Sam Tanenhaus looks at how the presidency has become a whole lot less imperial.
AS the debate on the Syria intervention began in Congress last week, some wondered why President Obama, who has been frustrated repeatedly by Republican legislators, would risk being thwarted yet again and possibly jeopardize the ability of future presidents to pursue ambitious foreign policy objectives.
In explaining his decision, Mr. Obama stressed constitutional imperatives. “I’m the president of the world’s oldest constitutional democracy,” he said, adding that he must respect “members of Congress who want their voices to be heard.”
But Mr. Obama might also have been acknowledging something else: that he holds office at a time when the presidency itself has ceded much of its power and authority to Congress. His predecessors found this, too. Bill Clinton discovered it after the 1994 election, when Newt Gingrich, the architect of the Republican victory in the House, briefly seemed the most powerful politician in the land.
George W. Bush discovered it 10 years later when he claimed a mandate after his re-election, only to see two of his prized programs — privatizing Social Security and immigration reform — wither amid resistance in Congress.
Or, it could be that the presidency is as powerful as ever, and Bush never had the mandate he claimed after a very narrow victory in an election marred by swift boat politics. Hmm, which is more likely?
Come inside for more punditry.
Maureen Dowd goes out of her way to irritate me.
The winner of the Nobel Peace Prize had been up late pleading for war.
The president looked exhausted as he met the press in St. Petersburg on Friday. The man elected because of his magical powers of persuasion had failed to persuade other world leaders at dinner the night before about a strike on Syria.
He said he had told his fellow leaders, “I was elected to end wars and not start them.”
But in life, and especially in Washington, people sometimes end up becoming what they start out scorning.
It's not that I disagree with her about the bitter irony around this moment. It's Dowd's irrestiable urge to couch everything in the terminology of a high school snit that drives me to distraction. For example, the title of this piece, "Barry’s War Within." It's not cute, Maureen. And it's not seventh grade.
Frank Bruni has the opposite problem
OUR country is about to make the most excruciating kind of decision, the most dire: whether to commence a military campaign whose real costs and ultimate consequences are unknowable.
But let’s by all means discuss the implications for Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, Iowa, New Hampshire and 2016. Yea or nay on the bombing: which is the safer roll of the dice for a Republican presidential contender? Reflexively, sadly, we journalists prattle and write about that. We miss the horse race of 2012, not to mention the readership and ratings it brought. The next election can’t come soon enough.
The media has a wearying tendency — a corrosive tic — to put everything that happens in Washington through the same cynical political grinder, subjecting it to the same cynical checklist of who’s up, who’s down, who’s threading a needle, who’s tangled up in knots, what it all means for control of Congress after the midterms, what it all means for control of the White House two years later.
Rather than showing how much he looks down on the people he writes aboutm ala Dowd, Bruni is intent on writing with the kind of heavy solemnity that makes it clear he believes his words should be shipped to you on stone tablets. Plus he's wrong 99.9% of the time.
<Ross Douthat is terribly concerned for the president. Terribly.
Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to a foreign policy fiasco.
All along, it’s been clear that President Obama has nothing but bad options in Syria’s civil war. Now, though, he’s found a way to put Congress in a similarly unfortunate position. When the House and Senate vote on whether to authorize strikes on Bashar al-Assad, they’ll be choosing between two potentially disastrous paths: either endorse a quasi-war that many constituents oppose and that this White House seems incapable of justifying on the merits, or vote to basically finish off the current American president as a credible actor on the world stage.
Surely even Douthat can see that, for the GOP, this is treated as a goal, not a problem.
Fredrick Kagan wants more, bigger attacks on Syria.
The idea is gaining ground in some circles that an excessively limited strike against Bashar al-Assad’s chemical weapons program would undermine U.S. credibility and interests more than would a decision not to strike. On its face, this argument is appealing: After all the buildup and expressions of moral indignation, supporters of intervention would, of course, feel let down by a weak attack. Assad and his Russian and Iranian backers would no doubt declare that they have once again defeated the great superpower. And the media may fill with questions about the United States’ strength and determination.
But even a weak strike is more in line with U.S. interests than a refusal to strike or, worse, congressional action blocking any attack. Not just U.S. credibility but also the will of the Syrian opposition is at stake.
So if you're wondering who does support going into Syria, Kagan works for the American Enterprise Institute.
William Galston and Elaine Kamarck have a perscription for the GOP.
The GOP is in serious trouble — and it is trouble that we, as long-time Democrats, recognize all too well.
Since their defeat in 2012, Republicans have offered plenty of excuses: candidates who can’t fire up the base, gaps in messaging and technology, the hard-to-match charisma of a historic president. And most Republican leaders seem to hope that cosmetic changes will be enough to reverse course in 2016 — without challenging the convictions of the party’s core supporters.
A quarter of a century ago, it was our party that was in a bad way. After losing a third presidential election in a row, Democrats offered a litany of explanations for what had gone wrong. Many of the recriminations focused on 1988 candidate Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis. Others pointed to fundraising and technology, media and momentum. Even after Dukakis’s defeat at the hands of a decidedly uncharismatic George H.W. Bush, Democrats continued to tell themselves that their fortunes would start looking up when Ronald Reagan left the arena.
The advice Galston and Kamarck offer seems clear... only there's no one on the right capable of applying it.
I don't want to say I told you so about the relationship between gut biota and weight, but...
The trillions of bacteria that live in the gut — helping digest foods, making some vitamins, making amino acids — may help determine if a person is fat or thin.
The evidence is from a novel experiment involving mice and humans that is part of a growing fascination with gut bacteria and their role in health and diseases like irritable bowel syndrome and Crohn’s disease. In this case, the focus was on obesity. Researchers found pairs of human twins in which one was obese and the other lean. They transferred gut bacteria from these twins into mice and watched what happened. The mice with bacteria from fat twins grew fat; those that got bacteria from lean twins stayed lean.
In fact, the part of the study that most surprised other experts was an experiment indicating that, with the right diet, it might be possible to change the bacteria in a fat person’s gut so that they promote leanness rather than obesity. The investigators discovered that given a chance, and in the presence of a low-fat diet, bacteria from a lean twin will take over the gut of a mouse that already had bacteria from a fat twin. The fat mouse then loses weight. But the opposite does not happen. No matter what the diet, bacteria from a fat mouse do not take over in a mouse that is thin.