The McCutcheon Trial, Healthcare.gov, and the Coolest Sunglasses Ever: The Week’s Most Interesting Slate Stories

The week's most intriguing stories.
Oct. 12 2013 6:45 AM

The Shutdown Continues, the Supreme Court Gears Up, and Malcolm Gladwell Defends Himself

The week’s most interesting Slate stories.

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Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., (right) briefs journalists following a meeting with President Obama outside the White House in Washington on Oct. 10, 2013.

Photo by Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images

How Democrats Got a Spine: The Republican Party taught them how to be uncompromising,” by David Weigel. “If you want to bear the responsibility for the crisis you’ve created, then you bear it, and we’re gonna stand firm.” That’s the message Democrats have delivered to the GOP in the midst of the government shutdown and debt ceiling standoff. “The intransigence of Democrats, from Obama on down to red-state senators, has surprised the GOP,” writes Weigel. He says Democrats learned how to be uncompromising by watching the Republican Party.  

Why I Stopped Writing Recommendation Letters for Teach for America: And why my colleagues should do the same,”by Catherine Michna. Every year, Teach for America “installs thousands of unprepared 22-year-olds, the majority of whom are from economically and culturally privileged backgrounds, into disadvantaged public schools,” Michna writes. The result? “The nation’s youngest and most needy children are harmed by the never-ending cycle of under-trained, uncertified, first- and second-year teachers that now populates disadvantaged schools, and by the data-obsessed approach to education that is enabled by these inexperienced teachers,” she says.

Err Engine Down: What really went wrong with healthcare.gov?” by David Auerbach. “Bugs rarely manifest in obvious forms, often cascading and metamorphizing into seemingly different issues entirely, and one visible bug usually masks others,” writes Auerbach. So it’s difficult if not impossible at this stage to point to “the problem” with healthcare.gov, the government’s online Obamacare interface, which has been plagued with glitches since its Oct. 1 rollout. In all likelihood, “Healthcare.gov’s failures are not uncommon, they’re just exceptionally high-profile,” writes Auerbach.

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Poor Little Rich Guys: The Supreme Court clamors to protect the right of Richie Rich, Scrooge McDuck, and the Koch brothers to further corrupt American politics,” by Dahlia Lithwick. The Supreme Court opened its new term this week, hearing oral arguments in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission. “At issue in McCutcheon are the ‘aggregate’ contribution caps that limit the total amount any one person can give candidates, parties, and political committees during a two-year election cycle,” writes Lithwick, whose article recounts the court’s wrestling over the most important campaign finance case since Citizens United

Wait, I Thought We Were Fighting Over Obamacare? Some Republicans think the budget battle is about blocking Obamacare. Others have moved on. What is the GOP fighting for?” by John Dickerson. At some point in the government shutdown and debt ceiling standoff, portions of the GOP made a strategic shift from a fight it was losing on Obamacare defunding. Dickerson writes that the new tack—shifting the focus toward government spending—has better odds than the push to defund the president’s signature legislative achievement ever did. “In little more than a week,” Dickerson writes, “the president's health care plan has gone from the single reason for the budget showdown to an implied one.”

The Coming of the Kagan Court: Why Elena Kagan is the most influential liberal justice,” Adam Winkler. Justice Elena Kagan began her fourth term when the Supreme Court reopened last week after its summer recess. But already Kagan is “laying the groundwork to be an influential player on the court for decades to come,” Winkler writes. Winkler reasons that Kagan’s temperament and judicial style make her less an “Aggressive Progressive” than “a politically astute relationship-builder” in the mold of Earl Warren.

Who Are These Guys? Eight votes that explain who House Republicans really are,” by David Weigel. It’s sometimes hard to distinguish one middle-aged white male Republican House member from another. But since these 232 elected GOP officials represent much of the obstructionism in Congress, Weigel steps in to help readers make sense of the House Republican composition by breaking it down to several camps: the “Hell No” caucus, the Heritage Action caucus, and the Invisible Caucus.

The Trouble With Malcolm Gladwell: I thought he was sincerely misunderstanding the science, but he knows exactly what he is doing,” by Christopher Chabris. Best-selling author Malcolm Gladwell’s books enjoy a massive readership. But Chabris explores whether Gladwell is accurately conveying the science that undergirds his narratives. “Not whether he is making little mistakes or leaving out details that would bore the nonspecialist,” Chabris writes, “but whether he is getting the big ideas right.” Chabris’ critique of Gladwell’s David and Goliath sets the stage for current and forthcoming articles to appear on the Slate Book Review.

Christopher Chabris Should Calm Down: His criticisms of my book David and Goliath are unreasonable,” by Malcolm Gladwell. In response to Christopher Chabris’ indictment of David and Goliath, author Malcolm Gladwell hits back, he says, before Chabris’ has a chance to write another review unfairly characterizing Gladwell’s work. “The world is not improved when those who create knowledge condescend to those who try to popularize it,” Gladwell writes, adding tartly, “criticism that takes the form of ‘there is only one way to write a book, and it is my way’ is not actually criticism. It is narcissism.”

The Coolest Thing Anyone Has Ever Worn: Why Cary Grant’s sunglasses in North by Northwest still make us swoon,” by Mark Joseph Stern. The vintage Tart Arnel sunglasses Cary Grant wears in Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest is the coolest article of clothing in history, writes Stern. “Throughout his cinematic career, Grant proved that he could maintain his cool through Nazi plots, love triangles, and jewel heists. But he would never be cooler than in North by Northwest during those few minutes on a train with Eva Marie Saint, drinking cocktails and discussing love, wearing sunglasses that seduced us as effortlessly as he seduced her.”

John Kruzel is a Slate contributor. You can follow him on Twitter.

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