Michael Tomasky is a Special Correspondent for The Daily Beast and the Editor of Democracy: A Journal of Ideas. (November 2015)

Very Improbable Candidates

Bernie Sanders campaigning in Littleton, New Hampshire, August 2015
It is the season, we are told, of the outsider. The people are fed up with politics and politicians and both parties (usually enunciated “both parties,” lest the talking head in question be thought to mean only the Republicans, thus laying herself open to charges of liberal bias). Just look …

Trump

Donald Trump is conservative resentment and spectacle made flesh. In the four or so years since he first converted himself into a rage machine, banging on about Obama’s birth certificate and so forth, he has developed into an adept at stoking conservative resentment. And as for spectacle, Trump is one of the defining showmen of our new Gilded Age.

2016: The Republicans Write

Jeb Bush, Scott Walker, and Marco Rubio
In any given presidential campaign, there exists what we might call an “issues palette”—an underlying set of public concerns that seems likely to end up being what the race is fundamentally about. The 2016 election appears destined to be about the condition of the middle class, the issue of wage stagnation, and the recognition (finally) that the American economy has been working far better for those at the top than for those in the middle or, obviously, on the bottom. But in recent books by likely GOP presidential contenders, one hardly encounters the word “wages.”

Now We Face 2016!

Here we are, entering the twilight of the Barack Obama era, which opened with some observers touting a certain Democratic realignment and with millions of liberal hearts pulsating with hope. Now it is ending with our partisan divide seemingly institutionalized.

How to Become Eminent in Washington

What is the process by which someone becomes a Washington eminence? A young person, of either Republican or Democratic persuasion, hits town with big dreams, perhaps alighting from Union Station to join the taxi queue and take in that first, breath-stopping glimpse of the Capitol dome. He has a contact …

The Billionaire Brothers Take on the US

David Koch at the opening of a cancer research institute that bears his name at MIT, Cambridge, Massachusetts, March 2011
On election night 2012, Charles and David Koch were confident of a Republican victory, as so many Mitt Romney partisans were. Pre-election polls, which showed Barack Obama narrowly but consistently ahead in a number of key states, simply had to be incorrect, infested with liberal bias; the same was surely …

How Bad for Obama and the Democrats?

Mitch McConnell and other Senate Republicans answering questions after a weekly policy luncheon at the Capitol, March 2014
In the end, around seven million Americans signed up for Obamacare by the March 31 deadline, either through the federal exchange or through one of the fourteen exchanges set up by states (plus one in Washington, D.C.) that chose to run their own. That’s the target administration officials hoped for …

A New Populism?

We live in an age when hedge fund managers and Wall Streeters complain of class warfare against them, and when all but a small proportion of political campaign contributions are made by a fraction of the one percent. It’s been years since a high-profile politician has spoken like Elizabeth Warren and not only survived but flourished. Warren has aroused populist tendencies in parts of the liberal base and probably emboldened other senators and members of the House to speak more directly on class issues.

Can Obama Reverse the Republican Surge?

Senator Ted Cruz telling reporters he would not delay consideration of the agreement to raise the debt limit and end the government shutdown that Senators Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell had just announced, the Capitol, October 16, 2013
In Washington one rarely goes wrong in expecting the worst. And sure enough, the general wagering right now among the Washington cognoscenti is that we are staring at yet another stalemate. But there are a few reasons to think that Obama and the Democrats can reverse the recent surge of Republican power to some extent and win two modest but important victories.

Our Town

White House correspondent for Time Michael Scherer, comedian Conan O’Brien, Michelle Obama, executive vice president of Fox News Michael Clemente, and President Barack Obama during the White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner, Washington, D.C., April 27, 2013
The completely unforeseen announcement that Amazon founder Jeff Bezos will be buying The Washington Post for $250 million has unleashed a tremendous amount of speculation, again, about the future of the newspaper business. What could Bezos have up his sleeve? Print romantics, looking past the fact that Bezos’s company has …

Obama’s Big Success—Sort Of

President Barack Obama with Senator Christopher Dodd and Representative Barney Frank after signing the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, Washington, D.C., July 21, 2010
It seems a different era already, those days in 2009 and 2010 when Barack Obama and his large Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress were passing major pieces of legislation. And it was a different era—as we have seen since the Republicans took control of the House of Representatives …

Obama’s Big and Quiet Transformation

To think back over Obama’s tenure is to be struck by a paradox that has, I think, little precedent. Obama’s is the most transformational presidency in modern history, but it simply doesn’t feel that way. Recall the famous words he spoke to a Nevada newspaper in January 2008 when he declared that Ronald Reagan “changed the trajectory of America in a way that…Richard Nixon did not and in a way that Bill Clinton did not.” Aside from trying to throw then-opponent Hillary Clinton off her stride a bit, Obama clearly meant to be saying that he would be changing history as Reagan did. His tenure so far hasn’t been much like Reagan’s at all.

How the House Really Works

House Speaker John Boehner (right), after mistakenly thinking that the first question in a news conference was for him, Washington, D.C., July 14, 2011. The question was for House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (left).
There is, right now, something of a debate between the two broad groups within the House GOP Caucus—the mere conservatives like John Boehner and the red-hots led by Eric Cantor. The issue is whether they need to make some gesture toward doing the work of legislating and come up with an alternative to the ACA, or whether they should just repeal it and return us, however messily, to the status quo ante.

Swingtime for Obama

President Obama and Michelle Obama after a campaign rally in Columbus, Ohio, May 5, 2012
The evangelicals on the right who will vote against Obama and the young people on the left who might be drawn to vote for him because of the gay marriage issue may, on balance, cancel each other out. The scales will likely be tipped depending on the views of voters in the center—a group including many who haven’t proclaimed any committed party allegiance, and see themselves as “independent.” Hence the importance, in this and every election, of those people in the middle.

How to Follow Our Weird Politics

Here we are, a century and a half after Marx, living with the effects of George W. Bush, Karl Rove, and Dick Cheney—and more recently, Sarah Palin, the Tea Party movement, and a group of Republican presidential candidates willing to make assertions like Rick Perry’s lament that in Barack Obama’s America “our kids can’t openly celebrate Christmas.” Social scientists are flipping the old base-superstructure relation on its head and acknowledging that politicians are not rational decision-makers, and that politics drives economics, not the other way around.

Willard Mitt Romney

Romney seems in certain ways a fine and even rare person. He is diligent, industrious, and appears to be honest; he applies himself to problems, earnestly studying and following the lead of the data. He is a man of apparently deep personal virtue, generous with his money and time. He is very intelligent and has typically succeeded, wildly so, at nearly everything he’s done (except, interestingly, politics—he’s lost two races and won just one). But with all that, there still seems something missing in the man.

The ‘CEO of Self’

Herman Cain, Concord, New Hampshire, November 17, 2011
If one momentarily puts to the side his wildly extreme political views, his obvious and cringe-inducing knowledge gaps, and his alleged treatment of women, one can easily find things to admire in Herman Cain. Certainly, he does himself in This Is Herman Cain! It opens by describing how he “redefined campaign history” with his performance at a Republican debate last May, an event hardly remembered today; and it closes with Cain imagining what his first days in the White House will be like, taking the measure of heads of state, sifting through résumés, and mulling appointments.

The Racist Redskins

Washington Redskins owner George Marshall posing with twins in a publicity photo, 1954
The Washington Redskins are one of the richest franchises in all of professional sports, selling many millions of dollars’ worth of their burgundy-and-gold merchandise with the warrior’s head in profile. The Merriam-Webster online dictionary labels “redskin” as “usually offensive,” placing it in the company of “darky,” “kike,” and “dago.” The nickname had been the brainchild of George Preston Marshall, a laundry magnate and flamboyant showman who had bought the Boston Braves football team in 1932.

Republican Days of Wrath

Rick Perry is a kind of hybrid candidate, representing a fusion of the new establishment Republicanism and its Tea Party variant. Whether establishment Republicans end up coalescing behind him or Mitt Romney of course remains to be seen, but the point is that a Perry candidacy can be a serious one because the establishment has moved so far to the right that it is nearly indistinguishable from, and certainly now afraid of, the activist base.

The Budget Battles on Which His Reelection Depends

The Republican Party today is obsessed not merely with not raising taxes but with lowering them further, chiefly on the rich. Since the advent of the Tea Party, Lafferism has yielded to Ayn Randianism, and so the theology is rapidly becoming the conviction that redistribution of any sort is not merely unsound policy but is fundamentally immoral. Paul Ryan’s proposed cuts to entitlements have received the most press attention (the budget plan he has crafted is perfectly logical and even moral from a Randian perspective). But if anything his tax cuts are far more outrageous—$4.5 trillion, the vast majority of which would go to the top earners by reducing the top marginal rate to 25 percent.

Obama at the Edge

David Plouffe, Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign manager and recently appointed his senior adviser in the White House, on Meet the Press, September 5, 2010
The success of Barack Obama and the Democrats during last year’s lame-duck session of Congress gave the President some badly needed stability after the comprehensive “shellacking” his party took in the election. The coordination between the White House and the party’s congressional leaders seemed much stronger than before. Even some Republicans decided to take governing seriously, with an astonishing thirteen of them voting for the “New Start” arms treaty. What remains a bit of a mystery is what Obama himself has learned over his first two years—and how he will govern in the face of a hostile and far more hard-line Republican caucus.

Obama’s Second Act?

Lately, Barack Obama doesn’t look like such a bad poker player. Roundly criticized for “negotiating with himself” before the Republicans even got to the table on the tax compromise—and for the Democrats’ abysmal showing in the midterm elections—the president can now claim a head-turning sequence of out-of-nowhere legislative victories: the long-sought repeal of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” law, the approval of the New Start treaty with Russia, and, on Wednesday afternoon, a bill extending health coverage benefits for rescue workers and others who got sick in the 9/11 aftermath. Republicans had invested much time and energy in blocking all of them, and very few Democrats in Washington would have been willing to predict two weeks ago that any of these measures would pass.

Can Obama Rise Again?

If he is to be reelected, Obama must take action to win independent voters back. Washington being what it is, pressure will mount on him—it’s already started—to “move to the center,” to “triangulate,” to attack the deficit, and to accept cuts to Medicare and Social Security. But at the same time, he faces a disgruntled and despairing left, which believes that he squandered an opportunity early in his tenure to chart a more uncompromisingly liberal course, especially on economic policy.

The Elections: How Bad for Democrats?

A Tea Party Express rally, Salt Lake City, Utah, March 30, 2010. In Utah, the Republican Tea Party candidate, Mike Lee, is expected to defeat the Democratic candidate, Sam Granato, in the race for US Senate.
How bad are things for the Democrats? It is generally assumed in Washington these days that in the November 2 elections the party will lose control of the House of Representatives, and possibly the Senate (although this is less likely). If the Republicans take control of one or both chambers, they and conservative commentators will proclaim that the voters have rejected “socialism” and will begin planting in earnest the idea that Barack Obama will be a one-term president.

The Specter Haunting the Senate

Jimmy Stewart in the 1939 film Mr. Smith Goes to Washington
While it’s true that the Senate has been more conservative and even reactionary than not throughout its history, notably with regard to the way it blocked civil rights legislation for many years, the fact is that obstructionism is empirically worse today than ever, or at least since 1917, when the current “cloture” system was first adopted. The idea that the Senate is supposed to behave as it is behaving today is one of several myths (or outright lies) surrounding the “world’s greatest deliberative body.”

The Senate’s Energy Failure

Oil spews from a wellhead in Barataria Bay on the coast of Louisiana after it was struck by a tugboat, July 27, 2010

Many reasons have been served up to explain the Democrats’ dismal withdrawal of the energy bill last week: the President was too reticent about fighting climate change; they failed to drum up sufficient public support; they let too many other things take precedence on the legislative agenda. But one reason towers above all others—the dysfunctionality of the Senate.