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.
In late April, when a deadly explosion sank the Deepwater Horizon oil rig 50 miles off the coast of Louisiana, few thought the incident could turn into one of the worst environmental disasters in U.S. history. But that’s exactly what is now happening. The underwater well is gushing more than 5,000 barrels of crude each day into the Gulf of Mexico, and it’s unclear how long it will take to plug the leak. As the oil slick creeps toward the coast, it could inflict billions of dollars in damage on the local fishing and tourism industries, while putting various wildlife refuges at risk.
In 1981, Andrei Sakharov wrote an essay titled “The Responsibility of Scientists.” His argument was that scientists, who “form the one real worldwide community which exists today,” had a special obligation to speak out in defense of human rights. In part, his essay was directed to fellow Soviet scientists, whom he implored to take risks on behalf of principle—to “muster sufficient courage and integrity to resist the temptation and the habit of conformity.” Yet Sakharov did not let his colleagues in the free world off the hook.
As any education wonk, school board member, or exasperated parent could tell you, there is no shortage of obstacles to fixing our country’s grossly inadequate public schools. But, for years, one of the most stubborn barriers to progress has been the highly localized nature of American education--namely, the fact that, unlike in numerous countries with top-notch schools, each state sets its own standards for what students should learn. In recent decades, different factions have had their own reasons for working to preserve this illogical arrangement.
One of the oddities of the health care reform saga is that, amid a debate that raises profound questions about a citizen’s right to medical attention and the appropriate structuring of an entire industry, public discussion has come to focus on an issue that is both picayune and utterly phony: the legitimacy of Democrats using budget reconciliation to pass a final bill. Reconciliation is a congressional procedure used to expedite votes on budgetary matters. Its main attraction is that it allows a bill to be passed with a majority vote in the Senate.
Let’s face it. America’s foreign policy is hardly healthier than its economy. Of course, jobs and taxes still dominate the politics of the day. Republicans will likely be running election campaigns on those matters. But, as foreign policy comes into focus more and more, Democrats may seek refuge from Barack Obama’s grand strategy and its consequences--or lack thereof. For, right now, Obama’s frustrated foreign policy is little more than aimlessness. His biggest decision to date has been Afghanistan.
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How does this president handle a crisis? Thus far, the answer is not at all encouraging. The current crisis is the election in Massachusetts of Scott Brown, now the forty-first Republican senator. His arrival in Washington has sent Democrats into panic mode--fearful that they too will be swallowed by a seething electorate--and caused many of them to flee in the other direction from health care reform.
Democrats in Congress have a lot to juggle in the year ahead. If they want to avoid a slaughter at the polls, they’ll need to boost job growth. Not only that, but Wall Street remains poorly regulated, and key allies are growing impatient for labor-law and immigration reform. So it’s hardly a shock to hear that some Dems would prefer to set aside tackling climate change--especially so soon after a grueling health care fight.