Posts by Matt Bai
- Matt Bai at Yahoo News1 day ago
The problem with Barack Obama, people are always telling me these days, is that he just doesn't love the full contact sport of politics. He has no capacity for the inside machinations or tactical brutality we associate with a more sophisticated and celebrated president like Lyndon Johnson.
What we really need, I guess, is an executive in the mold of a Chris Christie or an Andrew Cuomo or a Rick Perry, all of whom are more extroverted and more brazen about wielding their power as governors than Obama is — and all of whom, not incidentally, are now fending off prosecutors and investigations while scrambling to keep their national ambitions afloat.
And this illustrates an interesting paradox of modern politics: We love this idea of the ruthless and effective political operator, right up until the moment we're confronted by the reality.
- Matt Bai at Yahoo News15 days ago
The most corrupting force in politics, we are repeatedly told, is big money — super PACs, corporate lobbyists, rapacious oligarchs. And there’s plenty of evidence to support the claim.
But let’s be clear: It wasn’t big money that drove Republican House members, before they left town last week, to approve the first-ever Congressional lawsuit against a sitting president, when they should have gotten serious about a pressing border crisis. And it wasn’t big money that had gleeful Democrats doing backflips in the streets at calls from the conservative fringe to impeach Barack Obama.
What’s really fueling the hyperbole and dysfunction in Washington now isn’t one privileged special interest or another, but rather the mouse clicks of ordinary, angry Americans whose $25 contributions add up to a mountain of influence. And in this way, at least, American politics has finally caught up to where the rest of society is going.
We have met the true enemy of rational debate, and, what do you know: It’s us.
- Matt Bai at Yahoo News22 days ago
You've got to give this much to Rand Paul: Kentucky's junior senator is willing to do something almost unheard of in modern presidential politics, which is to make arguments that not everyone in his party already cares about. For this reason alone, Paul is probably the most interesting presidential hopeful out there, if not the most likely to succeed.
Paul's latest gambit, as you may have seen, involves an appeal to black voters, who generally have about as much attachment to the Republican Party as Donald Sterling has to his wife. This unusual courtship, which included a speech to the Urban League in which Paul actually quoted Malcolm X, led to a spate of media stories in the past week about a new contest between the parties to win over black voters in closely divided states.
All of which raises a couple of questions. First, do Democrats really have anything to worry about when it comes to the African-American vote? And second, is Paul really trying to steal those voters away?
The answers are yes and no, for more complex reasons than most of the analysis would have you believe.
- Matt Bai at Yahoo News29 days ago
Sometime this summer, probably when as many Americans as possible are tanning on a beach and not paying attention, the White House is expected to release a version of a classified report on torture during the Bush years. Actually, what's likely to become public is only the executive summary of the Senate Intelligence Committee's report; the entire thing, five years in the making, clocks in at about 6,700 pages, making it the most exhaustive account yet of what really went on in secret CIA prisons around the world.
President Obama has repeatedly said he favors declassifying the report, which the public really ought to see. And should he release the summary in something close to the form in which it was sent to him, then his decision will likely end an unusually public standoff between top senators and the CIA, each of whom accused the other of spying illegally as the report was being compiled and written.
About five months ago, just after the State of the Union address, I theorized that Barack Obama and John Boehner might still have a chance to do something big together. Both men badly wanted the legislative legacy that had eluded them on issues where there was already some consensus, like debt reduction and immigration. And Boehner appeared ready to put some distance between himself and the most rigid ideologues in his caucus.
I was wrong, of course. (It happens.) In the middle of a border crisis that cries out for a comprehensive solution, the House seems likelier to send Obama articles of impeachment than a compromise bill that would reform the immigration system. The next two years now seem almost certain to be as dark and vacuous as the previous four.
Dear Dan Snyder:
I read with dismay the other day about the latest blow to your storied football franchise, the Washington Redskins. It seems you hired a liberal blogger named Ben Tribbett to defend the team against growing calls to change its controversial name, and this Tribbett quit the cause after just two weeks, citing personal attacks against him on Twitter and Facebook that distracted from the important business of protecting the Redskin tradition.
I have to tell you that this saddens me for our nation, Mr. Snyder. Who ever heard of a blogger turning down an actual paycheck? And if a guy can't turn to social media for reasoned, dispassionate debate without having it degenerate into name-calling and distortion, then, by God, where can he turn?
In any event, I am writing to respectfully offer myself up for the job. You need a strategy, Mr. Snyder, and I believe I can help.
Believe it or not, it was 10 years ago this month that Barack Obama, then a candidate for the U.S. Senate, introduced himself to America with a speech that shook the Fleet Center in Boston. The main theme of that Democratic convention was the litany of George W. Bush's failures — an unpopular and unending war in Iraq, a faltering image abroad, a stagnating middle class. Obama gave eloquent voice to those frustrations, arguing that all of them could be addressed if only we reunited the electorate.
Probably Obama himself would not have guessed then that he would ascend to the White House just four years later. But he certainly wouldn't have imagined that a full decade on, nearing the halfway point in his second term, he would find himself dragged down by precisely the same set of issues that vexed his predecessor.
After a month that saw Iraq unravel and job growth continue to plod along, while the stock market soared, the central paradox of the Obama years, as historians will undoubtedly view it, has never been clearer. It's Obama's presidency, but he's still governing in Bush's world.
So you're a liberal member of the 1 percent, and you've decided to wrest control of the Democratic agenda from change-averse insiders. You want to free the capital from the grip of powerful interest groups. You want to inspire a new set of policies to help America meet the challenges of a fast-transforming economy. Where do you turn for leadership and innovation?
To the teachers union, of course!
At least that's how it seems to have played out at the Democracy Alliance, the group of superrich Democrats who have funneled more than half a billion dollars into liberal groups over the past decade. Earlier this month, the alliance announced that John Stocks, executive director of the National Education Association, would become the chairman of its board.
The move went largely unnoticed by the Washington media and even most Democrats, who could think of nothing at that moment other than the Memoir That Ate Everything in Its Path. But it tells you something — more than Hillary Clinton's book does, certainly — about the direction of Democratic politics right now.
In all my years of covering election nights, through all the frustrations inherent in dealing with candidates and campaigns, I have never once resorted to chiding someone who ended up on the losing side. I will admit, though, that after Eric Cantor's stunning defeat Tuesday night, I was tempted to check back in with his press secretary, Megan Whittemore, who had informed me, when I decided to write about the primary a week earlier, that Cantor would not be granting me an interview on the substance of his record.
Whittemore told me that there really wasn't a story in Cantor's race against economics professor Dave Brat, that I'd just be wasting time on a fringe candidate, and that "real people" cared about the "real issues" in which I apparently had no interest. (This last bit involved a lecture on how families had to pay bills at their kitchen tables and whatnot — precious minutes I can never get back.)
In a lot of ways, Dave Brat is your typical tea party-style insurgent running in a Republican primary this year. He's an economics professor at a tiny college, a striped-tie, free market enthusiast who decries debt and immigration. He has the backing of the crankiest conservative bloggers and radio hosts, one of whom, Laura Ingraham, appeared with him at a rally this week.
But Brat isn't running to unseat some mush-ball moderate or no-name state legislator backed by the local chamber of commerce. No, Brat's opponent in next Tuesday's primary is Eric Cantor, the congressman from Virginia's 7th District and the second most powerful Republican in the House. Which highlights a question that's becoming more germane as this season of Republican disunion drags on:
Just how conservative do you have to be before these conservative activists will leave you alone?