Quick Catch Up

Quick post on some recent articles to look at.  Fred Kaplan is a smart foreign policy analyst at Slate.com, who wrote this piece after President Obama’s speech on Syria. Though numerous critics are attacking Obama for various style points (sounded too weak, policy messaging was too confused) several commentators have pointed out that he got exactly what he wanted from the confrontation.  What was it he wanted and what was it he got?

On the domestic front, the budget wars continue to heat up and Speaker John Boehner does not seem to have a path forward to keep the government open through the end of the month.  The looming debt ceiling fight is an even more critical text of his leadership skills.  Here is a piece from Politico on the current state of play. How do you think he could resolve his current dilemma?  Can he do that and still keep his job as Speaker?

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Post-Spring Break Catch Up

All kinds of news to catch up on in these chilly early spring days.  Here are a few links to follow and think about:

  • It’s the tenth anniversary of the start of Iraq War. The political folks at NBC look at the profound impact the war has had on American political sensibilities.  Do you agree?
  • The last few days have brought into public view two faces of the Republican Party: the more radical base, as evidenced by those in attendance at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), and the “establishment,” in the form of the Republican National Committee (RNC) who produced an autopsy on what went wrong for the party in the last election.  Pay attention as the party continues to grapple with the question of whether their problem is one of substance or style — what answers to that do you hear in the coverage of CPAC and the RNC report?
  • The Senate edges closer to a bipartisan plan for immigration reform that is close to what the president has proposed.  We are still a long way from an actual bill, however. Does the RNC report (above) make reform more or less likely?

Up in the Air

That’s where we are. We’ve got the third and final debate tonight on foreign policy but unless one of the candidates really makes an error, I’d doubt that we’ll see much fallout.  We are tied now and likely to be tied tomorrow.  As always, Nate Silver has the best piece on the “state of the race,” which is, in a word, uncertain.  Of course, something could still happen which pushes this thing one way or another, but if this is a status quo debate, it’s hard to think of what that might be.

Some Context for the Protests in the Middle East

It can be hard for Americans to understand why we seem to be such a magnet for anger in some parts of the Muslim world.  It’s a complex problem, with complex answers, but in some ways it really illustrates the clash between substantive and procedural cultures we discuss in Chapter 1 of KTR.

Since the Arab Spring, much of the Arab world, whose political culture has traditionally been quite substantive politically (believing that government should enforce the moral principles that their religion holds to be true), is beginning to emerge into the more politically procedural culture of democracy.  To grapple with the meaning of free speech, for instance, which allows all voices to be heard, is frustrating to them when they believe that some of the voices (such as the ones heard in the film trailer that set off the latest round of violence) are so clearly untrue and should be condemned.  This piece in the Washington Post helps explain this cultural clash, and gives you some context for understanding what is going on.

The Founders’ Intention?

So it’s key to understanding American politics to know that the founders were so worried about a powerful and aggressive executive that when they wrote the constitution, they made sure that the American presidency would not have the tools to dominate the other two branches.  The American president is a limited executive with limited powers.

That means, if Congress wants to block the president, it generally can.  The efforts of the Republicans in the Senate to keep President Obama’s popular jobs bill from coming to a vote are a case in point.  Using a filibuster, a minority of senators has managed to block even a debate over the bill and over one of its key provisions which would have employed 400,000 teachers and firefighters. The Republicans have decided that their electoral fortunes in 2012 are improved if Obama looks weak, so they want to keep him from claiming any political victories.

So it was surprising that last week brought a couple of foreign policy successes for the Obama administration – Muammar Gaddafi, the Libyan dictator, was killed, helping to validate Obama’s much derided “leading from behind” strategy, and the president announced that he would be bringing troops home from Iraq on schedule, by the end of this year.  This is on top of last spring’s killing of Osama bin Laden.  Jon Chait, who writes for New York Magazine, has a good piece on Obama’s unexpected rise as a foreign policy president.

The essence of Chait’s argument is that Obama looks strong in foreign policy, because he can act on his own.  He looks weaker on domestic policy because much of what he wants to do requires congressional action and the Republican majority in the House and the Republican minority in the Senate (through the filibuster) can block that.

Well aware of this, and realizing that the jobs bill is dead, the White House has decided to try a different tactic, taking smaller steps that the president can take alone on the domestic front, relying on executive orders, regulatory moves, and executive-branch agency actions.  They won’t have the impact that the jobs bill would have but the administration is hopeful that these steps will be better than taking no action at all.  The New York Times reports it here.

Is this current scenario what the founders had in mind when they created the limited tool box of the American president?

Post Spring Break Catch-Up

Hope everyone’s been having a good spring break!  The last couple of weeks have been filled with dramatic current events.

The Wisconsin Republicans proved that controlling the rules is more than half the battle in politics.  They detached the collective bargaining rule from the budget and thus did not need a quorum to pass it. It passed on its own with just Republican votes, and the Democrats came home from Illinois and challenged the passage in court.  A judge stayed the law temporarily but the Republicans went ahead and published it anyway. It’s pretty much a mess. Meanwhile, Democratic and labor union anger over the policy has not abated and the Democrats claim to be ahead of their goals for gaining signatures to stage recall elections of some of the Republicans this summer.  The Washington Post’s E.J. Dionne is well worth reading on the lasting political consequences of the conflict.

The airstrikes in Libya show the unending struggle between Congress and the President over who gets to run a war.  Obama will speak on the military action tonight.

And an interesting article in this morning’s Washington Post over a case headed to the Supreme Court.  Is lying about your military record protected speech?

On other fronts, keep your eyes on the impending budget showdown, as House Republicans insist they will not pass a budget without some policy riders attached and Senate Democrats insist they will not pass it with them.