Russ Feingold is running for his political life. But he is not running from health care reform. Feingold, a three-term senator from Wisconsin, who has been trailing in the polls for weeks, recently unveiled an advertisement that puts his support for health care reform—and his opponent’s pledge to repeal it—front and center. The ad features a series of people touting the protections in the Affordable Care Act. One mentions the guarantee of coverage for children with pre-existing conditions.
Many South American politicians have laid claim to the spirit of Simón Bolívar, but very few have actually communed with it. At meetings, Hugo Chávez is said to leave an empty chair for the continent’s nineteenth-century liberator. When Chávez ordered the exhumation of Bolívar’s corpse from its grave in the National Pantheon last month, he took to Twitter and exclaimed, “Rise up, Simón, as it’s not time to die.” This latest escapade returns us to the eternal question: Is Hugo Chávez just a buffoon or something more dangerous? Certainly, the evidence for his buffoonery is strong.
There’s a strain of schadenfreude that often masquerades as political strategy. It leads rational, thinking men and women to cheer on opposing parties that nominate seemingly unelectable radicals and lunatics for high office. Bully, they shout, the differences between the two parties have never been starker! How could voters stand on the side of idiocy? Sometimes, this notion holds, and the crazies go down in a spectacular implosion with the ideological shrapnel even wounding the more moderate members of their party.
Journalists often annoyingly inflate events in their own backyards, fallaciously treating the local and provincial as mega-trends and national harbingers. Those of us who practice political journalism in Washington, D.C., have been somewhat immune from this tendency. Our city government, with the still-looming figure of a former crackhead mayor and the not-very-distant memory of a federally imposed control board, is way too sui generis for that. But for once, Washington has emerged as an urban vanguard—a home to bold and laudable reform.
For years, most Democrats and environmentalists have been in rough agreement about how to tackle global warming. Set an overall limit on carbon-dioxide emissions, let polluters buy and sell permits, and watch the market work its magic. Both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton campaigned on this idea, and the House passed a climate bill last year centered on an economy-wide cap. Sure, experts might have quibbled over the fine print, but the basic framework was pretty straightforward.
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The most amazing thing happened in Washington this week: A confirmation process moved forward. It happened when Elena Kagan, President Obama’s nominee for the Supreme Court, appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee. There were opening statements, first by the senators and then by Kagan. Next, there were questions. Republicans frequently indicated their displeasure with Kagan; many hinted at their intention to vote against her.
“American families have done their level best to stay afloat—spending less and working more while trying to map out a financially sound future. They deserve that same degree of discipline and vigilance from their government.” That’s what House Minority Leader John Boehner had to say this past weekend, after President Obama proposed a new economic stimulus package. And precisely because the statement came from a Republican leader, it was difficult to take seriously. After all, Republicans have no compunction about running up deficits when they’re in charge by pushing tax cuts for the wealthy.
Going into the Senate debate over financial reform, a cynic would have offered the White House the following advice: Fight aggressively on the proposed consumer agency and settle for the appearance of reform on the rest of the bill. After all, most of us can understand the difference between a powerful new consumer watchdog and a token reshuffling of the bureaucracy.
Soon after this magazine was founded, the editors joined with relish a fight over President Woodrow Wilson’s nomination of Louis Brandeis to the Supreme Court. Defending Brandeis against his Boston enemies—the financial oligarchs whom he had attacked in his book Other People’s Money—we championed his vision of liberal judicial restraint: namely, the view that courts should defer to progressive laws and regulations enacted by the states, Congress, and federal agencies.