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A weekly review of the rogues and scoundrels of American politics

The Republicans Would Have Booted Dianne Feinstein by Now

President Biden’s agenda will be imperiled unless Democrats summon the courage to end this madness.

Kent Nishimura/Getty Images

This week an astute Twitter user reminded me of an interesting fact from our recent political history. In early January 2018, Democrat Doug Jones, the winner of a special election in Alabama some weeks prior, joined the U.S. Senate. This took the then Republican majority to a tight 51–49 margin—a majority that was all the more fragile by dint of the fact that one of their own, Mississippi Senator Thad Cochran, was in extremely poor health. An October 2017 article from Politico described the lawmaker as “frail and disoriented” and recounted one incident in which the senator got lost on the way to the Senate chamber and another in which he voted the wrong way. It also reported that the senator was determined to stay in office. “Don’t believe everything you hear,” Cochran quipped when asked about retirement rumors. Nevertheless, by April Fools’ Day of 2018, he’d been shown the door.

The Democrats find themselves in a similar jam today: clinging to a razor-thin majority, with one member in poor health yet refusing to retire from her position (one that, extant reports suggest, she only sporadically remembers that she even holds). But in the case of California Senator Dianne Feinstein, while calls for her retirement are coming from inside the House (of Representatives), Democratic leaders in the Senate do not yet seem to have the stomach to force her out. Their timidity is putting President Joe Biden’s agenda at risk.

They are also risking their credibility. On April 12, Politico reported that while Democrats were growing increasingly concerned that Feinstein’s bout with shingles might be severe enough to close off any possibility of her return to action, the California senator floated the idea of having a temporary replacement fill her seat on the powerful committees on which she sits (most importantly, the Judiciary Committee). It was a request that Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer appeared to have accepted with a stunning amount of sanguinity, in the wide-eyed belief that this was a realistic and actionable resolution.

It fell to TNR’s Grace Segers to point out that there wasn’t much of a precedent for temporarily replacing someone on a committee and that Republicans were absolutely going to put the kibosh on any attempt at such a move. But Schumer, with the same determination to march off to certain defeat that Faramir demonstrated in his hopeless effort to retake the city of Osgiliath in Return of the King, got the upper House to vote on this doomed plan and took a wholly unnecessary L at the hands of Senate Republicans. The entire episode ended up emphasizing two things: Schumer’s naïveté when it comes to the modern Republican Party and the Democrats’ lack of nerve in the face of an (easily resolvable) problem.  

Now Democrats in increasing numbers are calling for Feinstein to resign so that California Governor Gavin Newsom can name a replacement and return the Senate to its normal order. But it remains to be seen whether Democratic leaders—who seem inclined to simply accommodate Feinstein’s lengthy absence—will do the right thing and speed this matter to its resolution. And Feinstein still has some defenders who characterize the demand that she quit as sexist. “I’ve never seen them go after a man in the Senate in that way,” said former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. (I will refer her to the first paragraph of this story for some much-needed edification.)

While Democrats dither on the horns of this eminently solvable dilemma, they incur no small cost to their agenda. Without a majority, the Senate Judiciary Committee cannot continue to do the necessary work of confirming Biden’s judicial nominees, the one material way that Democrats can quickly and effectively respond to Donald Trump’s wholesale makeover of the federal judiciary. Moreover, the Democratic members of the committee are unable to respond as robustly to the numerous unfolding stories of Justice Clarence Thomas’s evident corruption because they need a majority to issue a subpoena. This is a lot of critical work that voters asked Democrats to do that won’t get done as we wait for Feinstein to either return or not return.

In the face of Senate Democrats’ determined march toward self-abnegation, it’s hard not to look back at the events of 2018 in admiration of the GOP. Faced with a similar dilemma, the Republicans found the will to make the quick decisions they needed to make in order to wield power in a maximal fashion. It’s a model of determined governance. So is, believe it or not, Representative George Santos’s continued presence in the House. He may be a full-spectrum embarrassment as a human being, but he’s an important facilitator of Republican power in the lower chamber, and so he remains a member of the GOP caucus—if not in good standing, then in “good enough” standing. Last week, he announced he’ll be seeking reelection, and why not? Two years of doing his duty will forgive a great many sins—up until the point he’s either mentally or physically infirm, that is.

Meanwhile, the Democrats faff about, allowing an octogenarian multimillionaire with badly diminished faculties to continue to freeze their agenda because too many of them believe it is somehow cruel and demeaning to ask a lawmaker who’s no longer capable of doing her work to step aside and spend her last years on earth reclining on a mountain of money.

This article first appeared in Power Mad, a weekly TNR newsletter authored by deputy editor Jason Linkins. Sign up here.

It’s Really Quite Simple: Republicans Hate Young People

For all its grousing about “liberal indoctrination,” the GOP has no one to blame but itself for alienating the youth of America.

Alex Wong/Getty Images
Former Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker

A liberal victory in Wisconsin’s recent high-stakes state Supreme Court election has left former Governor Scott Walker in a foot-stamping, multiplatform fume that targeted the young voters who swung behind the victorious Janet Protasiewicz. “Younger voters may be the behind [sic] the stinging loss for conservatives in WI this week,” he tweeted. “We have to undo years of liberal indoctrination.”

Not content to just tweet, Walker took his complaints to Fox News in an attempt to expand his brief against the “indoctrination” of youth. In his telling, the younger generations have been too exposed to “radical ideas,” such as “climate change and defunding the police … abortion, and all these sorts of other issues.” What’s more, “they have never heard the opposing viewpoint. And so, if that’s all they hear in college and high school and social media and culture, you can see why they’ve gone so lockstep in that regard. We’ve got to turn that around.”

Walker’s theory of the Wisconsin election might be more convincing if there wasn’t a far less convoluted explanation at the ready, which is simply that young voters did hear the opposing view and found it both substantially objectionable and antithetical to their interests.

Perhaps the largest matter at stake in that election was abortion. Everywhere you look, Republicans are finding it very difficult to actually run on the post-Roe dystopia they’ve engineered—so much so that they’re now trying to get people to just stop talking about it. But the fact that young voters back both reproductive rights and the Democrats who support them, by wide margins, is very well known. Republicans have had ample opportunities to account for this reality and moderate their position. They’ve failed to do so, and, wouldn’t you know it, young people have noticed.

So while Walker may believe that some level of “indoctrination” is behind the way the youth vote disproportionately tilts toward Democrats, perhaps there’s something to the theory that young voters are simply noticing what’s going on in the world around them and responding in kind to this abundance of observable information. For example, it could be that young Wisconsinites remember Walker, their would-be liberator from the chains of indoctrination, as the governor whose economic numbers lagged those of Democrat-run neighbor Minnesota, or the guy whose key achievement was saddling the state with his doomed FoxConn factory boondoggle.

Looking further afield, maybe young voters are similarly observing that Republicans seem to just not like them very much! They are probably reading about how conservatives are banning books and drag shows, demonizing gay and trans people, and thwarting progress on climate mitigation—an issue pretty dear to their hearts since they, along with their own children, will be greatly impacted by the environmental calamities to come. It could be that young voters actually have heard the “opposing view” very clearly and they find it to be out of touch and off-putting.

The GOP has had plenty of chances to avoid alienating young voters. Republican pollster Kristen Soltis Anderson has been sounding the alarm about this for several years now: In 2017, she warned that not only were young voters breaking toward Democrats “by massive margins,” they also weren’t “moving rightward” as they approached middle age. “Like the Gen Xers ahead of them,” she wrote, “they’re instead more and more likely to decide ‘liberal’ suits them just fine as a label.” This all came home to roost in 2018, when the highest youth turnout in the history of midterm elections swept Democrats into office. Four years later, the youth vote hit slightly smaller heights—but young voters got the lion’s share of the credit for breaking the “red wave” that was supposed to be on the way.

Naturally, nothing is promised to Democrats. In recent weeks, President Joe Biden has given young voters cause for consternation by backing a TikTok ban and landing in the squishy middle on the rights of trans athletes. And he’s historically had struggles keeping the affections of young voters—in 2021, his approvals with this cohort took a worrying drop that made headlines. Fortunately for Biden, this support rebounded by Election Day in 2022, perhaps because these voters were able to discern the difference between a Democratic Party filled with normal human beings who were sincerely interested in crafting policy and a Republican Party filled with antisocial weirdos.

After taking a licking in 2022, Republicans once again failed to respond with soul-searching about losing the youth vote. Instead, they packed the postelection discourse with complaints about voters they’d already so badly alienated, grousing about how the voting age was too low. In recent weeks, a concerted effort has begun to suppress the youth vote in Texas by banning polling places on college campuses; similar measures are likely on the way across the country. And so all of this pathetic caviling about youth indoctrination rings false against the clear evidence that what Republicans actually want is simply to crush the political power of the young.

This article first appeared in Power Mad, a weekly TNR newsletter authored by deputy editor Jason Linkins. Sign up here.

A Mammoth Meatball of Plutocratic Failure

This is how modern life became one big trash pile—and what it will take to extricate ourselves from the rubbish.

Fairfax Media/Getty Images

This week, there’s some good news for everyone who likes to see our titans of innovation doing what they do best: working at the remotest possible margins of the problems that currently assail the world. A “cultivated meat company” named Vow has created a meatball manufactured from the resurrected flesh of the woolly mammoth. Why, for God’s sake? Vow’s goal, as CEO George Peppou put it, is to “transition a few billion meat eaters away” from eating conventional meat, so they’re going to reinvent it: “We chose the woolly mammoth because it’s a symbol of diversity loss and a symbol of climate change.” I guess someone should let the doomsayers at the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change know that we’re well on the way to fixing the world, one plate of woolly mammoth bolognese at a time.

It’s hard to find a more incisive bit of entrepreneurial whimsy to highlight in a week where we’re all a little less certain about where all our money went and to what purpose it’s being put. The trains are still derailing, our health care system is still a nightmare, and mass shootings are still as regular as rain, so we can all safely assume that our nation’s considerable wealth isn’t being funneled toward ameliorating these problems. I hate to be cynical, but I’m starting to wonder if maybe our free market isn’t quite matching capital to need with the ruthless efficiency we’ve been promised.

As everyone knows by now, the avatar of this profligate era, Elon Musk, has used $44 billion to break Twitter, essentially taking the median lifetime earnings of more than 25,000 ordinary Americans and setting it on fire, for thrills. (Musk now says Twitter is worth less than half what he paid.) Another heaping pile of cash was recently given to Silicon Valley Bank to repair the damage caused by several of Musk’s fellow travelers, who somehow managed to summon a bank run into existence over a group chat, after which they used Twitter’s desiccated remains to bully the Federal Reserve into providing a bailout.

For the rest of us, navigating the world well beneath these plutocratic aeries, everything seems to be descending into newer and ever more elaborate levels of what Cory Doctorow refers to as “enshittification”—the process by which a platform first treats its users well, then abuses them for the benefit of its business customers, then finally abuses those customers in order to “claw back all the value for themselves”—at which point only a cruddy, zombified version of the original product remains. If it doesn’t sound familiar to you, try buying something from Amazon or take Google for a spin.

In a recent newsletter, writer and P.R. professional Ed Zitron gave voice to everyone who’s simply in the mood to just burn it all down:

The problem is that it’s been a minute since we’ve seen anything new from tech that has truly improved most people’s existence. People have been able to justify the opulence and societal hero complex of the Valley because of the vague promise that life would improve as a result of giving them that space. Except the last decade of tech has been filled with broken promises: the average person was not enriched by cryptocurrency, virtual reality remains … broken, and autonomous cars have mostly resulted in a dangerous open-air beta test on the world’s roads.

While it may feel good to contemplate digging some ditches for the oligarchs of Big Tech, it’s important to remember that they hardly accomplished all of this rack and ruin on their own. This malformed world has been shaped, principally, through public policy—and bad public policy at that. As The New Republic’s Tim Noah reported in September 2020, a study from the Rand Corporation laid out in no uncertain terms that a substantial amount of wealth owed to ordinary Americans was stolen, thanks to a half-century of unjust and inequitable economic policymaking. Over the course of decades, hundreds of wrong decisions have been made about whom to tax and what to regulate, who should get punished and what should get bailed out, and which finger should go on what scale. It is those decisions that have put us here: knee-deep in the Great Enshittening.

Here’s a campaign platform, if anyone wants it: Things should work. Trains should not derail. Rich nations should not struggle to provide pandemic relief. Concert ticket receipts should not look like epic poems. The internet should not be a wilderness of junk. And hey, just spitballing here, but maybe the next big pile of money should actually go to, say, the millions of college students who played by the rules and are now shackled with a lodestone of debt rather than going to the same old band of rich narcissists who put us in this hole. These are the kinds of political choices that we can and should make: Let’s bench this cabal of ungrateful plutocrats and put some fresh starters on the field. It took one set of policies to create this mammoth meatball of shit and failure we’ve all been asked to eat; it will take another set of policies to set a new table for the future.

This article first appeared in Power Mad, a weekly TNR newsletter authored by deputy editor Jason Linkins. Sign up here.

What the Right Got Wrong About “Woke” Banks

Conservatives raced to push a weird myth that the collapse of Silicon Valley Bank was a result of its diverse workforce. Next time: Google.

Andrea Ronchini/Getty Images

The story of Silicon Valley Bank’s collapse isn’t terribly complicated. A bipartisan push for bank deregulation paved the way for incredibly risky behavior at SVB. As Bloomberg’s Matt Levine explained, the bank was funded by deposits from Silicon Valley firms and venture capitalists that exceeded the $250,000 U.S. deposit insurance cap and were “disproportionately” invested in “U.S. Treasuries and agency mortgage-backed securities” without much protection in place to guard against the possibility of an interest rate hike. “But then,” Levine notes, “rates went up a lot, pretty fast,” causing the “market value of SVB’s bonds to decline by some $15 billion, to the point … its losses on the bonds were enough to wipe out almost all of its equity capital and leave it with assets, at market value, worth only very slightly more than its liabilities.”

Moreover, the depositors were—as Adam Tooze explained—“in no regular sense, depositors” but, rather, “badly run and ill-advised businesses that for obscure reasons parked huge cash balances in a highly vulnerable bank.” These depositors were also “extremely prone” to the “influence exerted by a small group of VC advisors.” Max Read convincingly argues that those V.C. advisers essentially group-chatted the bank run into existence and touched off a stampede of depositors racing to get their money out of the bank’s coffers.

The plain and simple truth of what happened to SVP has, in some corners, inspired a constructive debate about sane policy solutions to prevent similar bank disasters. But inside the right-wing fever swamp, whose denizens are so deeply invested in tying everything of importance back to the weird notions that they are constantly entertaining, there’s a different story being told about SVB: It failed because it was “woke.”

The timing, for the purposes of this newsletter, could not have been better. Last week, I wrote about how the GOP has nearly completed its shift from a party that once diligently advanced conservative policy ideas to one that’s principally concerned with trying to invent a factual basis for its alternate reality. A prime example would be Tucker Carlson’s laborious attempt to backfill evidence for his claim that the January 6 rioters were peaceful sightseers. Then, right on schedule, came an incredible example of this phenomenon in the right’s reaction to SVB’s collapse.

As TNR’s Tori Otten reported,  a slew of conservatives—from Donald Trump Jr. and Stephen Miller, presidential aspirants Ron DeSantis and Vivek Ramaswamy, to myriad Fox News luminaries—responded to the news by making the case that wokeness was somehow to blame. This idea eventually made it to the Wall Street Journal op-ed pages, where columnist Andy Kessler mused, “In its proxy statement, SVB notes that besides 91% of their board being independent and 45% women, they also have ‘1 Black,’ ‘1 LGBTQ+’ and ‘2 Veterans.’ I’m not saying 12 white men would have avoided this mess, but the company may have been distracted by diversity demands.” I didn’t realize the right was disparaging veterans like this now.

It’s often the case that the constantly shifting definition of “woke” among right-wing thought leaders—or their hilarious struggle to define it altogether—makes it hard to get a fix on what they’re actually talking about, but in this telling it appears that these critics are mostly using “woke” as a byword for “having a diverse staff.” Unfortunately for everyone making the claim that diversity is the proximate cause of SVB’s failure, the merits of having a diverse workforce at financial sector institutions, as well as other firms, is something that has been relentlessly studied—and the consensus is that diversity is a much more profitable path.

For example, there’s a 2015 McKinsey study that found “diverse companies … are better able to win top talent and improve their customer orientation, employee satisfaction, and decision making,” which “leads to a virtuous cycle of increasing returns.” The firm’s 2019 follow-up study found that “top-quartile companies for racial and ethnic inclusion outperformed those in the fourth quartile by 36% in profitability.” A 2018 study of venture capital firms from Harvard Business Review found that diversity “significantly improves financial performance on measures such as profitable investments at the individual portfolio-company level and overall fund returns.” In 2023, Morgan Stanley Research examined 1,875 companies and found that those who scored better on the firm’s proprietary gender-inclusion algorithm outperformed less diverse firmsThe findingsacross multiple fieldsare remarkably consistent.

The speed by which this omnidirectionally incorrect take about SVB failing on account of its wokeness spread was nevertheless impressive—as was the depth of its penetration: The Journal’s opinion editors have long been on a crusade to completely undermine both the specific work of its journalists and a free society in general, but it’s still remarkable to see them set fire to the paper’s reputation as the premier journal of the investor class by offering such compellingly wrong information about what practices are more profitable than others. It just goes to show that you should never doubt the extent to which the right are willing to over-leverage their reputations to make a bank run on reality itself.

Republicans Are Scrambling to Invent Facts for Their Alternate Reality

The GOP’s big project isn’t creating jobs or beating inflation, it’s trying to make their weird and ever expanding canon of lore and grievances make sense.

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Ohio Congressman Jim Jordan

Representative Jim Jordan rarely makes a public appearance in which he does not look psychically frustrated on some deep level, but he has been having—for his standards—a rough time of late. You see, the Ohio Republican is currently pulling double duty as chairman of the House Judiciary Committee and heading up his other brainchild: the Select Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government, a weird star chamber in which the many tangled strands of the Fox News Extended Universe are expected to get a congressional hearing now that the GOP controls the House.

But as The New York Times recently reported, things have not been going well for Jordan. His first slew of ostensibly blockbuster whistleblowers have, according to Democrats on the panel, “offered little firsthand knowledge of any wrongdoing or violation of the law.” The Times reporters concur, describing the motley crew that Jordan has summoned as “people who do not meet the definition of a whistle-blower and who have engaged in partisan conduct that calls into question their credibility. Furthermore, it raises questions about whether Republicans will be able to deliver on their ambitious plans to uncover misdeeds at the highest levels.”

In fairness, these are the subcommittee’s early days. But what’s coming down the pike doesn’t look too promising. It plans to delve into a quickly scuttled plan to build a disinformation bureau at the Department of Homeland Security. It’ll be making hay over school board protests, a matter that Democrats on the panel seem well positioned to counter. And then there will be a fuller airing of the so-called “Twitter files,” Elon Musk’s seriocomic demonstration of the law of diminishing returns that now only occupies the imagination of a handful of people with Substack newsletters.

It doesn’t sound like a recipe for turning things around. And as Axios recently reported, Jordan’s penchant for overpromising and under-delivering has earned him a sizable share of friendly fire on the right. “This is doomed to fail,” tweeted former Chuck Grassley aide Mike Davis. Fox News’s Jesse Watters has expressed similar worries on his show: “Make me feel better, guys. Tell me this is going somewhere. Can I throw someone in prison? Can someone go to jail? Can someone get fined?” Jordan has mustered little to counter these charges besides bragging about how his panel has sent out more subpoenas and letters than any other committee. It’s an old Beltway song and dance: pretending that activity constitutes achievement.

Ah, but who could have predicted this, besides everyone who’s been paying attention? The Republican Party, having abandoned the diligent work of governing, rarely attempts to make policy anymore. What little it’s cobbled together on that front is a mix of the unpopular and the unviable. Without any substantive project to which the GOP might anchor itself, the party has instead become the party of off-putting weirdness. Instead of writing laws, they write lore—a constantly updating canon of bewildering grievances and spectral enemies.

It can be hard to keep up. With each passing day, some new piece of culture-war detritus ends up receiving the full force of the conservative movement’s ire. One week, they’re angry because a cartoon depiction of a candy isn’t sexually desirable enough. The next, they’ve dreamt up some weird “woke” collaboration between Wall Street and climate activists, to explain away the simple fact that investors are, for good reason, not bullish on the future of coal. And then there are the big hits: The 2020 election was stolen, the “deep state” is conspiring against Republicans, the January 6 rioters are actually political prisoners.

Jordan’s weaponization committee has been likened, by far-too-charitable people, to a reprise of the 1975 Church Committee that investigated abuses by intelligence agencies. But as Joshua Zeitz explained in Politico, the comparison doesn’t hold up. Where the Church Committee was a wide-ranging bipartisan effort that brought real wrongdoing to light, Jordan’s been tasked with backfilling some kind of factual basis for the conservative movement’s canon of anti-reality lore.

Naturally, Jordan is hardly alone in this mad mission to find some sort of meat to stuff in these nothingburgers. This week, Tucker Carlson has been spinning far-right myths with his reels of footage from the January 6 riots—to the apparent dismay of many Fox News staffers as well as several senior Republicans, such as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who said, “It was a mistake, in my view, for Fox News to depict this in a way that’s completely at variance with what our chief law enforcement official here at the Capitol thinks.”

As my colleague Alex Shephard noted, Carlson’s attempt at revising history is all the more ironic given what’s been disclosed during Fox News’s long-running lawsuit with Dominion Voting Systems. Thanks to a voluminous cache of text messages from Fox News personalities, the world now has a pretty clear view that the network’s stars—Carlson included—never believed the central claims of a stolen election that sparked the January 6 insurrection.

But what’s all the more extraordinary is that what Carlson actually believes is a bunch of utterly normal stuff about Donald Trump. “I hate him passionately,” he texted, adding that he “truly [couldn’t] wait” for the chance to “ignore Trump most nights.” His assessment of Trump’s presidency was dire: “We’re all pretending we’ve got a lot to show for it, because admitting what a disaster it’s been is too tough to digest. But come on. There really isn’t an upside to Trump.”

This is the galling thing about the GOP’s entanglement with Trump. There were moments when the party could have rejected his destructive influence, but they demurred. Now, as Jordan and Carlson weave twisted fairy tales from their respective perches, I wonder if anyone will finally realize that it would have all been so much easier to simply tell the truth.

The Deficit Hawks Are Circling the Biden Administration

It’s been a season of solid economic ideas from the White House. But some bad ideas are starting to bubble up from Washington’s sordid corners.

Alex Wong/Getty Images

As the nation begins to ease into the presidential shadow primary, President Joe Biden seems to be on slightly firmer footing. His approval ratings are up, in conjunction with his recent State of the Union address, which was well received by the public. That his speech, a bold statement of intent for the next two years, was so widely admired should put wind in the president’s sails. As TNR’s editor Michael Tomasky noted, it was strewn with good notions on how to build an economy that works for working people—decent grist for a reelection campaign.

Good notions seem to be having a heyday. Democrats, having made a lot of noise about the high cost of insulin, got to watch Eli Lilly respond to the pressure and slash the price of this lifesaving medication. Democrats also recently bullied would-be Republican policy czar Rick Scott into backing down from the plan to sunset Social Security and Medicare that he’d so proudly stuffed into his policy manifesto. Now there’s even some bipartisan movement on a bill to help prevent rail disasters like the one that has endangered the town of East Palestine, Ohio. There’s still plenty of rancor and fury in Washington as the two parties battle for power. Still, it feels like we’ve fallen, for now, into a sweet spot where good ideas seem to have momentum.

Alas, in the midst of life, we are in death. For all this good news, the conditions remain ripe for bad ideas to flower. And there’s something eerily familiar about where we are right now: There’s a divided government, a Democratic president who hasn’t entirely lost his penchant for compromise, a looming debt ceiling fight, and a town full of deficit hawks forever circling their next kill. Biden’s Democratic predecessor, Barack Obama, faced more or less the same conditions during his tenure, and he wasn’t always successful. Biden has vowed not to repeat the same mistakes, but it’s hard not to feel a little bit spooked.

If you’re sensing the stirrings of an ill wind, you’re not alone. As Politico’s Adam Cancryn reported this week, Biden’s been contemplating taking on “a new economic persona,” and unfortunately, that persona is “deficit hawk.” According to this report, the president is looking to make “fiscal restraint” one of his administration’s watchwords, with deficit reduction an “increasingly central focus of his agenda.” As you might imagine, this isn’t being greeted with universal approval—some Democrats are worried that “it could undermine the case for future crisis aid—or backfire on Biden himself if the U.S. sinks into a recession that results in greater government spending and fewer tax receipts, driving the deficit higher.”

Meanwhile, trouble is brewing in another corner of Washington, D.C., where it is said that a bipartisan group of senators are looking at raising the retirement age to 70. Now it should be said that the word “bipartisan” is doing a lot of work in this telling: The proposal is the brainchild of a bunch of Republican senators and Maine’s often squirrelly independent, Angus King, who caucuses with Democrats. Raising the retirement age is a deficit-hack dream, but it would represent a substantial cut in benefits, hurt Black and working-class workers in particular, and redistribute a disproportionate share of the proceeds to high earners, who tend to live longer but don’t need the benefits as badly.

Naturally, there are better ideas at hand, chief among them being the raising or elimination of the income cap that currently allows the wealthiest among us to dodge paying their fair share into the Social Security fund. The status quo has resulted in a record share of earnings that aren’t subject to Social Security taxes; Tuesday, February 28, marked the last day this year that those earning a million dollars or more had to contribute to Social Security.

But there’s a big movement to finally change this, and Democrats have contributed two pieces of legislation that would soak the rich and save Social Security—the Social Security Expansion Act and Social Security 2100—which they, alongside Biden, can tout on the campaign trail. These policies are wildly popular. So much so that even Joe Manchin has rejected the idea of raising the retirement age and has backed lifting the taxable wage cap.

It says a lot about how much ground has been covered between the Obama administration and Biden’s tenure that you can count on Manchin’s support for this plan. It only underscores how this is the worst possible time to allow the deficit hawks and the austerity pimps a chance to return to prominence. They have no constituency beyond a few cable news green rooms and newspaper editorial boards. And they consistently back the wrong economic plays. Rather than fret over the government’s deficits, Biden would be well served to focus his attention on the household debts of ordinary Americans, go to war against the nickel-and-dimers of the GOP-backed Junk Fee Empire, take on the small town–destroying freight rail plutocrats, and fight to preserve these vital benefit programs that have fueled the Good Life in America.

This article first appeared in Power Mad, a weekly TNR newsletter authored by deputy editor Jason Linkins. Sign up here.

Teachers With Night Jobs at Amazon Are Not a Feel-Good Story

Beneath a teasing, pleasing image lies a tale of unaddressed hardship.

Kerem Yucel/Getty Images
School teachers hold placards during the strike in front of the Justice Page Middle School in Minneapolis.

Have you ever noticed that so much of what’s sold as “good news” these days doesn’t seem all that good? There’s the self-sacrificing Texas teenager who’s helping her mom make ends meet by cashing out her own college fund. Or the Dallas–Fort Worth teacher who’s going the extra mile to keep her students’ achievement levels up by teaching from her hospital bed after cancer surgery. Or, just to provide an example that isn’t from Texas, there’s the 8-year-old kid from Vancouver, Washington, who raised thousands of dollars to pay off his classmates’ school lunch debt. Are we actually supposed to celebrate this? Why are these anecdotes cheerfully portrayed as acts of kindness when they’re actually tales of grim dystopia?

An especially grotesque example of this genre recently floated into my newsfeed from North Carolina. A recent post from the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools Twitter account, purportedly celebrating “Random Acts of Kindness Day,” related the news of a public fourth-grade teacher whose students has written “notes of appreciation for folks at the Amazon Fulfillment Center in Mebane, where [the teacher] is also a full time 5:30 p.m.-3:30 a.m./Mon.-Fri. HR manager.” The tweet continued: “(You read that right!) How kind!”

One would hope that the person who briefly posted about this teacher’s terrible employment situation did so out of some ironic attempt to raise awareness of the plight of North Carolina’s schools. Sadly, it’s an obvious example of what my former ThinkProgress colleague and TNR contributor Jessica Goldstein has referred to as “the feel-good feel-bad story.” “In the feel-good feel-bad story,” she wrote in 2018, “irrefutable proof of an institutional failure is sold as a celebration of individual triumph,” for the purpose of distracting us from “the structures that made such kindness, bravery, and fortitude necessary in the first place.”

The tweet from the Chapel Hill school system perfectly fits the mold of a “feel-good feel-bad” story. The institutional failure is obvious: Apparently, it’s quite difficult to live in North Carolina on either the salary of a full-time fourth-grade teacher or a full-time human resources manager. It’s also not clear when this teacher actually sleeps between the two jobs, given the half-hour commute from Carrboro to Mebane, the inevitable commutes to and from home, and the time this teacher spends working outside of her contract hours, as most teachers in the United States do. But this institutional failure is obscured by a supposed individual triumph that is meant to be a reward in itself, as if the fulfillment this educator allegedly receives from always working and never sleeping is some form of compensation.

Whoever sent this tweet demonstrated at least enough self-awareness to delete it, not long after it started attracting attention. That’s probably for the best, because as one local blogger noted, it surfaced unflattering facts: “A new teacher in North Carolina with no experience makes $37,000 per year (10 months), with a modest bump if they have an advanced degree or certification. The annual salary increases on a regular basis up to teachers with 25 years of experience, who are paid $54,000.” One North Carolina school principal recently summed up their personnel predicament like so: “It is incredibly difficult to find anybody that wants to teach, certainly, anyone that meets the qualifications to be eligible to teach.”

This is a national problem. Teachers are paid substantially less than workers with similar educational credentials. According to a 2018 analysis, “Teachers’ weekly wages lag by more than 25 percent compared to similarly educated professionals in 16 states. There are no states where teacher pay is equal to or better than that of other college graduates.” According to a new analysis by the Economic Policy Institute, that gap has only worsened in the years since. It’s becoming more common for teachers to have to work second jobs or hold down a side hustle, and according to a recent story in EdWeek, “new analysis conservatively estimates that there are more than 36,500 teacher vacancies across the United States, and the majority of states are experiencing teacher shortages.”

And there are solutions that don’t require acts of quiet individual heroism or elaborate displays of appreciation. Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders has proposed a measure called the Pay Teachers Act, which will establish a salary floor of $60,000 for all public school teachers, to be funded by an adjustment to the estate tax that currently allows the wealthiest Americans from sheltering their income from taxation. To Sanders’s mind, “If we can provide over a trillion dollars in tax breaks to the top 1 percent and large corporations, please don’t tell me that we cannot afford to make sure that every teacher in America is paid at least $60,000 a year.”

Our current teacher workforce is hobbled by second jobs and side hustles, which scares off the most talented potential full-time teachers and sabotages our kids’ educations and futures. Perhaps the people on the right who spent the last few years screeching at top volume about “learning loss” might be convinced to lend a hand to Sanders’s effort, and then we can celebrate what would truly be a feel-good story.

Did the Media Get Derailed in East Palestine, Ohio?

Critics who have blasted the press for ignoring the Norfolk Southern disaster have missed the mark, but not by much.

Smoke rises from a derailed cargo train in East Palestine, Ohio.
Dustin Franz/Getty Images
Smoke rises from a derailed cargo train in East Palestine, Ohio.

The February 3 derailment of a Norfolk Southern train and the cinematic environmental disaster that followed has plunged a small Ohio town into chaos. The New Republic’s Prem Thakker spoke with several residents of East Palestine, Ohio, this week, who have told a fairly consistent tale of related woes: sudden and worrying health concerns to humans and pets alike, a lack of guidance from local officials, and paltry offers of compensation from the rail company. The story, as a whole, contains the elements of something truly scandalous—a disaster of Deepwater Horizon proportions. But along the way, accusations of a second scandal have emerged from some quarters, who have accused the media of giving the story short shrift.

Is the accusation fully fair? It may not seem obvious, but for us to know anything about the derailment, some media, somewhere, had to cover it in some way. The truth of the matter is that the story is getting robust coverage, especially where it matters: locally. As Joe Donatelli, the digital director of News 5 in Cleveland explained in a long thread on Twitter, “To say it’s not being covered at all is wrong if you know how to Google.” Cable news channels and major national dailies have also, if somewhat laggardly, covered the story; there’s been no “news blackouts” of the events in East Palestine. Nevertheless, it’s clear that there are obvious expectations among the broader population of news consumers that aren’t being met by the big legacy media outlets.

So what is it that makes sufficient media coverage sometimes seem insufficient? There are some boring reasons: East Coast media bias, as The New Republic’s Matt Ford noted, is real—and it’s an especially galling factor in coverage of the environment. It’s not hard to imagine the western wildfires receiving substantially better coverage if the news industry were centered in California. But the perceived shortfall can’t be entirely attributed to industry shortcomings. Some have to do with the facts on the ground.

We should be thankful that there is not a massive death toll (at least among humans) as a result of the derailment; we can also acknowledge that the lack of casualties makes the story less urgent to some newsroom leaders than, say, the recent mass shooting at Michigan State University. East Palestine’s emergency, moreover, will be slow to unfold. While we’re already getting a good sense that this train crash will have a dire environmental impact, the fuller picture those facts will ultimately present isn’t currently at hand. In fact, we may want to reserve judgment about how well the mainstream media covered this matter until a few weeks from now. When that fuller picture emerges, will the big leaguers still be willing to beat a drum?

The coverage of the derailment also suffered from the fact that cable news and the major newspapers were transfixed by a story that seemed, both at the time and in retrospect, much sillier: the Chinese spy balloon(s). But perhaps the biggest reason the derailment story hasn’t dominated the news cycle is that it lacks a clear and obvious partisan frame, and thus there’s no clean way to fit it into a tidy “left versus right” construct. The Deepwater Horizon disaster was a monumental story in part because its proximity to New Orleans inspired the media to ask if this was “Barack Obama’s Katrina.” With regard to the derailment, we don’t have clear partisan villainy: It’s a product of Republican-backed deregulation and austerity, the Biden-supported quashing of a rail workers’ strike, and years of bipartisan obeisance to shareholder capitalism that created incentives for firms like Norfolk Southern to lengthen their trains without adding upgraded safety measures.

That this failure has so many fathers also adds a level of complexity to confronting the powerful interests involved. There isn’t always a tremendous appetite for these kinds of confrontations at big legacy news organizations of the sort that, say, welcome Pentagon “message force multipliers” or uncritically print the accounts of cops as the first draft of a news story. From many thousands of feet in the air, perhaps the legacy media can see the balloons better, but they’re less attuned to the inequities at the root of these kinds of stories and have less of an understanding that “politics” can best be measured as a force that acts on ordinary people. There’s a reason that TNR’s Thakker was quicker to the punch in getting the straight dope from East Palestine locals than reporters at The New York Times or The Washington Post: We have fewer resources but a keener interest in that aspect of the story.

But there’s something genuinely gladdening to take away from this inquiry into the modern media. Those who’ve been left so vocally dissatisfied by the coverage of the Norfolk Southern disaster are demonstrating good instincts in terms of what should constitute substantive news coverage of the events that shape our lives. What’s more, they’re showing laudable character in their desire not to turn away from strangers in need. There’s no guarantee that there will be some widespread self-correction among the biggest media firms, but without this public consumer demand for a better brand of news, a better brand of news won’t be possible.

This article first appeared in Power Mad, a weekly TNR newsletter authored by deputy editor Jason Linkins. Sign up here.

The Case Against a Biden Run Is Obvious—and Weak

Democrats may fret over the president’s age, but they’re nowhere near ready to replace him.

Jacquelyn Martin/Getty Images

Did The New Republic’s Walter Shapiro just jinx the entire country? It seems as if I was just savoring the afterglow of his recent piece extolling the relative quietude of the pre-presidential primary season when all of a sudden, everything popped off. Nikki Haley announced her intention to run for president. Mike Pompeo put a toe in the water. Then Donald Trump accused Ron DeSantis of being a pedophile. So much for our sea of tranquility!

Still, let’s face it, this was inevitable: The Republicans are going to have a long and pyrotechnic skirmish to decide their presidential nominee. For those hoping for a similar spectacle on the Democratic side, however, reality provides precious little grist. But the world of hot takes and hypotheticals beckons. And this week, we got a classic of the genre in the form of a Michelle Goldberg piece titled, “Biden’s a Great President. He Should Not Run Again,” in which she takes 850 words to reiterate a point she’s already made: Joe Biden is really, really old.

I don’t necessarily want to dump all over this point of view. I share Goldberg’s concern about Biden’s age. When The New Republic’s editor, Michael Tomasky, solicited the opinion of Democratic insiders about whether Biden should run again, it was among their worries as well. Their consensus, nevertheless, was that Biden should run again. It makes sense: Biden’s age was a major concern when he announced his run in 2015. It remained a major concern when Biden’s two biggest rivals in that primary, Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, also turned out to be very old themselves. Democratic elites and primary voters stared right into the heart of these gerontological anxieties and, having weighed them fully, decisively nixed all of the more youthful alternatives that were running for president alongside their elders. So here we are.

It’s true that Democrats could, if they wanted to, pivot and act on that concern now by using a primary to reverse this prior decision. One major problem they’d face is the lack of compelling alternatives. Democrats have a lot of people on hand whom voters already rejected in favor of Biden. Two of them, Sanders and Warren, don’t solve the age problem. Vice President Kamala Harris barely rated in the 2020 primary and has historic troubles with Democratic Party elites. Most of the rest have done little in the intervening time to advance the idea they should seek higher office, and the prospects for some have only worsened: Beto O’Rourke got absolutely rinsed in his latest attempt to get elected to something.

What about the future? Goldberg claims Democrats have “a deep bench.” She’s only able to name two politicians, Gretchen Whitmer and Raphael Warnock. Take it from someone who watched the Virginia men’s basketball team crash into—and out of—the NIT last year: Two people is not enough for a “deep bench.” Whitmer is one of a few Democrats (I’ll spot Goldberg J.B. Pritzker and Josh Shapiro) who might well round into presidential form, given another few years of seasoning. The notion that Warnock should make an early departure from his hard-won Georgia Senate seat—especially after all he went through to secure it—to take on a quixotic bid for the White House in 2024 is one of the more ludicrous notions I’ve encountered in a while.

Besides, any attempt to solve the dilemma of Biden’s age by seeking a replacement will engender a problem of greater magnitude: It will inject the pre-primary season with a massive dose of unnecessary tumult. Even if Biden had to give way for a clear and obvious reason, the ensuing disarray would touch off a combative primary in an election cycle in which a unified purpose among Democrats couldn’t be more important.

And the pundits who’d sell such a switch as a brilliant tactical decision, as Goldberg has, can’t be counted on to ratify the wisdom of their directive after the fact. Remember: The political media are chaos junkies who treat conflict as catnip and would relish the crisis caused by Biden’s departure. Meanwhile, the lesson of the midterms is that voters are turned off by disarray. Biden’s own polling struggles reflect this: Nothing damaged his approval ratings more than the chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan. He is still struggling to recover from that one moment when it did not appear that the adults were in charge.

But Afghanistan is instructive in a different way as well. The withdrawal may have hurt Biden’s numbers, but the fact that he was unwilling to keep paying the sunk costs of the Afghanistan scam was a real break from the status quo. Biden’s State of the Union address suggested that the president still has that yen for fresh thinking. As HuffPost’s Kevin Robillard noted: Clinton used his address “to declare the era of big government over, Obama used them to sell a grand bargain and a free trade deal.” Biden, by contrast, “used it to attack big pharma, rule out social security cuts, talk about antitrust policy, and declare the tax code unfair.”

This is a phenomenon that we’ve noted before: Many of Biden’s throwback instincts about the way America could be are incredibly well suited to the moment, and seem fresher than his predecessors’ ideas. Would-be Biden successors should take heed, because at the moment it’s Biden who sounds most like a bona fide party standard-bearer and a better tribune of the middle class than any of the GOP’s weird culture warriors, and more prepared to battle the larger universe of chiselers and cheats who have gotten away with nickel-and-diming ordinary Americans.

This article first appeared in Power Mad, a weekly TNR newsletter authored by deputy editor Jason Linkins. Sign up here.

The Only Debt Ceiling Deal Is No Deal at All

Biden made a vow never to repeat the Obama administration’s worst mistake. His resolve is now being put to a test.

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy speaks to the media after meeting with President Biden.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
House Speaker Kevin McCarthy speaks to the media after meeting with President Biden.

Days of relative calm were few and far between during President Trump’s chaotic reign, but there was one matter about which no one had to fret: For four years, whenever the debt ceiling needed to be raised, Congress made it happen in a fuss-free manner and without worrisome talk about the catastrophic economic impacts of a debt limit breach. But with Republicans in charge of the House of Representatives, the bad old days are here again. On Wednesday, President Biden and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy commenced budget negotiations with a debt limit “X Day” looming.

As CNN reported, Wednesday’s talks were something of a nonevent—precisely what political wags anticipated in the run-up to the meeting. McCarthy emerged from the White House confab with optimistic lines about the potential for common ground. Good news, then: We did not meaningfully lurch in the direction of doomsday this week. But there’s a palpable sense of déjà vu as we tee up what might be this year’s most loaded question for the Biden administration: Will the president keep his vow not to negotiate over the debt limit?

Biden, as vice president in the Obama administration, had a hand in creating the debt limit chaos by deciding in 2011 to seek a “grand bargain” with Republican lawmakers on deficits and long-term spending. Thus began an era in which the two parties were perpetually at an impasse over spending and revenue: a divide so obviously unbridgeable that connecting it to the debt limit only added to the potential for destruction. Still, the Obama White House spun its wheels, chasing a grand bargain through several standoffs, a government shutdown, a credit downgrade, and the sequestration budget cuts that went into effect after Congress’s “supercommittee” failed on its own terms to arrive at a shared set of budget cuts.

This troublesome past is now the ready-made prologue to Biden’s new wranglings with new Republicans. As NBC News’s Sahil Kapur reported last week, when Obama and Biden came to understand the folly of their ways, they made a pledge never to repeat their mistakes, agreeing that from then on “nobody can use the threat of default or not increasing the debt limit as a negotiating tool.”

The early signs are encouraging. Last Thursday, Biden said, “I will not let anyone use the full faith and credit of the United States as a bargaining chip.” The administration echoed that stance in a memo released Monday from National Economic Council Director Brian Deese (who on Thursday announced he was stepping down from that position) and Office of Management and Budget Director Shalanda Young. In it, the two economic advisers said that the president “intends to pose two questions to McCarthy on Wednesday when the two men meet: Whether McCarthy will commit to the U.S. not defaulting on its financial obligations and when McCarthy and House Republicans will release their budget.”

For what it’s worth, Republicans have seemed a little knocked back by the White House’s steadfastness. As Kapur reported in a previous dispatch, Republicans have been “struggling to identify” what to cut and “divided” over whether “Medicare and Social Security spending should be on the chopping block” or “military funding should be on the table.” According to The New York Times, these “internal divisions over how to reduce spending” have since spilled “into public view, underscoring the political challenge that Republicans face as they try to wield the specter of a default to extract concessions.”

If Politico’s reporting is any guide, this is more or less going the exact way the White House drew it up. “The White House strategy,” according to Playbook, “is patience.” The administration is of the belief that “McCarthy is unlikely to craft a budget plan that can secure 218 votes given the internal contradictions within his conference among libertarians, defense hawks, and moderates representing Biden districts.”

Still, it’s in this early stage that it’s easiest for Biden to keep his debt ceiling vow. It’s only going to get harder. With a new analysis from the International Monetary Fund pointing to the easing of inflationary pressures and a global economic rebound, there are going to be tremendous incentives for Republicans to crash the economy as the presidential election cycle gets underway. Push could come to shove, and Biden might have to reach for a parliamentary trick—or, yes, a platinum coin—to avert disaster. But that’s why these tools are at his disposal: to help Biden keep his promise, and keep the world spinning forward.

This article first appeared in Power Mad, a weekly TNR newsletter authored by deputy editor Jason Linkins. Sign up here.