It’s been a slow news week in the political world. The only really big events this week were the breakdown of talks with Iran — which I am even more unqualified to discuss than most stuff — and off-year elections in Virginia, New Jersey and New York City (and, I guess, Boston, Seattle, Minneapolis, and other places that don’t matter). No surprises there, though. New York went to the charismatic Democrat over the dour Republican, New Jersey went to Chris Christie over what’s-her-name, and Virginia went to the guy who didn’t want to ban oral sex and abortion. Main takeaways if you want to be elected: don’t be crazy, and if at all possible supervise a successful recovery from a devastating natural disaster.
Instead of pretending I have enough profound thoughts about any one story to fill a column, like I usually do, this week I’m doing a round-up. These are some of the most interesting things being said about the most interesting things that happened in the last week, accented with my keen wit.
As I noted, the elections were boring. But the nice thing about bloggers is we can take even the most lifeless political story and use it to make the points we wanted to make anyway, and it usually turns out to be pretty interesting. That’s what my friend and labelmate Brandon Slotkin does here. It’s a good postmortem, and very informative if you weren’t following the elections closely. I agree with Slotkin that the big national trend in these elections, if there was one, was a rejection of Tea Party conservatism. But I wouldn’t hold my breath for the Republican Party to turn on a dime on social issues, get down to business on immigration reform, and start passing tax increases. The GOP and general election voters rejected the most easily caricatured right-wing fringe, but that just paves the way for candidates who are just as conservative but froth less at the mouth.
Meanwhile, Washington was keeping busy. Or what passes for busy there. The Senate passed the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA). This is a genuinely big deal, that extends workplace discrimination protections to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender individuals. Almost as big a deal is that it passed with 11 Republican votes and no floor speeches against it. Clearly, Senate Republicans have noticed that being against basic equality for LGBT people is bad politics. The enormity of that shift doesn’t really hit you until you read what was said against this bill when it was first brought up in the Senate, in 1998. We’ve come a long way as a country. Of course, now the bill is in the House, where laws go to die, and John Boehner has already said he won’t bring it to a vote. Like everything Boehner says, that could change. There’s a lot of pressure to pass this bill, going all the way up to a presidential blog post (really? really!) But it’s true, if depressing, that a majority of his caucus probably doesn’t support the bill, and every time Boehner brings a bill to the floor without a majority of Republicans he weakens his own political position. I don’t see a way out of this bind. But whatever happens, it’s going to be very exciting and involve a lot of rainbow flags.
Lest you think the Senate is a functional political body, Jonathan Chait reminds us that Republicans blocked the nomination of judges to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, and that this is a very bad thing. I basically wrote the same post last week, but Chait is famous and funny and he didn’t post his on Saturday night of Halloween. Read him, read me, I don’t care — this stuff may seem arcane, but it’s hugely important. Plus, there’s something called the nuclear option. Doesn’t that sound cool? Don’t you want to learn more?
Finally, I have to end on a sad note. Cuts to food stamps, worked out in a horrible compromise in 2009, kicked in at the end of October. (This didn’t technically happen in the last week, but this is my round-up and I make the rules, so shut up.) This is making life harder for the neediest Americans, as the New York Times details. And lest you think that these are a bunch of lazy moochers living high on the hog, read this Washington Post feature on rural malnutrition. It’s long, but it’s worth it. Read it, and keep it in mind every time you hear a politician talking about the need for further food stamp cuts.
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