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“Why Joe Biden Should Run”: It Can Only Make The Democratic Party Better

On the night of October 11, 2012, Barack Obama loped across the tarmac at Andrews Air Force Base, looking as if he were trying hard not to grin. It was a change of mood; eight days earlier, he had done poorly in his first Presidential debate with Mitt Romney, and the feeling in his campaign was gloomy. But, that evening, Vice-President Joe Biden had had his first debate with Paul Ryan, during which he called out the Romney campaign on its “malarkey.” Some commentators thought that he had looked foolish—he’d laughed a lot, and when Biden laughs, he throws back his head. (Mark Salter, the Republican operative, called the Obama-Biden debate combination “sleepy cop/crystal-meth cop.”) But even many of the critics thought that he’d won. He had reminded a lot of people of why they wanted a Democrat in the White House, particularly on questions like income inequality. One of those people seems to have been Obama himself. He’d watched the debate on Air Force One and, though there wasn’t a plan for him to speak to reporters, he swung over to where they were standing.

“I’m going to make a special point of saying that I thought Joe Biden was terrific tonight,” the President said. “I could not be prouder of him. I thought he made a very strong case. I really think that his passion for making sure that the economy grows for the middle class came through. So I’m very proud of him.”

Obama also seemed, in the days to come, more proud of himself. Having Biden with him on the ticket in 2012 helped him win and, it seemed, helped make him a better President when he did. That was the case when what was scoffed at as yet another instance of Bidenic indiscipline—getting ahead of his boss by saying that he was “absolutely comfortable” with full legal recognition of same-sex marriage—led Obama, too, to say what he actually believed, and arrive at a place where he felt proud to be.

The idea that a person could make those around him better came up again this past weekend, when Obama delivered the eulogy for Biden’s son, Beau, who had died of brain cancer, at the age of forty-six. The Vice-President, by all accounts, was hit hard by his son’s death. In 1973, he had taken his Senate oath next to the hospital bed where Beau lay, at age three, after surviving the car crash that had killed Biden’s wife and daughter. He was also the son who had served in the reserves in Iraq, been elected as the district attorney of Delaware, and one day, perhaps, could go even further in politics than his father had. “He even looked and sounded like Joe, although I think Joe would be first to acknowledge that Beau was an upgrade—Joe 2.0,” Obama said. He added, “That’s who Beau was. Someone who cared. Someone who charmed you, and disarmed you, and put you at ease. When he’d have to attend a fancy fund-raiser with people who took themselves way too seriously, he’d walk over to you and whisper something wildly inappropriate in your ear.” (Joe Biden, for his part, has been known to whisper wildly inappropriate things, but when he was, for example, caught on an open mic telling Obama that the passage of the Affordable Care Act was “a big fucking deal,” he was reminding Obama that he should take something seriously.) At the funeral, Obama said that he loved Biden. The two have a weekly lunch; the most recent one was on Wednesday, Biden’s first day back at work since Beau’s death.

But Obama is almost done being President. Who else can Biden make better? Put another way, why doesn’t Biden run for President in 2016? Hillary Clinton may not want him to. But it might do her good, even if she is, as everyone says, the inevitable candidate. And it can only make the Democratic Party better.

Last year, Evan Osnos spoke to the Vice-President for a New Yorker Profile, and, Osnos wrote, “I asked Biden how he will respond if opponents say he is too old to be President. ‘I think it’s totally legitimate for people to raise it,’ he said. ‘And I’ll just say, Look at me. Decide.’ ’’ Biden is seventy-two. Hillary Clinton is sixty-seven. More tellingly, Biden added, “I watched my father. I made a mistake in encouraging him to retire. I just think as long as you think you can do it and you’re physically healthy….”

The Clintons have become very wealthy as a result of their book deals, speaking fees, and other endeavors—they have made thirty million dollars just since Hillary left the State Department. (Bill Clinton recently said that he would consider giving up paid speeches—after Hillary wins.) Joe Biden is not a very wealthy man. By one estimate, his net worth is between thirty-nine thousand and eight hundred thousand dollars; by another, with his mortgage figured in, it is a negative number. (Biden: “But I got a great pension and I got a good salary!”) Which way does that cut, for each of them? Perhaps it makes a Biden campaign less feasible, in that he has less flexibility; it might also make it more desirable, depending on one’s definition of independence.

Last week, Hillary Clinton almost lost to Bernie Sanders in a Wisconsin straw poll (the tally was forty-nine per cent to forty-one), but Sanders, who can reasonably be called a socialist, is not likely to be the one who makes clear what her real general-election vulnerabilities are, or how to overcome them. Biden would. He may have no chance of winning. But he is a more plausible candidate than anyone Clinton is facing now, and perhaps the best answer to the fear that, as the Republicans fight it out among themselves, she will drift through until the convention, with a stray glance at Martin O’Malley, and enter the general election unprepared for the fight. Obama was right about Biden’s debate with Ryan: rewatching it is a good reminder of his ability to speak plainly and in detail about Democratic economic policies—something that involves more than just throwing out lines about level playing fields. (Republicans have been doing that, too.) Maybe Hillary Clinton, in a speech she’s scheduled to give on Saturday, will find a way to make those themes work for her. She hasn’t yet.

And, although she served four years as Secretary of State, Biden has a deeper background in foreign policy, with years as a ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and a skepticism about things like troop deployments that might appeal to noninterventionists—who can be found across the spectrum. His 2006 proposal for Iraq—reshaping the country into a loose three-part federation—also much derided, does not, in light of recent events, look all that bad. (As it is, a sectarian Shiite-dominated central government unwilling to give a voice or commit resources to Sunni and Kurdish regions has contributed to the rise of ISIS.)

But how, might one ask, could Biden win in a general election when Obama, his boss, is so unpopular? That question points to what may be one of the most interesting results of having Biden in the race. Hillary Clinton would have to decide where she really stands on the Obama Presidency, in all its aspects, and say what she thinks about it. (He was her boss, too.) Her advisers have made it clear that she’s counting on the Obama coalition; how tied are their votes to the Obama legacy? Clinton needs a response that doesn’t just involve hinting that everything would have been better if she’d been elected in 2008. She tried out some jabs at Obama, in an interview with the Atlantic last August, in which, quoting one of his mantras, she said, “Great nations need organizing principles, and ‘Don’t do stupid stuff’ is not an organizing principle,” and called his choices on Syria a “failure.” Her spokesman said afterward that she hadn’t meant to criticize the President, and looked forward “to hugging it out.” The message there, whatever it was, got muddled. Biden’s presence might clarify it, and present some interesting choices to Democratic primary voters—and to Obama, who might not endorse anyone before the nomination, but could give a few hints of his preference along the way.

The President, in his eulogy, spoke to Beau Biden’s children. “To Natalie and Hunter, there aren’t words big enough to describe how much your dad loved you, how much he loved your mom. But I will tell you what, Michelle and I and Sasha and Malia, we’ve become part of the Biden clan. We’re honorary members now. And the Biden family rule applies. We’re always here for you, we always will be—my word as a Biden.” That might have some resonance for their grandfather, as well. Why not run?


By: Amy Davidson, The New Yorker, June 12, 2015

June 14, 2015 Posted by | Democrats, Election 2016, Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden | , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Watch What You Pray For, You May Get It”: Republicans Have Boxed Themselves In A Corner On Obamacare

There’s an adage that perfectly captures the Republicans’ conundrum on Obamacare: Watch what you pray for; you may get it. Having spent the past five years viciously battling the Affordable Care Act, GOP leaders are worried that the U.S. Supreme Court may grant them a victory.

If the high court rules in favor of conservatives who have challenged the health care law — essentially gutting it — millions of Americans will lose the subsidies that allow them to purchase health insurance.

They’ll no longer be able to afford to see a doctor. They won’t be able to pay for knee replacements or chemotherapy treatments. They won’t have the money for drugs for hypertension and diabetes.

And they’ll be furious — just in time for the 2016 presidential election. Now that so many people have reaped the benefits of access to medical care, they want to keep enjoying them. They will be fighting mad if their health insurance is suddenly taken away.

That’s because the Affordable Care Act is doing exactly what it was designed to do. Consider a report from the highly respected RAND Corp. — a nonpartisan research group — which issued its latest judgment on the Affordable Care Act in May.

Its study found that nearly 17 million people now have health insurance because of Obamacare. In addition, families may keep adult children on their policies until age 26. There are no longer “lifetime caps” that limit the amount of money insurers will spend on the chronically ill. Patients are no longer turned down for health insurance because they are already sick.

“The Affordable Care Act has greatly expanded health insurance coverage, but it has caused little change in the way most previously covered Americans are getting health insurance coverage,” said Katherine Carman, who, according to a RAND press release, was the study’s lead author. In other words, the law didn’t wreak havoc on those who already had health insurance, as its critics had predicted.

It has slowly dawned on some Republican leaders that the law has provided tangible benefits to millions of Americans, and that they are likely to be blamed if those benefits are jerked away. But they have locked themselves into a very small room and lost the key. They can’t seem to find a way out.

President Obama noted the GOP’s intransigence in a speech to the Catholic Health Association a few days ago. “Once you see millions of people having health care, once you see that all the bad things that were predicted didn’t happen, you’d think that it’d be time to move on. It seems so cynical to want to take coverage away from millions of people,” he said.

But leading GOP officials have taught their aging base, many of whom are Medicare recipients, that the passage of Obamacare was tantamount to a communist takeover. Republican politicians have insisted for years that the Affordable Care Act would corrupt the health care system, ruin the economy and pave the way for a dictatorship. Now, they’d have a hard time persuading those voters, especially the Tea Partiers, it was all just extreme partisan rhetoric.

This latest high court challenge, King v. Burwell, is itself a symbol of Republicans’ determination to strip health care away from millions of Americans. (It’s also a sign of the partisanship that has overtaken the nation’s highest court, which should never have accepted the case.) It’s a frivolous suit that turns on the interpretation of four words in the statute — even though it’s perfectly clear what Congress meant.

If the court agrees with the challenger, chaos will ensue. The GOP will have to take responsibility for finding coverage for millions of people, although its fractious caucus is unlikely to agree on a fix.

Given the stakes, there are undoubtedly those among GOP elders who want the U.S. Supreme Court to maintain the status quo, even if they won’t say so publicly. After all, as Obama put it, “This isn’t … just about the Affordable Care Act. … This is now part of the fabric of how we care for one another. This is health care in America.”

Let’s hope at least five justices concur.


By: Cynthia Tucker, Pulitzer Prize Winner for Commentary in 2007; Featured Post, The National Memo, June 13, 2015

June 14, 2015 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, King v Burwell, Republicans | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Without A True Count, There’s Even Less Accountability”: How Many People Are Killed By Police? We’re Only Beginning To Find Out

Amazingly, although people are killed by police virtually every day in the United States, there is no government agency, no bureaucracy, and no database that counts them all. Nor is there any national prayer wall or shrine where images of the dead and their stories are collected in an effort to portray them as individuals.

Last week, almost simultaneously, The Washington Post and The Guardian US unveiled large-scale journalistic projects that tried to supply a comprehensive, independent accounting of citizens killed by police since the beginning of this year. Same story, similar journalistic standards. So far, The Guardian story, with its interactive database linking to photos and stories of the dead, has come closest to filling the shameful gap.

In what Lee Glendinning, the new editor of The Guardian US, called “the most comprehensive public accounting of deadly force in the US,” the site launched “The Counted,” an interactive database of those killed by police since January 1 that includes the names, locations, background, race, means of death—along with, when possible, photos and stories of the dead.

Combining traditional reporting and “verified crowd sourcing,” Glendinning said the idea was to “build on the work on databases already out there,” most of which, she said, “are largely numbers and statistics. We wanted to build on these by telling the stories of these people’s lives, over a whole year, every day, and update them every day.”

Most Americans probably assume that some agency keeps track of the people who have been killed by police, but no such authoritative clearinghouse exists. There are partial counts by various bureaucracies, as well as by organizations like and, but none are complete.

“You could tell me how many people, the absolute number, bought a book on Amazon,” FBI director James Comey himself complained in a speech last month. “It’s ridiculous, I can’t tell you how many people were shot by police in this country last week, last year, the last decade.”

Some of the difficulties in keeping count are due to the reluctance of local police departments to file reports when they kill someone. But, as Tom McCarthy wrote at The Guardian, “The structural and technical challenges to compiling uniform data from the 18,000-plus local law enforcement agencies in the US far exceeds the reporting problem, in some cases.”

Without a true count, there is even less accountability. “A counting is a prerequisite,” Glendinning said, for any kind of “informed public debate about the severity of the problem.”

The Guardian didn’t attempt to determine whether the deaths were justified or unjustified. But they did find some disturbing trends and alarming sloppiness:

  • In the first five months of 2015, 464 people were killed by law enforcement—that’s twice as many as calculated by the US government’s official public records. (The FBI “counted 461 ‘justifiable homicides’ by law enforcement in all of 2013, the latest year for which official data is available.”)
  • Of those 464 killed, 102 people were unarmed.
  • Black Americans are more than twice as likely to be unarmed when killed during encounters with police as white people: “32% of black people killed by police in 2015 were unarmed, as were 25% of Hispanic and Latino people, compared with 15% of white people killed.”
  • Fourteen of the fatalities occurred while the victim was in custody, including the death of Freddie Gray in Baltimore.
  • The analysis revealed five people killed by police whose names have not been publicly released before.

A day before the Guardian story broke, The Washington Post came out with similar trends and numbers based on its own in-depth investigation of police-caused fatalities. (“We knew they were working on something, and they knew we were,” Glendinning said, but she believes the timing is coincidence.) One big difference between the two projects is that the Post limits its data to death by police shootings, which, it found, have amounted to 385 so far this year. The Guardian’s 464 police-caused deaths in the same period, however, also include those by Taser (27), vehicle, and other means. Hence, Eric Garner’s death while the NYPD held him in a chokehold wouldn’t be included in the Post tally. (Mother Jones compares some of the two publications’ findings here.)

It was probably the one-two punch of the Post and Guardian investigations that led to an uncharacteristically quick political response. Within 48 hours after the pieces appeared, senators Cory Booker and Barbara Boxer proposed a plan to “force all American law enforcement agencies to report killings by their officers” to the Department of Justice.

Another difference between the two projects is that, while both will collect data through the end of the year, the Post’s database—and any photos, stories and interactive bells and whistles that might accompany it—won’t go public, it said, until “a future date.”

And so in terms of emotional impact, The Guardian has the jump. In fact, “The Counted” reminds me of the Pulitzer Prize–winning New York Times project, “Portraits of Grief,” which ran more than 1,800 capsule biographies, with photos when possible, of those killed on 9/11. “Portraits” was a daily feature, filling one full page, sometimes two, and ran through New Year’s Eve 2001. Like today’s police killings projects, “Portraits” began, the Times wrote, “as an imperfect answer to a journalistic problem, the absence of a definitive list of the dead…”

The portraits, now archived online, were based on a phalanx of reporters’ interviews with families and friends of the dead, and gave more personal snapshots (like “Taking Care of Mozard: Maria Isabel Ramirez”) than either the Post or Guardian have the resources to muster today.

The Guardian stories are presented almost Facebook-style in a photo mosaic of faces. You could find yourself, as I did, clicking on faces to see whether they fit or explode the stereotypes you might have of someone who would be killed by the cops, all the time overwhelmed at the scale of the problem.

Beyond the database, The Guardian is running almost-daily features on how police violence affects various communities, including deaths of the mentally ill, women, Latinos, and the elderly (“about six elderly people a month,” it finds).

By the way, that figure of 464 people killed by police in the first five months of 2015 has climbed, as of today, to 489.


By: Leslie Savan, The Nation, June 8, 2015

June 14, 2015 Posted by | Law Enforcement, Police Shootings, Police Violence | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“An Extremely Progressive Agenda”: How Hillary Clinton’s Kickoff Speech Highlighted Her Advantage Over Republicans

Hillary Clinton gave the first major speech of her presidential campaign on Roosevelt Island in New York City, and while it wasn’t quite as heavy on biography as the campaign had led reporters to believe in the past couple of days, it was probably a good preview of what Clinton’s entire campaign will be like: lots of policy talk, with just enough personal content to paint a portrait of a candidate who both advocates for regular people and is a regular person — or, to paraphrase something President Obama once said about her, is regular enough.

This speech, like much of what Clinton does now, is about creating a synthesis out of two related goals or ideas. She wants to energize liberals in a way that also wins independents. She wants to advocate an economic agenda that will be substantively compelling and also creates a personal affinity with voters. It’s Clinton’s good fortune that she has at least the opportunity to do both at the same time.

Presidential candidates come in two basic types: those who can tell a story of personal struggle and those who can tell their relatives’ story of personal struggle. For one of the first times, today Clinton told how her mother was abandoned by her own parents and started supporting herself as a teenager. The point of these stories is to tell people, “I’m just like you.” I understand your struggles and your challenges, and I’ll advocate on your behalf. The truth is that there’s absolutely no relationship between whether a candidate was rich as a child or is rich now and what kinds of policies she’ll pursue as president. But we can conceive of this relationship between the personal and political as a 2 x 2 array with one bad quadrant, one good quadrant and two that could go either way. Here’s my liberally biased version with an example for each, placing Hillary Clinton where she’s trying to place herself:

Two by two 2

So FDR was a wealthy scion who championed the cause of the downtrodden, while Scott Walker came from modest circumstances but advocates the interests of the wealthy and corporations. Mitt Romney was a rich guy whom Americans came to believe cared only about rich people, a deadly combination. Clinton is someone who grew up middle-class and is now rich but who would prefer you think of her as a person just like you. Her policy case makes her personal case more persuasive, whereas someone like Walker has to deal with the tension between his personal story and the beneficiaries of his policies.

Of course, personal affinity isn’t all about economic class, and Clinton is obviously counting on women in particular to feel a bond with her and come out to vote. As she said in her speech, “I may not be the youngest candidate in this race, but I’ll be the youngest woman president in the history of the United States.” But while that may have been her biggest applause line, the speech was laden with policy talk, much of it about the economy.

And while some of the positions she mentioned have been more fully fleshed-out than others, what it added up to was an extremely progressive agenda: paid family leave, affordable college education, more infrastructure investments, renewable energy, universal preschool, expanding broadband access and a lot more — all of it wrapped in populist rhetoric (the part about 25 hedge fund managers making more than all of America’s kindergarten teachers seemed to hit a chord).

And I’d challenge Republicans to look at the policy proposals in the speech and say about any of them, “Oh boy, the general electorate isn’t going to go for that.” Which highlights one important way in which Clinton’s path to the White House is easier than that of her potential GOP opponents. They have multiple areas where the goals of winning over Republican primary voters and setting themselves up to assemble a general election coalition are at odds. They need to sound tough on immigration now, but that will hurt them with Hispanic voters next fall. They need to proclaim that the Affordable Care Act must be totally repealed, when most Americans would prefer to make it work better. They need to oppose things like paid leave, minimum wage increases and imposing restrictions on Wall Street bankers, all of which are extremely popular. And they need to do it all while arguing that they understand regular folks and will be their advocates.

Americans might or might not buy that Hillary Clinton is just like them. But the truth is that she could get elected even if most of them don’t, which is something the Republicans probably can’t say.


By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Plum Line, The Washington Post, June 13, 2015

June 14, 2015 Posted by | Election 2016, GOP Presidential Candidates, Hillary Clinton | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Scott Walker Would Be A Very Dangerous President”: Vicious And Vindictive, With An Attack Dog’s Contempt

Joe Nocera has a piece today in the New York Times confirming what many of us have been saying for a while now, including here at the Washington Monthly and at the Political Animal: Scott Walker isn’t a terribly attractive presidential candidate for the GOP, but he would make a vicious and vindictive President.

Walker’s shtick has been to make up for personal lack of charm and charisma with a bluntly cynical eye to maximizing his appeal to the right-wing base not improving their lives, but rather by aggressively making punching bags of traditional liberal targets. These include labor unions, teachers, universities in general, people who work for a living, women who need abortions, and so on.

And why? Not even because it helps him with big donors, although that certainly doesn’t hurt. It’s mostly just a matter of spite, political gamesmanship and riling up his base as a warrior against anything and anyone Rush Limbaugh and Fox News have ever hated. As Nocera notes:

To put it another way, Walker busted the public employee unions not because he had to but because he could.

Similarly, there was no deep desire on the part of the business community to have Wisconsin become a right-to-work state, even though it would most likely bring about lower labor costs. Kaufman quotes a leader of the Wisconsin Contractors Coalition, who told him that “right-to-work is going to compromise my quality, my competitiveness.” That’s because the unions have long served to screen workers and keep them up to date on new technologies.

No, what motivated Walker, clearly, was politics. Unions, which have long been traditional Democratic allies, have been in steep decline — except for public employee unions, which now make up just under half of all union workers. By crippling them, Kettl told me, “Walker is trying to put a stake in the heart of a strong piece of Democratic support that has long been a thorn in the side of the Republicans.”

Once they reach the Oval Office, presidential candidates tend to keep doing what got them there in the first place. In Walker’s case, that would constitute an all-out assault on both the economic and social fronts, including and especially wage and worker protections. While the entire Republican Party has gone off a radical cliff over the last few decades and its current crop of candidates is no exception, most of the current aspirants to the nomination are simple demagogues, plutocrats and also-ran Congressional pretenders. Walker, on the other hand, isn’t just an egotistical bluffer seeking to capture billionaire donor dollars for his friends. He’s a committed soldier with an attack dog’s contempt and commitment to destroy his political opponents.

A Walker presidency would be a very dangerous thing indeed–not just for the left, but for the entire country. As demographic changes shrink the GOP base further and further, a man who gains his power by stoking the angers of a shrinking minority of angry conservatives by sticking the maximum possible pain on the majority of the country and the few remaining pillars of the middle class could be a serious threat to democracy.


By: David Atkins, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, June 13, 2015

June 14, 2015 Posted by | GOP Presidential Candidates, Middle Class, Scott Walker | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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