Blog Posts by Jeff Greenfield

  • Michael Bloomberg’s cross-country election shopping spree

    By Jeff Greenfield

    When I heard the radio commercial attacking a candidate for the Los Angeles School Board, it didn’t make much of an impression—until I heard the tag line.

    Funding for the ad, the announcer said, came primarily from “Michael R. Bloomberg.”

    What? The mayor of New York City putting money into a school board race on the other side of the continent?

    Yes, indeed. Bloomberg has donated $1 million to the Coalition for School Reform, which backs many of the same school reforms—tougher teacher evaluations, more charter schools—that Bloomberg has pushed for in the city he governs.

    Half a continent away, Bloomberg’s money also was at work in the political terrain: His pro-gun-control super PAC, Independence USA, spent at least $2.2 million in a special congressional election in Chicago, four times what the top five candidates' campaigns spent — combined. And it paid off. His candidate, gun-control backer Robin Kelly defeated former Rep. Debbie Halvorson, once the odds-on favorite to

    Read More »from Michael Bloomberg’s cross-country election shopping spree
  • Obama's toughest task: Convincing people government is here to help

    By Jeff Greenfield

    So what’s the President’s toughest task as he tries to turn his proposals into policy? Is it the House Republican majority? A Senate Republican minority prepared to subject virtually every piece of legislation (and a fair chunk of nominations) to a filibuster? Deficits and a massive debt that sharply limit what Washington can do?

    All are worthy candidates. But if I read the State of the Union speech right, the White House seems to recognize a far more fundamental dilemma, one that has plagued Democrats for the better part of the last half-century. It’s how to make credible again a simple assertion: I’m from the government and I’m here to help.   

    For decades now, that sentence has been—literally—a punch line. Ronald Reagan called the statement “the most terrifying words in the English language.” It’s also one of the answers to the question, “what are the three biggest lies in the world?” (Never mind the other two, this is a family-friendly site).

    But for decades, the

    Read More »from Obama's toughest task: Convincing people government is here to help
  • SOTU first thoughts: Obama's gun message far stronger than his economic message

    By Jeff Greenfield

    I’ll have a judicious, nuanced, modulated take on President Obama’s speech tomorrow. For now, a brief first read.

    If the point of the speech was to put Obama front and center on the economy, it did not work—primarily because the non-economic part of the speech, specifically the section on guns, was so much more powerful on the purely emotional level. It is simply impossible to put promises of federal-state task forces and public private partnerships on the same level as the evocation of innocent lives lost to the plague of guns.

    There’s no doubt that gun rights advocates will accuse the president of “politicizing” these deaths. But the whole point of the argument is that too many people are dead because the political system has been too fearful of the political might of the gun lobby to do much of anything. In this sense, Obama’s appeal that the victims “deserve a vote” was an attempt to answer to the power of that lobby.

    Will that argument move many votes in Congress? I

    Read More »from SOTU first thoughts: Obama's gun message far stronger than his economic message
  • How to watch Obama’s State of the Union address

    By Jeff Greenfield

    So, you’ve ordered in the pizza, chicken wings and beer, invited a pack of your buddies over, and you’re all set to watch Tuesday’s must-see TV.

    Well, maybe that’s what you’re doing if you run with the kind of crowd that watches C-SPAN 3 for erotic diversion. But the numbers say you’re in a distinct minority.

    Last year, some 38 million people viewed the State of the Union address, compared with the more than 108 million who watched last month’s Super Bowl—and that was only on one network. (If the millions who click their remotes tonight in a desperate search for their network fare want a target for their fury, they can blame Woodrow Wilson and Lyndon Johnson—Wilson for reviving the in-person speech in 1913 after more than a century of written messages; LBJ for switching the speech from daytime to prime time in 1965.)

    If you’re in a civic-indeed mood and plan to watch tonight, is there any way to turn the speech into a more-or-less enjoyable experience? Here, a few

    Read More »from How to watch Obama’s State of the Union address
  • Maybe we should all shut up about 2016

    By Jeff Greenfield

    I’ve tried, really I have.

    But I just can’t.

    Every time I start to write about why Clinton, Biden, Rubio, Christie, Ryan, Cuomo, O’Malley, Paul, Walker, Warren will or won’t run or will win or lose, reminders of the past begin to play in my mind. And I’m reminded of how often and how quickly rock-solid political certainties have crumbled.

    Suppose, for example, you were looking at the political landscape in 1989, just after the Republicans won the White House for the third consecutive time. You would note that the GOP won every Southern state, all eight states in the interior West, four of the six New England states, and New Jersey, Illinois and California—each of them for the sixth consecutive presidential election. You’d observe that since 1964, the Republicans had won five of six presidential elections, losing only the post-Watergate contest of 1976. You’d echo the dominant piece of political wisdom: that the Republican Party had an “electoral lock” on the White House.

    Read More »from Maybe we should all shut up about 2016
  • Republicans, want to win in 2016? You might want to pull a Clinton

    By Jeff Greenfield

    Somewhere—in a governor’s mansion, in the solitude of a congressional office, on the inaugural platform itself, or in a private home—the next Republican nominee for president listened to Barack Obama’s second inaugural address. What was she or he thinking? Possibly something like this:

    Game on. What Obama is telling my party is clear: The election proved there are more of “us” than there are of “you,” and I’m embracing the liberal agenda of my party without apology.

    But I gotta give the guy credit: Defining that agenda as the fulfillment of the Declaration of Independence was audacious. It was an obvious echo of what Martin Luther King, Jr. did almost half a century ago at the Lincoln Memorial. Back then King said America could not be true to the promise of the Declaration that “all men are created equal” without letting black Americans vote. Now Obama says those words included women, gays, immigrants and young people’s futures—and that they meant his ideas about gay

    Read More »from Republicans, want to win in 2016? You might want to pull a Clinton
  • Death, smoking and pollution: Maybe we’ve been wrong about them all this time

    By Jeff Greenfield

    “Did you see that story in the Times the other day? Americans under 50 die earlier than their counterparts in just about every other developed country in the world.  And that goes hand in hand with the story last year that life expectancy here has stagnated. What lousy news.”

    “No, that’s good news.”

    “Are you nuts? How can that be good news?”

    “Have you looked at the estimates for what Social Security and Medicare will cost a decade or so from now? We’re already in big trouble because we’ve got fewer workers supporting more folks who’ve retired. Remember, when Social Security kicked in back in 1936, life expectancy was barely 60, and there was no Medicare. If we have tens of millions of ‘senior seniors’ by 2030, we won’t be able to afford to pay for anything else. And that story said a lot of those early deaths are from bad choices: auto accidents, drug use, violence. I‘d much rather we keep the population down that way than, say, with a war.”

    “I just don’t see how you can

    Read More »from Death, smoking and pollution: Maybe we’ve been wrong about them all this time
  • Why I never voted for Barack Obama

    By Jeff Greenfield

    I didn’t vote for Barack Obama last November. I didn’t vote for him in 2008, either. And I can prove it.

    No, nobody violated the sanctity of a voting booth. I can prove it because I didn’t vote at all those years. In fact, I haven’t voted in any election since 1996. What began as a logistical issue—I had to be in Atlanta for CNN, and neglected to ask for an absentee ballot in time—became a deliberate decision. It became a way to distance myself, however inadequately, from choosing sides in a contest I was reporting and analyzing.

    It’s also one way I have of answering a question posed by Margaret Sullivan, The New York Times’ “public editor”—a job known in other places as “ombudsman”—about how much consumers are entitled to know about the viewpoints that journalists bring to their work.

    In Sullivan’s piece on Sunday, she offered the view of NYU journalism professor Jay Rosen. She wrote:

    “[Rosen] believes that traditional notions about impartial reporting are fundamentally

    Read More »from Why I never voted for Barack Obama
  • A memory of Robert Bork: A bracing, imaginative teacher

    By Jeff Greenfield

    Robert Bork, who died today, will be best-remembered for two things: First, he was the solicitor general who, the night of the 1973 "Saturday NIght Massacre", obeyed Richard Nixon's directive to fire Archibald Cox, the Watergate special prosecutor, when Attorney General Eliot Richardson refused to do so. Second, he was rejected by the Senate after President Ronald Reagan nominated him to the Supreme Court; the Democratic majority considered his constitutional views to be outside the mainstream.

    I have another memory: He was a professor at the Yale Law School. In that capacity, he was as bracing a figure as a student could hope to find.

    Without question Bork was out of the mainstream of the Yale Law School in the mid-1960s, when I was a student there. He was possibly the only member of the faculty to support Barry Goldwater for president. But that made him exactly the right person to teach, and to challenge, the assumptions of an overwhelmingly liberal group of

    Read More »from A memory of Robert Bork: A bracing, imaginative teacher
  • Why we should politicize the Newtown school shooting, starting right now

    By Jeff Greenfield

    Two events, each more than a century old, instruct us about how we should act in the face of what happened Friday in Newtown, Conn.

    On March 25, 1911, fire broke out in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in lower Manhattan. Because the owners had locked the doors and stairwells, in an effort to prevent theft and unauthorized work breaks, the garment workers were trapped in the fire; 146 of them, almost all young female immigrants, died.

    In the wake of the disaster, New York politicians–including future Gov. Al Smith and future Sen. Robert Wagner–“exploited the tragedy.” How? By helping push through a series of reforms that made New York state a model of workplace safety.

    Little more than a year later, on April 15, 1912, the unsinkable ocean liner Titanic struck an iceberg and sank, taking 1,522 passengers and crew members to their deaths. After the disaster, regulators and public officials “exploited the tragedy.” How? By insisting that ships carry enough

    Read More »from Why we should politicize the Newtown school shooting, starting right now


(79 Stories)