Elizabeth Drew is a regular contributor to The New York Review and the former Washington correspondent of The New Yorker and The Atlantic. (September 2013)
Winning the Future: A 21st Century Contract with America by Newt Gingrich
The Republican Revolution 10 Years Later: Smaller Government or Business as Usual? edited by Chris Edwards and John Samples
Like No Other Time: The 107th Congress and the Two Years That Changed America Forever by Tom Daschle, with Michael D'Orso
Bush’s Brain: How Karl Rove Made George W. Bush Presidential by James Moore and Wayne Slater
Boy Genius: Karl Rove, the Brains Behind the Remarkable Political Triumph of George W. Bush by Lou Dubose, Jan Reid,and Carl M. Cannon
Barack Obama had an unfathomable inability, beginning in his early years in office, to grasp the difference between campaigning and governing—and for that he’s been paying a fearful price in his second term.
The presidents, senators, and congressmen who turned out for this week’s memorial for Tom Foley knew that he stood as an emblem of a time that now seemed very long past and was perhaps unrecoverable.
Both Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker John Boehner have declared that there will be no more shutdowns—but Ted Cruz has pledged to carry on his crusade. Can he be stopped the next time?
References to Watergate, impeachment, even Richard Nixon, are being tossed around these days as if they were analogous to the current so-called scandals. But the furors over the IRS, Benghazi, and the Justice Department’s sweeping investigation of the Associated Press, don’t begin to rise—or sink—to that level.
The nonsense about what it takes for a president to win a victory in Congress has reached ridiculous dimensions. The fact that Barack Obama failed to win legislation to place further curbs on the purchase of guns—even after the horror of Newtown, Connecticut—has made people who ought to know better decide that he’s not an “arm-twister.” Ever since Obama took office, others have been certain about how he should handle the job and that he wasn’t doing it right.
As the Republicans search for a new and more electable identity they have a fundamental problem. Ever since they took their first major right turn in 1964, they have made a series of bargains in order to strengthen their ranks that have ultimately cost them broad national appeal and flexibility.
The opponents of Chuck Hagel weren’t content to fight his nomination to Defense Secretary in the Senate, where they were expected to lose, so they have tried something different, with long-term significance to the power of the presidency.
Despite their considerable efforts the Republicans were not able to buy or steal the election after all. Their defeat was of almost Biblical nature.
Like Banquo’s ghost, the president’s sub-par performance in the first presidential debate only eight days before hovered over the vice presidential one, and had been all the talk. Before the first presidential debate it looked as though President Obama was on the way to winning a smashing reelection victory, and Mitt Romney’s campaign was almost given up for dead by his own party. But as a result of last week’s debate (and something of an overreaction to it), polls were suddenly indicating a shift in Romney’s direction; and—most dangerous to Obama—the Republicans were at last showing enthusiasm for their candidate.
The Republicans’ plan is that if they can’t buy the 2012 election they will steal it. The plan, long in the making and now well into its execution, is to raise great gobs of money—in newly limitless amounts—so that they and their allies could outspend the president’s forces; and they would also place obstacles in the way of large swaths of citizens who traditionally support the Democrats and want to exercise their right to vote. The plan would disproportionately affect blacks and could lead to turbulence on election day and possibly an extended period of lawsuits contesting the outcome in various states.
Paul Ryan is the charming ideologue driven by an ambition robust even by Washington standards. He has been the young man in a hurry, with dead aim; the indefatigable persuader; the self-created “man of ideas,” articulate and conspicuous. “Ideas” politicians can be more likeable and interesting than wise. Yet those who broke out in celebration upon learning that Mitt Romney had chosen Ryan as his running mate, certain that the Wisconsin Congressman’s radical worldview would surely sink the Romney ticket, may find him more dangerous than they currently assume.
We keep being told that the general election is underway, though in a sense it never wasn’t. The candidate often referred to as “presumptive”—so much so that one might think that is Mitt Romney’s real first name—a Romney adviser tells me, all along campaigned as much against Obama as he did against his primary opponents. Meanwhile the President and his advisers only briefly considered that the opponent would be other than Romney, and so the President got off a few barbs aimed at him—such as mocking Romney’s describing his own budget proposal as “marvelous”—not a word, the President said, one would use about a budget, or at all. However now that both candidates have all but officially nailed down the nomination, there are some important things to keep in mind as we watch the national campaign unfold.
Republican leaders, strategists, presidential candidates, and sympathetic columnists have been dismayed that their party got into a big controversy over the issue of insurance coverage of contraceptives—when the economy and Obama’s presidency were supposed to be the defining issues of the 2012 election. Along comes Rush Limbaugh, before whom most Republican politicians quaver, to make matters worse with his vile and curiously salacious statements about Sandra Fluke, the Georgetown University Law School student and leading figure making the case for such coverage for students. But Limbaugh’s attack was so far out of bounds as to mask the fact that in substance he probably spoke for a great number of his listeners by asking, why should taxpayers pay for insurance to cover the consequences of unlimited sexual activity by students?
As is his custom, President Obama erred on the side of caution in confronting this country’s grave fiscal crisis. On Wednesday he gave a good speech far too late.
In the struggle over government spending for the current fiscal year, the Republicans have forced the White House and the Senate Democrats into a series of retreats, and the outcome is likely to reflect more what the Republicans want than the objective situation seemed to warrant at the outset.