What it will mean for the president to "finish what we've started" on the global stage
Barack Obama campaigned for reelection by asking Americans to give him another term so he could "finish what we started" in 2008. "We've come too far to turn back now," he said. "We've got too much work to do to implement health care. We've got too much work to do to create good jobs. We've got too many teachers that we've got to hire. We've got too many schools we've got to rebuild. We've got too many students who still need affordable higher education. There's more homegrown energy to generate. There're more troops that we've got to bring home .... That's why I'm running for president of the United States of America." Last night, he won that second term. Today, the work begins.
Not surprisingly, Obama's domestic agenda for the next four years doesn't look much different from his first-term agenda. The economy may now be slowly improving rather than worsening, and the unemployment rate has been dropping instead of rising, but economic issues will remain his most urgent concern. He recently told MSNBC that if reelected, his first priority will be to push for passage of a debt reduction plan to cut spending and raise taxes on the wealthiest Americans. He said he will have a "mandate" to take that balanced approach, and he sounded confident that Republicans in Congress will agree.
Immigration Reform Expected
Obama has also outlined economy-boosting initiatives aimed at increasing manufacturing and energy production, investing in infrastructure, and encouraging businesses to hire more workers. But there is also unfinished business from his first term that will need attention. His administration still has work to do to implement his banking reform plan, and much remains to be done on his 2010 landmark health-care reform legislation -- so-called "Obamacare" -- which is scheduled to take effect in 2014.
Many observers expect Obama to take up immigration reform. Days before the election, Obama told a reporter, "Should I win a second term, a big reason [will be] because the Republican nominee and the Republican Party have so alienated the fastest-growing demographic group in the country -- the Latino community."
Judd Legum, the editor in chief of ThinkProgress, a liberal online political news site, says Obama is also likely to return to the issue of climate change, which went nowhere in his first term, largely because of concerns that regulation would worsen the already bad economy. "I do think the extreme weather we've been having in the United States -- particularly Hurricane Sandy, which just hit the East Coast -- is going to draw renewed attention to [climate change], and I think there's hope that Obama will take up some of these initiatives that were talked about," Legum says. "Maybe a cap-and-trade program to limit carbon emissions, or maybe something else."
The president's second-term foreign policy agenda also looks set to largely build on what he's already begun. There's the war in Afghanistan to wind down by 2014, the anticipation that tough sanctions on Iran will bear fruit, and the recent U.S. pivot, both militarily and economically, to the Asia-Pacific region. Republicans warned before the election that a second-term Obama, freed from the pressure of being reelected because of term limits, would be "unleashed" and emboldened to pursue his own agenda.
Christopher Preble, the vice president for defense and foreign policy studies at the CATO Institute, says that's a wrong assumption. Second-term presidents care about their legacy, he says, and want to leave office as popular figures. And beyond that, there are always political repercussions for the president's political party. "If a president were to do something in foreign policy that was dramatically at odds with what the public wanted, they risk doing serious harm to [their] party, and I think they care about that," Preble says. "We actually saw that, to a certain extent, in the second Bush term, when President Bush tried to make some changes to foreign policy, but on the critical issue of Iraq - which, by 2005-2006, the public had turned decisively against -- his decision to expand the war, contrary to public sentiment, I think clearly hurt the Republican Party in 2006 and 2008."
On the big issues, Preble says he expects Obama to continue the same policies he has for the last four years. He points out that sanctions on Iran are working - they have crippled the country's banking sector, hobbled its oil industry, and sent its currency plummeting. "All of those things will take some time, but they appear to be having some effect, at least on the state of the Iranian economy," he says. "So I think he is likely to continue along that path for a while longer."
Mideast Not a Priority
Preble doesn't agree with the speculation in some quarters that a second-term Obama will feel freer to take a tough line with Israel and press the Jewish state for concessions on the Israeli-Palestinian issue. In fact, he doesn't see that issue as a priority for Obama. "Whenever the United States applies pressure to the Israeli government to, halts the expansion of settlements in the Palestinian Territories, it has failed," Preble says. "And so if he's likely to go down that road, I can't imagine that he's likely to succeed. I frankly would be surprised if he invests a lot of political capital there, considering all the other issues on the table."
On the issue of Syria, where a bloody war between the government and antiregime fighters drags on, Obama has taken a largely hands-off approach, except to help organize the disparate rebel factions and lead international calls for President Bashar al-Assad to step down. Preble says "barring some very dramatic change," considering U.S. public opinion against another U.S. military operation, Obama will stay the course.
Obama's much-heralded "reset" with Moscow at the start of his first term led to cooperation on issues including Iran and Afghanistan, but President Vladimir Putin is now in power and demonstrating what many see as open disdain for the United States. Preble said his sense is that Obama "hasn't really made a connection with President Putin," but he doesn't foresee major changes in U.S.-Russian relations, and in fact doesn't rule out Russian cooperation on Syria and even China.
And finally, on China: Obama talked tough during the campaign about Beijing's trade policies - calling them unfair and even illegal - and vowed to take action. He has already overseen Defense Department changes that will increase the U.S. military presence in the Asia-Pacific region and serve as a counterweight to China's military ambitions in that part of the world. Preble says in the wider Asia-Pacific region, he expects Obama to strengthen U.S. ties with traditional allies like Japan, South Korea, and Australia, but also to reach out to countries that have shown interest in closer U.S. ties, like Vietnam, Indonesia, and the Philippines.
“Here is what I would like for you to know: In America, it is traditional to destroy the black body—it is heritage.”
Last Sunday the host of a popular news show asked me what it meant to lose my body. The host was broadcasting from Washington, D.C., and I was seated in a remote studio on the Far West Side of Manhattan. A satellite closed the miles between us, but no machinery could close the gap between her world and the world for which I had been summoned to speak. When the host asked me about my body, her face faded from the screen, and was replaced by a scroll of words, written by me earlier that week.
The host read these words for the audience, and when she finished she turned to the subject of my body, although she did not mention it specifically. But by now I am accustomed to intelligent people asking about the condition of my body without realizing the nature of their request. Specifically, the host wished to know why I felt that white America’s progress, or rather the progress of those Americans who believe that they are white, was built on looting and violence. Hearing this, I felt an old and indistinct sadness well up in me. The answer to this question is the record of the believers themselves. The answer is American history.
New data shows that students whose parents make less money pursue more “useful” subjects, such as math or physics.
In 1780, John Adams wrote a letter to his wife, Abigail, in which he laid out his plans for what his children and grandchildren would devote their lives to. Having himself taken the time to master “Politicks and War,” two revolutionary necessities, Adams hoped his children would go into disciplines that promoted nation-building, such as “mathematicks,” “navigation,” and “commerce.” His plan was that in turn, those practical subjects would give his children’s children room “to study painting, poetry, musick, architecture, statuary, tapestry, and porcelaine.”
Two-hundred and thirty-five years later, this progression—“from warriors to dilettantes,” in the words of the literary scholar Geoffrey Galt Harpham—plays out much as Adams hoped it would: Once financial concerns have been covered by their parents, children have more latitude to study less pragmatic things in school. Kim Weeden, a sociologist at Cornell, looked at National Center for Education Statistics data for me after I asked her about this phenomenon, and her analysis revealed that, yes, the amount of money a college student’s parents make does correlate with what that person studies. Kids from lower-income families tend toward “useful” majors, such as computer science, math, and physics. Those whose parents make more money flock to history, English, and performing arts.
In 1992, the neuroscientist Richard Davidson got a challenge from the Dalai Lama. By that point, he’d spent his career asking why people respond to, in his words, “life’s slings and arrows” in different ways. Why are some people more resilient than others in the face of tragedy? And is resilience something you can gain through practice?
The Dalai Lama had a different question for Davidson when he visited the Tibetan Buddhist spiritual leader at his residence in Dharamsala, India. “He said: ‘You’ve been using the tools of modern neuroscience to study depression, and anxiety, and fear. Why can’t you use those same tools to study kindness and compassion?’ … I did not have a very good answer. I said it was hard.”
Most adults can’t remember much of what happened to them before age 3 or so. What happens to the memories formed in those earliest years?
My first memory is of the day my brother was born: November 14, 1991. I can remember my father driving my grandparents and me over to the hospital in Highland Park, Illinois, that night to see my newborn brother. I can remember being taken to my mother’s hospital room, and going to gaze upon my only sibling in his bedside cot. But mostly, I remember what was on the television. It was the final two minutes of a Thomas the Tank Engine episode. I can even remember the precise story: “Percy Takes the Plunge,” which feels appropriate, given that I too was about to recklessly throw myself into the adventure of being a big brother.
In sentimental moments, I’m tempted to say my brother’s birth is my first memory because it was the first thing in my life worth remembering. There could be a sliver of truth to that: Research into the formation and retention of our earliest memories suggests that people’s memories often begin with significant personal events, and the birth of a sibling is a textbook example. But it was also good timing. Most people’s first memories date to when they were about 3.5 years old, and that was my age, almost to the day, when my brother was born.
Gentrification is pushing long-term residents out of urban neighborhoods. Can collective land ownership keep prices down permanently?
AUSTIN, Tex.—Not long ago, inner cities were riddled with crime and blight and affluent white residents high-tailed it to the suburbs, seeking better schools, safer streets, and, in some cases, fewer minority neighbors.
But today, as affluent white residents return to center cities, people who have lived there for years are finding they can’t afford to stay.
Take the case of the capital city of Texas, where parts of East Austin, right next to downtown, are in the process of becoming whiter, and hip restaurants, coffee shops, and even a barcatering to bicyclists are opening. Much of Austin’s minority population, meanwhile, is priced out, and so they’re moving to far-out suburbs such as Pflugerville and Round Rock, where rents are affordable and commutes are long.
The singer’s violent revenge fantasy was intended to provoke outrage, and to get people to talk about her. It succeeds on both counts.
Of all the scandalized reactions to Rihanna’s music video for “Bitch Better Have My Money,” my favorite comes, as is not surprising for this sort of thing, from the Daily Mail. Labelling herself in the headline as a “concerned parent” (a term to transport one to the days of Tipper Gore’s crusade against lyrics if there ever was one), Sarah Vine opens her column by talking at length about how so very, very reluctant she was to watch Rihanna’s new clip. Then she basically goes frame-by-frame through the video, recounting her horror at what unfolds. “By the time it had finished, I wondered whether I ought not to report [Rihanna] to the police,” Vine writes. “Charges: pornography, incitement to violence, racial hatred.”
The Islamic State is no mere collection of psychopaths. It is a religious group with carefully considered beliefs, among them that it is a key agent of the coming apocalypse. Here’s what that means for its strategy—and for how to stop it.
What is the Islamic State?
Where did it come from, and what are its intentions? The simplicity of these questions can be deceiving, and few Western leaders seem to know the answers. In December, The New York Times published confidential comments by Major General Michael K. Nagata, the Special Operations commander for the United States in the Middle East, admitting that he had hardly begun figuring out the Islamic State’s appeal. “We have not defeated the idea,” he said. “We do not even understand the idea.” In the past year, President Obama has referred to the Islamic State, variously, as “not Islamic” and as al-Qaeda’s “jayvee team,” statements that reflected confusion about the group, and may have contributed to significant strategic errors.
The unwillingness of the former secretary of state to take questions from the press contrasts sharply with Jeb Bush’s marked affinity for public disclosure.
Howard Kurtz reported on Sunday night that the Hillary Clinton campaign has decided to open itself to more press interviews. Kurtz quoted the campaign’s communications director, Jennifer Palmieri: “By not doing national interviews until now, Palmieri concedes, ‘we’re sacrificing the coverage. We’re paying a price for it.’”
Meanwhile Jeb Bush chatted July 2 with the conservative website, the Daily Caller. The Daily Caller interview broke an unusually protracted no-interview period for Bush. It had been more than two weeks since he appeared on the Tonight show with Jimmy Fallon. Bush spoke that same day, June 17, to Sean Hannity’s radio show and ABC News. Five days earlier, he’d spoken to Germany’s Der Spiegel—altogether, five interviews in the month of June. That brought his total, since the beginning of February, to 39, according to the Bush campaign.*
One reason for the continued resistance to the Affordable Care Act is a badly distorted narrative of how it became law.
The U.S. Supreme Court’s remarkable 6-3 decision in King v. Burwell saves the Affordable Care Act from evisceration, although Obamacare will undoubtedly face a continuing pattern of guerrilla attacks from Congress, the courts, and Republican governors and state legislatures. Still, as many observers have pointed out, the core elements of the plan, including the exchanges, the subsidies, the individual mandate, the expansion of coverage in family plans to children 26 and under, and the elimination of lifetime limits and of preexisting conditions as bars to coverage, are almost certainly here to stay.
This is, of course, a huge victory for President Obama. But the passage, implementation, and ratification of Obamacare continue to be plagued by a widespread belief that it was tarnished by the way it was proposed and debated. A raft of reporters, commentators, and politicians argue that the president made a huge mistake in taking up healthcare at the beginning of his term, before building relationships of trust with Republicans, and then compounded that error by jamming it through quickly without any Republican input or efforts to find common ground.