The Most Popular Politeia Posts of 2011
After more than two years of writing this blog, I still haven't learned how to predict how people will respond to my writing. The posts I am most proud of—and the ones I work the hardest on—often get relatively little response, while posts I dash off on the spur of the moment are sometimes the ones that get the most hits. Today I thought I would look back at the posts that were the most popular with readers last year:
“If Sarah Palin Were Black,” January 20, 2011
I can hardly take credit for this. In this post I simply discussed a hypothetical question Chauncey DeVega posed in 2010: how would we treat Sarah Palin if she were black? DeVega wrote that if Palin were black she never would have risen to political prominence in the first place. If she were black, he argued, “her daughter’s out-of-wedlock, ‘baby daddy drama’ would have been presented as an example of both pathological behavior and a dysfunctional family that is symbolic of the social problems in that community. If Sarah Palin were black, never would the poor decision making by the Palin family be marked off as challenges overcome, or deeds to be valorized.”
“Is America Broke?” March 16, 2011
As the debt ceiling discussions began to heat up last spring, I argued that the U.S. was hardly broke. The country had—and has—a large debt. But that is not the same thing as being out of money. The country's debt is counterbalanced by its enormous assets. The U.S. is easily rich enough and productive enough to pay its debt off. The reason the government can’t pay its bills—and the reason we accumulated this debt in the first place—is that we have made a political choice to borrow money rather than tax our citizens at the same level as essentially every other rich nation does. In other words, we can pay off our debt. We just don’t want to.
“America’s War in Libya,” March 22, 2011
In this post I questioned the wisdom of fighting a war in Libya—which at the time we insisted was not really a war—when the U.S. was already involved in conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Yemen. This is essentially the same issue we face now as we consider how to oppose the brutal regime in Syria. While I was glad to see the U.S. support a popular movement against a dictator in Libya—and I certainly welcomed the overthrow of Qaddafi—I warned against the illusion that military intervention can bring lasting positive change. It's all too easy for the U.S. to become part of the problem, rather than be the solution.
“Why Osama’s Death Matters” May 2, 2011
I wrote this post right after watching President Obama’s announcement that the U.S. had killed Osama bin Laden in an operation in northern Pakistan. Although Bin Laden may no longer have played much role in Al Qaeda’s operations, his death nevertheless represented an important symbolic victory. With Bin Laden gone, Al Qaeda began to look more like it has become: “a small, ineffectual group that has stood on the sidelines as real change sweeps the Middle East.”
“Is the Debt Ceiling Legal?” July 4, 2011
As the debt ceiling negotiations came to a head over the sumer, I considered the complicated question of whether it's constitutional for Congress to impose a debt ceiling on the government. The key point is that the debt ceiling does not merely prevent the government from spending more money, but also from paying back debts that Congress has already authorized it to incur. This was an issue after the civil war, Southern politicians sought try to repudiate government debts incurred during the Civil War. So in order to prevent politicians in Congress from using the threat of default for leverage—as they did last summer—the Fourteenth Amendment includes a clause that says “the validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law... shall not be questioned.”
“Do Presidential Speeches Matter?” September 11, 2011
In early September, President Obama addressed a joint session of Congress to push a new $450 billion jobs plan. In this post I examined the conventional wisdom that the president can use what Teddy Roosevelt called “the bully pulpit” of his office to sway public opinion. As I wrote, there’s relatively little evidence that presidential speeches do much to affect public opinion, although it’s clear that presidents like to declare their support for ideas that are already popular. Political scientist Brandice Canes-Wrone has found some evidence that presidential speeches can pressure Congress to act, however.
Image of President Obama and Michelle Obama at the National September 11 Memorial from Chuck Kennedy
Political activism may get people invested in politics, and affect urgently needed change, but it comes at the expense of tolerance and healthy democratic norms.