Ta-Nehisi Coates

Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

  • Obama and Purple America

    I think it's worth checking out Noam Scheiber's piece on Obama and end of his "grand compromise" trip. I don't know about other supporters, but I generally thought that when he claimed that there was no "red America" or "blue America" he was engaging in campaign rhetoric. When he claimed, as Ryan Lizza notes, that politics was mostly played between the "40 yard lines" I thought it was more packaging than principal. 

    When Hillary Clinton would criticize his post-partisan fantasies, I remember smugly thinking "That is exactly why I can't support you." I didn't think Obama was more "liberal" than Clinton. I thought he was less polarizing, and more likely to open up the playing field. But I also thought that, in the era of Terri Schiavo, he could really believe in post-partisanship, or a purple America. 

    In hindsight, I should have been less cynical and seen that Obama's 40-yard line politics were deeply tied to his ability to expand the map. Politics and policy were wedded. And so we find that it wasn't until the debt ceiling fight, that Obama truly began to comprehend his opposition:

    After the midterm elections, Geithner's chief of staff, Mark Patterson, thought the administration should try to defuse the debt-limit issue once and for all before the incoming Republicans arrived. He drafted a law giving the president the authority to raise the debt ceiling unilaterally and sent it to the White House. To sell it politically, the president could explain that renewing the upper-income Bush tax cuts, as Republicans were then demanding, would cost the government $700 billion over ten years, forcing it to hit the debt ceiling sooner. 

    The White House was initially interested, but dropped the idea once Republicans made clear they would oppose it. But, of course, the way to win concessions from obstructionist opponents isn't to sound them out quietly. It's to cause them public discomfort. As one former Treasury aide who was involved explains: "Imagine the alternative reality where the president comes out in December and says, 'I understand you want to increase the high-end tax cuts. But that will make the deficit go up. ... I am willing to do some of what you want to do, but you have to pay for it by raising the debt ceiling.'" At the very least, it would have put the GOP on the defensive. 

    But the White House didn't have an appetite for going to war so soon after the midterms. Instead, it chose to bargain behind the scenes, renewing the Bush tax cuts in order to win more tax benefits for workers. "The feeling [at the White House] was, 'Let's go home, lick our wounds, sort it out.' There wasn't a lot of fight in folks," says the former Treasury aide. "We [at Treasury] were a little bit obsessed. They were, 'Yeah, yeah, yeah, we'll deal with it later...' "

    More »

  • Chipotle And The Future Of Fast-Food

    Matt Yglesias on the wonder of  bougie burritos:

    In many ways, the Chipotle burrito is very similar to the iPhone. Founder Steve Ells invented a way to maintain the basic speed and experience of the standard fast-food experience and make the quality of the food a little better.* The better food costs a bit more money, but consumers turn out to be happy to pay a premium for a superior product. A similar insight is behind privately held Five Guys, a burger-oriented fast-food concept that's also grown rapidly over the past several years. At the other end of the health spectrum there's Chop't, the assembly-line salad chain that's taken New York and D.C. by storm but hasn't yet gone national. All three chains are, in their different ways, raising the bar for food quality in a quick-service setting. 

    Chipotle stands out for some unusual process innovations as well. Their "barbecued" meat products--carnitas and barbacoa--are vacuum-packed and cooked sous-vide in Chicago before being shipped out for on-site reheating. The sous-vide cooking method is mostly associated with cutting edge haute cuisine. The way it works is that a piece of meat and its accompanying seasonings are placed in an airtight bag. The bag is then placed in an immersion circulator, a bath of water that's held at a very precise temperature. Cooking this way is slow, but extremely precise. A piece of meat held in a 155 degree water bath for long enough will cook uniformly to exactly 155 degrees worth of doneness. 

    What I wonder is how a place like Chipotle is viewed out west. In New York, great tacos are hard to fine. But out in Cali? Or Texas? 

    Anyway, I'm just glad they haven't figured out fish tacos. That would be a problem.
  • The Second Lives of Pro Football Players

    On NFL athletes staring into the abyss of retirement

    Here's a really good piece by Elizabeth Merrill on NFL players staring into the abyss of retirement:

    It can't be reality, pulling down a million or two a year, having surgery on both your hips by the time you're 31, hearing, around that same time, that your career is done. Washed out at 31. What does a guy do after that? "The hardest part is that you're part of something," said Chris Bober, a former offensive lineman for the Giants and Chiefs, "and then you're not and you have to go reinvent yourself." 

    The myth, Bober said, is that NFL players are set for life. Bober seemingly did all the right things when he was in the league. He attended Harvard Business School and Northwestern's Kellogg School of Management. He invested his money. Then the recession came a few years ago, around the same time he was being cut from the Chiefs, and wiped away roughly half of his investments. But even if that hadn't happened, Bober knew he had to start another career. He was in his early 30s and had spent his entire life pushing and building toward something. He had to find something else to do.

    The money thing is always a shocker to people. I don't want to make any excuses. But there is something about human nature, and something about all the ways we've invented to spend money, which makes it very easy to insist on improving our standard of living. Sometimes, regrettably, way beyond our means.

    But with that said, I think the psychological aspect must be a killer. I'm trying to imagine someone telling me that I basically wouldn't be able to write after age 40, or so. I don't know how to say this, but I'd feel like my life was over. The only thing in my life above my writing is family. Family, friendship and writing are about all I've been successful at. What if that were family, friendship and football?

  • Thinking About The New Kennedy Revelations

    It's interesting that Janet Maslin's review of Mimi Alford's new memoir takes Alford to task more than it does the man at the center of the book--John F. Kennedy. I guess that makes some sense given that Alford is the author and it was ultimately her story. But I've found myself overcome by a kind of visceral revulsion as I watched  the story of Alford's affair with Kennedy unfold on Rock Center last night.

    The point is often made here that when we discuss illicit sexual affairs with young women and powerful men, there is a tendency to infantalize the women--to treat them as victims without any designs or sexual urges original to themselves. I think that line serves as an important corrective, and indeed in her interview Alford is fairly clear that she wanted it to happen. At the same time, I think there has to be a way to talk about a humanistic morality, without young women as sexless stand-ins for that morality. 

    Call me old-fashioned. But I think it's an abuse of power to begin a sexual relationship with an intern in his office, one which the willingness of the other party doesn't allow you to evade. In the coldest most removed--and frankly mildest--sense, it opens the door for complaints of favoritism. Monica Lewinsky was not the only intern in the White House. In more malicious hands it can escalate to threats and blackmail. In this particular case it opened the door, according to Alford,  to the abuser requesting that she service one of Kennedy's aides, and, according to Alford, his brother.

    These are the firm questions that arise. Tougher ones remain: When the head of the free world requests that a 20-year old perform oral sex on one of his aides, does consent still having meaning? Is there coercion beyond beyond the physical, even if we grant that it's beyond the realm of prosecutors? 

    Someone with more experience in this area can speak for me, but somehow "Well she was an adult and she consented" doesn't feel particularly feminist, or humanist, to me. I also don't buy the notion that this sort of behavior has no impact on one's politics. In this age, at the very least a penchant to give one's foes ammo is an actual problem
  • America's Best Literary Journalist

    The Times profiles the intrepid Katherine Boo.

    The Times profiles the intrepid Katherine Boo:

    Ms. Boo graduated from Barnard in the late '80s, still typing -- for The Columbia Daily Spectator, for which she wrote editorials -- and was hired by Jack Shafer, then the editor of the Washington City Paper. Mr. Shafer, now a columnist for Reuters, said recently that he was impressed less by her writing then by her voluminous reading and her ability to think on her feet, and was amazed by how accomplished her first article was. "She had the soul of a poet but the arm strength of an investigative reporter," he recalled.

    What stands out for me is Boo's work, now almost 20 years ago, on the impact of welfare reform. It's always interesting to think back on how the literature of your youth shapes your path. At the time policy wonkery about the potential effects of welfare reform was all the rage. But Boo's work treated the wonkery as an excuse to write about what ultimately mattered to me as a reader--the people.

    The mandate, at the time in my life, appeared simple--"Tell stories." The point here isn't that narrative is superior to stats but that narrative has a different power, and one--in our current age--which is hard to capture. Stats fit into six minute debate segment in a way that stories do not.

    At any rate, I've always been impressed that Boo has taken her gifts and applied them to the impoverished corners of the world, given that there is always a lucrative market for talented writers interested, solely, in rich people.

    If you're unfamiliar with her work, this piece on the aftershocks of Katrina is an excellent start. Here's a taste:

    The recreation center looked out on the bayou, which most of the evacuees avoided--there were alligators there. So it was considered daring when Carolyn and Gus began taking their toddlers to the water's edge each afternoon, when the light made everything around them glimmer gold and red. "I want their eyes to be steady full of something beautiful," Carolyn said, "enough beautiful to push the ugly things they've seen out of their brains." 

    One afternoon, Jasmine went to the bayou, too. It was the most beautiful place she'd ever been. Like many neglected children, she'd grown used to her lot in life, and barely paid attention when her mother asked the volunteers, "You got kids? I been trying to get rid of mine for some time." Jasmine had an eleven-year-old brother, and neither of them expected their mother to do "regular stuff," like helping with homework. Their mother said, "My kids don't even ask me anymore--my nerves is bad, so they gets beat up after one problem. Other thing they know is when I put that forty dollars' worth of food on the counter every month and they eat it too fast, they be going hungry until next month comes around." 

    One kind of poverty is that of the imagination--the inability to envision a future truly different from the present. Jasmine had long judged people based on whether or not they gave her food and clothing, but, as she watched Carolyn and Gus and other families, she found herself mulling different gauges of worth. She'd been working lately on a definition of love. "Maybe it's that, like, you honor somebody and they honor you back," she said carefully. "If you do for them without being all, like, See, I did this for you, now you best do something for me--like, you just do it for the kind of your heart." 

    Jasmine had seen her father only once since she was five. She knew that he had been in prison for selling drugs and attempted murder, and that he now put siding on houses. He was six feet two, had a place in suburban Minneapolis, and had sponsored the three best days of her life: "It was February and he was in a car, and he came by his cousin's house. I was playing in the parking lot then, so I caught a look of him. I knew right away--I said, 'That my daddy,' but because I'd grown big he didn't know me. But then he did know, and he took me eating at Manhattan's in New Orleans and bowling and to a movie, then he took me by my other cousin's, then we ate doughnuts, then he brought me to Avondale, too." Jasmine's furious dialling now had direction: she would ask her father to take her in. 

    This is how you write when you take people seriously. Boo's new book Behind The Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity is now in your area.
  • Birth Control and the 'Obama Independents'

    Sarah Kliff parses the numbers on birth control, insurance, religion and the illusive independents.


    Sarah Kliff parses the numbers on birth control, insurance, religion and the illusive independents:

    And a lot of this likely isn't about Catholic voters at all. Rather, it may well be about the demographics that are most supportive of this particular health reform provision: young voters and women. In the PRRI poll, both groups register support above 60 percent for the provision. 

    Those two demographics are important here for a key reason: they were crucial to Obama's victory in 2008. Third Way crunched the numbers earlier this month and found that the "Obama Independents" -- the swing group that proved crucial to his 2008 victory -- are, as Ryan Lizza put it, "disproportionately young, female and secular..." 

    These voters have tended to be difficult for abortion rights supporters to engage on reproductive health issues like abortion. Research from NARAL Pro-Choice America, which I wrote about last weekend, found a significant "intensity gap" there, with abortion rights supporters much less likely to see it as a crucial voting issue than their anti-abortion counterparts. 

    But when the conversation moves away from abortion to contraceptives - as it has this week - the intensity gap flips: A much larger segment of voters are willing to penalize a legislator who votes to defund family planning. That became apparent in polling that Democratic firm Lake Research Partners did earlier this year, which found that 40 percent of voters would be less likely to support a member of Congress who votes to defund family-planning programs. Just 22 percent would be more likely to support such a lawmaker.

    Two things: 

    1.) I think it really helps to separate Obama independents--disproportionately "young, female and secular"--from the broad nebulous "Independent voters" that we are all so fond of invoking. Everyone claims to appealing to "independents." I think that has more to do with connotations and branding (independent="thinks for self") than the actual make-up of a candidates support.

    2.) The difference numbers for Catholics and White evangelicals are really interesting. It's almost as if the issue for Republicans, isn't so much a hard pitch to Catholics, as it is a hard pitch to white Evangelicals, with the hope of clipping off some conservative Catholics along the way.
  • Planned Parenthood's Deep Bench

    The backlash against Komen has claimed Karen Handel:

    In an interview, Handel acknowledged she played a role in Komen's decision to defund Planned Parenthood, but also pushed back against allegations that she was the sole actor in the decision. "I clearly acknowledge [my role] in the process, but to suggest I had sole authority is just absurd," Handel told Fox News Tuesday afternoon. 

    "The policy was vetted at all appropriate levels." Handel reiterated that Komen had stopped funding Planned Parenthood because of new grantmaking policies, further explaining that "controversy surrounding Planned Parenthood" also played a role.

    I don't think that Handel, or her allies, quite understood the nature of their adversaries. I mentioned this in comments the other day but it's interesting to look at how Plannned Parenthood has weathered under targeting from the Right, as compared with other groups. This is not like ACORN. Whatever their significant work in poor communities and black and Latino communities, Planned Parenthood has touched women across race and across class, and thus indirectly, touched men across race and class too. 

    Consider this testimony from one of the young ladies pictured below:

    That's me and my best friend, three years after I was diagnosed with breast cancer. We were holding a fundraiser in 2008 for breast cancer research/awareness and celebrating another year of being cancer free. I am 27 years old and have been a breast cancer survivor for 7 years now. When I was originally diagnosed and treated, I was lucky to still be covered by my mother's insurance plan. The related medical costs were easier for us to handle. 

    Once I graduated college, I was no longer eligible for coverage under my mother's insurance. So when I took my first job, I readily opted into my employer's insurance plan. After submitting my application, I was told that the insurance company would not cover any tests/procedures/expenses related to my pre-existing condition...breast cancer. Not only did I require biannual mammograms, I frequently required breast ultrasounds whenever something seemed out of the ordinary with my breast exams. These procedures are extremely expensive out-of-pocket. 

    Additionally, I am limited as to what hormonal birth control I can take as a result of the cancer. I am limited to two types...and they are expensive. And naturally, my insurance company would not cover either of the two options that I am allowed to take. I've been in a relationship with my significant other for about six years. While we have regularly discussed the possibility of children, we are simply not ready. 

    Birth control is essential for our life plan. Luckily, not only was I able to turn to Planned Parenthood for my mammogram needs, they became my ONLY source for affordable birth control. Early detection is the key against any type of cancer. The resources provided by Planned Parenthood have been invaluable to me personally. It has given me peace of mind to know with 100% certainty that I have remained cancer free. You cannot put a price on peace of mind. Thank you Planned Parenthood.

    The thing about Planned Parenthood is when you run against them you aren't just fighting  welfare, or chastising lazy food stamp addicts. And you aren't simply bashing East Coast elites. You are making war against a free-floating nation with vassals, of all color and stripe, at the ready. 

    It's often said that the diffuseness of gender poses a problem for feminists activists. But here you see how that very diffuseness can be transformed from weakness into power.

  • The Atlantic's Civil War

    The Atlantic's stellar Civil War issue is online. As excited as I am about the issue, I'm much more excited about our own Yoni (Cynic) Applebaum's historical profile of the cyclorama at Gettysburg.

    Because I'm a total downer, I most enjoyed the portion where the great illusion fell out of favor:

    But even convincing illusions are eventually dispelled. "We once obtained permission to go behind the scenes in ... The Battle of Gettysburg," a critic later recalled. "After that the illusion was destroyed. Most of the cannon in the foreground were of galvanized iron, the thickness of a sheet of tin, and so were the soldiers and wagons. When we returned to the platform the skill of the deception seemed to us greater than ever, but we were thoroughly disillusioned." Familiarity turned the marvelous mundane, made the breathtaking banal. 

    The day of the cyclorama soon passed. In Sioux City, Iowa, a twister lifted the roof off the cyclorama building and destroyed the artwork. Another canvas was sliced into pieces, and sewn together into a tent for a restaurant. Most of the massive paintings, though, met more prosaic ends. They fell victim to leaky roofs and sagging supports, burned, or were left to decompose. By 1888, the proprietors of the Boston Cyclorama decided that Gettysburg had exhausted its appeal, and commissioned General Custer's Last Fight to replace it. More than a dozen workers labored for two weeks to remove the massive canvas; they spent at least a day just rolling it up. It toured for a few years before slipping from public view. 

    In 1901, the astonished Boston Globe discovered the painting in a crate on a vacant lot, topped by an improvised roof, "going to rack and ruin." The story of a painting that once cost $200,000 rotting in a box, entombed in "a sort of mausoleum of greatness," captured national attention but provoked no efforts at salvage. The Boston Cyclorama Company dissolved three years later. And there the orphaned painting sat.
    Of course, the story doesn't end there.
  • The Only Super Bowl Ad We Care About

    The interesting thing about the Avengers is--from what I can see--this is all about watching some (mostly) dudes bash heads and melt faces. No high-minded meditations on minority rights. No existential ruminations on the unbridled rage-filled id. No Jungian treatises on the nature of fear.

    It's just guns the size of Lil Bow Wow. 

    Gotta say, I miss the Wasp.

  • The Bizarre Republican Freakout Over the Clint Eastwood Superbowl Ad

    This is the exact sort of gauzy nationalism that corporations put out and Republicans have, themselves, often alluded to.

    I watched the Super Bowl online and considered myself lucky, because I was -- for the most part -- spared the commercials. But the commercials are us, and the unfortunate part of opting out is that you often find yourself left out. So here I am, catching up with the flap over the Clint Eastwood commercial.

    I just watched the ad seconds ago, after reading about the Republican freak-out, which I have to say is bizarre. This is the exact sort of gauzy nationalism (to paraphrase Jonathan Chait) that corporations have put out for years and Republicans have, themselves, often alluded to. This is the America of their imaginations and to see them lambasting it, evidently for name-checking Detroit and softly alluding to the bail-out, really displays a party that actually isn't.

    When Republicans line up against Clint Eastwood and cars, one has to ask, "What could they possibly be for?" Child labor?  Charters for blah people? Midnight Basketball?


A New York City Minute, Frozen in Time

This short film takes you on a whirling tour of the Big Apple


What Happened to the Milky Way?

Light pollution has taken away our ability to see the stars. Can we save the night sky?


The Faces of #BlackLivesMatter

Scenes from a recent protest in New York City


Ruth Bader Ginsburg on Life

The Supreme Court justice talks gender equality and marriage.


The Pentagon's $1.5 Trillion Mistake

The F-35 fighter jet was supposed to do everything. Instead, it can barely do anything.



From This Author

Just In