William Galston

Molly Redden suggests that today’s vote in Wisconsin bears no clear relation to November’s presidential election. I beg to differ. The Wisconsin recall election is to the 2012 general election as the Spanish Civil War was to World War Two—not necessarily a harbinger of the final outcome but rather a preview of strategies and tactics. As such, we’ll get early evidence bearing on some questions that will be important in the fall. Can a labor-intensive ground game match a cash-intensive air war?

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Europe’s Greek tragedy has now entered its final act, with potentially fateful consequences for the global economy—and for Barack Obama, whose reelection may hinge on the decisions of Germany in the coming weeks. The 2012 election will pivot on the public’s evaluation of the president’s economic stewardship, and a perceptible decline in the U.S. growth rate—which a badly handled Greek exit from the Eurozone would cause—could easily spell the difference between victory and defeat. Obama’s fate, then, may well lie in Angela Merkel’s hands.

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The working assumption of many political commentators in Washington is that politics is more polarized than it has been in decades and that it’s the Republican Party’s rightward drift that’s to blame. The evidence bears this out—in part. But it also suggests a more complex story. First, the electorate has polarized. Over the past two decades, the public’s ideological self-description has changed significantly.

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When Lyndon Johnson endorsed path-breaking civil rights legislation in the mid-1960s, he knew that he was irrevocably changing the Democratic Party. As he was affixing his signature to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, he reportedly remarked to an aide that he was “signing away the South for 50 years.” President Obama’s decision to endorse gay marriage may yield a similar outcome by weakening beyond repair his party’s links with less educated, socially conservative white voters. (For the record: what follows is a purely political analysis, not a critique of Obama’s decision on the merits.

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If I were forced to choose after the election between extending the Bush tax cuts in total and letting them all lapse, I would join Tim Noah in opting for the latter. But I'm reluctant to assume that's the best we can do. Indeed, as frustrating as the gridlock in Washington is, we should use it as an opportunity to strip down the tax debate to its basics, and reflect on where we want to go. Then we can determine the path that gets us closest to our goal. In my judgment, the tax code we should aim for should have four key features.

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Two topics have dominated economic discussion in recent months—income inequality and tax fairness. The Piketty-Saez chart demonstrating the dramatic rise in the income share of top earners since 1980 is this decade’s Laffer Curve, and the super-rich who pay taxes at lower rates than their secretaries are liberals’ riposte to the Reagan-era welfare queens. It’s natural to assume that these two tropes are connected: Surely changes in the tax code since Ronald Reagan took office have contributed substantially to post-tax income gaps between the top and the rest of us.

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With the general election now underway, it’s tempting to assume that President Obama has a built-in advantage by having at his disposal a campaign operation that earned universal plaudits in 2008. But as Team Obama itself already knows—or, if not, will soon come to realize—the 2012 contest will be very different from the president’s triumphant march to the White House four years ago. The key question will be how the old campaign staff responds to the new electoral landscape. Here are seven realities that Team Obama will have to adjust to. 2012 will be a referendum, not a choice.

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If the Supreme Court overturns key provisions of the Affordable Care Act, it will precipitate the largest confrontation between the Court and a president since the mid-1930s. Yes, the Court prevented Truman from seizing the steel mills and forced Nixon to give up the tapes. But in those instances the decision ended the controversy because the President chose not to prolong it. Not so this time: President Obama has signaled his intention to make the Court a central issue in the fall campaign if it guts his signature policy achievement.

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In the weeks preceding the Obamacare case, many veteran Supreme Court-watchers could not bring themselves to believe that a majority of the justices would find the individual health insurance mandate unconstitutional.

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