Posts by Matt Bai

  • Jeb and the myth of the Sister Souljah moment

    Matt Bai at Yahoo News 3 days ago

    As a ’90s rapper, Sister Souljah was no Queen Latifah; she made one solo album that went nowhere, and that was that. As a political cliché, though, she seems bound to outlast all of her contemporaries. In modern punditry, “Sister Souljah” can be a noun, a verb or an adjective, as unsinkable a phrase as “the invisible primary” or “the likability factor.”

    Earlier this month, the New York Times columnist Thomas Edsall wondered if Jeb Bush could succeed with a “Sister Souljah strategy” in the Republican primaries. Last weekend, my Yahoo News colleague Jon Ward, one of the best political writers anywhere, raised the question of whether Bush’s comments on immigration at a gathering of California car dealers — “Our national identity is not based on race or some kind of exclusionary belief,” Bush said — amounted to a Sister Souljah moment.

  • Obama declares victory, way too late

    Matt Bai at Yahoo News 11 days ago

    In case you didn’t watch the president’s swaggering speech Tuesday night, because after a month of previews it seemed to lack the drama of “Storage Wars” (which was on A&E at the same time and is actually a reality show about repossessed storage lockers, but let’s not get into it), here’s what you missed.

    Remember that wrecked economy from the Bush years that was just kind of limping along, and how we were all living in 1930 with everybody destitute?

    Yeah, forget all that. We’ve turned the corner. The economy’s on fire, and now it’s time to get back to building the country of our dreams, where everybody gets a Tesla.

    Actually, Barack Obama’s case — slightly more nuanced than I just made it sound — is pretty compelling on the facts; by any traditional measure, the economy really is powering back from the steep recession he inherited. What’s puzzling is why it took so long for Obama to own that progress, and why he’s wasted so much of his presidency trying to figure out how to talk about it.

    Trust me, we’re not going to find them in a repossessed storage locker.

    Related video:

  • Dear Mitt Romney: Shake it off

    Matt Bai at Yahoo News 17 days ago

    Dear Mitt,

    I read with great excitement that you have decided to quietly sound out contributors about the possibility of forming an exploratory committee that could take the next step toward filing papers that might lead to your seriously considering a potential campaign for president. That’s precisely the kind of crisp, gut-level decision making we need in Washington.

    I was even more excited about this possibility after someone reminded me that you had actually been the nominee in 2012. Memory gets hazy, but I could have sworn that Republicans in the last election had nominated a microtargeting algorithm. When Paul Ryan brings warmth and levity to your campaign, you know there’s a problem.

    But let’s leave all that in the past. Because I’ve been reading the idle punditry of my colleagues this week, most of it saying you can’t win this time around, and I’m here to tell you that you shouldn’t take any of that seriously.

    Haters gonna hate, Mitt, but you’ve still got that hella good hair, you know what I’m saying?


  • Why Jeb won’t keep the rest from running

    Matt Bai at Yahoo News 24 days ago

    All this media handicapping of the unformed Republican field for 2016 is starting to sound like the seating chart for some nightmare family wedding where no one can stand to be near anyone else.

    If Huckabee really does RSVP, yes, then surely Cruz and Santorum can’t both come too, right? And if Bush sucks up all the space at the head table, then there can’t possibly be room for Christie or Rubio, except maybe at the back. Walker cancels out Perry, or maybe Perry cancels out Pence — I can’t really keep it straight anymore.

    I mean, they can’t all be running at the same time, can they?

    Actually, they can, and most of them probably will — at least for a while. If you think about how a lot of these guys came to find themselves in power in the first place, then you can see why this may end up being the most crowded Republican field in memory, and why the old rules of presidential politics probably don’t apply.

  • Is Jim Webb for real?

    Matt Bai at Yahoo News 1 mth ago

    “I’m not running against Hillary Clinton,” Jim Webb told me this week, when I tried to draw him out on the presumed Democratic front-runner. “I’m not even running at the moment, and she isn’t, either.”

    That’s all technically true, but Webb’s recent announcement that he was taking the first official step toward a 2016 presidential bid nonetheless set off a round of commentary about the contrast between him and his former Senate colleague. On the FiveThirtyEight blog, Harry Enten concluded that Webb could be “the ideal Clinton challenger .” Al Hunt of Bloomberg News said Webb could be Clinton’s “worst nightmare,” while William Greider wrote in The Nation that Webb might become “a pivotal messenger” for the left.

    Where the courageous plunge in, others generally follow.

  • Five ways to know you’re speaking to white supremacists

    Matt Bai at Yahoo News 1 mth ago

    This is tricky terrain for a politician, as Steve Scalise, the third highest-ranking Republican in the House, found out this week. Back in 2002, Scalise apparently spoke to a conference in New Orleans hosted by the European-American Unity and Rights Organization (EURO, for short), which is kind of like a lobby for neo-Nazis and other white extremists.

    Scalise said he couldn’t recall the speech and had no idea who these people were. And really, how are you supposed to know these days if you’re talking to the Ku Klux Klan or, say, a “Star Trek” convention with an unusual number of Jean-Luc Picards?

    There are no hard and fast rules, of course, but let’s consider a few useful guidelines for knowing when you’ve got a problem, just in case you’re thinking about a career in national politics.

    1. The group was founded by David Duke.

    So if Duke is putting on your conference, or is speaking at it, or is anywhere in the same ZIP code and hasn’t yet been rearrested, you probably want to exercise caution.

    2. Banners that say things like “White Power” hang from the ceiling.

  • Hello, Columbus

    Matt Bai at Yahoo News 1 mth ago

    I can’t for the life of me figure out why either political party really wants to have a convention anymore. What used to be a national drama filled with intrigue and soaring oratory is now more scripted and less watched than an episode of “Resurrection.” Maybe if they promised to let an anaconda swallow the nominee, we’d have something.

    But conventions, like phone books, just keep coming whether we want them or not. And sometime in the next few weeks, leading Democrats will choose the city where they’re expecting to host Hillary Clinton’s coronation in 2016. It’s down to three contenders: New York, Philadelphia and Columbus.

    To me, this isn’t even a close call. If you want to memorialize the last century’s economy and ideological orthodoxies, stick close to the Amtrak lines that connect New York and Philly. If you want to understand what urban America might yet become, then follow the freight lines to central Ohio.

    In this way, Columbus represents a far more interesting choice than either of the other finalists. It may not have Philadelphia’s history or Brooklyn’s music scene, but it’s well on its way to becoming something like the Philadelphia or Brooklyn of the next American age.

  • The ‘24’ Effect

    Matt Bai at Yahoo News 1 mth ago

    I have three vivid memories of watching television in the fall of 2001. The first, of course, is of seeing the twin towers fall, which is an image most of us will never shake. The second is of watching Mariano Rivera throw the wrong pitch in Game Seven of the World Series.

    And the last is of getting sucked helplessly into the premiere, just a few days later, of an innovative drama called “24.”

    It was that last moment I found myself revisiting this week, after I read excerpts from the Senate Intelligence Committee’s sprawling, heartbreaking indictment of American brutality around the world. It made me wonder, not for the first time, just how consequential a TV show can be at just the right moment in our national life, in ways we don’t always appreciate at the time.

  • Jeb Bush is right about 2016

    Matt Bai at Yahoo News 1 mth ago

    It’s become standard practice for presidential candidates to run away from the governing establishments of their parties. So it was a little odd this week to see the latest could-be candidate with the last name of Bush (you can’t get more establishment than that) sucking up to an audience of business execs and reporters at the Four Seasons in Georgetown (OK, maybe you can). It was like Jeb was readying to run for the presidency of Congressional Country Club instead.

    In case you missed it, Bush gave a speech extolling the virtues of pragmatism and practicality, which are more often insults in Republican politics these days, and said that a less extremist candidate has to be willing to “lose the primary to win the general.” His pitch strikes a lot of political analysts as hopeful bordering on naive — the kind of self-congratulatory thing you say just before you become the next Fred Thompson .

  • Uber, Gruber and underlying truth

    Matt Bai at Yahoo News 2 mths ago

    Let's get a few things out of the way. Many years ago, I accidentally tried to carry a commemorative hunting knife onto a plane and was briefly questioned. I have forged my wife's name on countless checks. I once sat in the mayor's box at Yankee Stadium and accepted free ice cream.

    Since this column concerns a certain Uber executive, I figured I might as well disclose all the embarrassing stuff up front, just to save him the trouble.

    Of course, Uber's Emil Michael didn't know he was being quoted when he told an audience last week about his brilliant plan to expose the private lives of reporters. Neither did Jonathan Gruber, who helped craft the president's health care law, when he declared on video that voters were morons. Both men are just the latest victims, I guess, of the social-media culture I've often lamented, which routinely ruins good reputations by magnifying a few clumsy words beyond all proportion.