The Bishop and the Butterfly: Murder, Politics, and the End of the Jazz Age

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New Year Reflections on the US Global Role & Its Limits


The first hours of a new year are always an ideal time for people across the globe to reflect on their contemporary condition. They are an ideal moment to look back, in the hope that serious reflection now can improve conditions going forward. And it is particularly vital that we in America take this moment of reflection as this new year begins, given the enormity of the impact of our condition on the rest of the global order.

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Taking the Imperial out of the Role of America Abroad

“You can do many things with a bayonet, except sit on it.” (Talleyrand)

                There is never a good or easy time to argue that the United States should begin to completely reset the character of its foreign policy, especially when the argument being made – as here – is that a key element in that resetting must be a reduction in the scale and role of American arms abroad. Anyone making that kind of case invariably touches a deep American nerve, so that any resulting rebuttal often moves quickly from an argument about facts to one about patriotism.

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The Mid-Term Elections: Taking the Longer View

In the wake of an electoral setback on the scale experienced by the Democrats two weeks ago, the temptation to immediately rush to judgment is enormous. So also, if my e-mails and robo-calls are any guide, is the temptation to engage in yet more fundraising, as though money was the big thing of which Democrats were short. But both temptations need to be resisted. We need to throw less money and more brainpower at our politics, and we need to take our time doing both.

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Playing Defense and Still Losing

You don’t win football games by only playing defense. And you don’t win mid-elections that way either. Perhaps somebody should remind the Democrats that winning elections, like winning games, requires you to take the game to the opposition, and to take it to them on your terms – not on theirs.

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Cataloging Weaknesses in the State of the Union Address

So, the State of the Union is strong, is it? Well, maybe it is for the people the President chose to speak about last night. But what about the ones he only mentioned in passing, or the ones that he omitted to mention at all?  What about the state of the union for those Americans in, or on the edge of, poverty? What about the state of the union for those in the process, or on the edge, of losing their homes; or for those young working families trying to combine low-paid work, full-time child-care and inadequate child support? Is the state of the union fine for them? No, it is not.

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Waiting for the State of the Union Address

SOTU addresses at the start of a second presidential term are relatively rare phenomena, and in recent times they have also been also relatively ephemeral ones. George W. Bush used his SOTU Address in 2005 to make a prolonged pitch for the partial privatization of Social Security.[1] That pitch went nowhere. Bill Clinton used his to launch a national crusade for education – his “A Call to Action for American Education”;[2] but listening to him, among others, was Monica Lewinsky. Ronald Reagan spoke of “lightening government’s claims on our total economy” by reducing the federal deficit; but his legacy didn’t quite work out that way.[3] So the precedents for an important and lasting speech next Tuesday are not good.

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Second Inauguration: Third Growth Model?

Half-way points in two-term presidencies are inevitably moments to take stock and to consider redirections of policy.  Right now, the political blogosphere is properly full of that stocktaking and redesign. Lists abound on policies needed[1] and priorities to be pushed,[2] which is why there is no need to add to those lists in any detail here.

            What may therefore be more valuable is this: an insistence that, to properly situate this second Obama Inaugural, we need more than favorite lists and seamless histories. We need coherent policy platforms that are anchored in the proper periodization of time. For as a country and as an economy we are not just at any random moment in history. Rather, we are at the very end of the second great growth period experienced by the American economy since 1945. In consequence, we are currently in a deeper hole than any that can be quickly corrected by this policy or by that.  And unless we realize this underlying truth – and design the full sweep of our public policies accordingly – we run the risk (indeed, probably face the certainty) that the 2010s will eventually be remembered, as the 1970s are now remembered, as a lost decade. The 1970s cost one generation easy access to the American Dream. We must do all that we can to make sure that the 2010s do not impose a similar cost on another generation.

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A Progressive Second Term? (I) Prerequisites

Amid the scampering up and down the fiscal cliff that now dominates political life in Washington, some more important and basic questions are in danger of vanishing from view, questions about the general character and progressive potential of Barack Obama’s second term. Questions such as these. Will this Administration in the end prove to have been worth fighting for? Will we by 2016 be able to say anything more than “well, at least we avoided a Romney presidency and a Republican clean sweep”?

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The Fiscal Cliff, the Republicans and the Ghost of Christmas Past

As reports thicken of a possible deal between the White House and the House Republicans – a deal which will supposedly avoid the rest of us going over some fiscal cliff on January 1 – it is worth remembering at least four reasons why such a deal is probably best avoided,[2] and why cliff jumping (bungee[3] or otherwise) is completely unnecessary. Four reasons that take us from the current intransigence of the contemporary Republican Party back to the nineteenth-century origins of so much of that intransigence.


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