An Out-of-Office Message for Republican Candidates

Published May 9, 2010
New York Times Magazine

Some 30 months from the next presidential election, the field of potential challengers to Barack Obama is like a solar system in its infancy — unformed, gaseous and lacking a dominant star. One characteristic, however, stands out. In a recent CNN poll that tested the strength of possible Republican hopefuls, only one of the seven most likely candidates (that would be Representative Ron Paul) will actually hold an elected office by the end of this year. The two leading candidates as of today, Mike Huckabee and Mitt Romney, haven’t held a political job in more than three years.

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Survey Says

Published April 11, 2010
New York Times Magazine

Back in 2005, when Democrats in Congress fought to preserve their right to filibuster against George W. Bush’s judicial nominees, they spoke in unison about how Republicans were “changing the rules in the middle of the game,” a slogan they had tested with focus groups like a catchphrase for breakfast cereal. The idea was to turn an arcane question of process into a basic issue of fairness in the public mind, and it worked. Now, five years later, Republicans reeling from their health care defeat are trying the same tactic.

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Laws for Sale?

Published March 4, 2010
New York Times Magazine

Plaintiffs’ lawyers must be holding their heads a little higher when they walk into P.T.A. meetings and neighborhood parties these days, knowing that corporate lobbyists have overtaken them as the most despised professionals in America. Lobbyists have never been especially popular, of course; even their most sympathetic pop-culture portrayal, in the book and better-known movie “Thank You for Smoking,” focused mostly on their moral depravity. As a candidate, Barack Obama made a point of vowing to banish them from the White House.

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The Brain Mistrust

Published February 21, 2010
New York Times Magazine

Republicans are feeling buoyant these days, having managed to cut their deficit in the Senate down to 18 seats, which means they can now be a genuine irritant to the Democrats who run the country. And yet there are still those glass-half-empty Republicans who insist on reminding their colleagues that the party is beset by serious problems. It has no discernible governing agenda, for one thing.

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Tyranny of the Majorities

Published January 31, 2010
The New York Times Magazine

If we learned anything about Barack Obama during the now-distant campaign of 2008, it was that he was a man who valued stoicism and self-possession in himself and others. And so it was significant, in an understated way, to hear Obama’s press secretary describe him, on the day of the election in Massachusetts to fill Ted Kennedy’s former Senate seat, as “surprised and frustrated” by the collapse of the Democratic candidate, Martha Coakley, and then to hear Obama’s closest aides heaping scorn on her campaign.

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The Great Unalignment

Published January 24, 2010
New York Times Magazine

This time last winter, Democratic Washington was crackling with confident talk of a progressive re-awakening in the land and an enduring Congressional majority. “Realignment” was the word of the moment, as in the kind of demographic and ideological shift that shaped the nation’s politics for some 60 years after the election of Franklin Roosevelt. Now Democrats are trying to figure out how they lost what was presumed to be the safest Senate seat in the country — it belonged to Ted Kennedy for 46 years — and how to avoid hemorrhaging others. A year after George W.

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No-Commoner Obama

Published January 3, 2010


There was something discordant, even tinny, about Barack Obama’s attempt to castigate Wall Street last month. No doubt the president was trying to acknowledge and channel the resentments in his own party — and in the country — when he told CBS’s Steve Kroft during a “60 Minutes” interview, “I did not run for office to be helping out a bunch of fat-cat bankers on Wall Street.” Yet the rhetorical slap felt a little flat.

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Cable Guise

Published December 6, 2009
New York Times Magazine

After Walter Cronkite died earlier this year, Frank Mankiewicz, the onetime Democratic operative, recalled in The Washington Post how he had proposed that George McGovern select the CBS anchorman as his running mate during the 1972 presidential campaign. Cronkite was, of course, one of the most admired men in America and a known skeptic of the war in Vietnam.

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Leveraging the Obama Brand

Published November 22, 2009
New York Times Magazine

Earlier this month, almost a year from the day when Barack Obama rode the wave of history into Grant Park, he had one of those weeks that makes his presidency seem, at times, so confounding. First Obama endured an electoral embarrassment, watching his party lose off-year gubernatorial elections in New Jersey and Virginia, in part because many of the voters he had so successfully engaged in his presidential campaign, particularly younger voters, stayed home and made popcorn for “Dancing With the Stars” instead.

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Escalations

Published November 1, 2009


“Are we going to give up in South Vietnam?” That was the question President Kennedy posed, then tried to answer, in what would be his final news conference in 1963. “The most important program, of course, is our national security. But I don’t want the United States to have to put troops there.” Kennedy was killed eight days later, giving rise not just to 40 years of grassy-knoll conspiracy theories but also to a lingering debate over whether he might have averted his successor’s tragic plunge into the jungles of Southeast Asia.

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