Wednesday October 01, 2014
January 30th, 2014
Former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, in discussing his new book, has had a lot negative to say about how President Obama and his national security team operated during his own involvement with them. But after having served under several other presidents of both parties, he made another more sweeping observation that warrants sober reflection.
The 2014 Olympic Winter Games haven't started, but they've already produced their first scandal.
The host country's president, Vladimir Putin, runs a notoriously despotic regime whose victims include not only independent journalists and political opponents but also gay men and lesbians, who have recently been targeted by a law prohibiting "propaganda of nontraditional sexual practices" among minors.
It was a bittersweet briefing that told us exactly where the Obama administration finds itself at the dawn of its sixth year.
When a group of senior officials gathered last week to tout President Obama's efforts to make college a realistic possibility for low-income students, they were genuinely enthusiastic about the agreements they had brokered with university presidents and foundations to tear down some of the barriers to poor and minority kids.
Our current president and his predecessor in the Oval Office are typically cast as opposites, antonyms, not just far apart on an ideological spectrum but cats of wholly different stripes.
Barack Obama: lyrical, professorial. George Bush: allergic to any glimmer of intellectualism. Obama: head. Bush: gut. Obama: city. Bush: country.
The reality of rising American inequality is stark. Since the late 1970s real wages for the bottom half of the workforce have stagnated or fallen, while the incomes of the top 1 percent have nearly quadrupled (and the incomes of the top 0.1 percent have risen even more). While we can and should have a serious debate about what to do about this situation, the simple fact - American capitalism as currently constituted is undermining the foundations of middle-class society - shouldn't be up for argument.
Suddenly it's OK, even mandatory, for politicians with national ambitions to talk about helping the poor. This is easy for Democrats, who can go back to being the party of FDR and LBJ. It's much more difficult for Republicans, who are having a hard time shaking their reputation for reverse Robin-Hoodism, for being the party that takes from the poor and gives to the rich.
As of late Monday afternoon, when I was finishing this column, the most frequently emailed story on The Times' website for the previous week wasn't about the polar vortex, Chris Christie or "Downton Abbey."
It was about cats.
What is the greatest fear of conservatives when they warn against the dangers of big government? It is that a leader or the coterie around him will abuse the authority of the state arbitrarily to gather yet more power, punish opponents and, in the process, harm rank-and-file citizens whose well-being matters not a whit to those who are trying to enhance their control.