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Often in politics we search for a unique cause to explain some turn of events, when what happened is really just part of the larger cycle of our system. I think Chris Cillizza of The Washington Post, normally one of the smartest observers of politics, made this mistake recently when analyzing President Obama's first term.  

Cillizza believes that Obama "won the legislative fight and lost the message war — all of which precipitated historic gains Republicans made in the 2010 midterm elections."  In other words, if the White House focused...

January 31, 2013

The first time Hillary Clinton got widespread praise from Republicans was at the start of the 2008 general election.  In an attempt to attract female Democratic voters who were still bothered by the Obama-Clinton primary battle, Republicans began to say nice things about Senator Clinton.  It continued when McCain picked Gov. Sarah Palin, and Palin lobbed praise on the New York Democrat.  It was all an odd show -- there was never any chance liberal women were going to ignore the policy difference between the presidential nominees and vote for...

January 29, 2013

We all show our age in our own way, and it often reflects our life story. A former high school basketball player in his forties might hobble around on sensitive knees. A college debater might grow more frustrated at losing quick access to the facts she used to instantly recall. For Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward, the “tell” was using an old time journalist phrase -- showing not just his age, but his awareness of the high profile he’s carried around for forty years.

Woodward has a column in today’s Post about why President Obama...

January 28, 2013

Republicans in Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Virginia are proposing to change the way electoral votes are awarded in presidential elections.  Instead of the winner of the state getting all the electoral votes, they would be awarded by congressional district. It is a blatant attempt to rig the system to help the next Republican presidential nominee. At the individual state’s level, the change at first sounds reasonable.  If you win 51% of the popular vote, you shouldn't get 100% of the electoral votes.  But if the change is only made in...

January 25, 2013

I worked in the Pentagon during the Clinton Administration, when the opportunities for women in the armed forces greatly expanded. Women were allowed to pilot combat aircraft, serve on fighting ships, and compete for thousands of other positions previously closed to them. There was lots of loud opposition to the moves, but all of it seemed to me based on speculation rather than facts. Opponents worried that standards would be lowered for female fighter pilots, but no one provided a rational reason why a qualified woman shouldn't fly a jet that...

January 24, 2013

Over the last four years, there's been a great deal of debate about how it will affect American society to have a black president. I think the impact will be profound, mostly on a personal psychological level, for people of all races. The changes to our views, actions, and aspirations may take years to play out, but there's no question in my mind that it will be powerful. Then once in a while I'm reminded that there are limits to how much change at the top translates to the rest of a society.

Recently, the New York Times ran a story on the...

January 23, 2013

In the last few weeks, the general assessment seems to be that President Obama, freed from electoral concerns, is being more aggressive and more progressive. He forced Republicans to accept tax increases for the wealthy, and vowed not to negotiate on the debt ceiling. That narrative continued yesterday, as broadcast commentators saw a new boldness in his Inaugural Address. One talking head predicted that in contrast to his first four years, he would take on the most challenging issues in his second term. It was a startlingly odd thing to say. I...

January 22, 2013

There has been a great deal of discussion lately about interest groups that have a lot of power in Congress.  In the gun discussion, commentators talk about the influence of the National Rifle Association; and Secretary of Defense-nominee Chuck Hagel got in trouble talking about the pro-Israel lobby.  So what makes certain groups more powerful in Congress than others? The short answer is focus and passion.  The vast majority of voters don’t care too much about the vast majority of issues.  They have opinions, but don’t feel strongly enough to...

January 18, 2013

Zero Dark Thirty is a really good movie.  It's dramatic, interesting, and oddly suspenseful (since we all know how it ends).  But it’s also controversial because it asserts that the use of torture by the CIA was effective, and yielded information that led us to find and kill Osama bin Laden.

The movie does not shrink from showing torture, nor is it a tangential part of the plot. The first section of the film is mostly focused on torture, and it is difficult to watch. The scenes are explicit, bloody, and very personal. We watch both the...

January 16, 2013

Chuck Hagel, who will be nominated as the next Secretary of Defense, is exactly what Americans say they want in a politician. He is willing to cross party lines when he thinks his side is wrong, he speaks his mind with little apparent regard for the political consequences, and had a “real” life beyond politics. All those qualities are probably why the voters of Nebraska sent him to the Senate twice, re-electing him with over 80% of the vote. But those are also the traits that are hurting his chances at confirmation.

Part of the fight over...

January 14, 2013

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