The LBJ Library recently held a multiday program to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act, and by all accounts, the program was stirring and stimulating, up to and including President Obama’s speech.
But there was one downside: the reactivation of one of the most enduring memes and myths about the presidency, and especially the Obama presidency. Like Rasputin (or Whac-A-Mole,) it keeps coming back even after it has been bludgeoned and obliterated by facts and logic. I feel compelled to whack this mole once more.
The meme is what Matthew Yglesias, writing in 2006, referred to as "the Green Lantern Theory of Geopolitics," and has been refined by Greg Sargent and Brendan Nyhan into the Green Lantern Theory of the presidency. In a nutshell, it attributes heroic powers to a president—if only he would use them. And the holders of this theory have turned it into the meme that if only Obama used his power of persuasion, he could have the kind of success that LBJ enjoyed with the Great Society, that Bill Clinton enjoyed in his alliance with Newt Gingrich that gave us welfare reform and fiscal success, that Ronald Reagan had with Dan Rostenkowski and Bill Bradley to get tax reform, and so on.
If only Obama had dealt with Congress the way LBJ did—persuading, cajoling, threatening, and sweet-talking members to attain his goals—his presidency would not be on the ropes and he would be a hero. If only Obama would schmooze with lawmakers the way Bill Clinton did, he would have much greater success. If only Obama would work with Republicans and not try to steamroll them, he could be a hero and have a fiscal deal that would solve the long-term debt problem.
If only the proponents of this theory would step back and look at the realities of all these presidencies (or would read or reread the Richard Neustadt classic, Presidential Power.)
Read more. [Image: JD Hancock/Flickr]
For decades, city and state governments have seen contracting as a cost-saving panacea. But past experience has left some of today’s policymakers more skeptical.
Read more. [Image: Reuters]
How would the Nevada standoff be different if the rancher were black? American history has already answered that question.
Read more. [Image: Jim Urquhart/Reuters]
The Supreme Court’s ruling on campaign finance means that all but the most blatant corruption is likely to escape the law’s scrutiny.
Read more. [Image: Desmond Boylan/Reuters]
Social issues have brought about a surprising alliance between Protestant evangelicals and Catholic bishops—but the pontiff’s focus on economic justice could complicate matters.
Read more. [Image: Alessandro Bianchi/Reuters]
In other words: Political money and hence influence at the top levels is disproportionately white, male, and with almost no social context that includes significant numbers of African Americans and other people of color.
This is why money isn’t speech. Freedom of speech as a functional element in democratic life assumes that such freedom can be meaningfully deployed. But the unleashing of yet more money into politics allows a very limited class of people to drown out the money “speech” of everyone else—but especially those with a deep, overwhelmingly well documented history of being denied voice and presence in American political life."
The 1965 document is a touchstone in the debate over black culture and the War on Poverty. The author’s call for full employment and a welfare state, however, is mostly forgotten.
Read more. [Image: Library of Congress]
There was great truth in the stern message President Obama delivered Friday about Republican voter-suppression efforts around the country. These measures are pernicious and partisan. They do further separate rich from poor, whites from minorities, state from state in this country. And they are based upon the demonstrably false idea that voter fraud by citizens is such a pervasive problem that it only can be thwarted by making it more difficult for already the most marginalized citizens to exercise their right to vote.
"The stark, simple truth is this: The right to vote is threatened today in a way that it has not been since the Voting Rights Act became law nearly five decades ago," Obama told Al Sharpton’s National Action Network in New York. “Across the country, Republicans have led efforts to pass laws making it harder, not easier, for people to vote,” he said, relating anecdotes of voters turned away because they didn’t have the right identification or because they needed a passport or birth certificate to register.”
The president should be saying these things now. This fight is essential to our democracy, especially in the wake of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United and McCutcheon rulings. The idea that the Court’s five conservatives would within 10 months make it far easier for rich people to influence politics and far more difficult for poor people to cast a ballot is an affront to what we teach our kids about civics and the Constitution. We don’t teach them that you have a right to vote only if you can afford to drive.
But if the president is going to change the voting-rights debate, if he is going to win the argument he evidently feels strongly about making, he is going to have to preach to more than the converted. And few groups today are more converted on the perils of voter suppression today than NAN. By taking on the topic in New York with Sharpton, Obama made precisely the right speech to precisely the wrong crowd.
Read more. [Image: Kevin Lamarque/Reuters]
The Nevada rancher isn’t just resisting the Bureau of Land Management—he’s also fighting against his state’s unusual constitutional history.
Read more. [Image: Jim Uquhart/Reuters]
hey say the grass is always greener on the other side, but for grass activists, things look pretty green right here and now. But look back at the heady days of the late 1970s teaches a lesson in how fragile political movements are, how quickly momentum can shift, and why it’s important for activists to keep their hubris in check.To be blunt, these are high times for cannabis campaigners. After years of slow expansion of support for medical marijuana, two states fully legalized recreational use in 2012, and so far the results look promising: plenty of tax revenue and none of the chaos naysayers predicted. Now more states are considering following in Washington and Colorado’s footsteps. And most promising of all, popular support for legalization crossed 50 percent in the last couple of years and continues to grow.
Read more. [Image: Lucy Nicholson/Reuters]