Ringside Seat: Blame Congress

“Green Lantern-ism”—or the belief that the president can do whatever he wills—has always been common among centrist pundits, but it’s reached new heights as Washington struggles to avoid the sequester.

The situation is straightforward: To duck the sequester—a series of large, across-the-board, automatic spending cuts—President Obama has proposed a “balanced” plan that raises taxes and cuts spending from retirement programs. It’s designed to satisfy the concerns of Democrats, who want more revenue, and Republicans, who constantly call for lower spending and a greater focus on long-term debt. Naturally, Republicans have rejected the president's compromise and haven’t offered anything in return. Instead, they remain opposed to any proposal that includes new revenue, and have adopted the contradictory stance of decrying the sequester and blaming it on Obama all the while claiming it isn’t as bad as the president describes.

Given the degree to which Republicans are the key obstacle to a deal that would fulfill the objectives of centrist pundits, one would expect a barrage of criticism for the GOP. But agreeing with the president—and acknowledging Republican intransigence—violates a key rule for centrist pundits: Both sides are always at fault.

And so, for the last few days, these pundits have focused their fire on Barack Obama for his failure to “lead” and bring Republicans “in line.” There's National Journal’s Ron Fournier, taking Obama to task for shifting blame on Republicans. The Washington Post takes issue with Republicans' utter irresponsibility, but said it took "little comfort in Mr. Obama's being less irresponsible." David Ignatius blames congressional Republicans for their behavior, but then pivots to Obama’s lack of “leadership.”

There’s no recognition from any of these pundits that congressional Republicans are autonomous actors who have chosen not to cooperate with the president. Indeed, there’s no recognition of the fact that the president cannot make Congress do anything. He can cajole, persuade, and take his case to the public, but ultimately, Congress has to act of its own accord. And as it stands, Republicans have no interest in taking that step.


So They Say

"Sadly, [Newtown] is not an anomaly. We have witnessed an increased number of these mass killings. The one common thread running through these mass shootings ... is that the gunman used a military-style semi-automatic assault weapon or a large capacity magazine to inflict unspeakable terror. ... On Dec. 14, 20 sets of parents received a call no parent ever wants to receive, that their son or daughter had died earlier that day. That horrific event shocked our nation to its roots and the pictures of these little victims brought tears to the eyes of millions of Americans.”

Senator Dianne Feinstein, speaking at today's hearing on gun-control legislation


Daily Meme: SCOTUS vs. The Constitution

  • The Supreme Court heard oral arguments on Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act today, and unsurprisingly, the conservative justices made is a not-so-pretty affair. 
  • To wit, everyone's favorite voice of reason, Antonin Scalia, called the landmark civil-rights legislation a “perpetuation of racial entitlement," which prompted a round of gasps in the lawyer's lounge.
  • Chief Justice Roberts added, “Is it the government’s submission that the citizens in the South are more racist than the citizens in the North?”
  • To which Jamelle Bouie responds, yeah, probably
  • SCOTUSblog's take on the likely outcome of the case? "A majority of the Court seems committed to invalidating Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act and requiring Congress to revisit the formula for requiring preclearance of voting changes. The vote seems quite likely to be five to four."
  • And if Section 5 is struck down, "it is compelled not by the text of the Constitution, but because of conservative hostility to the idea of civil rights and a broad franchise."
  • The more liberal justices on the Court strongly argued that the measure was still essential. Breyer said, “It’s an old disease ... It’s gotten a lot better. A lot better. But it’s still there.”
  • The last time the VRA was up for reauthorization in 2006, the Bush administration—cognizant of the fact the party needed to look beyond the crusty-old-white-man vote—pushed conservatives to support the bill. There may not be the same impulse from the Republican Party this time around, regardless of how SCOTUS rules. 
  • The real vote to watch is Justice Kennedy, the pendulum judge who veers wildly between the liberal and conservative wings of the Court. Lyle Dennison, venerated king of the SCOTUS beat, thinks that on that count, the law may be doomed. Or maybe not. It's truly too soon to say.
  • Another tally on the doomsday column for the VRA is John Roberts' long war against the law, as documented by Adam Serwer
  • A decision isn't expected until the summer, but it's important to remind politicians and the Court in the meantime that discrimination hasn't evaporated, and neither has the need for Section 5

What We're Writing

  • The third part of Jeremiah Goulka's series on the military is out today, and the verdict is hardly surprising: We spend too much too inefficiently on the military, and we ought—although it's probably impossible—to stop.
  • Josh Bivens has made it his mission to brighten your day and bring you a list of the five most terrifying things about the sequester. Not on the list? Return of Zombie John Maynard Keynes.

What We're Reading

  • Obama is scaring whistle-blowers with a new rule that allows employers to fire people without appeal if their jobs relate to national security.
  • Fed Chair Ben Bernanke is a conservative, but even he can't countenance the perversity of the sequester. He headed to Capitol Hill to tell congressional Republicans that we're about to pull a '37 FDR and double dip into recession.
  • In what's probably the most stinging indictment of his promises to curtail the money culture in Washington, President Obama's advocacy group, Organizing for Action has pledged to take any and all money, and to set up quarterly meetings with the president for its biggest donors.
  • Conservative coverage of the Hagel nomination process, like the election, was plagued by poor journalism and wishful thinking
  • Hilary Clinton's enjoying a well-deserved break from public service. But when we roll around to 2016, she might be just the kind of candidate to clear the field for a run at the White House
  • A new study finds that liberal and conservatives' consumption choices break down along ideological lines just as neatly as how much they love/secretly love the gays. Upshot? Libs like better beer.
  • The trending mood among the members of the GOP looks to be self-pity—alarmism, too, but that's hardly new. We've gone from the weakling liberal caricatures of the past to a new, insidiously powerful image of the Democratic party aimed at dictatorial domination. Thanks, Rush.


Poll of the Day

The latest in Gallup's "most-obvious" poll series shows that Republicans are 32 percent more likely than Democrats to say that it's important for the U.S. to have the world's most powerful military. By contrast, 50 percent of Americans believe that we should have the world's number one military.

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