When we endorsed Barack Obama, we held out hope that he might be a transformational president. That was clearly the way he viewed himself. He intended a profusion of reform legislation that would remake the U.S. economy. And that ambitious domestic program was to be replicated on the global stage. Just as he would create a new health care system, he would heal conflicts that had tormented humanity for decades, as well as build relations with longtime adversaries.
Be sure to check out Daniel Pauly, a professor of fisheries at the University of British Columbia, on NPR's Fresh Air today. He'll be discussing a piece he recently wrote for TNR, "Aquacalypse Now: The End of Fish," about the global fishing industry's threat to the fish population.
In our last issue, Harvard law professor Lawrence Lessig made the provocative case outlining the perils of what he called the “naked transparency movement,” which seeks to make massive amounts of data about the government readily available for public consumption. In a TNR debate last week, six writers weighed in on his essay. Check them out: Tim Wu explained why we treat transparency as a miracle cure—and why it never works as well as we'd hope. Ellen Miller and Michael Klein defended their organization, the Sunlight Foundation, from Lessig’s criticism.
Congress has been formally debating health care reform for almost nine months. And the country, as a whole, has been debating it for years. But now that the last congressional committee with jurisdiction has approved legislation, lawmakers are confronting the essential conundrum that's bedeviled this issue all along: Their desire to expand health insurance coverage exceeds their willingness to pay for it. As deliberations move to the House and Senate floors, then on to conference-committee negotiations, something has to give.
President Obama and his allies in Congress are doing everything they can to rally 60 senators behind health care reform. But, for one red-state senator, even 60 "yes" votes won't do. It has to be 65. "I think anything less than that would challenge its legitimacy," he said in late September. It's a ludicrously high standard for passage--the sort you'd expect from a Republican opponent. But this comment came from Democrat Ben Nelson.
"Among the numerous advantages promised by a well-constructed union, none deserves to be more accurately developed than its tendency to break and control the violence of faction," James Madison wrote in Federalist Number 10. "The friend of popular governments never finds himself so much alarmed for their character and fate as when he contemplates their propensity to this dangerous vice." Consider us alarmed. Our sense of alarm has been growing for some time. From the moment Barack Obama entered the White House, the Republican Party has cast itself as the Party of No.
How quickly they forget. The 2006 midterm election that gave Democrats both chambers of Congress wasn't entirely a vote of confidence in the party's leadership or policy acumen. It was a vote against the Republican Party. In the run-up to the election, Democrats hammered on the failures of the Iraq war and the incompetency of the Bush administration, but one narrative stuck best: corruption. At the time, Republicans were reeling from a raft of scandals--there was Jack Abramoff, Tom DeLay, Duke Cunningham, and naughty instant-messager Mark Foley.
Give the White House credit. Amid signs that the recession is ending, administration officials are resisting what must be an enormous temptation to gloat. “I think we’re certainly on track to, at least, stabilizing the patient,” said Labor Secretary Hilda Solis during a recent cnbc appearance. But “[t]he patient is still sick.” It’s hardly a triumphalist metaphor. To the extent that there’s a problem, it’s not what the administration is saying so much as what it is assuming: that the business cycle exerts an irresistible gravitational pull—that what goes down must eventually come up.