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Archive for March, 2011

President Nuance

March 28th, 2011

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If the United States does not act, nothing happens. That’s been the main rule of international politics since World War II. It’s what President Clinton meant when he said, in his Second Inaugural Address in 1997, “America stands alone as the world’s indispensable nation.”

What would have happened if the United States failed to act after Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in 1990? Most likely, nothing. Kuwait would now be part of Iraq. Having acted decisively in Kuwait, the first President Bush left the crisis in Bosnia to the Europeans. Bosnia was in Europe’s backyard. The U.S. had no vital interests there. So what happened? Nothing. The Europeans failed to act, and a new horror entered the world’s vocabulary: “ethnic cleansing.” Finally, the U.S. felt morally compelled to step in and lead a coalition to end the brutality.

When atrocities occurred in Cambodia, Rwanda, Congo and Darfur, the whole world – including the United States – looked away. So nothing happened. President Clinton ended up apologizing for America’s failure to act in Africa.

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Gay marriage: Don’t make it about ‘rights’

March 21st, 2011

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This piece was originally published in the Baltimore Sun.

“What do we want? EQUAL RIGHTS! When do we want them? NOW!”

Catchy — but it doesn’t sound much like a wedding vow.

When couples make that lifetime commitment to each other in front of friends and family on one of the biggest days of their lives, few of them cite the 1,138 federal rights they will gain by making the promise of marriage. And the words “tax benefits” rarely come up in the best man’s toast.

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But who’s the tea party’s candidate?

March 15th, 2011

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This piece was originally published in Politico.

You can’t a win horse race without a horse. That looks like a problem for tea party Republicans.

The tea party is the most dynamic movement the Republican Party has seen since Ronald Reagan. This movement has always taken pride in the fact that it has no acknowledged national leader or spokesperson.

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Common Ground on Abortion: A Study in Contrasts

March 9th, 2011

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This piece was originally published on The Huffington Post.

February 18th highlighted two starkly different approaches on the issue of abortion.

On that day, the Obama administration issued a rule that refined the “midnight regulations” on federal conscience clause protections that were issued by the Bush administration. The new HHS rule was in effect a partial rescission of the Bush regulation. The Obama rule kept in place key components of the 2008 rule and sought to carefully balance the rights of medical providers who have moral objections to certain procedures with the ability of patients to obtain the medical care they need. It was yet another illustration of the nuanced, respectful, common-ground approach that President Obama and his administration have long taken on the divisive issue of abortion.

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The Showdown to the Shutdown

March 7th, 2011

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First, Congress has to pass a budget for the remainder of 2011. The Republican-controlled House has already passed a 2011 budget with $61 billion in spending cuts. It’s a non-starter in the Democratic Senate.

A few weeks later, Congress has to vote on whether to raise the debt limit. Or else put the full faith and credit of the United States at risk. Tea Party activists in Speaker John Boehner’s home district have already written Boehner a letter warning him that “raising the debt ceiling is in direct conflict with the platform that you and the Republicans in Congress ran on in November.”

Later this year, Congress will have to pass a budget for fiscal year 2012, which begins in October 2011. Third showdown, same issues.

It looks like a government shutdown is three times as likely as it was in 1995. What’s different about 2011? Mainly, the personalities. For one thing, John Boehner is not Newt Gingrich. For another thing, Barack Obama is not Bill Clinton. Gingrich and Clinton were warriors – free-wheeling, sometimes reckless, willing to lead the troops into battle. Boehner and Obama are presenting themselves as conciliators trying to restrain the troops from drifting into war.

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Break Down Bureaucracy to Get Breakthrough Technologies

March 4th, 2011

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Washington policy wonks scoffed when the Obama Administration announced last year that the Department of Energy and Pentagon were going to collaborate in developing new clean energy technologies. They thought such a shot-gun marriage was impractical and  impossible to even get off the ground. Instead, it is proving to be model for the kind of culture of cooperation between government agencies that we desperately need if we are going to move to clean energy to save money, create new jobs and reduce our dependence on foreign oil.

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