For Republicans, the decline of social mobility is a crisis

New Republic

A little platoon of high-profile Republican members of Congress, most of whom harbor national ambitions, has stepped forward in recent weeks to make the case for a more activist GOP policy toward the problem of poverty. A number of conservative intellectuals have also been weighing in. It’s doubtful that a wide-ranging conservative anti-poverty agenda is about to become the first plank in the GOP platform any time soon. But the felt need among Republicans to speak to the issue is an indication of how the domestic policy debate has been shifting.

There are several causes underlying this shift, some on the right and some on the left, some substantive and some political. I would usually give the political motivations consideration first, on the perhaps cynical grounds that where a politician’s interest goes, his or her heart will follow. But with one exception—Obama and the Democrats’ pushback against social inequality—calculations of political interest haven’t changed that much, and the pressure from Democrats on the subject has not been enough by itself to force a new line out of the GOP. Continue reading

Unhappy allies

The Weekly Standard

Apparently relations between the United States and Europe are actually maturing. How else to account for the singular absence of transatlantic crisis-mongering over the many, many ways in which the Obama administration has annoyed our allies in Europe?

Obama sycophancy, you say? The stenographic response to the official administration line among what Matthew Continetti has dubbed a “secretarial” (as opposed to adversarial) press corps? Well, maybe that too. Say George W. Bush were president. How big a deal would revelation of widespread National Security Agency data mining operations directed at our European allies be? How about the NSA listening in on the cell phone of an allied leader (one to whom Bush had unsuccessfully attempted to give a back rub, no less)? Such developments would be worthy of rhetoric about the biggest crisis in transatlantic relations since 2003. Yet Obama’s NSA scandal seems destined to pass from the scene without any such consequence. Continue reading

While no one was watching, social conservatives just lost their stranglehold on the GOP

New Republic

As Washington was comprehensively transfixed over the past couple weeks with the epic failure of the Obamacare launch, something very interesting was happening in the Senate. With little fuss or fanfare, social conservatives lost their once-iron grip on the modern Republican Party.

Up for consideration was legislation called ENDA, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which would prohibit workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. A high priority of the LGBT community for years, ENDA has the support of President Obama and the overwhelming majority of congressional Democrats. Continue reading

There’s a new political story line – and it’s good for Republicans

New Republic

The story most Democrats and progressives have long told about the GOP is that it’s a party that has been captured by its right wing. It’s a fairly simple story to tell. You find a firebrand character who is not especially popular, such as Newt Gingrich, and present him as the face of the party. Or you take a kooky GOP Senate candidate with views on abortion that even many pro-lifers find appalling, point to him and say, “Represent.” The idea is to persuade the persuadable that the “real” GOP is so far out of the mainstream that it cannot be trusted.

This would be a good political tactic even if it were made of whole cloth. But, of course, it isn’t. The GOP is indeed a more uniformly conservative party now than it has ever been, just as the Democratic Party is more uniformly liberal. Continue reading

Maxilateral man

The Weekly Standard

With his Syria policy careening from inaction to the threat of force to a request for congressional approval to a diplomatic bailout from Russia, the long-vexing puzzle of what makes Barack Obama tick has again come to the fore.

About most presidents, it’s possible to put together a sentence or two that plausibly describes their view of the world and where they sought to take the country. Reagan wanted to rebuild American strength and unleash economic growth at home. The Cold War over, George H. W. Bush, himself no ideologue, was pragmatically looking to shape a “new world order.” Bill Clinton was a “New Democrat” who sought a third way between the old-school liberalism of a Ted Kennedy and the surge of ideological conservatism that nearly engulfed him. George W. Bush found his purpose after 9/11, which was to wage a “global war on terror.” Continue reading

Do Republicans oppose everything Obama does? Here’s a test

New Republic

Insiders in the Obama administration have long described the political environment they face as one in which the GOP opposition, especially in the House, will pretty much automatically come out against anything the president proposes. To hear them tell it, it doesn’t even matter if Republicans used to favor the same position. As Exhibit A, there’s the  erstwhile conservative support for an individual mandate to buy health insurance. That was the Heritage Foundation’s preferred approach to health care reform in the early 1990s. Yet the conservative behemoth thoroughly repudiated its position when it emerged as the centerpiece of Obama’s health care reform. Continue reading

The depressed hyperpower

New Republic

This nation and its leaders have been humbled over the past decade by the ambiguous results of the American military power unleashed in Iraq and Afghanistan. It is customary to think in terms of wars won and wars lost—but what was Iraq? Certainly not a victory, though Saddam Hussein is history. But not a defeat, either. A tie, perhaps, but with whom? Maybe it’s that the war inside Iraq isn’t over, and that the future of Iraq is highly uncertain; but for the United States, the war has ended, in the sense that our troops have come home and it is all but unimaginable that they will go back. Afghanistan similarly looks to be shaping up as something that will end in neither victory nor defeat nor stalemate.

And yet, despite all this, the United States remains unquestionably the world’s predominant power. As my Hoover Institution colleague Kori Schake has observed, nowadays America has the luxury of not having to win its wars. For a country to find itself in such a position, with so much margin for error, must be some sort of triumph of grand strategy.

But no one in America feels triumphant, and no one is satisfied. Continue reading

A bear in the desert

The Weekly Standard

For decades during the Cold War, U.S. policy sought to minimize the role of Moscow in the Middle East. As the Soviet Union weakened dramatically in the late 1980s and early 1990s, so too did its capacity to influence events there (and many other places besides). So matters have stood since. A pretty good question, then, is why on earth the Obama administration seems to be inviting a Russian resurgence in the Middle East.

The first-term Obama initiative to “reset” relations with Russia was probably worth a try. If a dose of conspicuous American respect could lead to progress with Russia on matters of mutual interest, all to the good. And indeed, the policy arguably bore certain limited fruit: an agreement that further reduces nuclear stockpiles (though not one without its critics); cooperation over Afghanistan; restraint in terms of Russian cooperation with Iran (specifically, Russia’s support for sanctions and its nondelivery of the advanced S-300 air defense system Tehran sought in order to complicate military options against its nuclear programs); an abstention on the U.N. Security Council resolution authorizing “all necessary measures” to protect Libyan civilians from the last gasp of Muammar Qaddafi’s effort to stay in power.

But Vladimir Putin’s Russia never really responded to the reset by opting for a constructive role in international politics. Since Putin emerged at the top of the post-Soviet political heap, Russian foreign policy, such as it is, has mainly seemed to be driven by a combined sense of nostalgia, grievance, and resentment​—​Russia with a chip on its shoulder over the loss of an empire and the supposed abuse inflicted upon it by the United States in its period of weakness.

Putin’s autocratic tendencies are of a piece with his posturing on behalf of a strong Russia. Has there ever been a world leader who so likes to be photographed bare-chested? Yet he has always seemed a little too insistent in delivering his message that Russia is back. Continue reading

The NSA scandal was good for Obama

New Republic

The story about extensive National Security Agency monitoring of electronic communications blew through Washington with hurricane force. And, like a hurricane, it fully consumed the attention of just about everybody who fell within its path. Oh, sure, there was a little gang huddling over here working on immigration issues and another one over there fretting about the Syrian rebels, but mostly people were coping with the storm.

Admittedly, attention spans in Washington, as anywhere else, are limited, and there’s only so much room in the in-box. But usually the capital’s politico-journalistic complex is able to walk and chew gum and do three or four other things at the same time. With the NSA story, not so much. There was too much there there. First came the questions about what the NSA was really up to. Next were the questions about who knew what and on whose authority the snooping was taking place. Then came the person of leaker Edward Snowden and broader questions about the motives of whistleblowers and the morality of leaks. Finally, there was the whole question of the legality and wisdom of the program. Continue reading

The second-term interventionists

New Republic

In the annals of presidential appointment-making, Barack Obama displayed unusual coherence with his simultaneous announcement of Thomas Donilon’s departure as national security advisor, U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice’s elevation to Donilon’s position, and Samantha Power’s nomination to return to the administration as Rice’s successor. No lengthy search process, protracted infighting, or Oval Office agonizing—just one fell swoop. Obama looked like a president who was getting exactly what he wanted, when he wanted it.

Rice and Power are both confidants of the president; that they should be moving up in his second term comes as no surprise. After Hillary Clinton formally announced her departure as secretary of state, the White House hinted that Rice was Obama’s first choice for the job. But Republicans pitched a preemptive fit over Rice: They denounced her for her Sunday-show description of the Sept. 11, 2012, attacks on U.S. diplomatic posts in Benghazi, Libya, as a protest over an anti-Islam movie trailer that got out of hand. Rice’s confirmability in doubt, Obama passed over her in favor of the current incumbent, then-Senator John Kerry. Or so the story goes. Continue reading