The Political Gabfest for July 31, 2009.

Slate's weekly political roundtable.
July 31 2009 6:47 PM

Slate: The Coalition of the Swilling Gabfest

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

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Listen to the Gabfest for July 31 by clicking the arrow on the audio player below:

Get your free 14-day trial membership of Gabfest sponsor Audible.com,which includes a credit for one free audiobook. This week's recommendation comes from Kuwait and listener Inderjit Gandhi, who suggests A Suitable Boy, by Vikram Seth. Inderjit read the book a decade ago, and listening to "the dramatization of the epic book … brings back to life vividly all the characters in this story set in 1950s India."

Emily Bazelon, John Dickerson, and Michael Newman talk politics. This week: disapproval over Obama's plan for health care, racism and beer at the White House, and more on Sonia Sotomayor.

Several polls were released this week showing declining approval ratings for President Obama. Particularly troubling is the slide in support for Obama's economic and health care policies. In an interview with Time, Obama described attempting to communicate the urgency of health care reform as the most difficult political task he has ever undertaken, and the polls suggest he may be losing the battle. Key committees in Congress are in gridlock, as Sen. Max Baucus, the chairman of the Senate finance committee, announced that his committee's bill will not be marked up prior to the August recess (although he promised to move forward on Sept. 15, with or without Republican support). In addition to corralling reluctant members of Congress, Obama must parry disingenuous attacks from the right, including the latest claim: that the health plans will lead to euthanasia of the elderly and ill. Peter Singer, a professor of bioethics at Princeton University, wrote about the concerns about medical rationing and efficiency in a rational manner that has eluded many on both sides of the political aisle. Meanwhile, as John reported in Slate this week, many Americans are concerned that health care reform is moving too quickly for such an important reform.

President Obama and Vice President Biden welcomed professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Sgt. James Crowley to the White House for some "beer diplomacy." Despite enormous press buildup, the event turned out to be a bit of a public dud. The biggest news may have been that Gates switched from Red Stripe to Sam Adams Light—a Boston beer from the largest American-owned brewery—at the last minute. However, Gates and Crowley did announce plans to continue the conversation over lunch (presumably back home in Cambridge, Mass.). And Gates followed up the encounter with a piece in The Root, Slate's sister site, written in a more conciliatory tone than previous commentaries.

The Senate judiciary committee voted 13-6 in favor of Sonia Sotomayor's nomination for associate justice. Lindsey Graham was the sole Republican to vote in favor of Sotomayor, describing her as "left of center but certainly within the mainstream." Both sides of the aisle expressed their belief that the result would help them: Republicans believe that Sotomayor's views on gun rights, racial quotas, and other issues can help them in the 2010 races, while Democrats think that the votes against Sotomayor will result  in low support for conservatives among Hispanic voters, a rapidly growing bloc.

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Michael chatters that the "birther" movement has a point in all its protests, just not the one that many think. Michael says that a way to neutralize the birthers' contention that Obama is not a "natural born citizen" and thus constitutionally ineligible to serve as president would be simply to remove that requirement from the qualifications for the presidency. Emily recommends Jack Rakove's The Annotated U.S. Constitution and Declaration of Independencefor those interested in the debate about the inclusion of that phrase in the Constitution. Still, based on Richard Hofstadter's The Paranoid Style in American Politics, John argues that those who constitute movements like birtherism will always find their cause.