Remember when Democrats swept the 2006 elections, then stormed into Washington demanding national health care reform and the repeal of President Bush’s upper-bracket tax cuts as a condition for keeping the government open? Right, me neither. Yet somehow the Republicans, controlling just one house of Congress—unlike the two held by Democrats in 2007—have completely seized control of the political agenda. President Obama has given up even on seating well-qualified nominees in his administration, let alone advancing his own policy preferences.
Today the United States is the world’s warden, incarcerating more people than any other country. With just 5 percent of the world’s population, it has 25 percent of its prisoners. Since the 1970s, the United States has built the largest penal system in the world to accommodate a sixfold increase in its inmate population. But what happens behind its prison walls generally remains far removed from public consciousness. In this context, the Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Brown v.
Bureaucrats versus consumers. Government versus the market. If you’ve followed the debate over health care, then you’ve probably heard conservatives use these terms to describe how the Republican vision for Medicare compares to the Democrats’. David Brooks is the latest.
For a political party that seems to derive its ideology from Ayn Rand’s embrace of heedless ambition, the Republicans are going through an unexpected Ferdinand the Bull phase. Many of the GOP’s top presidential prospects prefer smelling the flowers—or taking a New Jersey state helicopter to a son’s baseball game—to becoming Teddy Roosevelt’s man in the arena, scrapping for every vote in the Iowa caucuses. And while Mitt Romney and Tim Pawlenty long for the roar of the crowd, Republican voters are caught up in the allure of the non-combatant.
Moments after signing the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell in December of last year, President Obama looked up to a cheering crowd, smiled, and announced, “This is done.” But last week’s news that the Air Force had discharged an airman in April on the basis of his sexuality indicates that the abhorrent policy lives on. In the face of the resulting media firestorm, the Pentagon quickly released a statement implying that its hands were tied: The airman had voluntarily outed himself, and then asked that his discharge be expedited.
Nearly a day has passed since Peter Diamond announced he's withdrawing his nomination to the Federal Reserve Board in the face of intractable Republican opposition. I remain convinced that it's a travesty and I don't seem to be the only one. Via e-mail, here's Henry Aaron, the Brookings economist and quite possibly one of the most fair-minded people I know: I find it profoundly sad—for the nation and for the cause of reasoned debate on public policy—that a blocking minority of Senators has refused to permit Peter Diamond’s nomination to the Federal Reserve to come to a floor vote.
When the financial system was on the edge of melting down back in the fall of 2008, there was much talk in the punditocracy of a second Great Depression. The story was that we risked repeating the mistake at the onset of the first Great Depression: allowing a cascade of bank failures that both destroyed much of the country’s wealth and left the financial system badly crippled.
Flannery O’Connor once described the contradictory desires that afflict all of us with characteristic simplicity. “Free will does not mean one will,” she wrote, “but many wills conflicting in one man.” The existence of appealing alternatives, after all, is what makes free will free: What would choice be without inner debate? We’re torn between staying faithful and that alluring man or woman across the room. We can’t resist the red velvet cake despite having sworn to keep our calories down. We buy a leather jacket on impulse, even though we know we’ll need the money for other things.
Peter Diamond, the Nobel-winning economist from MIT, will not be serving on the Federal Reserve. Therein lies a story about our dysfunctional Senate and our even more dysfunctional economics debate. President Obama first nominated Diamond in April, 2010. At the time, the choice prompted almost universal acclaim. Nobody in his generation may be better at applying theory to real-world problems like the design of social insurance or the nature of unemployment.
Just how screwed is John Edwards? On Friday, the Justice Department indicted the former senator on charges of conspiracy, perjury, and campaign-finance-law violations. No laughing matter. But to hear Edwards’s lawyers tell it, the government’s case is absurd. Here’s Greg Craig: “The government’s theory is wrong on the facts and wrong on the law. It is novel and untested. There is no civil or criminal precedent for such a prosecution.” Is Craig right? Is the Edwards indictment really so ridiculous? The short answer, say campaign-finance experts, is not necessarily.