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The Clintons came through for the Obamas in 2012. Last night Michelle Obama returned the favor.

In the midst of a tough re-election campaign that centered around a struggling economy, President Obama turned to Bill Clinton to give the nominating speech—and Clinton delivered, lending his high approval ratings and his legacy as a competent economic manager to the cause of defeating Mitt Romney. Obama at the time was at a low point, voters were tuning him out, and Clinton made the case for his re-election that Obama was unable to make himself, combining his gift for homespun oratory with a policy wonk’s command of the issues to dismantle Romney’s agenda. The speech lit up the convention hall. “He went long,” E.J. Dionne wrote at the time, “and they wanted him longer.”

The same could be said of Michelle Obama’s speech last night. It was much lighter on the policy, but was about as sophisticated a political speech as we have seen in the Obama era, giving voice to a public figure who has sometimes struggled to show her best side. This was not some obligatory quid pro quo—Michelle Obama at times seemed to channel a better version of Hillary Clinton, absorbing the themes of her campaign, internalizing them, and making them new, almost like a remix of a Clinton stump speech. Clinton’s long public track record fighting on behalf of women and families seemed like a reflection of Obama’s own political life. Even Clinton’s catchphrases—“I’m with her”, “cracks in the glass ceiling”—were woven in, with new life breathed into them. And in the ultimate tribute, Obama extended two of her strongest legacies to Clinton: that of a beloved role model and that of the first African-American first lady. The connection is made in this poignant passage:

...I wake up every morning in a house that was built by slaves.

And I watch my daughters, two beautiful, intelligent, black young women playing with their dogs on the White House lawn.

And because of Hillary Clinton, my daughters and all our sons and daughters now take for granted that a woman can be president of the United States.

The crowd—even the Bernie or Bust people!—wanted her longer. Has that ever happened before, in a speech about Hillary Clinton? It is especially remarkable when you compare it to another convention moment, in 2008, when Clinton gave a speech endorsing Barack Obama after a bruising primary. Throughout it all, Michelle Obama clapped politely, jaw clenched, looking for all the world like she couldn’t wait for Clinton to leave the stage.

This was true in a figurative sense as well. President Obama started his career as the anti-Bill Clinton, who was characterized in the 2008 primary as a cynical small-bore politician who had failed to make the lasting impact of a Reagan. But Obama soon discovered that, for all his political gifts, he couldn’t break free of the Clintons and leave them behind—in fact, he needed them. He especially needs them now, to protect and extend his legacy. For all the talk of Bernie’s revolution, the main story of this convention will be Obama handing back control of the party to the Clintons and the dawn of what one day may be known as the Obama-Clinton era. And the two sides, the two poles of the Democratic Party, first openly accepted their hyphenated fate in 2012.

February 22, 2017

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Mike Pence wants you to exercise the “individual responsibility” to not be poor or sick, like in the good ol’ days.

The vice president describes his party’s aspirational replacement for Obamacare as one that will “bring freedom and individual responsibility back to American health care.”

Keen-eyed health wonks will note the irony of Pence highlighting the importance of “individual responsibility.” Democrats cribbed the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate from conservatives—who devised it to prevent free-riding in the insurance market—to such an extent that its provisions are spelled out in law under the heading of “individual responsibility.”

This is clearly not what Mike Pence means when he talks about replacing Obamacare with something that enshrines “individual responsibility.” The key to understanding what he means is the word “back.” Before the ACA, there was no “individual responsibility” requirement to maintain insurance, and, relatedly, no requirement that insurance companies sell insurance to everyone on the individual market at an affordable price. If you were sick, or poor, or sick and poor, you were very likely priced out of the market or denied coverage altogether. The only way to guarantee yourself access to the market was to show enough “individual responsibility” not to be sick or poor in the first place. That’s what Mike Pence wants to go “back” to.

New Line Cinema

The Washington Post is a light in dark places when all other lights go out.

As Twitter has discovered today, the Post has quietly updated its homepage banner to accommodate the new slogan, “Democracy Dies in Darkness.” The slogan was first rolled out on Snapchat before making its way to the website’s front page, where the paper’s full audience could take it in—and subsequently mock it for sounding a whole lot like the official family words for House WaPo or a nugget of unusually contemporary Gandalf wisdom.

The origins of the phrase are fuzzy—according to WaPo communications VP Kris Coratti, it’s been a popular idiom among the staff for years. Apparently it’s been a longtime favorite of Bob Woodward (he’s been quoted as saying it as far back as 2010) and was parroted by Post owner/ambivalent Trump collaborator Jeff Bezos at least as early as May 2016, at a company event.

While it’s easy to make fun of the slogan’s grandiosity (as plenty on the right have been doing) and all the hard consonant alliteration, it is difficult to fault the sentiment in the same week that our president publicly branded the press the enemy of the American people. It’s too bad, then, that Coratti denied the move had anything to do with Trump.

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“Fake news” is still more trusted than Donald Trump.

Lots of folks became alarmed last week when the president lambasted “FAKE NEWS media” outlets (such as The New York Times, NBC, ABC, CBS, and CNN) as “the enemy of the American People.” But so far his efforts to delegitimize the press may only be hurting himself, according to today’s new Quinnipiac poll. In addition to finding that Trump’s approval rating is only 38 percent, the poll also tested Trump against his major domestic political target.

The first question on this subject asked: “Do you approve or disapprove of the way the news media has covered President Trump?” Here the media only made out at 45 percent approval, to 50 percent disapproval—thus suggesting that Trump’s instincts to target the media are good.

The problem is that when he was put up against the media, he didn’t fare so well. The next question: “Do you approve or disapprove of the way President Trump talks about the media?” The result was only 35 percent approval, and 61 percent disapproval.

And then this: “Who do you trust more to tell you the truth about important issues: President Trump or the news media?” The result was only 37 percent for Trump, and 57 percent for the news media.

These results were notably in line with Trump’s own approval ratings. Which might tell us something: Sure, people are iffy on the media. But if Trump thinks that blaming them can get him out of trouble, it doesn’t appear to actually be working for him.

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Tired of Earth? Well, NASA has some good news.

Scientists at the space agency have found seven “Earth-size, habitable zone planets” orbiting a dwarf star 40 light-years away. And just in time, too, because this planet is looking pretty crappy all of a sudden.

“It’s the first time that so many planets of this kind are found around a same star,” Michaël Gillon, the lead researcher, said at a press conference on Wednesday. The planets, he said, “could have some liquid water and maybe life on the surface.”

The star in this system, called Trappist-1, is “ultra-cool”—which is actually not a bro’d out way of saying it’s chill, but a reference to its temperature. Trappist-1 is about 9 percent of the mass of our sun, and about one-thousandth as bright. But the exoplanets orbit the tiny sun much more closely than the plants in our solar system, meaning they’re still potentially warm enough for life.

Here is a NASA artist’s rendering of what it might look like to stand on one of the exoplanets:

NASA.gov

We could work with this.

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Donald Trump’s campaign planted flattering stories in InfoWars to protect his fragile ego.

Throughout the 2016 campaign, staffers arranged press events and planted stories in conservative media for the purpose of affirming their boss’s greatness—dutifully presenting Trump with laudatory clips in the hope of taming his Twitter trigger finger and preventing him from lashing out at real and perceived slights.

“The key,” Politico reported on Wednesday, citing six campaign aides, was “to ensure that his personal media consumption includes a steady stream of praise. And when no such praise was to be found, staff would turn to friendly outlets to drum some up—and make sure it made its way to Trump’s desk.”

Specific instances in which aides deployed this strategy included his feud with former Miss Universe Alicia Machado and his meeting with the Gold Star Mothers of Florida—a story staffers pitched right-wing outlets to counter his war with Khizr Khan, the Muslim military father who lost his son in Iraq.

According to Politico, “A former senior campaign official said Nunberg and his successor, former communications director Jason Miller, were particularly skilled at using alternative media like Breitbart, Washington Examiner, Fox News, Infowars, and the Daily Caller to show Trump positive coverage.” When they successfully ensured this coverage was amplified on Twitter, aides would literally “print out and show a two-page list of tweets.”

The stated reason these former Trump aides talked to Politico is that they want to White House to follow their lead. Just over a month into Trump’s presidency, this is where we are: former staffers airing best practices for current staffers in the national press, all with the goal of restraining the president of the United States from reaming out the haters and losers on social.

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Blabbermouth Stephen Miller may have already sabotaged Trump’s next Muslim ban.

The Trump administration has promised to release a new executive order on immigration to replace the one that was stayed by federal courts, which have held that its blanket ban on travelers from seven Muslim-majority nations is unconstitutional. Speaking on Fox News, Miller said the new travel ban would “have the same basic policy outcome” as the previous order, differing only in technical respects.

With those words, Miller may have doomed the new order to the same fate as its predecessor, since a court challenge could easily argue that it has all the same legal problems. As the ACLU tweeted:

The first executive order was itself hurt in the courts because former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani boasted he had helped craft it with the intent of banning Muslims. The Trump administration’s problem is not only that it wants to do bad things, but that its officials, like Bond villains, can’t keep their big mouths shut about their schemes.

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Paul Ryan doesn’t understand his own definition of freedom.

In his latest effort to make the Republican case for ending the Affordable Care Act, the speaker of the House tweeted this:

The glaring problem here is the “ability to buy” part. Under the old order, far too many people didn’t have the ability to buy insurance in the first place. Or if they could, they were subjected to lifetime coverage limits, no coverage for pre-existing conditions, and any number of other personal barriers and restrictions.

And since Obamacare’s major accomplishment was to counter those forces, and thus enable people to get health insurance, that in turn opened up whole new areas of personal freedom: the ability to take risks and get new jobs, or start new businesses, and or simply have a sense of security and peace of mind.

So how exactly would it be a victory for “freedom” to pull out the rug from those who can finally buy health insurance?

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Betsy DeVos tried to do something good, so of course Donald Trump overruled her.

Against the education secretary’s objections, the administration is moving to reverse the Obama administration’s federal guidelines last year allowing students to use bathrooms corresponding with their gender identities.

“[Attorney General Jeff] Sessions, who strongly opposes expanding gay, lesbian and transgender rights, fought Ms. DeVos on the issue and pressed her to relent because he could not go forward without her consent. The order must come from the Justice and Education Departments,” The New York Times reported Wednesday. “DeVos, faced with the choice of resigning or defying the president, has agreed to go along.”

DeVos’s position isn’t entirely surprising. Her wealthy family has a history of funding anti-gay causes, but she herself quietly advocated for LGBT rights over the years, according to the Times. Yet Wednesday’s reporting suggests her personal moderation on this issue is irrelevant.

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer addressed the topic at Tuesday’s briefing, telling reporters, “I think that all you have to do is look at what the president’s view has been for a long time—that this is not something that the federal government should be involved in, this is a states’ rights issue.”

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Keith Ellison just got the worst endorsement possible.

This morning, Howard Dean endorsed Pete Buttigieg for DNC chair on Morning Joe, a segment that Trump surely watched during his allotted TV time. A few hours later, he weighed in on the race:

Back in July 2015, in an appearance on ABC, Ellison urged Democrats to “get ready” for the possibility that Trump would clinch the Republican nomination, which was vigorously laughed down by George Stephanopoulos and Maggie Haberman.

On the one hand, getting a shoutout from Trump is not great for anyone in the DNC race. And we can’t neglect to note Trump’s child-like inability to not make everything about big boy Trump. (Ellison fired back on Twitter with an appropriate response.)

But, on the other hand, Trump is actually pointing out something truly positive about Ellison—that unlike most Democrats, he grasped the threat of Trump’s presidency and gauged the sentiment of the country early on. It’s an instinct that is well-suited for someone who wants to head the DNC. In the most self-congratulatory way possible, it seems that Trump has accidentally made a good point.

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The bar for a sitting president has reached a new low.

President Trump’s rather perfunctory statement yesterday on the new wave of anti-Semitic attacks is earning him some qualified praise in the media.

From today’s Politico Playbook:

WELL, YESTERDAY didn’t go too badly. President Donald Trump went to the African-American History museum, where he disavowed racism and spoke out against a new wave of anti-Semitism. He didn’t tweet his thoughts until 6:23 p.m., when he said the “so-called angry crowds” at town halls around the country were “planned out by liberal activists.” There were no massive blowups to speak of. Sean Spicer seemed spry during his press briefing, too.

Here’s a sample of some headlines:

Is this the low bar we’ve reached? After the administration All-Lives-Matter’ed the Holocaust, Trump condemning anti-Semitism in a monotone voice counts as a comparatively good day. (The Times, to its credit, contextualized the remark by declaring it a “first.”) As for any praise of Sean Spicer being “spry,” this was the same day in which he pushed back against the Anne Frank Center: “I wish that they had praised the president for his leadership in this area.”