West Virginia Republicans are trying to nullify Obamacare. No, really: A proposed state law declares the Affordable Care Act “invalid” and imposes criminal penalties on government officials for carrying it out. As pointless political stunts go, this one is especially cruel and poorly timed. Just this week, Gallup found that from 2013 to 2014, the state’s uninsured rate fell nearly seven percentage points, from almost 18 percent of West Virginians to just under 11 percent. And, as Democracy editor (and Mountain State native) Michael Tomasky notes, this is West Virginia—the state born of opposition to the Confederacy. The mind reels.
With a few notable exceptions, I find that the inescapable online genre of political writing-cum-pop culture analysis tends to be pretty tedious and self-indulgent, so I was perfectly ready to ignore the mini-controversy that erupted after Patricia Arquette won Best Supporting Actress Sunday night. It turns out, however, that this particular flap illustrates how even calls for solidarity can collapse into splintering and squabbling—especially, it seems, when it comes to the delicate use of language and its place in left-wing politics.
An Oklahoma legislative committee overwhelmingly voted to ban Advanced Placement U.S. History class, persuaded by the argument that it only teaches students “what is bad about America.” Other lawmakers are seeking a court ruling that would effectively prohibit the teaching of all AP courses in public schools.
The New Yorker’s new dispatch from Libya has been getting lots of attention for its vivid account of how much things have deteriorated while the world’s attention has been turned elsewhere. It includes this blunt summary of the horrifying anarchy of post-Qaddafi life:
There is no overstating the chaos of post-Qaddafi Libya. Two competing governments claim legitimacy. Armed militias roam the streets. The electricity is frequently out of service, and most business is at a standstill; revenues from oil, the country’s greatest asset, have dwindled by more than ninety per cent. Some three thousand people have been killed by fighting in the past year, and nearly a third of the country’s population has fled across the border to Tunisia. What has followed the downfall of a tyrant—a downfall encouraged by NATO air strikes—is the tyranny of a dangerous and pervasive instability.
Damon Linker has penned the most persuasive criticism of President Obama’s Prayer Breakfast remarks last week, if only because he acknowledges—as many critics have refused to do—that on the facts, the President was right. Reflecting on Islamic terrorism, Obama reminded his audience: “And lest we get on our high horse and think this is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ. In our home country, slavery and Jim Crow all too often was justified in the name of Christ.” Perfectly true, Linker admits, although the President has no business saying it: “The problem is that Barack Obama is the president of the United States and not its professor in chief. It isn’t the president’s role to stand apart from and above the nation he leads, issuing supposedly even-handed, dispassionate, scholarly, objective, or prophetic moral judgments about the sins of America and Western civilization.” The President, Linker insists, is our leader, not some disinterested moral judge—and when he judges his own country, he positions himself outside it, abandoning his leadership role in the process. Or, to put things a bit more bluntly: “Does Obama want us to kill the bloodthirsty psychopaths of ISIS? Or does he want us to reflect dispassionately on the myriad ways that they’re really not that different from the grandfather of my friend from Mississippi?”
When President Obama finally “evolved” on gay marriage in 2012, I wrote a piece praising Joe Biden’s big mouth—if you recall, the famously loose-lipped VP had endorsed marriage equality in a (possibly) unscripted moment, seeming to force Obama’s hand on the issue. We may never know if that admission was planned, but we now have confirmation that Obama’s shift would have come sooner or later. In his new book, David Axelrod acknowledges what everyone already knew: Obama was never against gay marriage. Unless, that is, he had changed his mind since 1996, when he wrote in response to a questionnaire: “I favor legalizing same-sex marriages, and would fight efforts to prohibit such marriages.” Two years later, perhaps sensing that his decision to pursue a career in politics was working out after all, Obama softened his tone. In recent years, Axelrod had taken to lying on his boss’s behalf, explaining that the President favored civil unions but “does oppose same-sex marriage.” You might remember that last month, conservative writer Christopher Caldwell bizarrely predicted that America could still reverse direction on gay marriage. If Obama’s change of heart (from pro- back to anti-) had been genuine, he would have been a rare, walking example of the Caldwell Hypothesis.
The last time we checked in with Alabama Chief Justice and former “Ten Commandments Judge” Roy Moore, he was hard at work redefining the First Amendment, insisting that freedom of religion applied only to Christians (and maybe Jews). Now, like a nasty head cold, he’s back again, sowing chaos in Alabama with a last-minute order Sunday night informing probate judges that they must not issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples—even though yesterday was supposed to be the first day of gay marriage in Alabama, after a federal judge struck down the state’s ban last month. Alabama appealed that ruling to the Supreme Court, but on the eve of the big day, the justices had still not indicated whether they would allow Alabama’s marriages to proceed before they rule on gay marriage later this year. (On Monday, they at last declined to stop Alabama’s marriages, signaling a pro-marriage equality decision later this term.) Despite Moore’s claim to be acting on behalf of “the orderly administration of justice within the State of Alabama,” his order actually led to disarray and confusion—especially since he doesn’t really have the authority to stop the federal court ruling. But who’s naïve enough to be surprised that he tried?