Abbreviated Pundit Roundup: Why Barack Obama still matters

Peniel Joseph writes for CNN on why the 44th President of the United States (who turned 60 Wednesday), Barack Hussein Obama, still matters.

As he approaches 60, Obama's hair has turned grayer, he looks even thinner now than he did as commander in chief and one can see the impact of time -- and being President -- in the wrinkles and creases that appear visible on a once unlined face.
Last summer, Obama said that "Black Lives Matter" but decried efforts to "Defund the Police" as bad politics that alienated potential allies.
Yet, time out of office has radicalized the preternaturally cautious Obama into calling for an end to the filibuster, if that's what's required to preserve democracy. His characterization of the filibuster as "another Jim Crow relic" offered further proof that Obama 2.0 displays a willingness to confront America's long history of structural racism with the kind of bracing candor he rarely embraced as President.
Obama continues to serve as a Rorschach test for the American political imagination. He likely always will. The first Black president didn't so much as flip the script of American politics as write himself into it. Obama proved to be a fervent believer in American exceptionalism.

E J Montini writes for The Arizona Republic that the four Capitol Police officers who have died by suicide since (and because of) the Jan. 6 insurrection should be remembered as “casualties of war.”

The four officers who responded to the insurrection of Jan. 6 In Washington, D.C., and have since died by suicide – two announced just this week – are casualties of war.

They range in experience from nearly 20 years on the job to barely five. But when the call went out about a mob breaching the U.S. Capitol, they answered. Now they’re gone.

Officer Howie Liebengood, Officer Jeffrey Smith, Officer Gunther Hashida and Officer Kyle DeFreytag.

They will not get proper credit for being casualties of war.

But that is what they are.

And, sadly, they died as a result of a conflict with domestic – not foreign – terrorists.

Mary C. Curtis writes for Roll Call on the tendency of Republican politicians and other “tough guys and gals” to “punch down” at others.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s recent, threatening words involved actual hitting, in this case the speaker of the House and third in line for the presidency, Nancy Pelosi. At a Republican fundraiser in Nashville, Tenn., over the weekend, when presented with an oversize gavel, McCarthy said: “I want you to watch Nancy Pelosi hand me that gavel. It will be hard not to hit her with it.” According to audio, the crowd of about 1,400 laughed.

McCarthy can almost taste the speakership, with voting restrictions in the states and new gerrymandered districts being teed up, and the Supreme Court and a Senate stalled on voting legislation helping to clear the way. He’s already referring to Pelosi as a lame duck. For him and his followers, the angry rhetoric isn’t something to be ashamed of; it’s dessert, a way to rile up the base and rake in the cash.


Does he remember or care, as he’s piling on, that the rioters particularly targeted Pelosi, defiled her office and called out “Where’s Nancy?” in their best impression of Jack Nicholson’s demented howl in “The Shining”?

Jason Johnson of The Grio (and MSNBC, of course) explains why Nina Turner lost in her bid to succeed Marcia Fudge as the representative for Ohio’s 11th Congressional District.

Turner didn’t lose because of “dark money,” she lost because local voters don’t live their lives on Twitter, don’t read puff pieces in The New York Times and didn’t want the Progressive Establishment carpetbagging into town and telling people how to vote. Not to mention, Shontel Brown is actually a pretty darn good public servant.

If you could liquefy schadenfreude and inject it directly into your veins, I know a lot of Democrats who’d be high as a kite right now after Turner’s loss, but dunking on Turner or the Progressive Establishment doesn’t do anybody any good. The progressive model of success, finding a local activist or politician, training and funding them to run against an out-of-touch or do-nothing incumbent is a good model. That’s how Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez beat Joe Crowley and Jamal Bowman beat Eliot Engel in New York; it’s how Cori Bush beat William Lacy Clay in Missouri, and how Ayanna Pressley beat Michael Capuano in Massachusetts.

The Progressive Establishment model didn’t work in Ohio because Turner wasn’t an underdog and hadn’t been in the district recently but also because mainline Democrats ignore progressives at their peril. At the same time, progressives shouldn’t be calling Black voters in Ohio stupid or blaming outside money when they simply ran a candidate who had every technical advantage but couldn’t reconcile half a decade of attacking the Democratic Party with running in a heavily Democratic district.

Speaking of former Rep. Michael Capuano ... this morning, Mr. Capuano and former Vermont Gov. Jim Douglas jointly penned an opinion piece for The Boston Globe about various ways in which the U.S. might be able to heal a divided nation.

Compiling interviews with public figures — Democrat, Republican, and independent — the report finds that many agree on the major issues from which our political problems stem. One is low voter turnout, especially in primary elections. When turnout is low, it increases the power of the most polarized voters, who are more likely to vote in primaries. This allows a small number of people to have a disproportionate impact on which candidate runs in the general election.

One reason voter turnout in primaries is low is the lack of attention many primary races garner. What may help draw more attention to primaries would be for each region of the country to move all their primaries to the same day. Another option would be for each state to hold its primary on the first Tuesday of the month, mimicking the presidential election. Instead of having primaries scattered over the course of several months on different days, states should coordinate with each other to develop ideas for consolidating primary dates or other changes that would draw increased attention to primaries.

Dana Rubenstein and Katie Glueck of The New York Times report that in the wake of the release of the damning investigative report detailing the repeated pattern of sexual harassment by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, whatever political allies that Cuomo had continue to abandon him.

The pillars of Mr. Cuomo’s political base now appear to be cracking beneath him, as he suffers consequential defections from core constituencies, including labor, white suburban lawmakers and Black political leaders.

His only apparent hope is that, during the time it takes to draw up impeachment papers as the State Assembly advances its investigation, the reservoir of public good will he earned early in the pandemic will stifle the sentiment against him in the legislature and elsewhere.

Certainly, in interviews on Wednesday across the state, not all voters saw the report as decisive.

“He is a single man, he is a human being, so mistakes can be made,” said Melissa Edwards, 39, as she began her workout routine in Southeast Queens, suggesting that the accusations paled in comparison to those by women who “are being raped and molested by people — look at Jeffrey Epstein or Bill Cosby.”

Tony Romm and Yeganeh Torbati of The Washington Post report that Infrastructure Week has brought out the lobbyists.

The organizations working to shape the package — ranging from powerful trade associations representing agricultural and energy giants to small-time firms working for cities in Alabama and Kansas — mentioned either “infrastructure” or President Biden’s initial proposal, known as the American Jobs Plan, on their lobbying disclosure forms during the most recent quarter this year, according to an analysis from the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonprofit group that tracks money and influence in Washington.

Those groups collectively have spent more than $426 million in their lobbying efforts, which includes trying to sway lawmakers and regulators on far more than just infrastructure, the center’s data show. The activity reflects a dramatic uptick from the same period one year ago, when more than 1,300 lobbying operations sought to target Washington on infrastructure. Their total spending on all issues over that period exceeded $291 million.

Already, these lobbyists have secured a number of victories. A push publicly and privately by conservative advocacy groups including FreedomWorks ultimately helped prompt a bipartisan group of senators to halt efforts to increase new funding for the Internal Revenue Service. Some Democrats, along with the Biden administration, had hoped to include the funding boost as a way of beefing up tax enforcement on corporations and the wealthy, and raising government revenue.

Charles M. Blow of The New York Times writes about two different “kinds” of protest.

One kind of protest is like the massive, unprecedented protests following the murder of George Floyd. They are somewhat organic reactions to an individual outrage that epitomized a pattern of outrages. They are tragedy-specific, breaking-point protests that often have policy grafted onto them after the initial outbursts by smart activists.

But what we have seen recently are different kinds of protest: organized, policy specific protests, sparked not by individual tragedy, but born of plan and strategy. They are nonviolent. Many of their participants and leaders are older. They are crowdsourced on social media and may never go viral.

These protests harken back to the Civil Rights Movement and even borrow some of its language, philosophy and tactics.

As Bishop William Barber II, president of Repairers of the Breach and a co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign, told me Wednesday about the difference in protest styles, on the one hand there are those who either “want to ride a wave or have a moment,” and then there are those who engage in protest, “direct actions,” where the act of protesting itself is the thing that “creates tension.”

Phil Galewitz of Kaiser Health News brings the good news that 90% of America’s seniors are now vaccinated against COVID-19.

Amid the latest surge in covid-19 cases and hospitalizations, the United States on Tuesday hit a milestone that some thought was unattainable: 90% of people 65 and older are at least partly vaccinated against the disease.


Wohl said political leanings that have skewed vaccination rates across the country have had much less of an impact on older adults. “The threat of covid-19 is so real for those 65 and over that it transcends many of the other issues that are complicating vaccination rates,” he said. “Wisdom and fear have really led to impressive immunization rates.”

The pandemic has been especially vicious to older adults. Nearly 80% of deaths have been among people age 65 and up. Nursing homes and other long-term care facilities were hit hard, and many banned family members and other visitors from entering, isolating residents. Even older adults living at home often kept their distance from family and friends as they sought to avoid the coronavirus. So when vaccines became available in December, many states targeted seniors first.

That effort has proved successful, although rates vary among states. Hawaii, Pennsylvania and Vermont vaccinated more than 99% of their seniors, while West Virginia ranks last with 78%.

Stephen M. Walt of Foreign Policy has an interesting take on the positive use of utilizing “nationalism” to defeat COVID-19.

A depressing aspect of the erratic U.S. response to the pandemic is the absence of a powerful, unified, can-do, “we’re all in this together” spirit. To be sure, medical personnel, public employees, and many others have made enormous and courageous sacrifices for the common good, and many others have adjusted their behavior by wearing masks, supporting local businesses, increasing charitable contributions, and taking other steps to help the country defeat the pandemic and move on. But in sharp contrast to the broad spirit of national sacrifice that animated the U.S. response during World War II—like scrap drives, war bond campaigns, rationing, and volunteering for military service—the campaign against COVID-19 has been undermined by widespread selfishness from the start.

It began with Trump, who was more concerned with what the virus might do to his electoral prospects than he was with the well-being of the nation. It continued with the millions of people—most but not all from Make America Great Again-land—who became convinced wearing a simple cotton mask was not a rather trivial sacrifice for the good of their country and community but a dangerous infringement on their liberty. In other words, their personal comfort and egos were more important than either the health of their fellow Americans or the broad common goal of putting the pandemic behind us. And it has continued with all those against vaccinations, whose selfish refusal to be inoculated has allowed the delta variant to spread rapidly and bring the latest wave of infections.

The most despicable of all are the politicianspundits, and grifters who have sought to advance their careers by feeding their audiences patently false information and reinforcing vaccine reluctance. Even worse, such dangerous misinformation comes primarily from some of the same people who have their hair on fire about dangers from other countries and are quick to accuse Black Lives Matter protesters of being unpatriotic. They say they want to “make America great,” but their actions are prolonging the pandemic and weakening the nation relative to others. It may not be treason, but it sure ain’t patriotism.

Megan K. Stack of The New Yorker writes about the near-blackout on press coverage in Afghanistan now that the U.S. is ending their military presence in the country.

I went to Afghanistan in 2001, as a young reporter for the Los Angeles Times, and I’ve recently been talking with others who fought, documented, and studied the war. I spoke with old friends and journalism colleagues, with academics, with people in the military and retired from it. I asked everyone the same question: How will the war be remembered? And, strikingly, they all said the same thing: they don’t know, because an answer requires a coherent understanding of the war’s overarching purpose, which nobody has possessed for more than a decade. An occupation that began as an act of vengeance against the planners of September 11th and their Taliban protectors evolved into something more abstract and impossibly ambitious, a sort of wholesale rebirth of Afghanistan as a stable and thriving country. It was a project that few U.S. leaders knew how to complete, but nobody had the strength to stop. And so the United States will end the longest foreign war in its history, and few can articulate what it was for. Naturally, there is dysfunction among the propagandists.

Finally this morning, of course I am not going to migrate to the Front Page and leave my bestie The Angry Grammarian behind. This morning, he writes for The Philadelphia Inquirer on the evolution of the use of the term “woke.”

Dating back at least to a 1938 folk song by Lead Belly, woke resided in African American Vernacular English to describe “awareness of racial or social discrimination and injustice,” according to the Oxford English Dictionary. The term’s definition and connotations, along with its usage frequency, were steady because white American English largely ignored it. Published dictionaries didn’t include woke.

Then in the late 2000s, “I stay woke” was the catchy refrain of Erykah Badu’s 2007 song “Master Teacher.” Lead Belly didn’t have Twitter, but after #blacklivesmatter took off as a hashtag in 2014, #staywoke frequently accompanied it. [...]

In 2021, conservatives have cannily identified woke’s catchiness — and they’ve pounced.

Donald Trump never once publicly uttered the adjective woke when he lived in the White House, but he seems to have learned the word recently, calling out “woke” generals in June and saying that “woke politics” accounted for the U.S. Women’s Soccer Team’s disappointing Olympics performance. Since the start of 2021, Republican politicians including Pat Toomey, Brian Fitzpatrick, Scott Perry, Mitch McConnell, Elise Stefanik, Mike Pompeo, Brian Kemp, Josh Hawley, Ted Cruz, Marsha Blackburn, Dan Crenshaw, Rick Scott, Jim Jordan, Lauren Boebert, Rand Paul, Matt Gaetz, and Louis Gohmert — to name a few — have all derided “woke” liberals/socialists/military/culture/mobs/banks/whatever.

Everyone have a great day!