Tuesday, Nov 25, 2014, 9:00 AM

Chuck Hagel, Scapegoat

Chuck Hagel’s resignation earlier this week has been widely interpreted as a firing, allegedly for the White House’s dim view of his performance coordinating military action against the Islamic State. Yet as John Judis notes, even if criticisms of Hagel’s tenure at the Pentagon are justified, it’s hardly his fault that Obama’s IS strategy is muddled and contradictory. The U.S. is not only undermining its anti-Assad strategy by carrying out airstrikes against his radical enemies within Syria; it’s making empty threats to overthrow Assad despite a paltry financial and military commitment to doing so. As Judis writes: “There’s a disconnect, in other words, between what the administration says it is doing in Syria and what it is doing.” Elizabeth Drew detects the same problem: “The White House is stuck in a [Syria] policy that has very little chance of working, putting the president and his national security aides in real peril. And Chuck Hagel, who watched all this with dismay, became the odd man out.”

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Monday, Nov 24, 2014, 11:36 PM

Alienation in Ferguson

A small note to add to the many pained, angry reactions to the situation in Ferguson, Missouri. We have the numbers on how segregated the city is—and how unrepresentative its leadership—but if you want a close look at citizen-government estrangement in action, just watch the first several minutes of Prosecuting Attorney Robert McCulloch’s defensive, scolding press conference. There’s a serious question of whether he postponed his announcement until primetime to make a point, even though delaying until nightfall made a tense situation even riskier. But the really striking element of McCulloch’s remarks is their repeated slaps at the reaction Michael Brown’s death has generated in the press and among the public. McCulloch tried to denigrate the latter through several sneering references to “social media”—but that’s just his contemptuous word for public debate.

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Monday, Nov 24, 2014, 12:43 AM

Where Does Civil War Revisionism Come From?

In September, I wrote about a textbook controversy in Texas, where the State Board of Education (BOE) was considering new social studies textbooks that were found to be riddled with errors and distortions. On Friday, after an outcry that received national press coverage, the BOE approved nearly 100 new textbooks, with some corrections. The Texas Freedom Network, which had criticized a number of passages in the books up for approval, cites a few victories: passages peddling climate denialism and stereotypes about Muslims were cut, and corrections were made to material suggesting slavery was not the primary cause of the Civil War.

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Wednesday, Nov 19, 2014, 9:45 AM

Can Liberals Speak a Moral Language?

Philip Gorski reviews a new book, Post-Ethical Society, which argues that moral arguments have faded from public debate because secular media won’t engage in them:

The main conclusion [of the book’s authors] is that secular media engage in a great deal of “moral muting.” By this, the authors mean the use of “prudential,” “instrumental,” or “utilitarian” arguments in lieu of explicitly moral ones. For example, instead of reflecting on whether the Iraq War met the criteria of a just war, a columnist in the New York Times, Washington Post, or Wall Street Journal would have been much more likely to weigh how such a war might affect America’s reputation, whether a policy of “containment” might ultimately be more effective, or what the risks of inaction might be.

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Tuesday, Nov 18, 2014, 1:06 AM

Obama’s Upcoming Immigration Test

Both Ramesh Ponnuru and Danny Vinik are concerned about President Obama’s apparently forthcoming executive action on immigration. After waiting in vain for Congress to take up immigration reform, Obama is poised to grant up to five million undocumented immigrants relief from deportation and to allow them to apply for work permits. This makes Vinik uneasy: “Five million is a really big number,” he writes. “And whether giving a reprieve to such a large population crosses a line of democratic norms is still a murky question—murkier than many liberals seem to recognize.” Ponnuru is less torn: it’s “outrageous as a constitutional matter,” he writes, “to grant legal status to several million illegal immigrants unilaterally.” I don’t think this is quite right—the order would not change the legal status of these immigrants—but in any case, that’s not Ponnuru’s broader point. He goes on: “It shouldn’t need to be explained that the refusal of Congress to pass legislation to the president’s liking isn’t a breakdown of the system that justifies an extraordinary presidential act.”

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Thursday, Nov 13, 2014, 9:00 AM

What to Say about Sen. Landrieu’s Keystone XL Gambit?

File this one under “convenient, one-stop examples for the occasionally fathomless stupidity of the Democratic Party”: Mary Landrieu, who is almost certainly going to lose her runoff election in December, is trying to save herself among Louisiana voters by pushing for a Senate vote approving the extremely controversial Keystone XL pipeline. This would create fewer than three dozen permanent jobs in the entire country, and almost none in her home state (even during the construction period, which will bring in seasonal workers). Oh, and there’s the small concern of trying to prevent climate change from catastrophically altering life on Earth, a rare cause on which the United States actually made progress this week. Taking a step backwards on that front might make sense if a victory in the runoff would give Democrats control of the Senate, which it won’t. Or if her opponent could be attacked for opposing the pipeline, which he doesn’t. Or if the electoral advantage to this useless, cynical maneuver weren’t utterly chimerical, which it is. Or if the Democrats hadn’t just last week suffered a massive defeat in the midterms by, in part, failing to turn out their their young, liberal coalition, who probably will not be motivated to vote by the impression that when things get tough, their party is happy to cravenly promote the favored policies of the opposition.

Other than these small quibbles, this is a brilliant political move that will certainly save Landrieu her seat, in a most gallant and inspiring fashion.

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Wednesday, Nov 12, 2014, 9:00 AM

The Thousand Fronts of Inequality

In the wake of last week’s midterm defeats, many critics have wondered why Democrats failed to campaign on their recent economic successes. Unemployment is down; the deficit has fallen; the stock market is booming. Why not say so? Josh Marshall, largely siding with this critique, nonetheless adds that in an important sense, it misses the point: even if voters had heard that story, they would have had trouble recognizing signs of it in their own lives. None of the recent sunny news changes the fundamental fact that despite steady growth in productivity, wages have been stagnant for decades. As Marshall writes, “The great political reality of our time is that Democrats don’t know (and nobody else does either) how to get wage growth and productivity growth or economic growth lines back into sync.”