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Obama's Problem

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President Obama has a problem: According to a Washington Post poll released this morning, 78% of all Americans approved of his handling of the Tucson shooting, compared to only 12% who disapproved. Why should that be a problem? 78% is a pretty high number, no?

The problem is that President Obama earned those high marks because in the wake of the killings in Tucson, he was called upon to play the role of a head of state, to appear not as the spokesman for a partisan position or a political point of view, but to speak for the nation. And, he did it masterfully. The difficulty is that the modern presidency does not offer that many opportunities for Obama to act exclusively as head of state. Most times, he is also called upon to be the head of government as well, the leader of a political party involved in an often bitter struggle with political opponents.

Yahoo Watch: Washington Times

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Over at USAToday, Cathy Grossman calls attention to an editorial by the Washington Times that defends Sarah Palin from her critics regarding her unfortunate, and historically feeble, use of the term "blood libel" to describe those who have criticized her polarizing language. Hard enough to defend her use of the term, given the fact that a few bad days of press coverage does not compare with the murder of Jews for which the real blood libel served as an excuse. But, the editors say that Palin has been subjected to a "pogrom" another historically loaded term linked to persecution of the Jews. To be clear, Jews were murdered in pogroms. Jewish women were raped in pogroms. Jewish property was vandalized or destroyed or confiscated in pogroms. Being chided by Keith Olbermann is not the same thing as a pogrom.

Gay Groups' Myopia

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Several gay rights organizations are upset that the Justice Department has filed a brief, a somewhat lukewarm brief but a brief nonetheless, in defense of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). They note, correctly, that as a candidate, President Obama opposed DOMA and advocated for its repeal. But, a campaign promise is not an oath, and the President's oath of office requires him and the Justice Department to defend federal laws. Gay rights groups are free to argue that DOMA should be repealed, although given the outcome of last year's election, I do not imagine the new House will put such repeal at the top of their to-do list. But, criticizing the President, who just went to the mat to repeal Don't Ask; Don't Tell, is bizarre and myopic. Do they really want to set the precedent that a President can choose which laws to enforce and which to ignore?

Remembering Dr. King

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Monday is the day the nation will commemorate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. I understand entirely why some choose to mark the day by engaging in some specific work of social justice, by going out to feed the hungry or clothe the naked. It is a beautiful way to remember Dr. King. But only, and I repeat the adverb, only if we have first learned about Dr. King.

Faith Leaders To Congress: Help Tone It Down

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A group of faith leaders from many denominations have written a letter to members of Congress in the wake of the Arizona massacre, calling for less rancor and citriol in public debate. The letter was released by the group Faith in Public Life. Here is the full text:

Dear Members of Congress,

As Americans and members of the human family, we are grieved by the recent tragedy in Tucson, Arizona. As Christian, Muslim and Jewish leaders, we pray together for all those wounded, including Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords as she fights for her life. Our hearts break for those lives lost and for the loved ones left behind. We also stand with you, our elected officials, as you continue to serve our nation while coping with the trauma of this senseless attack.

This tragedy has spurred a sorely needed time of soul searching and national public dialogue about violent and vitriolic political rhetoric. We strongly support this reflection, as we are deeply troubled that rancor, threats and incivility have become commonplace in our public debates.

How We Mourn Together & How Obama Saved Last Night

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I was feeling churlish about the non-denominational memorial service last night as it began. It is at moments like this that I wish we had an established church. Non-denominational tends to turn into lowest common denominator pretty quickly, and we cast our politicians in the roles of preachers, a role for which they are usually ill-equipped and are constitutionally ill-suited: In the face of death, the sure hope in the Resurrection is the only hope available, and Americans squirm when politicians get too doctrinal.

GOP Hypocrisy Watch: Whiplash

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Jonathan Chait, at the New Republic, explains (sort of) how Republicans were opposed to high-risk pools, then angry they were delayed, and now that they are delayed, the want to...well, it is not clear what they want to do with the high-risk pools. But that is what happens when you are more committed to politics than to policy. Chait's piece would be funny if the GOP was still in the minority but seeing as they are not, it is just depressing.

WaPo is Wrong, Wrong, Wrong

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This morning, the editors of the Washington Post weigh in on plans to build a high speed rail system in California. They raise understandable worries about the plans for the rail system, the imprecise studies about ridership, etc. These are all important issues, although the editors of the Post exercised far less scrutiny when looking at the studies that they claimed justified a new "Purple Line" in DC's suburbs.
But, the Post's editors have missed the forst for the trees. America no longer builds great public works. Most visitors to Washington will have gone to Union Station, the magnificent train terminal opened in 1907. Penn Station in New York used to be a similarly grand structure until it was torn down. Grand Central Station continues to impress with its architecture and its utility. Why do we not build such grand structures anymore?

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September 12-25, 2014

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