example, our slowness was catastrophic for the people of Bosnia, whom we rescued—but not quickly enough.
Barack Obama has had enough. That’s all one can say after Friday’s press conference, where Obama was angry and energetic. He was unabashedly partisan and unapologetically annoyed. His message was clear: Republicans are refusing to give an inch. They are unwilling to compromise with Democrats over the debt ceiling. They are deeply hostile to the interests of non-wealthy Americans. They are leading the country to the brink of catastrophe. It was an uncharacteristically exasperated performance by the president.
After showing some signs of recovery last year, the economy appears to be slipping backward at a dramatic pace. Consider the latest statistics: In order to restore the jobs lost during the recession, we need to create about eleven million new jobs. But, according to recent government figures, we created just 18,000 jobs in June. This number is even worse than it sounds: It means that, by failing to keep up with the pace of population growth, we are actually losing jobs. To make matters bleaker still, wages fell in June as well. This is a human tragedy.
It seems that widespread atrocities are yet again taking place in Sudan. Of course, there is much we do not know about precisely what is happening; but the reports coming out of the country are nauseating, and they sound all too similar to reports that emerged from South Sudan during the 1990s or from Darfur during the early days of that genocide.