Essential Summer Reading, Domestic Politics
I am taking a couple of weeks off. But while I’m away, I thought I’d
share with you some of the what I consider to be this year’s essential
readings on politics. Today, I want to look at some of the crucial
issues that underlie domestic politics in America.
In "60 Was the Loneliest Number"
(The American Prospect, January 20),
Mark Schmitt explains why the idea of a “filibuster-proof majority” was
an illusion. On the contrary, he argues that the fact that the Democrats
nominally had 60 votes actually made it a “filibuster-dependent
Everything came down to a question of whether the party could break a
filibuster—and 90 percent of the time on big questions, with the single
exception of a miraculous and not-final vote on health reform, the party
would not be able to. With 60 votes, Democrats were expected to be able
to get things done, and bloggers on the left could chide Max Baucus for
wasting six weeks trying to negotiate with some Republicans on health
care. Yet in the end, achieving anything would be entirely dependent on
de facto co-presidents Joe Lieberman and Ben Nelson, one a genuinely
malevolent force and the other just a hack, both of whom damaged the
public perception of the health-care bill in significant ways.
In "The Quiet Revolution"
(The New Republic, February 1), John B. Judis
argues that President Obama’s greatest achievement may be rebuilding the
regulatory apparatus that Republican presidents since Reagan have
worked so hard to dismantle.
Yet there is one extremely consequential area where Obama has done just
about everything a liberal could ask for—but done it so quietly that
almost no one, including most liberals, has noticed. Obama’s three
Republican predecessors were all committed to weakening or even
destroying the country’s regulatory apparatus: the Environmental
Protection Agency (EPA), the Occupational Safety and Health
Administration (OSHA), the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), and
the other agencies that are supposed to protect workers and consumers
by regulating business practices. Now Obama is seeking to rebuild these
battered institutions. In doing so, he isn’t simply improving the
effectiveness of various government offices or making scattered progress
on a few issues; he is resuscitating an entire philosophy of government
with roots in the Progressive era of the early twentieth century.
In "The Media-Lobbying Complex"
(The Nation, February 11), Sebastian
Jones reports on the shocking extent to which news shows solicit the
commentary of experts without revealing that they are actually
highly-paid lobbyists working. At one point, former Newsweek writer
Richard Wolffe actually guest-hosted Countdown With Keith Olbermann
without disclosing that he was working for a public relations firm that
specialized in “strategies for managing corporate reputation.”
Since 2007 at least seventy-five registered lobbyists, public relations
representatives and corporate officials—people paid by companies and
trade groups to manage their public image and promote their financial
and political interests—have appeared on MSNBC, Fox News, CNN, CNBC and
Fox Business Network with no disclosure of the corporate interests that
had paid them. Many have been regulars on more than one of the cable
networks, turning in dozens—and in some cases hundreds—of appearances.
Finally, in "Why the U.S. Is Also Giving Brazilians Farm Subsidies"
(Time, April 9), Michael Grunwald tells how, rather than discontinue
cotton subsidies that violate our trade agreements, the Department of
Agriculture agreed to pay almost $150 million of subsidies to Brazilian
Cotton subsidies are a particularly egregious form of corporate welfare,
funneling about $3 billion a year to fewer than 20,000 planters who
tend to use inordinate amounts of water, energy and pesticides. But the
World Trade Organization (WTO) doesn't prohibit dumb subsidies. It only
prohibits subsidies that distort trade and hurt farmers in other
And yes, U.S. cotton subsidies do that too. By encouraging Americans to
plant cotton even when prices are low, they promote overproduction and
further depress prices. An Oxfam study found that removing them entirely
would boost world prices about 10%, which would be especially helpful
to the 20,000 subsistence cotton growers in Africa.