The Political Gabfest for June 26, 2009.

The Political Gabfest for June 26, 2009.

The Political Gabfest for June 26, 2009.

Slate's weekly political roundtable.
June 26 2009 2:55 PM

The Totally Unstable, Lost, and Confused Gabfest

Listen to Slate's review of the week in politics.

1_123125_2160797_2161017_2161018_060603_gabfest

Become a fan of the Political Gabfest on Facebook. We will be updating the Facebook page more frequently and including content that you will only be able to find there, so get your Gabfest fix during the week by joining us there.

Listen to the Gabfest for June 26 by clicking the arrow on the audio player below:

You can also download the program here, or you can subscribe to the weekly Gabfest podcast feed in iTunes by clicking here.

Get your free 14-day trial membership of Gabfest sponsor Audible.com, which includes a credit for one free audio book, here. This week we have recommendations from two listeners. Janet Martin recommends the reader Jeff Woodman, who does an excellent job of portraying characters of both genders and all ages. She particularly recommends his readings of Life of Pi by Yann Marteland Patchwork Planet by Anne Tyler. Second, Nathan Stanley recommends an application that allows Audible members to access all their purchases on their BlackBerrys, which allowed him to download The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt by Edmond Morris while he was in the middle of Wyoming. David heartily endorses Nathan's audiobook choice after reading The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt and loving it.

Emily Bazelon, John Dickerson, and David Plotz talk politics. This week: President Obama and Iran, South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford, and several decisions from the Supreme Court.

Events over the past week have revealed that the Iranian state has become a military dictatorship rather than the theocracy it has been since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. The military runs the country and controls its institutions. Yet recent violent actions, including the murder of Neda, a 26-year-old woman whose death was captured on video and has become a rallying point for Iranian dissenters, catalyzed opposition and led President Obama to again speak out in support of Iranian human rights. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad likened Obama's response to former President George W. Bush's rhetoric and demanded an apology. Yet new analyses in the past week have only added to the suspicion of a tainted election in Iran. And on Wednesday night, barely one-third of the members of the Iranian Parliament were invited to a celebration for Ahmadinejad's supposed victory attended. Nonetheless, the options of the United States are limited by a weak understanding of Iranian politics and the desires of the Iranian polity, as well as by the imperative to work to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons. The last, best hope is as it has always been: engagement and diplomacy, particularly if nations in Europe and elsewhere get involved.

South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford reappeared on Wednesday, a week after dropping out of public view. In a press conference Wednesday afternoon, Sanford admitted to a yearlong affair with a woman in Buenos Aires. The hypocrisy of a candidate who ran as a family-values conservative but committed marital infidelity and opposed stimulus funding for his state but used a taxpayer-funded trip to Argentina to rendezvous with his lover added to the schadenfreude of the situation, but John wrote in Slatethat the amount of glee was disproportionate to the spectacle of a man self-immolating on national television. William Saletan also wrote in Slate that Sanford's comments in his press conference deviated from the standard politician-philanderer script in a way that made his statements appear less politically calculating than other recent sex scandals. On Thursday, e-mails between Sanford and his mistress, Maria, emerged and compounded the sense of watching a slow-motion car crash. The conversation moved to whether Sanford will remain in office. The Sanford camp maintains that he will not resign, even though Sanford called for Bill Clinton to resign in 1998 after Clinton's affair with Monica Lewinsky.

Rounding out the discussion was the Supreme Court's decision in the case of Savana Redding, who was strip-searched by school officials looking for contraband aspirin. Slate's Dahlia Lithwick wrote that Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the court's lone woman, won the day by convincing her male colleagues of the intrusiveness of such a search. The decision to expand student privacy modestly was a surprise after other recent rulings and oral arguments in which the justices downplayed the impact of a strip search. The decision ruled out damages in the case, acknowledging the "qualified immunity" of school officials.

David chatters about the D.C. Metro crash that killed eight riders and the operator of a Red Line train on June 22. The tragedy spotlighted the poor condition of the Metro system, which the National Transportation Safety Board had previously warned about, and reports of cracked tracks on two lines revealed additional problems. After spending time in London last week, coming back to Washington caused David to consider the relative public squalor of much of D.C. and the lack of investment in infrastructure across the United States.

Advertisement

Emily chatters about the death of Farrah Fawcett, an actress and sex symbol best known for starring in the Charlie's Angels television series and for an iconic poster image. When Emily was growing up, every girl wanted to be Farrah Fawcett and every boy had the poster on his wall (except for David and, potentially, John).

John chatters about the controversy that resulted from White House coordination with a Huffington Post reporter at President Obama's June 23 press conference. Nico Pitney has been live-blogging and aggregating information coming out of Iran, and the White House informed him before the press conference that Obama might call on him for a question from one of his contacts in Iran. Obama did call on Pitney, who asked a tough question and, according to John, provided the White House with its desired tableau of Obama engaging with the protesters on the streets of Tehran.

The e-mail address for the Political Gabfest is gabfest@slate.com. (E-mail may be quoted by name unless the writer stipulates otherwise.)

Posted on June 26 by Jefferson Pestronk at 2:55 p.m.

Advertisement

June 19, 2009

Become a fan of the Political Gabfest on Facebook. We will be updating the Facebook page more frequently and including content that you will only be able to find there, so get your Gabfest fix during the week by joining us there.

Listen to the Gabfest for June 19 by clicking the arrow on the audio player below:

Advertisement

Get your free 14-day trial membership of Gabfest sponsor Audible.com, which includes a credit for one free audio book, here. This week, David recommends Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates, which he calls one of the best-written books he has ever read. Emily counters that although the writing is "luscious," she did not connect with the book as much as David. Give Audible a shot—download Revolutionary Road, and let us know what you think.

Emily Bazelon, John Dickerson, and David Plotz  talk politics. This week: Unrest in Iran, President Obama's reaction to events in Iran, and an interesting discussion of divorce.

Iran led the news all week long, and on Friday Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran's supreme leader, rejected allegations that the results of the June 12 presidential election were tainted in any way. The re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad led to days of massive protests in the Iranian capital of Tehran and at least 15 deaths. Most of the protesters were supporters of opposition candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi; the ayatollah has demanded an end to the protests and issued veiled warnings of additional violence. It is not clear what outcome the protesters are pursuing, as the real power in Iran is vested with Ayatollah Khamenei, not the president. It is possible that Ahmadinejad might actually have won. Polling done several weeks before the election showed real support for Ahmadinejad, although the size of the victory is suspicious and could indicate government meddling. Regardless, Mousavi may not be that much of a reformer or moderate, at least insofar as he would advocate the reform the United States wants. Ahmadinejad did not help his cause when he called protesters "dust and pebbles," but the reality in Iran may be that the protesters will either stand down or be crushed in an Iranian version of Tiananmen Square.

The election turmoil has forced President Obama to take a measured stance as he threads the needle of supporting the protests while not alienating Khamenei. In the days following the election, Obama has ranged from being concerned but reluctant to meddle to being deeply troubled by the violence on the ground. The disputed election is, at the very least, deeply inconvenient for Obama, who has repeatedly expressed a willingness to meet with Iran without preconditions to work toward the elimination of the Iranian nuclear weapons program. Conservative leaders and even members of Obama's administration have pushed him to take a firmer stand against Iran, some accusing him of showing excessive deference and respect to a barbaric regime. However, a leading Iranian dissident has argued that any involvement by the United States would allow the Iranian authorities to dismiss the protesters as American puppets, and the arguments for American involvement fail to engage on this point. Still, there may be intermediate steps that the United States can take to assist a democratic movement in Iran without openly advocating revolution.

Advertisement

The July/August issue of the Atlantic ran an essay by Sandra Tsing Loh criticizing the institution of marriage. Loh argues that marriage is an anachronism from a time when our economy was agrarian and life expectancy a mere 47 years. Loh defines four types of marriage—Romantic, Rescue, Tradition, and Companionate—but reserves her greatest contempt for Companionate Marriage, which is what she believes the modern institution has evolved into. She concludes with her own set of "modest proposals" for fixing marriage or eliminating it altogether.

David chatters about Be Like Others, an HBO documentary directed by Tanaz Eshaghian that will air Wednesday, June 24. It profiles members of Iran's transgender community, who pursue gender reassignment surgery rather than face the death penalty for homosexuality, a capital crime in Iran. During a speech at Columbia University, Iranian President Ahmadinejad famously denied that there are homosexuals in Iran.

Emily chatters about the history of race relations in the New Haven, Conn., Fire Department, the department at the center of the Ricci case that is currently before the Supreme Court and which will likely play a prominent role during Sonia Sotomayor's confirmation hearings. Racial tension has existed there since the 1970s, and Emily believes that there is probably no fair resolution to the dispute. We will link to her forthcoming piece on the Political Gabfest Facebook page.

John chatters about three new polls that show a gap between Obama's personal popularity and the popularity of his policy positions. Despite his considerable political and oratorical gifts, Obama has had trouble convincing the public of the wisdom of his plans for deficit reduction and health care.

Advertisement

The e-mail address for the Political Gabfest is gabfest@slate.com. (E-mail may be quoted by name unless the writer stipulates otherwise.)

Posted on June 19 by Jefferson Pestronk at 5:30 p.m.

June 12, 2009

Become a fan of the Political Gabfest on Facebook. We will be updating the Facebook page more frequently and including content that you will only be able to find there, so get your Gabfest fix during the week by joining us there.

Advertisement

Listen to the Gabfest for June 12 by clicking the arrow on the audio player below:

You can also download the program here or you can subscribe to the weekly Gabfest podcast feed in iTunes by clicking here.

Get your free 14-day trial membership of Gabfest sponsor Audible.com, which includes a credit for one free audiobook, here. Listener Brian Glaser recommends a series of audiobooks called the 33 1/3 Series. Each book is "a short, focused look at a single rock album," from artists across the musical spectrum and from multiple eras. While the audiobooks do not include any of the music discussed, they make a great companion for favorite albums and artists.

Emily Bazelon, John Dickerson, and David Plotz talk politics. This week: a health care reform update, Republican Party woes, and a coup in New York state politics.

The debate over health care reform ramped up this week as the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee released a draft version of legislation. President Obama's strategy is still developing as he tries to avoid some of the mistakes that plagued the Clinton health care reform plan by letting Congress guide the development of reform legislation. Among the components that the Obama team is playing close to the vest is its support (or not) for a public option. In the absence of stronger executive leadership, Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., has proposed health care cooperatives as an alternative to a public plan. The second major issue that remains unaddressed is how to pay for any plan that emerges. The cost of health care has exploded to $2.3 trillion, nearly one-fifth the size of the U.S. economy, and the cost of covering uninsured Americans would be approximately $150 billion annually. (See Slide 6 in the above link.) All this spending has not purchased exceptional medical outcomes. A recent New Yorker article by Atul Gawande gained currency with the Obama administration because it argued that the amount spent on health care bears little relation to the quality of that care, suggesting that there may be fat in the system that can produce savings. Peter Orszag, the head of the White House Office of Management and Budget, has been singing this tune for some time. Whatever shape reform ultimately takes, opposition to an increased government role in health care will be intense.

The Republican Party continued its wilderness period as a new Gallup poll revealed that the public does not view any individual as the primary spokesman for the Republicans. Among the national sample, Rush Limbaugh got the most mentions at 13 percent. (For contrast, 58 percent of respondents said that Barack Obama speaks for the Democratic Party.) The leadership battle was apparent at a fundraiser for the Republican House and Senate campaign committees, where Newt Gingrich was the keynote speaker but Sarah Palin stole the show. While Palin is a popular early choice for 2012, she lacks support from GOP insiders who may be kingmakers in the coming years. As problematic as the lack of a standard-bearer is the demographic problem confronting the GOP: Republican identification has been declining steadily, and support for Republicans has gone down in nearly every demographic group. Republicans may ultimately define themselves in contrast to an Obama overreach or continued massive deficit spending unaccompanied by an economic recovery. Eric Cantor, the House minority whip, sees deficits, national security, and health care as the Republicans' path back to power, and he believes it will happen sooner rather than later.

Republicans fared somewhat better this week in New York, where they may have taken back control of the state Senate, depending on whom you ask. New York has had its fair share of problems, as the Senate coup comes on top of recent polling that shows the current governor, David Paterson, is currently less popular than former governor and current Slate contributor Eliot Spitzer, who resigned the office in disgrace a year ago. It is tough to imagine two seedier state legislators than the ones whose party switch returned control to the Republicans: Pedro Espada Jr., who will become the new Senate president, has a history of campaign finance and graft violations, while Hiram Monserrate was captured on video dragging his bloodied girlfriend out of his apartment. Adding to the colorful cast of characters, the whole coup appears to have been financed by Tom Golisano, a billionaire businessman who has thrice failed to win the gubernatorial race in New York. His pique over being ignored in a meeting with Democratic Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith led Golisano to conspire with Republicans to take back power, and immediately after Republicans succeeded they passed several of Golisano's pet bills. Despite the theatrics of the whole process, Eliot Spitzer wrote in Slate that these perturbations of standard operating procedure in Albany will ultimately make the state better off.

Emily chatters about a photo essay in Slate about children born of rape during the Rwandan genocide. The heartbreaking and chilling stories of children conceived of the worst sexual violence explore some of the myriad complexities remaining in Rwanda 15 years after the end of the genocide there.

David chatters about his discovery of the Museum of Bad Art, which bills itself as "the world's only museum dedicated to the collection, preservation, exhibition and celebration of bad art in all its forms." You can peruse the museum's collection online, or if you find yourself with some time in Boston, the museum has two permanent locations in Dedham and Somerville.

John chatters about the soon-to-be-released documentaryFoodInc., which examines the process by which food arrives on the American table. The movie includes commentary from Michael Pollan (The Omnivore's Dilemma, In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto) and Eric Schlosser (Fast Food Nation).

The e-mail address for the Political Gabfest is gabfest@slate.com. (E-mail may be quoted by name unless the writer stipulates otherwise.)

Posted on June 12, 2009, by Jefferson Pestronk at 11:36 a.m.

June 12, 2009

Become a fan of the Political Gabfest on Facebook. We will be updating the Facebook page more frequently and including content that you will only be able to find there, so get your Gabfest fix during the week by joining us there.

Listen to the Gabfest for June 5 by clicking the arrow on the audio player below:

You can also download the program here, or you can subscribe to the weekly Gabfest podcast feed in iTunes by clicking here.

Get your free 14-day trial membership of Gabfest sponsor Audible.com, which includes a credit for one free audiobook, here.  This week's recommendation comes from listener Andrew Karduna, who suggests a reader: Scott Brick.  Two of Andrew's favorite readings by Brick are The Omnivore's Dilemma and Under the Banner of Heaven, both also heartily recommended by the Gabfest crew.

Emily Bazelon, John Dickerson, and David Plotz talk politics. This week: President Obama's speech to the Muslim world, the murder of an abortion doctor, and getting ready for Supreme Court nomination hearings.

President Obama addressed the Muslim world this week during a speech in Cairo, Egypt, part of a longer trip that included stops in Saudi Arabia and at the Buchenwald concentration camp. As part of its outreach, the Obama administration translated the president's  speech into 13 languages and shared it on social networking sites from Facebook to Orkut. Obama's speech was well-received by Muslims around the Middle East, although leaders of American adversaries reacted predictably poorly. Domestic opinions about whether nuance is an effective strategy for addressing the Middle East also depended on whom you listened to, left or right. The diplomatic tone of the speech even led one senator to label President Obama "un-American."

Dr. George Tiller was shot and killed at his church in Wichita, Kan., last Sunday. Tiller was one of the few women's health providers who performed late-term abortions, which account for less than 1 percent of the 1.2 million abortions that occur each year in the United States. He is the eighth person murdered as part of the violence aimed at doctors and clinics that offer abortion. Double X has published testimonials from women describing the care they received at Tiller's clinic. Data about providers of late-term abortion are difficult to find, likely because of the dangers that publicity brings. Some have argued that those who use incendiary and hate-filled rhetoric share in the blame for Tiller's murder; one former leader of the pro-life movement has even gone so far as to apologize for his role. Others, however, label that thinking a poor conflation and argue that we have chosen to protect free speech as part of our democratic society.

Sonia Sotomayor met with senators as part of her rollout as Supreme Court nominee. She debuted well, receiving positive comments from Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions (who has his own history of judicial confirmation troubles), and Sen. Patrick Leahy gave her the opportunity to clarify some of her controversial comments. Sen. Lindsey Graham was less impressed, citing concerns about Sotomayor's temperament and judicial philosophy  and saying he was offended by Sotomayor's now-famous "wise Latina women" comments, which undermined the amount he had been "knocked around" as a white man.

John chatters about the wide-open (albeit very early) race for the Republican presidential nomination in 2012. Among the boldface names, Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty recently announced he won't seek a third term as governor. Mitt Romney strayed out of his comfort zone to give a speech on national security. Newt Gingrich walked back comments in which he labeled Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor a "racist" but managed to criticize her simultaneously.

Emily chatters about her recent article in the New York Times Magazine. She describes the plight of individuals who decided to freelance during the boom years of the mid-2000s and are now facing an economy in which fewer people have money to spend on luxuries like prenatal yoga. Their troubles are worse because, according to the government, they are not unemployed, making them ineligible for benefits.

David chatters about a new collection of short stories, Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned, by Wells Tower. Slate's Juliet Lapidos offered a positive review in March. The collection's title story imagines a Viking who, increasingly disenchanted with his constant raping and pillaging, considers his alternatives.

The e-mail address for the Political Gabfest is gabfest@slate.com. (E-mail may be quoted by name unless the writer stipulates otherwise.)

Posted on June 5 by Bill Smee at 5 p.m.

Slate Senior Editor Emily Bazelon, Chief Political Correspondent John Dickerson, and Editor David Plotz host the Gabfest weekly.