Potential Hong Kong-Singapore travel bubble boosts demand | News

Potential Hong Kong-Singapore travel bubble boosts demand | News


Research carried out by ForwardKeys has illustrated a measure of pent-up desire for travel involving Hong Kong and Singapore.

The two towns outlined designs for a ‘travel bubble’ in the center of very last month, increasing hopes for a constrained reopening of borders.

The in-principle arrangement to build a bilateral air travel corridor this thirty day period induced an uptick in fascination in the prospective route.

In the week that followed, flight queries for journey from Singapore to Hong Kong, which had been flat given that the commencing of the Covid-19 crisis, soared to 50 for every cent of 2019 degrees, although bookings jumped to 30 per cent.

The major target of travellers’ interest is the Christmas getaway time period, with the peak dates for flight queries to Hong Kong masking the weeks of December 10th, 17th and 24th.

When it comes to tickets, journey has been booked all through December, with the 18th-25th being the peak vacation dates.

Unsurprisingly, the extensive bulk of persons, above 80 per cent, will be travelling for leisure or to visit buddies and family.

Deeper investigation by ForwardKeys implies that tourism-dependent retailers primarily based in Hong Kong are most likely to be drastically happier than their counterparts in Singapore, since the instant uplift in flight bookings from Singapore to Hong Kong is extra than 3 situations higher than in the reverse direction.

On March 23rd, Singapore and Hong Kong introduced that their borders would be closed to all foreign travellers.

Due to the fact then, it has been pretty much not possible to fly between the two sites (or wherever else) and hardly any individual has been seeking or scheduling journey.

Jameson Wong, APAC director, ForwardKeys commented: “This bilateral air travel bubble is a milestone arrangement as it will be the first second intercontinental leisure journey is permitted once again in our location.

“The immediate rush of bookings is significant for the reason that it proves that individuals want to vacation and they will travel, as soon as the appropriate protection protocols are put in spot and govt-imposed vacation constraints are lifted.

“Our results will give a substantially-wanted breath of new air and hope to the multitude of businesses and individuals that rely on travellers for cash flow.

“We can assume material gains in travel desire, certainly additional than what we are monitoring proper now, when the coverage is applied and when the precise aspects of the Singapore-Hong Kong travel bubble are declared.

“I am confident that other nations around the world in the area will see this as a circumstance review to information their possess journey facilitation initiatives in the close to long run.”





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Sofitel Dubai the Obelisk opens in Dubai | News

Sofitel Dubai the Obelisk opens in Dubai | News


Sofitel Dubai the Obelisk has opened its doorways in Dubai.

Merging modern-day French art de vivre and historic Egyptian heritage, it turns into the biggest Accor residence in the Middle East and Africa.

It is located in the Dubai Wafi region.

Mark Willis, main govt Middle East & Africa at Accor, said: “This is a really fascinating opening for us in the location as, apart from it currently being the premier Sofitel assets in the Middle East & Africa, it is also established to come to be a landmark in the metropolis, showcasing beautiful support combined with an iconic layout and architecture.

“Congratulations to the staff of Sofitel Dubai the Obelisk, who have worked tirelessly to make certain this opening is a good results.”

With a key place in Wafi, the high quality shopping and leisure desired destination, just 10 minutes absent from Dubai Worldwide Airport, Sofitel Dubai the Obelisk is established to charm visitors with final convenience, remarkable encounters and the French way of living.

Ayman Gharib, taking care of director of Sofitel Dubai the Obelisk, commented: “Inspired by the Luxor Obelisk positioned in Spot de La Concorde in Paris, Sofitel Dubai the Obelisk, is a testomony to the Wafi Advanced progress and rounds up the way of life and enjoyment location that the founder, sheikh Mana bin Khalifa Al Maktoum, envisioned it to be.

“The Wafi Group, because its establishment nearly four a long time back, has been environment trends and standards of excellence.

“Upholding its values and traditions and finding partners that echo the identical, Sofitel Dubai the Obelisk has partnered with a few distinguished food items and beverage and spa companions: Daniel Boulud, Schilo van Coeverden and L’Occitane.

“This move will guarantee that the resort speaks to a numerous and distinguished audience.”





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Food District to open at the Pointe next week | News

Food District to open at the Pointe next week | News


Food stuff District is making ready to open up on November 8th as section of the Pointe on Palm Jumeriah.

The two-storey, licensed dining hub in Dubai will welcome 13 homegrown concepts all below 1 roof – the very first of its form in the United Arab Emirates.

This indoor and terrace locale boasts entrance-row views of the greatest dancing fountains in the globe, the Palm Fountains, jointly with Atlantis vistas.

The first floor showcases ten dine-in brands from trend-placing Dubai-dependent cooks, restaurateurs and meals business owners, together with two accredited bars.

In the meantime, the ground degree residences an artisan coffee and café notion, with sandwiches, pastries and a gelato stall.

This new just one-stop, dine-in meals market features breakfast, lunch and meal, paired with wine, spirits and cocktails from the adhering to specialty distributors, each individual helming their individual booth.

Foodstuff get-out as a result of Deliveroo is also out there.

Consumers scan QR code menus to choose dishes, spending at the respective vendor.





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Why Race Has Been the Real Story of Obama's Presidency All Along -- New York Magazine

Hillary Clinton’s Two Decades in the Political Spotlight — New York Magazine


Photo: Douglas Friedman/Trunk Archive

For four years, Hillary Rodham Clinton flew around the world as President Barack Obama’s secretary of State, while her husband, the former president Bill Clinton, lived a parallel life of speeches and conferences in other hemispheres. They communicated almost entirely by phone. They were seldom on the same continent, let alone in the same house.

But this year, all that has changed: For the first time in decades, neither one is in elected office, or running for one. Both are working in the family business, in the newly renamed nonprofit that once bore only Bill’s name but is now called the Bill, Hillary, and Chelsea Clinton Foundation, which will hold its annual conference in New York next week.

“We get to be at home together a lot more now than we used to in the last few years,” says Hillary Clinton. “We have a great time; we laugh at our dogs; we watch stupid movies; we take long walks; we go for a swim.

“You know,” she says, “just ordinary, everyday pleasures.”

In the world of the Clintons, of course, what constitutes ordinary and everyday has never been either. So the question was inevitable: Given who he is, and who she is, does Bill, among their guffaws over the dogs and stupid movies, harangue her daily about running for president?

To this, Hillary Rodham Clinton lets loose one of her loud, head-tilted-back laughs. “I don’t think even he is, you know, focused on that right now,” she says. “Right now, we’re trying to just have the best time we can have doin’ what we’re doin’. ”

There’s a weightlessness about Hillary Clinton these days. She’s in midair, launched from the State Department toward … what? For the first time since 1992, unencumbered by the demands of a national political campaign or public office, she is saddled only with expectations about what she’s going to do next. And she is clearly enjoying it.

“It feels great,” she says, “because I have been on this high wire for twenty years, and I was really yearning to just have more control over my time and my life, spend a lot of that time with my family and my friends, do things that I find relaxing and enjoyable, and return to the work that I had done for most of my life.”

Relaxing, for a Clinton, especially one who, should she decide to run, is the presumptive Democratic nominee for president in 2016, does not seem exactly restful. The day before we speak, she was awarded the Liberty Medal by the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia—presented by Jeb Bush, another politician weighted with dynastic expectations and family intrigue, who took the opportunity to jest that both he and Clinton cared deeply about Americans—especially those in Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina.

Afterward, Clinton stepped backstage, a red-white-and-blue ribbon around her neck pulled taut by a saucer-size gold medal. “It is really heavy,” she said, with that plain-home midwestern tone she deploys when she wants to not appear the heavy herself. In the room with her were some of her close advisers—Nick Merrill, a communications staffer and acolyte of Hillary’s suffering top aide, Huma Abedin; and Dan Schwerin, the 31-year-old speechwriter who wrote all the words she had spoken moments ago. Local policemen with whom Clinton had posed for photos milled about behind her.

Outside was the usual chorus accompanying a Clinton appearance, befitting her status as the most popular Democrat in America: news helicopters buzzing overhead and protesters amassed across the street who raised signs that read benghazi in bloodred paint and chanted antiwar slogans directly at her as she spoke at the outdoor lectern.

Though she was officially out of the government, it was not as if she could leave it, even if she wanted to. That week Clinton had met with Obama in the White House to discuss the ongoing Syria crisis, and now Obama was on TV that very evening announcing a diplomatic reprieve from a missile attack on Syria—a series of decisions that Clinton had lent her support to every step of the way. “I’ve been down this road with them,” she tells me the next day. “I know how challenging it is to ever get [the Russians] to a ‘yes’ that they actually execute on, but it can be done. I think we have to push hard.”

Clinton has taken a press hiatus since she left the State Department in January—“I’ve been successful at avoiding you ­people for many months now!” she says, laughing. She is tentative and careful, tiptoeing into every question, keenly aware that the lines she speaks will be read between. In our interview, she emphasizes her “personal friendship” with Obama, with whom she had developed a kind of bond of pragmatism and respect—one based on shared goals, both political and strategic. “I feel comfortable raising issues with him,” she says. “I had a very positive set of interactions, even when I disagreed, which obviously occurred, because obviously I have my own opinions, my own views.”

Hillary Clinton’s Two Decades in the Political Spotlight -- New York Magazine
Hillary Clinton receiving the Liberty Medal in Philadelphia, September 10. Photo: Christopher Anderson/Magnum Photos/New York Magazine

The killing of bin Laden, she says, was a bonding experience. Obama’s Cabinet had been split on whether to attempt the mission, but Clinton backed it and sweated out the decision with the commander-in-chief. “I’ve seen the president in a lot of intense and difficult settings,” she says, “and I’ve watched him make hard decisions. Obviously, talking to you on September 11 as we are, the bin Laden decision-making process is certainly at the forefront of my mind.”

The statement cuts two ways—praise for her president and evidence of her deep experience in and around the Oval Office—including the most successful military endeavor of the Obama presidency. As a Cabinet member, she says, “I’ve had a unique, close, and personal front-row seat. And I think these last four years have certainly deepened and broadened my understanding of the challenges and the opportunities that we face in the world today.”

Political campaigns are built of personal narratives—and it works much better if the stories are true. The current arc of Hillary’s story is one of transformation. Being secretary of State was more than a job. Her closest aides describe the experience as a kind of cleansing event, drawing a sharp line between the present and her multiple pasts—as First Lady, later as the Democratic front-runner in 2008, derailed by the transformative campaign of Barack Obama but also by a dysfunctional staff, the campaign-trail intrusions of her husband, and the inherent weaknesses of the fractious, bickering American institution that has become known as Clintonworld.

At State, she was the head of a smoothly running 70,000-person institution, and fully her own woman, whose marriage to a former president was, when it was mentioned, purely an asset. And now that she’s left State, Clintonworld is being refashioned along new lines, rationalized and harmonized. The signal event of this is the refurbishing of the Clinton Foundation, formerly Bill’s province, to accommodate all three Clintons, with Chelsea, newly elevated, playing a leading role. The move has ruffled certain Clintonworld feathers—a front-page article in the New York Times about the financial travails of the foundation as managed by Bill Clinton brought sharp pushback—but most of those close to the Clintons acknowledge that to succeed in the coming years, Hillary will have to absorb the lessons of 2008. Currently, it’s a topline talking point among her closest aides.

“She doesn’t repeat her mistakes,” says Melanne Verveer, an aide to the First Lady who then served in the State Department as Hillary’s ambassador-at-large for global women’s issues. “She really learns from her mistakes. It’s like, you want to grow a best practice and then always operate on that. She analyzes, ‘What went wrong here?’ ”

Of course, if Hillary’s future were to be an author, or a pundit, or a retiree, learning from mistakes wouldn’t be an issue. But other outcomes, where executive talents are prized, seem more likely. I ask Clinton the question that trails her like a thought bubble: Does she wrestle with running for president?

“I do,” she says, “but I’m both pragmatic and realistic. I think I have a pretty good idea of the political and governmental challenges that are facing our leaders, and I’ll do whatever I can from whatever position I find myself in to advocate for the values and the policies I think are right for the country. I will just continue to weigh what the factors are that would influence me making a decision one way or the other.”

Clintonworld, however, speaks with many voices­—albeit many of them not for attribution. Some of her close confidants, including many people with whom her own staff put me in touch, are far less circumspect than she is. “She’s running, but she doesn’t know it yet,” one such person put it to me. “It’s just like a force of history. It’s inexorable, it’s gravitational. I think she actually believes she has more say in it than she actually does.”

And a longtime friend concurs. “She’s doing a very Clintonian thing. In her mind, she’s running for it, and she’s also convinced herself she hasn’t made up her mind. She’s going to run for president. It’s a foregone conclusion.”

When president-elect Barack Obama asked Clinton to be secretary of State, they had a series of private conversations about her role for the next four years. What would the job entail? How much power would she have? How would it be managed?

Or to restate the questions as they were understood by everyone involved in the negotiation: What would Hillary Clinton get in return for supporting Obama after the brutal primary and helping him defeat John McCain?

Though she had ended her losing campaign on a triumphal note, gracefully accepting the role of secretary of State and agreeing to be a trouble-free team player in Obama’s Cabinet, the 2008 primary loss left deep wounds to her core staff—at least among those members who had not been excommunicated. They would discuss what happened during long trips to Asia and Europe, sounding like post-traumatic-stress victims. “The experience was very searing for them, and they would go through it with great detail,” says a former State Department colleague.

Hillary Clinton’s Two Decades in the Political Spotlight -- New York Magazine
Photo: Christopher Anderson/Magnum Photos/New York Magazine

The problems of that campaign were crucial to how Clinton would decide to lead the State Department. In accepting the State job, Clinton insisted on hiring her own staff. In addition to her top aides, Huma Abedin and Philippe Reines, she enlisted stalwarts of campaigns and administrations past: Maggie Williams, Cheryl Mills, and Verveer, who have been with her since her days in Bill Clinton’s White House. Among Hillary’s inner circle, this is viewed as a returning lineup of all-stars who were iced out of her campaign by a five-person team led by Patti Solis-Doyle, a group who in their telling became the agents of the campaign’s troubles. “They’re the A-team,” says a top aide. “They weren’t the B-team that got elevated. They were the A-team that got deposed by [Solis-Doyle].”

The 2008 campaign was seen by many as an echo chamber, closed off from the best advice, and the lesson for Clinton was clear: “The takeaway is, ‘Don’t only listen to five people,’ ” says the aide.

When she arrived, Clinton did a kind of institutional listening tour at the State Department. “She felt like she was too closed off from what was happening across the expanse of the [2008] campaign,” says a close aide at the State Department, “and that became a hallmark with the leadership in the State Department, and it served her incredibly well.”

To keep things operating smoothly, she hired Tom Nides, the COO of Morgan Stanley, who’d contributed heavily to Clinton’s past campaigns. Even Nides was wary of the Clinton drama he might be stepping into. “I had heard all these stories about the Clinton world and what all that meant and ‘Did you really want to get wrapped up in that?’ ” he says. But he reports that “all of the stuff did not exist at the State Department for the last four years.

“The relationship between the State Department and the White House and the State Department and the Defense Department was probably the best it’s ever been in 50 years,” he adds. “That starts from the top. No drama. And that was started by her.”

Among Hillary Clinton’s greatest hits at State were the new focus on Asia, pushing for the overthrow of Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi, and building a coalition for strong sanctions against Iran. But she also saw the job as a kind of reformatting of the State Department itself to prepare for the longer-run issues. “I’d been told that it was a choice that had to be made: You could either do what had to be done around the world, or you could organize and focus the work that was done inside State and the Agency for International Development, but I rejected that,” says Clinton. “I thought it was essential that as we restore America’s standing in the world and strengthen our global leadership again, we needed what I took to calling ‘smart power’ to elevate American diplomacy and development and reposition them for the 21st century … That meant that we had to take a hard look at how both State and A.I.D. operated. I did work to increase their funding after a very difficult period when they were political footballs to some extent and they didn’t have the resources to do what was demanded of them.”

Clinton’s State team argues that Clinton was a great stateswoman, her ambition to touch down in as many countries as possible a meter of how much repair work she did to the nation’s image abroad. Along the way, she embraced with good humor a parody Tumblr account, Texts From Hillary, that featured a picture of her in the iconic sunglasses looking cool and queenly. “She insisted on having a personality,” says Jake Sullivan, her former deputy chief of staff and now the national-security adviser to Vice-President Joe Biden. “And on stating her opinion.”

For foreign-policy critics, some of this could look like wheel spinning. The major critique was that she didn’t take on any big issues, like brokering peace between Israel and the Palestinians, or negotiating the nuclear disarmament of North Korea. And the suspicion was that she didn’t want to be associated with any big failures as she prepared for 2016. She was, after all, under the tight grip of the Obama White House, which directed major foreign-policy decisions from the Oval Office.

“Whatever one says about how [Secretary of State] John Kerry is doing,” says the Washington Post’s Glenn Kessler, “he has nothing left to lose. You can see he takes risks. He’s plowing into the Middle East stuff when people are saying this isn’t going to get you anywhere. Hillary never would have done any of this stuff.”

Hillary Clinton’s Two Decades in the Political Spotlight -- New York Magazine
Photo: Christopher Anderson/Magnum Photos/New York Magazine

Her former staffers argue that she managed a host of important, if underrecognized, global flare-ups along the way, from freeing a dissident in China to brokering the easing of sanctions against Burma. “She helped avert a second war in Gaza by going out and pulling off that cease-fire,” recalls Sullivan of the deal she hashed out between Israel and Hamas after a week of fighting, “which holds to this day. And you don’t get a lot of credit for preventing something. Those are things that you aren’t going to measure how successful they are for another ten or twenty years.”

At the same time, Hillary used her tenure at State for a more intimate purpose: to shift the balance of power in the most celebrated political marriage in American history. Bill Clinton was an overwhelming force in Hillary’s 2008 campaign, instrumental in vouching for Mark Penn, the strategist whose idea it was for Hillary to cling to her war vote on Iraq and to sell her as an iron-sided insider whose experience outweighed the need to project mere humanity. Bill also freelanced his own negative attacks, some of which backfired. Because his staff was not coordinating with Hillary’s, her staff came to regard him as a wild card who couldn’t be managed.

But not in the State Department. “Not a presence,” says a close State aide. “And I don’t mean that just literally. But not someone who was built into the system in any way. He had a very minimal presence in her time at the State Department.

“It’s kind of jarring when she says ‘Bill,’ ” this person adds, recalling meetings with Hillary Clinton. “Well, who’s Bill? And then you realize that she’s talking about her husband. It happened so infrequently that you were kind of like, Oh, the president.

Part of it, of course, was logistical. Though they spoke frequently by phone, Bill and Hillary were rarely in the same country. By chance, their paths crossed in Bogotá, where they had dinner together—then, owing to their massive entourages, returned to their respective hotels. “Love conquers all except logistics,” says an aide.

“I could probably count on one hand the times she came to a meeting and either invoked his name or suggested something that Bill had said,” says Nides. “I probably did it more about my wife telling me what to do.”

Hillary might have left the State Department unsullied by controversy if not for the Benghazi episode, in which the ambassador to Libya, Chris Stevens, and three other consulate staffers were killed in an attack on the U.S. consulate. The NATO intervention in Libya was the most important foreign intervention of her tenure, and a seemingly successful one, but the lack of security in Benghazi and the confusion over how the incident occurred set off a heated Republican attack on Clinton’s handling of the disaster, and she was roasted on the cable-news spit for weeks. In January, she took responsibility for the deaths of the four Americans before Congress—while also questioning her inquisition, snapping at a Republican congressman, “What difference at this point does it make? It is our job to figure out what happened and do everything we can to prevent it from ever happening again, Senator.”

Benghazi will be the go-to bludgeon for Republicans if and when Clinton tries using her experience at State to run for president. It is a reminder that Clinton, despite the cool, centrist façade she has developed in the past four years, is only a misstep away from being a target of partisan rage once again.

Regardless of the facts, Republicans are liable to use Benghazi as a wedge to pry back her stately exterior, goading her into an outburst, once again revealing the polarizing figure who saw vast right-wing conspiracies and tried ginning up government health care against the political tides of Newt Gingrich.

When asked for her prescription for partisan gridlock, Clinton sees an opportunity not unlike what Obama saw in 2008. ­“People are stereotypes, they are caricaturized,” says Clinton. “It comes from both sides of the political aisle, it comes from the press. It’s all about conflict, it’s all about personality, and there are huge stakes in the policies that are being debated, and I think there’s a hunger amongst a very significant, maybe even a critical mass of Americans, clustered on the left, right, and center, to have an adult conversation about how we’re going to solve these problems … but it’s not for the fainthearted.” For now, Hillary’s strategy is to sail above these conflicts, mostly by saying nothing to inflame them. “I have a lot of reason to believe, as we saw in the 2012 election, most Americans don’t agree with the extremists on any side of an issue,” says Clinton, “but there needs to continue to be an effort to find common ground, or even take it to higher ground on behalf of the future.”

At the Sheraton Ballroom in Chicago last spring, Bill Clinton appeared before an eager crowd of Clinton groupies at the Clinton Global Initiative America, a special conference focused on domestic issues and set in Hillary’s hometown. Onstage, the former president looked older than in the past—thinner, stooped, more subdued, his hands trembling while he held his notes at the podium. Haloed in blue light, he spoke about the “still embattled American Dream” and then introduced his wife as his new partner in the foundation, the woman who “taught me everything I know about NGOs.”

Her appearance made for a stark contrast. When she emerged from behind the curtain, she appeared much more youthful—smiling, upright, beaming in a turquoise pantsuit; she received huge applause and a standing ovation that dwarfed the response to Bill.

On her first major public stage since leaving the State Department, Hillary told the crowd that the foundation will be a “full partnership between the three of us,” including her daughter, Chelsea. But this was clearly Hillary Clinton’s show. That week, she had launched her Twitter account, complete with a tongue-in-cheek description of her as a “glass ceiling cracker,” her future “TBD.” Clearly, her foundation work, as important as it is to her, wasn’t everything. And Chicago was a perfect site for the start of this new chapter. It was where she was from, the launchpad for her career in politics and early-childhood education and women’s empowerment, what she called the “great unfinished business of this century.” “When women participate in politics,” she said, “it ripples out to the entire society … Women are the world’s most underused resource.”

If you wanted to read her speech as an opening salvo for a 2016 run for the presidency, it wasn’t hard to do as she talked about all that she’d learned as she traveled the globe. Whatever country or situation they found themselves in, “what people wanted was a good job.”

The rechristening of the foundation marked the first time the Clintons had come under the same institutional roof since the nineties. For Hillary, it made sense, because she didn’t have to compete with her husband for donors at her own foundation. It would also allow her to warm up donors for future initiatives—like, just for instance, a 2016 campaign. Two days later, the family would appear together onstage, a picture-perfect photo op of what Bill Clinton called “our little family.”

The Clinton Global Initiative, in addition to its work combating poverty and aids, is a kind of unofficial Clinton-alumni reunion, with friends and donors dating back to the early years in Arkansas. Sprinkled around the ballroom in Chicago were the old hands, from Bruce Lindsey, the former deputy White House counsel and CEO of the foundation, to newer faces like J. B. Pritzker, the Chicago hotel scion who was national co-chair of Hillary’s 2008 campaign and was now raising $20 million for an early-childhood-education initiative.

The Clinton network has always been both an asset and a burden. Terry ­McAuliffe, the longtime Clinton ally now running for governor of Virginia, has raised millions for the Clintons at every juncture of their careers. Then again, he’s Terry McAuliffe, the guy who left his weeping wife and newborn child in the car while he collected $1 million at a fund-raiser, then wrote about it in a memoir. “You can’t change who these people are,” says one former Hillary adviser. “It’s like any other trade. You’ve got the good, and there’s a lot of good. And you’ve got the noise.”

To harness some of the noise—what some Clinton people called “the energy”—a faction has converged around the Ready for Hillary super-PAC started by a former 2008 campaign aide named Adam Parkhomenko. Launched early this year, it has appeared to many observers to be an informal satellite of Hillary’s larger designs for the White House, but her aides say it’s a rogue operation of questionable benefit. “There is nothing they are doing that couldn’t have waited a year,” says one. “Not a single fucking thing.”

Regardless, Clinton veterans like former campaign strategist James Carville have come out supporting the super-PAC, as has former White House political director Craig Smith, Bill’s old Arkansas pal. Supporters argue that the super-PAC has Hillary’s tacit approval, especially given the involvement of Susie Tompkins Buell, a prominent Democratic donor who is among her oldest and closest friends. “It offers supporters the all-important link to click on, plus places to convene in both the digital and physical worlds,” says Tracy Sefl, an adviser to the super-PAC. “And although some perhaps just can’t quite believe it, Ready for Hillary’s name really does convey the totality of its purpose.”

One supporter of the super-PAC, who didn’t want to be identified, acknowledges that “there’s a danger there of her again becoming the front-runner. And, too, the existence of it raises her profile and puts more pressure on her to make a decision earlier than she might otherwise want to make.”

On some level, the network is almost impossible to control—Clintonworld is bigger than just the Clintons. “People do things in their name, or say they just talked to Hillary or to Bill, and the next thing you know, they’re doing something stupid,” says a former aide of Hillary’s whose interview she sanctioned. “You take the good with the bad. Hopefully, the good outweighs the bad.”

The biggest question among Hillary’s circle concerns Huma Abedin, currently chief of Hillary’s “transition office” and formerly her deputy chief of staff in the State Department. Abedin began as an intern for the First Lady in 1996, when she was 20 years old, and is, of course, married to former congressman and mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner, of sexting infamy.

In the midst of her husband’s scandal, Abedin stepped down from her full-time job for a consulting contract and moved back to New York to take work with Teneo Holdings, a consulting firm and investment bank run by Bill Clinton’s longtime consigliere, Doug Band. This gave Hillary cover while also keeping Abedin plugged in. “It’s business as usual,” says a Clinton insider. “Keep your circle of advisers small, and then you structure things in a way that makes it economically possible for your close advisers to sustain themselves.”

But business as usual can be a giant target for enemies: Abedin has since become the subject of an inquiry, by a Republican congressman, into her dual consulting roles, looking for potential conflicts of interest while she served in a sensitive role in the administration. Then came a second episode of Weiner’s sexting this summer, blindsiding the Clintons, obliterating Weiner’s mayoral ambitions, and greatly complicating Abedin’s future with the Clintons. With Weiner’s ignominious loss and parting bird-flip, “Huma has a choice to make,” says a close associate of hers. “Does she go with Anthony, or does she go with Hillary?”

Leaving the Clinton bubble is almost unimaginable for those who’ve grown up in it. According to a person familiar with the conversations, Abedin has struggled to reconcile her marriage to Weiner with her role as Clinton’s top aide, traumatized by the prospect of leaving her boss’s inner circle.

In a sense, the Weiner scandal is a ghost of Clintonworld past, summoning sordid images of unruly appetites and bimbo eruptions, exactly the sort of thing that needs to be walled off and excised in a 2016 campaign. Former advisers from State say any future campaign will take a page from Clinton’s relatively peaceful past four years. “In contrast with reports of disunity in the 2008 campaign,” says Kurt Campbell, “the State Department was operated with a high degree of harmony and collegiality.”

The secret to realigning Clintonworld has been there all along. Since she received her master’s from Oxford in 2003, Chelsea Clinton had tried out different career paths, first in business consulting at McKinsey & Co., then at a hedge fund run by donors to her parents, and finally as a correspondent on NBC, with a few university postings sprinkled in. Chelsea has grown up in the Clinton bubble, the princess of Clintonworld, and getting outside of it has sometimes been difficult. She tried her hand at developing her “brand” on TV, but then, two years ago, stepped in and took over her father’s foundation, a return to the fold that portended a lot of changes. She became vice-chairman of the board. The foundation hired white-shoe law firm Simpson Thacher & Bartlett to perform an audit and review of the foundation’s finances and operations. And this summer, she installed a friend from McKinsey, Eric Braverman, as CEO.

Chelsea’s arrival was a clear if unspoken critique of Doug Band, who’d long been Bill Clinton’s gatekeeper in his post-presidential life. In Chelsea’s view, the foundation started by Band had become sprawling and inefficient, threatened by unchecked spending and conflicts of interest, an extension of her father’s woolly style. In 2012, a New York Post story suggested impropriety in Band’s dual role, forcing Clinton to put a bit of distance between himself and Teneo.

In a report this summer, the Times claimed the foundation operated at a deficit and was vulnerable to conflicts of interest related to Teneo Holdings—which telegraphed the message that there was a new sheriff. Chelsea, says a Hillary loyalist, “has taken a chain saw to that organization. She has not allowed these old bubbas to deal with this.”

Naturally, some of Bill Clinton’s staff at the foundation were unhappy with Chelsea’s arrival, especially the decision to include Hillary and Chelsea in the name of it. In a move that suggested intrafamily conflict, Bill Clinton stepped out to defend his comrades, insisting that Bruce Lindsey, the former CEO, who had suffered a stroke in 2011, would continue to be “intimately involved” in the foundation and that he couldn’t have accomplished “half of what I have in my post-presidency without Doug Band.”

Hillary Clinton says her daughter’s entrance into the foundation was an organic extension of everything the Clintons have ever done. “It sort of is in the DNA, I don’t think there’s any doubt about that,” she says. “She’s an incredibly able—obviously I’m biased—but extremely well-organized, results-oriented person, so rather than joining a lot of other groups, on which she could pursue her interests, she thought, I want to be part of continuing to build something I have worked on off and on over the years, and I really believe in it. I was thrilled to hear that.

“She comes by it naturally, don’t you think?” she adds cheerfully.

Chelsea is now the chief Bill Clinton gatekeeper. At HBO, where Martin Scorsese is making a documentary about him, Chelsea has been involved from the start and is weighing in on the production.

As the various staffs of the three Clintons come under one roof, in a headquarters in the Time-Life Building in midtown Manhattan, there are dangers of internecine conflict. “It’s all people jockeying for position,” says a person with close ties to the foundation. “This is an operation that runs on proximity to people. Now there are three people. How does all that work?”

For Bill Clinton to acknowledge flaws in his institute and relinquish control to his daughter and wife was a new twist in the family relationship. People in both Bill’s and Hillary’s camp are quick to emphasize that Bill Clinton is still the lifeblood of the foundation and its social mission. Chelsea’s arrival is ultimately about preserving the foundation for the long term as he gets older and winds down some of his activities. But the subtext of the cleanup operation is no mystery among Clinton people. Bill’s loosey-goosey world had to be straightened out if Hillary was going to run for president. “She doesn’t operate that way,” says one of her former State Department advisers. “I mean, she has all sorts of creative ideas, but that’s not how she operates. She is much more systematic.”

As part of the shifting landscape in Clintonworld, Bill Clinton got a new chief of staff, Tina Flournoy, one of the group of African-American women—including Maggie Williams and Donna Brazile—who have been close advisers to the Clintons over the years. A former policy aide at the American Federation of Teachers, Flournoy’s arrival last January was viewed by insiders as Hillary’s planting a sentinel at the office of her husband.

Bill Clinton is also a legendary politician, a brilliant tactician who won two presidential elections and reigned over the most prosperous years in America in recent memory. Some make the argument that he single-handedly won Obama reelection with his extraordinary takedown of Mitt Romney at the Democratic National Convention last year. The trick, say Clinton advocates, is to manage him effectively on behalf of his wife. “To the discredit of whoever is running a campaign, if that happens and they don’t use Bill Clinton—use his strategy, use his thoughts, take his dumb ideas and his great ideas and make sure they’re used effectively—they’re a moron,” says a person close to Hillary Clinton.

Perhaps this is where Chelsea comes in. After years of expectation, she has emerged from her chrysalis, a new power center, her father’s keeper and, maybe for Hillary … a shadow campaign manager.

In Clintonworld, wheels are turning, but no one wants them to turn too fast. Last spring, in a panel discussion at the Peterson Institute, Bill Clinton blew up, telling people to stop speculating on her presidential aspirations. It was too soon. Says Nides, “If you have every person you know say to you the following: ‘You should run for president, Madam Secretary, I love you, Madam Secretary, you’d be a great president, Madam Secretary,’ she nods. And she understands the context of that.”

Hillary is well aware of these dynamics. “I’m not in any hurry,” she tells me. “I think it’s a serious decision, not to be made lightly, but it’s also not one that has to be made soon.

“This election is more than three years away, and I just don’t think it’s good for the country,” she says. “It’s like when you meet somebody at a party and they look over your shoulder to see who else is there, and you want to talk to them about something that’s really important; in fact, maybe you came to the party to talk to that particular person, and they just want to know what’s next,” she says. “I feel like that’s our political process right now. I just don’t think it is good.”

So all the activity and planning and obsessive calculation that go into a presidential campaign take place behind a pleasant midwestern smile. Her time at State indeed transformed her—as did her 2008 campaign, and her time as a senator, and as First Lady, and on and on. Now she contains multitudes, a million contradictions. She’s a polarizing liberal with lots of Republican friends, the coolest of customers constantly at the center of swirling drama. She’s hung up on a decision over whether to run for an office she (not to mention her husband) has coveted for her entire adult life. She’s a Clinton. And what a candidate she’d make in 2016. But if that’s where she’s going, she’s not saying. “I’m somebody who gets up every day and says, ‘What am I going to do today, and how am I going to do it?’ ” she says. “I think it moves me toward some outcome I’m hoping for and also has some, you know, some joy attached to it. And I think it would be great if everybody else [took the same approach], for the foreseeable future.”

Of Hillary’s dreams, that one seems unlikely to come true.



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Why Race Has Been the Real Story of Obama's Presidency All Along -- New York Magazine

Frank Rich on Rand Paul — New York Magazine


Photo: Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call/Getty Images

In the Labor Day weekend scramble set off by President Obama’s zero-hour about-face on Syria, the only visible politician in Washington who knew just what he wanted to say and said it was the junior senator from Kentucky, Rand Paul. Appearing after John Kerry on ­Meet the Press that Sunday, Paul reminded viewers of Kerry’s famous Vietnam-era locution, then said he would like to ask him a question of his own: “How can you ask a man to be the first one to die for a mistake?”

There were no surprises in Paul’s adamant opposition to a military strike. But after a chaotic week of White House feints and fumbles accompanied by vamping and vacillation among leaders in both parties, the odd duck from Kentucky emerged as an anchor of principle, the signal amid the noise. Paul’s constancy was particularly conspicuous in contrast to his presumed Republican presidential rivals in 2016, Marco Rubio, Paul Ryan, and Ted Cruz. Though each of them had waxed hawkish about Syria in the past—in Rubio’s case, just the week before—they held their fire over Labor Day weekend, stuck their fingers to the pollsters’ wind, and then more or less fell in with Paul’s noninterventionist bottom line once they emerged. It’s not the first time that Paul had proved the leader of the pack in which he was thought to be the joker.

This has been quite a year for Paul. Not long ago, he was mainly known as the son of the (now retired) gadfly Texas congressman Ron Paul, the perennial presidential loser who often seemed to have wandered into GOP-primary debates directly from an SNL sketch. Like his father, Rand Paul has been dismissed by most Democrats as a tea-party kook and by many grandees in his own party as a libertarian kook; the Republican Establishment in his own state branded him “too kooky for Kentucky” in his first bid for public office. Now BuzzFeed has anointed him “the de facto foreign policy spokesman for the GOP”—a stature confirmed when he followed Obama’s prime-time speech on the Syrian standoff with a televised mini-address of his own.

But even before an international crisis thrust him center stage, Paul had become this year’s most compelling and prescient political actor. His ascent began in earnest in March with the Twitter-certified #standwithrand sensation of his

Paul’s charisma is an anti-charisma. He can look as if he’s just gotten out of bed and thrown on whatever clothes he’d tossed on the floor the night before. His voice is a pinched drawl reflecting his Texas upbringing. He is earnest and direct, and not much given to laughter or the other public displays of feeling that stuffy white guys (like Mitt Romney) try to simulate once in the arena. He sometimes comes across like an alien who has dropped down from outer space—and in a figurative sense he is. In both style and substance, he seems a premature visitor from the future American political landscape that Republicans and Democrats alike will inhabit once they no longer have Obama to either kick around or revere. That America may well be as polarized as the one we have now, but with Obama gone (and some or all of the parties’ current leaders in Congress gone as well), the dynamics of our partisan culture will inevitably change. Paul is the only Republican presidential contender out there who seems to get the fact that a time is coming when the first Obama election of 2008 will not be refought over and over again like some infernal Groundhog Day. Democrats who lump him with Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann, Cruz, and Glenn Beck are still hoping to fight the last war. Paul is an original. He may be the first American senator to approvingly cite both Ayn Rand and Gabriel García Márquez. He has, in the words of Rich Lowry of National Review, “that quality that can’t be learned or bought: He’s interesting.” In that sense, he’s kind of a Eugene McCarthy of the right, destined to shake things up without necessarily reaping the rewards for himself.

Though he has been at or near the top of near-meaningless early primary polling, he is nonetheless a long shot to ascend to the top of the GOP ticket, let alone to the White House. And a good thing too: A Paul presidency would be a misfortune for the majority of Americans who would be devastated by his regime of minimalist government. But as we begin to imagine a post-Obama national politics where the Democratic presidential front-runners may be of Social Security age and the Republicans lack a presumptive leader or a coherent path forward, he can hardly be dismissed. Nature abhors a vacuum, and Paul doesn’t hide his ambitions to fill it. In his own party, he’s the one who is stirring the drink, having managed in his very short political career (all of three years) to have gained stature in spite of (or perhaps because of) his ability to enrage and usurp such GOP heavyweights as John McCain, Mitch McConnell, and Chris Christie. He is one of only two putative ­presidential contenders in either party still capable of doing something you don’t expect or saying something that hasn’t been freeze-dried into anodyne Frank Luntz–style drivel by strategists and focus groups. The other contender in the spontaneous-authentic political sweepstakes is Christie, but like an actor who’s read too many of his rave reviews, he’s already turning his bully-in-a-china-shop routine into Jersey shtick. (So much so that if he modulates it now, he’ll come across as a phony.) Paul doesn’t do shtick, he rarely engages in sound bites or sloganeering, and his language has not been balled up by a stint in law school or an M.B.A. program. (He’s an ophthalmologist.) He speaks as if he were thinking aloud and has a way of making his most radical notions sound plausible in the moment. It doesn’t hurt that some of what he says also makes sense.

The sum of his credo can be found in his unvarnished new book. Titled Government Bullies: How Everyday Americans Are Being Harassed, Abused and Imprisoned by the Feds, it’s a repetitive catalogue of anecdotes showcasing ordinary citizens and small businesses that have been hounded by idiotic government regulations or bureaucrats or both. The most universal of these horror stories is the one that happened to Paul himself—a Kafkaesque manhandling by TSA airport inspectors that’s bound to hit home with anyone who has passed through security at an American airport. Paul’s other tales of woe are no doubt equally true, and often egregious. The problem is that out of such grievances he builds a blanket case for castrating or doing away with most government agencies and regulations, from his father’s bête noire the Federal Reserve to the Environmental Protection Agency and the Food and Drug Administration (not to mention the requisite three or four Cabinet departments on any right-wing politician’s hit list). So instinctive is his defense of commerce against government interference that he defended BP during the Gulf spill (“Accidents happen”) and condemned the Obama administration for putting its “boot heel on the throat” of the oil giant. It’s the same ideological conviction that led him, in his 2010 senatorial campaign, to revive the self-immolating Barry Goldwater argument that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was flawed by its imposition of racial integration on “private enterprise” like, say, lunch counters.

What separates Paul from many of his tea-party peers is his meticulous insistence on blaming Republicans and Democrats alike for the outrages he finds in every tentacle of the federal Leviathan. He also takes a moderate rhetorical tone, far removed from that of the other right-wing politicians, Fox News talking heads, and radio bloviators who share his views. “I believe no one has the right to pollute another person’s property, and if it occurs the polluter should be made to pay for cleanup and damages,” he writes in one typical passage. “I am not against all regulation. I am against overzealous regulation.” There’s no “Don’t Tread on Me” overkill in his public preachments. He harbors no impeachment fantasies and not so much as a scintilla of Obama hatred even as he leads the charge against what he sees as the oppressive government nightmare of Obamacare. This has been the case from the start. When Paul began running for the Senate, it was during the red-hot tea-party year of 2009, with its tsunami of raucous town-hall meetings and death threats to the president. Paul gladly accepted Palin’s endorsement, but never succumbed to those swamp fevers. Though the liberal editorial page of the Louisville Courier-Journal was dismissive of his views during his Senate race, it went out of its way to observe that the man himself was “neither an angry nor resentful person” and was instead “thoughtful and witty in an elfin sort of way.”

Paul’s opponent in that primary, the Kentucky secretary of State, Trey Grayson, was endorsed by a Who’s Who of the Establishment, from McConnell, the state’s senior senator, to the neocon compadres Dick Cheney and Rudy Giuliani. Polls showed that primary voters favored Grayson’s national-security views over Paul’s by a three-to-one ratio. But Paul won in a landslide, a feat he easily replicated against his Democratic adversary in the general election. Since that rout, the balance of power between McConnell and Paul has reversed.

It’s not every day you see a party’s leader in the United States Senate play sycophant to a freshman two decades his junior. But having failed to stop Paul, McConnell is desperate to be in his good graces as he faces a possible tea-party challenge from the right in his reelection bid next year. This has led him to hire a longtime aide to both Pauls, Jesse Benton, as his campaign manager even though Benton isn’t precisely in awe of his new client: He was caught on tape saying that he was “sort of holding my nose” to take on the assignment, and was doing so mainly because it “is going to be a big benefit for Rand in ’16.” McConnell is holding his own nose over that and much more. He has signed on to Paul’s pet cause of legalizing the farming of hemp for industrial use—a development that would seem as remote as John Boehner’s declaring himself a Dead Head. And to the astonishment of those who regard McConnell as the epitome of Republican orthodoxy, he threw in his lot with Paul on Syria too, becoming the only one of either party’s leaders in either chamber of Congress to oppose intervention.

McConnell’s self-interested stand on Syria is but an addendum to a large and substantive sea change in GOP foreign policy, much of it attributable to Paul. The complacent neocon Establishment has been utterly blindsided. Just ask Bill Kristol, who had predicted that only five Republican Senators would join Paul in opposing military action in Syria—a vote count off by more than 400 percent. And just ask Christie, who attacked Paul’s national-security views this summer from what he no doubt thought was the unassailable political and intellectual high ground—only to find out he had missed the shift in his own party’s internal debate. In retrospect, both the Christie-Paul brawl and its antecedent—the interparty debate that followed Paul’s thirteen-hour homage to Mr. Smith Goes to Washington in March—are signal events in understanding how Paul’s stature and allure keep growing among Republican voters while his rivals seem ever smaller, shriller, and impotent.

What drove Christie to launch a strike was Paul’s fierce response to the latest revelations of NSA domestic snooping. Paul had judged James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, the villain of the case and had compared Edward Snowden’s civil disobedience to that of Martin Luther King and Henry David Thoreau. “This strain of libertarianism that’s going through both parties right now and making big headlines I think is a very dangerous thought,” Christie declared in a forum at the Aspen Institute, and for good measure tossed in 9/11 (“widows and the orphans”) lest anyone doubt that Paul and his ilk were soft on terrorism.

The New Jersey governor spoke with the certainty of a man with good reason to believe the party’s wind was at his back. The Wall Street Journal editorial page had earlier dismissed Paul’s anti-drone filibuster as a “political stunt” designed to “fire up impressionable libertarian kids in their college dorms.” Kristol had mocked Paul as a “spokesman for the Code Pink faction of the Republican Party.” McCain had dismissed him as one of “the wacko birds.” (He later apologized.) And after Christie spoke, the same crowd piled on. The Long Island congressman Peter King likened Paul not just to antiwar Democrats of the sixties but to “the Charles Lindberghs that said we should appease Hitler.” Christie’s Aspen performance was “fearless” and “electrifying,” said the neocon pundit Charles Krauthammer, and “an extremely important moment.”

But not everyone on the right believed Christie had thrown a knockout punch at the infidel within the GOP. Writing in Commentary, Jonathan Tobin noted that other conservatives had been echoing Paul’s condemnation of the “national security state” and accused as unlikely a subversive as Peggy Noonan of defecting to the “old line of the hard left.” Even the ultimate GOP tool, the party chairman Reince Priebus, had praised Paul’s filibuster as “completely awesome.” Tobin worried that a “crack up” of the “generations-old Republican consensus on foreign and defense policy” would be at hand if others didn’t follow Christie’s brave example and stand up to Paul and his cohort before “they hijack a party.”

The truth is that that consensus cracked up long ago—done in by the Bush administration and the amen chorus, typified by McCain, Kristol, and Krauthammer, that led the country into the ditch of Iraq. As Reason, the Paul-sympathizing libertarian magazine, pointed out approvingly, Paul’s filibuster “could have been aimed 100 percent at George W. Bush and the policies the Republican party and the conservative movement have urged for most of the 21st century.” And he had gotten away with it despite the protestations of the old conservative guard. Christie may think he can rewrite or reverse this history by attacking Paul, but he’s in denial. Bellicose exhortations consisting of a noun and a verb and 9/11 reached their political expiration date with the imploded Giuliani campaign of 2008.

Indeed, Paul’s opposition to Bush-administration policies is essentially the same as Obama’s when he rode to his victories over Hillary Clinton and McCain. An Ur-text for Paul’s argument against Syrian intervention can be found in Obama’s formulation of 2007: “The president does not have the power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation.” Like Obama the candidate, Paul was in favor of the post-9/11 war in Afghanistan, against the war in Iraq, skeptical about the legal rationale for Guantánamo, and opposed to the Patriot Act. That’s more or less the American center now. Well before the Snowden NSA revelations, the public was consistently telling pollsters that the federal government was untrustworthy and too intrusive. So low is the public’s appetite for military action abroad that only 9 percent of Americans favored an American intervention in the Syrian civil war in a Reuters survey at the end of August. Once the horrific images of the chemical-weapons slaughter in Damascus became ubiquitous, the percentage of those favoring an American military response still remained well below 50 percent. The more vehemently the strange bedfellows of Obama and the Journal editorial page argued for action—and the more prominently Paul argued against—the more public support fell away. A Journal–NBC News poll taken in the week after Labor Day found that only 44 percent of Americans approved of a limited military strike, and just 36 percent of Republicans.

In response to Christie’s Aspen fusillade, Paul asked why his fellow Republican “would want to pick a fight with the one guy who has the chance to grow the party by appealing to the youth and appealing to people who would like to see a more moderate and less aggressive foreign policy.” After the exchange of barbs died down, Christie retreated. Asked his position on a Syrian intervention after Labor Day, he proved a profile in Jell-O, announcing that he would pass the buck on the issue to the New Jersey delegation in Congress, led by a Democratic nemesis, Robert Menendez. McCain has blinked too. When Paul called for cutting off American aid in response to the generals’ coup in Egypt, McCain condemned him for sending the “wrong message” and making a “terrific mistake”—yet he and other GOP Senate hawks came crawling back to Paul’s position just two weeks later.

Paul’s independence from his party on national-security issues resembles his father’s, but he is careful to sand down the libertarian edges; he refuses to accept the label “isolationist,” calling himself a realist in the George Kennan mode and paying deference to the United Nations Security Council. He sounds more mainstream than his dad, and is. His fear that American missile strikes would serve mainly to pour still more oil on the fires of the Middle East is so prevalent in both parties that it was impossible for the liberal host of CNN’s Crossfire, Stephanie Cutter, to bait him into the hoped-for partisan fisticuffs on the revamped show’s debut episode. Paul can hit a bipartisan sweet spot on occasional domestic issues too. His push to reform mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenders brought him an alliance with the liberal Democratic senator Patrick Leahy and has now been belatedly embraced by the attorney general, Eric Holder.

None of this means that Paul has any serious chance of appealing to centrist and liberal Democrats in significant numbers in a national campaign. He labors under most of the same handicaps as the rest of his party. He has no credible commitment to serious immigration reform. He is an absolutist on guns and abortion. He is opposed to gay marriage (though trying, like many Republicans these days, to keep the issue on the down-low). In a speech at the Reagan Library this year, he acknowledged that the Republican Party will not win again until it “looks like the rest of America,” but his own outreach efforts have been scarcely better than the GOP’s as a whole. His game appearance at the historically black Howard University backfired when he tried to pretend that he had never “wavered” in his support of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 even though his recent wavering was a matter of public record, captured on video.

While Paul has tried to stay clear of the loony white Christian-identity extremists who gravitated to his father, he had to sacrifice an aide who was recently unmasked as a onetime radio shock jock prone to neo-Confederate radio rants under the nom de bigot “Southern Avenger.” What was most interesting about the incident, however, was the response of another cardinal of the waning GOP Establishment, the George W. Bush speechwriter turned Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson, who argued that Paul’s harboring of the Southern Avenger illustrates why it is “impossible for Rand Paul to join the Republican mainstream.” By that standard, the party would also have to drum out Rick Perry, who floated the fantasy of Texas’s seceding from the union, along with all the other GOP elected officials nationwide who are emulating Perry’s push for voter-suppression legislation in the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s vitiation of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. That Gerson would hypocritically single out Paul for banishment in a party harboring so many southern avengers is an indication of just how panicked the old GOP gatekeepers are by his success. They will grab anything they can find to bring him down.

And they will keep trying. As a foe of the bank bailout of 2008 and the Fed, Paul is anathema as much to the Republican Wall Street financial Establishment as he is to the party’s unreconstructed hawks. Those two overlapping power centers can bring many resources to bear if they are determined to put over a Christie or Jeb Bush or a Rubio—though their actual power over the party’s base remains an open question in the aftermath of the Romney debacle. What’s most important about Paul, however, is not his own prospects for higher office, but the kind of politics his early and limited success may foretell for post-Obama America. He doesn’t feel he has to be a bully, a screamer, a birther, a bigot, or a lock-and-load rabble-rouser to be heard above the din. He has principled ideas about government, however extreme, that are nothing if not consistent and that he believes he can sell with logic rather than threats and bomb-­throwing. Unlike Cruz and Rubio, he is now careful to say that he doesn’t think shutting down the government is a good tactic in the battle against Obamacare.

He is a godsend for the tea party—the presentable leader the movement kept trying to find during the 2012 Republican freak show but never did. Next to Paul, that parade of hotheads, with their overweening Obama hatred and their dog whistles to racists, nativists, and homophobes, looks like a relic from a passing era. For that matter, he may prove equally capable of making the two top Democratic presidential prospects for 2016, Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden, look like a nostalgia act.

This leaves Paul—for the moment at least—a man with a future. If in the end he and his ideas are too out-there to be a majority taste anytime soon, he is nonetheless performing an invaluable service. Whatever else may come from it, his speedy rise illuminates just how big an opening there might be for other independent and iconoclastic politicians willing to challenge the sclerosis of both parties in the post-Obama age.

Frank Rich on Rand Paul -- New York Magazine





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Why Race Has Been the Real Story of Obama's Presidency All Along -- New York Magazine

Jonathan Chait on the Government Shutdown — New York Magazine


Illustration by Oliver Munday

In a merciful twist of fate, Juan Linz did not really dwell to see his prophecy of the demise of American democracy borne out. Linz, the Spanish political scientist who died very last week, argued that the presidential system, with its independent elections for legislature and main government, was inherently unstable. In a popular 1990 essay, Linz noticed, “All these types of units are based on twin democratic legitimacy: No democratic theory exists to take care of disputes among the govt and the legislature about which of the two actually signifies the will of the individuals.” Presidential methods veered ultimately toward collapse in all places they ended up tried using, as legislators and executives vied for supremacy. There was only 1 notable exception: the United States of The united states.

Linz attributed our puzzling, anomalous security to “the uniquely diffuse character of American political events.” The Republicans had masses of moderates, and conservative whites in the South however clung to the Democratic Occasion. At the time he wrote that, the two get-togethers have been already sorting on their own into far more ideologically pure versions, leaving us wherever we stand nowadays: with a person racially and economically polyglot occasion of heart-still left technocracy and just one ethnically homogenous reactionary celebration. The latter is currently trying to impose its program by danger upon the former. The activities in Washington have presented us a peek into the Linzian nightmare.

Historically, when American politics encountered the dilemma of divided government—when, say, Nixon and Eisenhower encountered Democratic Congresses, or Bill Clinton a Republican one—one of two matters occurred. Both the two sides found ample incentives to function collectively in spite of their distinctions, or there was what we utilized to identify as the only choice: gridlock. Gridlock is what most of us envisioned soon after the last election generated a Democratic president and Republican Dwelling. Washington would drudge on it would be tough to get anything at all completed, but also really hard to undo just about anything. Days following the election, John Boehner, no question anticipating points would have on as constantly, reported, “Obamacare is the legislation of the land.”

In its place, to the slowly but surely unfolding horror of the Obama administration and even some segments of the Republican Occasion, the GOP determined that the choice to obtaining frequent floor with the president did not have to be mere gridlock. It could drive the president to enact its agenda. In January, Boehner explained to his colleagues he’d abandon all coverage negotiations with the White House. Later that spring, Dwelling Republicans extended the freeze-out to the Democratic-­majority Senate, which has given that issued (as of push time) eighteen futile pleas for spending budget negotiations. Their program has been to carry out their agenda by utilizing what they get in touch with “leverage” or “forcing events” to threaten economic and social hurt and therefore extract concessions from President Obama with no needing to make any policy concessions in return. Paul Ryan made available the most candid admission of his party’s decided use of non-electoral electricity: “The reason this credit card debt-limit fight is diverse is we do not have an election close to the corner in which we experience we are likely to acquire and deal with it ourselves,” he mentioned at the stop of September. “We are trapped with this governing administration another 3 a long time.”

Past Tuesday, Home Republicans shut down the federal governing administration, demanding that Obama abolish his health and fitness-care reform in a tactically reckless gamble that most of the get together feared but could not avoid. Extra surreal, most likely, were the conditions they issued in trade for lifting the debt ceiling later on this month. Lifting the financial debt ceiling, a vestigial ritual in which Congress votes to approve payment of the money owed it has previously incurred, is nearly a symbolic event, except that not doing it would wreak unpredictable and quite possibly monumental globally economic havoc. (Obama’s Treasury Section has in comparison the effect of a credit card debt breach to the failure of Lehman Brothers.) The hostage letter Residence Republicans introduced brimmed with megalomaniacal ambition. If he wanted to stay clear of financial spoil, Republicans mentioned, Obama would submit to a hold off of health-care reform, in addition tax-rate cuts, enactment of offshore drilling, acceptance of the Keystone pipeline, deregulation of Wall Avenue, and Medicare cuts, to identify but a couple of requires. Republicans barely pretended to imagine Obama would accede to the complete list (a established of calls for that amounted to the retroactive election of Mitt Romney), but the hubris was startling in and of alone.

The debt ceiling turns out to be unexploded ordnance lying around the American type of government. Only custom or ethical compunction stops the opposition party from working with it to nullify the president’s powers, or, for that issue, the president from making use of it to nullify Congress’s. (Obama could, theoretically, threaten to veto a financial debt ceiling hike except if Congress attaches it to the generation of solitary-payer overall health coverage.) To weaponize the credit card debt ceiling, you will have to be prepared to inflict hurt on millions of innocent people today. It is a shockingly highly effective self-destruct button created into our incredibly program of authorities, but only beneficial for the most ideologically hardened or borderline sociopathic. But it turns out to be the great resource for the modern day GOP: a celebration substantial enough to handle a chamber of Congress yet as well compact to win the presidency, and infused with a harmful, millenarian mixture of overheated Randian paranoia and completely justified concern of adverse demographic trends. The only detail that boundaries the credit card debt ceiling’s efficiency at the instant is the widespread suspicion that Boehner is as well aged faculty, also missing in the Leninist will to electric power that fires his more recent co-partisans, to actually have out his menace. (He has advised as a lot to some colleagues in private.) Boehner himself is thus the a person weak url in the Household Republicans’ skill to carry out a variety of rolling coup against the Obama administration. Unfortunately, Boehner’s regulate of his chamber is tenuous ample that, like the ailing monarch of a crumbling routine, it’s difficult to strike an agreement with him in complete protection it will be carried out.

The standoff embroiling Washington represents significantly additional than the specifics of the calls for on the table, or even the prospect of economic calamity. It is an incipient constitutional crisis. Obama foolishly set the precedent in 2011 that he would enable Congress jack him up for a financial debt-ceiling hike. He now has to crush the observe wholly, lest it turn out to be ritualized. Obama not only ought to refuse to trade concessions for a financial debt-ceiling hike he has to make it apparent that he will endure default before he submits to ransom. To pay out a ransom now, even a tiny a single, would make certain an countless succession of personal debt-ceiling ransoms right up until, sooner or later, the two sides fall short to agree on the right dimensions of the ransom and default follows.

This is a domestic Cuban Missile Crisis. A one blunder could have unalterable repercussions: If Obama buckles his no-ransom stance, the financial debt-ceiling-hostage genie will be out of the bottle. If Republicans believe that he is bluffing, or acknowledge his situation but obstinately refuse it, or try to raise the credit card debt ceiling and only botch the vote depend, a 2nd Excellent Economic downturn could ensue.

When Linz contemplated the kinds of crises endemic to presidential units, he imagined intractable claims of competing legitimacy—charismatic leaders riding excellent passionate mobs, insisting they on your own represented the will of the people today. The current disaster is a variation of that. Republicans insistently level to polls demonstrating disapproval of the Affordable Care Act—a sort of assertion of legitimacy through direct referendum, implicitly rebuking Obama’s counter-argument that the presidential election settled the problem of repealing the Inexpensive Care Act. But the Republican placement rests more greatly on the logic of extortion alternatively than popular mandate. “No a single desires to default, but we are not likely to continue to give the president a limitless credit score card,” warned Republican agent Jason Chaffetz previously this calendar year. Obama “will not permit an economic disaster even worse than 2008–09,” wrote previous Bush administration speechwriter Marc Thiessen, and therefore “has no decision but to negotiate with GOP leaders.” Republicans argue that Obama bears all duty for avoiding a countrywide catastrophe Obama argues that both sides bear an equivalent amount of money each and every day—and that this specific mess is not his to cleanse up.

How to settle this dispute? Listed here is where by Linz’s investigation rings chillingly true: “There is no democratic principle on the basis of which it can be resolved, and the mechanisms the Structure may possibly supply are probably to demonstrate way too sophisticated and aridly legalistic to be of much force in the eyes of the voters.” This is a combat with no regulations. The ability wrestle will be resolved as a pure contest of willpower.

In our Founders’ defense, it’s really hard to layout any political method strong sufficient to face up to a bash as ideologically radical and epistemically closed as the modern day GOP. (Its proximate casus belli—forestalling the onset of common wellness insurance—is alien to each and every other significant conservative get together in the industrialized world.) The tea-occasion insurgents transform out to be appropriate that the Obama era has observed a elementary challenge to the constitutional purchase of American federal government. They ended up completely wrong about who was waging it.



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Why Race Has Been the Real Story of Obama's Presidency All Along -- New York Magazine

Why Julian Assange Is a Crucial Historical Figure — New York Magazine


Image: Andrew Parson/I-Images/ZumaPress/Newscom

Right until pretty recently, there have been only a hand­ful of people today on the earth with a specific feeling of how considerably curiosity the world’s intelligence organizations have in them. Some schizophrenics have been con­vinced a person was often monitoring them, but they have been wrong. Most of the rest of us have assumed that we did not matter to spies at all, but immediately after the Edward Snowden dis­closures, that looks incorrect, way too: Every single of us, evidently, is of a extremely tiny little bit of desire to spy businesses.

In 2010, as he was publishing Bradley (now Chelsea) Manning’s revelations of the crimes of the American military services and the inner workings of the U.S. diplomatic corps, Julian Assange was the exceptional person with a fantastic strategy about who was viewing him, and how intently.

When Assange, previously infamous, fled London for the English manor household where he would put together the Cablegate disclosures, and costumed himself for the trip as a giant female with an implausible wig when his assistants, looking at American politicians on television contacting for their boss’s murder by drone, listened to planes passing overhead and flinched when he insisted on having to pay for everything in funds to stay away from leaving an digital trail—when he did all of this, Assange was being amateurish and overly theatrical. But he was likely not currently being ridiculous.

Which can make one element of Assange’s habits primarily shocking: how trusting he was with new volunteers, how speedily they breached his internal circle. “There was no vetting at all,” suggests James Ball, who was section of Assange’s interior circle at WikiLeaks for several months in 2010. It can help to describe Ball’s have story. He was 24 yrs outdated, working for a generation firm pitching documentaries about the Iraq War, when he heard that WikiLeaks had a large trove of key documents related to that war. Ball managed to prepare an introduction to Assange, and at the end of their very first evening alongside one another, Assange slipped him a thumb generate containing everything about Iraq that WikiLeaks was planning to release. If he was at all careful about the motives of newcomers like Ball (and the complete genre of literary British spy fiction is created all-around figures like Ball, a couple of several years out of Oxford, government internships in his earlier), Assange did not act like it. No encryption, no ailments, no formal nondisclosure agreements. Below it was.

Assange’s whole public lifestyle has been an experiment on the concept of belief, just one devoted to the conviction that the community believe in in federal government has been terribly misplaced. But for a time, in 2010, Assange felt a component of anything larger—if not affiliated with any institution other than his individual, then at least part of a broader political motion versus American electric power. The Fifth Estate, a considerate drama out this 7 days with the English actor Benedict Cumberbatch as Assange, focuses on the extraordinary 8-month period when WikiLeaks printed the military’s war logs from Afghanistan and Iraq, the Condition Department’s inner cables, and the “Collateral Murder” video—everything that designed Assange renowned. There was a casual brutality to the way that highly effective states and com­panies appeared to behave in these files: A Shell govt bragged about obtaining packed the Nigerian authorities with sympathizers, American military officers substantially underreported the figures of Iraqi civilians their soldiers had been killing. In London, Wiki­Leaks grew to become an Institution liberal bring about, and the Australian uncovered himself joined by human-rights crusaders who had been knighted by the queen, journalists and filmmakers, worried citizens and TED Communicate stars.

These allegiances ended up always certain to collapse—Assange is basically way too unusual, in his person and his politics, to have come to be part of any mainstream coalition—but they have collapsed so completely that there is little left of Assange’s community impression suitable now further than the crude cartoon. Vain and self-mythologizing, he has been accused of sexual assault by two of his supporters a prophet of the mounting powers of the surveillance condition, he now reportedly lives in a fifteen-by-13-foot place in London’s Ecuadoran Embassy, sleeping in a women’s toilet, monitored by intelligence companies at all times nevertheless trusting of the volunteers around him, he gave 1 this sort of man access to secret American diplomatic cables about Belarus, only to obtain that info passed along to the Belarusian dictator. It is as if Assange has been eaten by his individual weaknesses and obsessions. Contacting all over, I’d listened to that the previous distinguished London intellectual who even now supported him was the writer Tariq Ali, but when I at last reached him, by using Skype, on an island in the Adriatic, it turned out that Ali, as well, had grown exasperated with Assange. “He has not formulated his worldview,” Ali claimed. “Certainly he is hostile to the American empire. But that’s not adequate.” Assange has come to be found, as a journalist at The Guardian set it, as very little more than “a practical fool.”

All of this is Assange’s personal doing. And however it is peculiar how absolutely these dramas have obscured the power of his insights and how absolutely we now seem to be residing in Julian Assange’s environment. His true matter never ever was war or human rights. It was often surveillance and the way that know-how unbalanced the partnership amongst the individual and the state. Details now moves via digital circuits, which means it can all be collected, stored, analyzed. The insight that Assange husbanded (and Snowden’s evidence verified) is that the sheer seduction of this trove—the likelihood of secretly knowing every little thing about other people—would lead governments and businesses to abandon their personal guidelines and ethics. This is the paranoid worldview of a hacker, assembled from a life time of chasing facts. But Assange proved that it was accurate, and the consequence of his discovery has been a strange political instant, when to see the globe as a result of the lens of conspiracies has not only designed you paranoid. It is also manufactured you knowledgeable.

Assange’s detractors generally call him a conspiracy theorist and necessarily mean it as a very simple slur. But in the most literal sense, Assange is just that: a theorist of conspiracies. He gave his key pre-WikiLeaks manifesto the title Conspiracy As Governance, and in it he argued that authoritarian establishments relied on the folks working inside of them conspiring to shield most likely harming facts. In substantial establishments like militaries or banking institutions, to keep these forms of strategies requires an massive selection of collaborators. If you could discover a way to assure anonymity, then even the most peripheral people within these establishments could leak its secrets and crack the conspiracy. WikiLeaks was crafted to obtain these leaks. Bradley Manning, in other terms, did not only locate WikiLeaks. WikiLeaks was designed for Bradley Manning.

The impression that Assange utilized to explain how these conspiracies labored was of an array of nails hammered into boards, with connecting twine looped all-around the nails. Every single nail was a particular person and the twine was the information snip it and the full procedure would unravel. WikiLeaks was the snipping system. And yet in the 3 many years considering that Assange’s important disclosures, the twine has not detectably unraveled. Governments have not fallen for the reason that of what WikiLeaks uncovered. Procedures have typically been remaining unchanged there are a lot more secrets and techniques than at any time. Some other force was at work.

None of this diminishes the power of the revelations. To take just 1 example from the army logs released by Manning: In 2007, in the Afghan district of Zarghun Shah, American rockets hit a school, killing six young adult men and seven young children. Armed service spokesmen then said that the rockets had been fired as section of a typical patrol, and the soldiers were responding to insurgents who had taken refuge in a close by mosque. The categorized report appeared unique. The rockets experienced really been fired by members of a magic formula squad of Special Functions soldiers identified as Process Drive 373, devoted to higher-value targets, who experienced gone after the mosque when intelligence reports claimed that a senior Al Qaeda leader was holed up in the elaborate. It wasn’t until eventually the WikiLeaks revelations three decades later that we uncovered that the stories had been incorrect and that the army had merely manufactured up other particulars to try to justification the murders and that the neighborhood Afghan politicians experienced been pressured to echo them. This was an extraordinary situation, but even so, the ease with which murders were turned into secrets and techniques is startling. “The principle is trust and validate,” states William Binney, a former NSA crypto-mathematician turned anti-secrecy advocate. “But in reality there is no verify, only have confidence in.”

WikiLeaks’ final major document release, at the stop of 2011, was named the “Spy Documents,” and it consisted in significant element of data gathered by an English lawyer named Eric King, who, performing for the British firm Privateness Global, invested a number of years traveling to trade fairs exactly where Western electronic-surveillance providers presented their new systems. Generally the customers were federal government officers from Third Earth nations around the world. In Kuala Lumpur, King told me, he viewed a delegation from South Sudan, a country then just a number of months aged, remaining taken from booth to booth by a group he took to be from the Chinese government, getting told what they needed to invest in to spy on their own citizens, as if they were pushing a cart around a supermarket.

King noticed a specific mentality at the conferences amid all those who held official tricks. “The perspective at the conferences was normally, ‘If you really do not have a stability clearance, then you just don’t have an understanding of how the planet definitely operates,’ ” King claims. In the course of the revolutions of the Arab Spring, when activists and journalists cracked open up deserted secret police places of work, their discoveries appeared to affirm how dependent the governments ended up on Western surveillance technologies. In 1 Tripoli intelligence center, Qaddafi’s spies had been employing a resource Libya experienced purchased from the French firm Amesys to observe all e-mail targeted traffic, and know-how from the South African company VASTech to check all worldwide phone calls.

Some of these instruments seem to have been marketed irrespective of embargoes in many more situations, there are merely no regulations at all. Hacker-activists have detected web-filtering and blocking application manufactured by a Sunnyvale, California, firm known as Blue Coat Systems getting utilized by the Syrian authorities to restrict the World-wide-web the Sudanese and Iranian governments have also utilized Blue Coat’s goods. (The company has admitted this but says it did not immediately sell its items to the Syrian routine.) While it is not possible to verify, King suggests he often hears that Western intelligence organizations tolerate these revenue for the reason that they have back doors constructed in, so that they can keep track of, say, the Libyan governing administration as it displays its possess dissidents.

Spying turns out to be extremely low-priced. One particular notable tool marketed by the U.K.-based Gamma Team, FinFisher, allows a government agent choose remote command of any user’s mobile phone by infecting it with malware, allowing for the agent to pinpoint that user’s area, document his calls, and even turn on a microphone in the mobile phone to hear to the user’s off-line conversations. This engineering expenses close to $500,000—“a sixth of the expense of a secondhand tank,” King claims. “That’s dictator chump improve.” FinFisher has been offered to 36 governments, among the them the brutal dictatorship of Turkmenistan.

The usa, of system, is wherever Assange’s concepts have been most coolly received. The crimes of Activity Pressure 373 had been a big story in The Guardian and Der Spiegel, but they played a lot scaled-down in the American press, which includes in the Moments. In Congress, the job force has not been pointed out as soon as. The Fifth Estate is steeped in a type of expository triumphalism—figures all around Assange are for good explaining how substantially the world is about to adjust or how much it just has. And yet in genuine daily life, the revelations have demonstrated the great inertia of American politics, of the enduring capability of issues to continue to be pretty much accurately as they are.

The wonderful puzzle of the recent scandals in American community life—in the banks and refinance shops in the course of the mortgage loan crisis, in the armed service and the countrywide-safety apparatus in the course of the war on terror—is why our institutional loyalties have remained so solid, and why whistle-blowers have been so rare. Why, if 480,000 people today have Snowden’s security clearance and additional than 1 million have Manning’s, have there been no other leaks?

Peter Ludlow, a Northwestern philosophy professor who scientific tests hacker activism, thinks the solution might lie not in the nature of American politics but in a little something extra standard and human. He pointed me to the function of a sociologist named Robert Jackall, well known among hacker-activists, who identified that in large corporations and governmental establishments, middle managers routinely adopted the inner codes of company lifetime rather than their possess moral convictions, even when confronted by crystal clear proof of wrongdoing. “Conspiracy doesn’t have to indicate outdated white dudes at a mahogany desk,” Ludlow suggests. “It can be an emergent residence of a community of fantastic people today, exactly where all of a sudden you’ve bought a harm-resulting in macro entity.”

The consequence of the WikiLeaks revelations has been to persuade some men and women to see these styles, and so to see the globe a lot more like Assange himself does. But this perspective is not for everybody it is not actually for anyone, even Assange. He suffers from fears that the sushi he eats may possibly be poisoned he appreciates that every little thing he does is monitored by huge intelligence agencies he believes that ladies he experienced intercourse with may possibly have been in cahoots with spies. From the Ecuadoran Embassy appear, now and then, these lunging gestures for a connection: The warm letter to Benedict Cumberbatch, praising the actor’s overall performance while denouncing the movie the doomed attempt to establish a political social gathering in Australia even though imprisoned midway all around the entire world the intuition to consider the goodwill of new volunteers on religion, to press thumb drives full of secrets into the palms of strangers. Which leaves Assange as both equally a prophet and a warning: If his perform has proved the dangers of trusting way too substantially, then his lifestyle has shown the impossibility of dwelling without having any rely on at all.



Resource connection

Why Race Has Been the Real Story of Obama's Presidency All Along -- New York Magazine

Frank Rich on the History of Government Shutdowns — New York Magazine


Photo-illustration by Gluekit. Clockwise from top left, Calhoun, Goldwater, Cruz, Gingrich.Photo: © Bettmann/Corbis (Goldwater), Terry Ashe/Time Life Pictures/Getty Images (Gingrich); Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images (Cruz)

The great ­government shutdown of 2013 was barely a day old, and already blue America was running out of comic put-downs to hurl at the House’s wrecking crew. Not content with “morons” and “dunderheads,” Jon Stewart coined new epithets for the occasion (e.g., “bald-eagle fellators”). Politicians you wouldn’t normally confuse with Don Rickles joined in too—not just the expected Democrats like Harry Reid, who had opted for “banana Republicans,” but blue-state Republicans like Devin Nunes of California, who dismissed his own congressional peers as “lemmings with suicide vests.”

Implicit in this bipartisan gallows humor was an assumption shared by most of those listening: The non-legislating legislators responsible for the crisis are a lunatic fringe—pariahs in the country at large and outliers even in their own party. They’re “a small faction of Republicans who represent an even smaller fraction of Americans,” as the former Obama speechwriter Jon Favreau put it in the Daily Beast. By this line of reasoning, all that kept them afloat was their possession of just enough votes in their divided chamber to hold the rest of America temporarily hostage to their incendiary demands.

Would that this were so, and that the extralegal rebellion against the Affordable Care Act, a Supreme Court–sanctified law of the land, would send the rebels, not the country, off a cliff. Off the cliff they may well have gone in this year’s failed coup, but like Wile E. Coyote, they will quickly climb back up to fight another day. That’s what happened after the double-header shutdowns of 1995–96, which presaged Newt Gingrich’s beheading but in the long run advanced the rebels’ cause. It’s what always happens. The present-day anti-government radicals in Congress, and the Americans who voted them into office, are in the minority, but they are a permanent minority that periodically disrupts or commandeers a branch or two of the federal government, not to mention the nation’s statehouses. Their brethren have been around for much of our history in one party or another, and with a constant anti-­democratic aim: to thwart the legitimacy of a duly elected leader they abhor, from Lincoln to FDR to Clinton to Obama, and to resist any laws with which they disagree. So deeply rooted are these furies in our national culture that their consistency and tenacity should be the envy of other native political movements.

Yet we keep assuming the anti-­government right has been vanquished after its recurrent setbacks, whether after the Clinton-impeachment implosion or the Barry Goldwater debacle of 1964 or the surrender at Appomattox. A Democratic victory in the 1982 midterms was all it took for David Broder, then the “dean” of Beltway pundits, to write off Reaganism as “a one-year phenomenon.” When polls showed a decline in support for the tea-party brand last year, it prompted another round of premature obituaries. But the ideological adherents of tea-party causes, who long predate that grassroots phenomenon of 2009, never went away, whatever they choose to label themselves. In recent months, both The Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post had to scramble to assemble front-page stories spotting a tea-party comeback. Even so, it took only one week into the shutdown for a liberal ­pundit at the Post to declare that we were witnessing “the tea party’s last stand.”

That last stand has been going on for almost 200 years. At the heart of the current rebels’ ideology is the anti-Washington credo of nullification, codified by the South Carolina politician John C. Calhoun in the 1830s and rarely lacking for avid followers ever since. Our inability to accept the anti-government right’s persistence is in part an astonishing case of denial. The Gingrich revolution, the Ur-text for this fall’s events, took place less than twenty years ago and yet was at best foggily remembered as the current calamity unfolded. There’s also a certain liberal snobbery at play: We don’t know any of these radicals, do we?

In truth we do. The name of David Koch, among the bigger bankrollers of the revolution, is plastered over half of Manhattan, it sometimes seems. And beyond New York, the distance between the crazies and the country as a whole is not quite as vast as many blue-state Americans assume. The rebels’ core strongholds are the 80 Republican districts whose House members signed an August letter effectively calling on John Boehner to threaten a government shutdown if Obamacare was not aborted. Analysts have been poring over these districts’ metrics for weeks looking for evidence of how alien they are to the American mainstream. The evidence is there, up to a point. The 80 enclaves predictably have a higher percentage of non-Hispanic whites than the nation (75 percent vs. 63 percent) and a lower percentage of Hispanics (10.8 vs. 16.7 nationwide). But even those contrasts aren’t quite as stark as one might have imagined, especially given that most of these districts have been gerrymandered by state legislatures to be as safely Republican as possible. To complicate the picture further, fifteen of the offending districts have a larger percentage of Hispanics than the country does, and 24 have a proportionately larger black population. The 80 districts also come reasonably close to the national norm in median household income ($47,535 vs. $50,502) and percentage of college graduates (24.6 vs. 28.5). The percentage of high-school graduates in the rebel districts is actually a smidgen higher than that of the country (86.6 vs. 85.9).

Of course, the gang of 80 who fomented this revolt are predominantly white men, and their districts are mostly clustered in the South, the Sun Belt, and the Midwest. But the same could be said of most of the GOP caucus. For Republicans to claim that this cabal of 80 legislators represents a mutant strain—“a small segment who dictate to the rest of the party,” in the words of a prominent GOP fund-raiser, Bobbie Kilberg—is disingenuous or delusional. (Kilberg herself has raised money for Paul Ryan and Eric Cantor.) This “small segment” accounts for a third of the 232 members of the House Republican caucus. Lunatics they may be, but the size of their cohort can’t be minimized as a fringe in the context of the wider GOP. And they wield disproportionate clout because the party’s so-called moderates let them—whether out of fear of primary challenges from the right, opportunism, or shared convictions that are not actually moderate at all.

According to Robert Costa of National Review, the go-to reporter on internal GOP congressional machinations, there are more than a hundred moderates among the party’s House ranks. Where are they, exactly? Even Peter King, the Long Island Republican who sees himself as their standard-bearer, has essentially called them cowards. “They will talk, they will complain,” he says, “but they’ve never gone head-to-head” with the rebels. If the recent events couldn’t rouse them to action—assuming they exist—it’s hard to imagine what ever would. Costa’s estimate notwithstanding, the fact remains that until the middle of last week only 24 Republican members of the House publicly affirmed they would vote for a “clean” resolution to reopen the government—a head count even smaller than the 49 who bucked their party to vote for Hurricane Sandy relief. It’s the sad little band of vocal moderates, not the gang of 80, that is the true “small segment” of the GOP.

The radicals’ power within the party has been stable for nearly two decades. The current ratio of revolutionaries to the Republican House caucus is similar to that of the 104th Congress of 1995–96, where the revolt was fueled by 73 freshmen out of a GOP class of 236. For all the lip service being paid this fall to memories of ­Gingrich’s short-lived reign as the Capitol’s ­Robespierre, some seem to forget just how consistent that Washington train wreck was with this one in every way. On MSNBC, Andrea Mitchell went so far as to categorize the current House insurgents’ Senate godfather, Ted Cruz, as a rare new pox on the body politic—the adherent of “a completely different strategy than almost anyone we’ve ever seen come to Washington.” Really? The political tactics and ideological conflicts are the same today as they were the last time around. Back then, the GOP was holding out for a budget that would deeply slash government health-care spending (in that case on Medicare) and was refusing to advance a clean funding bill that would keep the government open. The House also took the debt ceiling hostage, attaching a wish list of pet conservative causes to the routine bill that would extend it. That maneuver prompted Moody’s, the credit-rating agency, to threaten to downgrade Treasury securities, and Wall Street heavies like Felix Rohatyn to warn of impending economic catastrophe. The secretary of the Treasury, Robert Rubin, juggled funds in federal accounts to delay default much as his protégé Jacob Lew was driven to do in the same Cabinet position now. Leon Panetta, then Clinton’s chief of staff, accused the Republicans of holding “a gun to the head of the president and the head of the country” and likened their threats to “a form of terrorism.” (And this was before terrorism became an everyday word in America.) The internal political dynamics in both parties were similar as well. Gingrich has a far stormier temperament than Boehner, but like the current speaker, he could have trouble keeping control of his own caucus and waltzed into a shutdown scenario without having any idea of an endgame, let alone an escape route. President Clinton, like President Obama, held firm rather than capitulating to the House’s extortionists, betting that public opinion would force them to cave.

To fully appreciate the continuity between then and now, one need look no further than the Third District of Indiana. It is currently represented by the most conspicuous goat of the 2013 uprising, Marlin Stutzman, whose declaration in the shutdown’s early going was a ready-made Onion gag: “We’re not going to be disrespected. We have to get something out of this. And I don’t know what that even is.” Those who think Stutzman represents a new breed minted in the Obama era would be advised to recall his immediate predecessor in the same seat, Mark Souder. “We didn’t come here to raise the debt limits,” Souder said during the 1995 shutdown, insisting that “some of the revolution has to occur,” for “otherwise, why are we here?” (This is the same northeastern-Indiana constituency, by the way, that gave America Dan Quayle.)

The midterm elections of 1994 were in retrospect the tipping point driving American politics today—not because of the shutdowns that ensued in the next two years, however, or the fact that Republicans took control of the House for the first time in 40 years. Rather, it’s that 1994 marked the culmination of the migration of the old Confederacy from the Democratic Party to the GOP. That shift had started in 1964, when Barry Goldwater pried away states from the old solid Democratic South with his opposition to the Civil Rights Act, and it accelerated with the advent of Richard Nixon’s “southern strategy” of pandering to racists at the end of that decade. But for an interim quarter-century after that, the old Dixiecrats were dispersed in both major parties, rather than coalescing in one. The 1994 election was the first since Reconstruction in which the majority of the old South’s congressional representation went into the Republican column.

This shift wasn’t fully appreciated at the time. When the Gingrich gang staged its sequel to the shutdowns of ’95 and ’96—the self-immolating overreach of the Clinton impeachment in ’98—Dan Carter, a preeminent historian of the civil-rights era, told the Times that he was “surprised that there’s been so little discussion” of how “the southernization of the Republican Party” had shaped events. “Maybe it’s like the purloined letter,” he said. “It’s sitting there on the shelf right in front of you, so you don’t see it.”

What southernization brought with it was the credo of Calhoun, the “Great Nullifier,” whose championing of states’ rights and belief in a minority’s power to reject laws imposed by a congressional majority (whether over taxes or slavery) presaged the secessionism of the Civil War (which Calhoun didn’t live to see) and the old southern Democrats’ resistance to desegregation a century later. It’s Calhoun’s legacy that informs the current House rebels’ rejection of Obamacare and their notion that they can pick and choose which federal agencies they would reopen on a case-by-case basis.

When Calhoun’s precepts found a permanent home in the GOP in the nineties—under the aegis of a new generation of southern Republican leaders typified by Gingrich and Trent Lott (a typical Democratic convert)—the animus was directed at Bill Clinton, a president who happened to be both white and southern. It was inevitable that when a black president took office, the racial fevers of secessionist history would resurface and exacerbate some of the radicals’ rage. One of the House’s current nullifiers, Lynn Westmoreland of Georgia, called the Obamas “uppity” during the 2008 campaign, smeared Huma Abedin as a Muslim Brotherhood mole, and voted against a new Justice Department initiative to investigate unsolved crimes of the civil-rights era. Another, Jeff Duncan, a former Strom Thurmond intern who represents the patch of South Carolina that was Calhoun’s ancestral home, has likened what he sees as slack border control to “allowing any kind of vagrant, or animal, or just somebody that’s hungry, or somebody that wants to do your dishes for you, to come in.” This kind of thinking is all too representative of that small but effective racialist-nativist subset within the GOP rebel bloc that will doom immigration reform and is working furiously to erect new barriers to minority voting in a swath of states.

But to brand this entire cohort as racist is both incorrect and reductive. It under­estimates their broader ideological sway within their party. The unifying bogeyman for this camp is the federal government, not blacks or Hispanics, and that animus will remain undiminished after Obama’s departure from the White House. Though Andrew Jackson—under whom Calhoun served as vice-president—dismissed the ideology of nullification as “subversive” of the Constitution, it has always been wrapped in patriotic rationalizations, as it is now. In Ecstatic Nation, a new book about the decades bracketing the Civil War, Brenda Wineapple writes that even the South’s secessionists “saw themselves as protecting the Constitution, not tearing it apart.” Or as Jefferson Davis, speaking like a born tea-partyer, claimed: “We are upholding the true doctrines of the Federal Constitution.” Whatever the bottom line of Washington’s current battle, the nullification of federal laws is growing as a cause at the grass roots. Of the 26 states that are refusing the federal Medicaid expansion—at the price of denying their poorest citizens health care—23 of them have GOP governors. That’s a bigger slice of America than can be found in the map of the 80 districts of the defund-Obamacare brigade.

How and where will this rebellion end? After a week of shutdown, Gallup found that the GOP’s approval rating had dropped to the lowest level (28 percent) for either party since the question was first asked in 1992. But there is no political incentive for the incumbent rebels in safe districts to retreat. “They may think of us as extremists here,” said Mark Souder when serving as a foot soldier in the Gingrich rebellion of 1995, “but none of us are extremists at home.” Playing Russian roulette with the debt ceiling of the despised federal Leviathan is even more of a plus in such overwhelmingly Republican enclaves today. A current House freshman, Ted Yoho of Florida, thinks nothing of publicly cheering on the “tsunami” of a default as a follow-up to the mere “tremor” of the shutdown. Now, as over the past century and a half, these revolutionaries aren’t going to disappear no matter what short-term punish­ment may be visited on their national party in 2014 or 2016 or both. Nor is their money going to run out. A donor like Kilberg may not write them checks, but the Koch brothers will.

Some Democrats nonetheless cling to the hope that electoral Armageddon will purge the GOP of its radicals, a wish that is far less likely to be fulfilled now than it was after Goldwater’s landslide defeat, when liberalism was still enjoying the last sunny days of its postwar idyll. This was also the liberal hope after Gingrich’s political demise of 1998. But his revolution, whatever its embarrassments, hypocrisies, and failures, did nudge the country toward the right: It’s what pushed Clinton to announce in his 1996 State of the Union address that “the era of big government is over” and to adopt policy modulations that tamped down New Deal–Great Society liberalism. The right has only gained strength within the GOP ever since. Roughly half of the party’s current House population was first elected in 2010 or 2012, in the crucible of the tea-party revolt. While it’s Beltway conventional wisdom that these Republicans don’t know how to govern, the real issue is that they don’t want to govern. That’s their whole point, and they are sticking to it.

Dwindling coastal Republicans of the nearly extinct George H.W. Bush persuasion like Peter King nonetheless keep hoping that the extremists will by some unspecified alchemy lose out to the adults in their party. Tune in to Morning Joe, that echo chamber of Northeast-corridor greenroom centrism hosted by Joe Scarborough, a chastened former firebrand of the Gingrich revolution, and you’ll hear the ultimate version of this fantasy: Somehow Chris Christie will parlay his popularity in the blue state of New Jersey into leading the national party back to sanity and perhaps even into the White House.

To believe this you not only have to believe in miracles, but you also have to talk yourself into buying the prevailing bipartisan canard, endorsed by King and Obama alike, that the radicals are just a rump within the GOP (“one faction of one party in one house of Congress,” in the president’s reckoning). In reality, the one third of the Republican House caucus in rebel hands and the electorate it represents are no more likely to surrender at this point than the third of the states that seceded from the Union for much the same ideological reasons in 1860–61. Unless and until the other two thirds of the GOP summons the guts to actually fight and win the civil war that is raging in its own camp, the rest of us, and the health of our democracy, will continue to be held hostage.

Frank Rich on the History of Government Shutdowns -- New York Magazine
Frank Rich on the History of Government Shutdowns -- New York Magazine



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Why Bill de Blasio’s Promise May Also Be His Problem — New York Magazine


Photo: Christopher Anderson/Magnum Photos/New York Magazine

He is joking, but he’s not kidding. “When I spoke last time, they needed a much smaller room,” Bill de Blasio says to laughter. “This is the glory of American democracy!” Exactly one year earlier, De Blasio had appeared before the same group, the Association for a Better New York, an alliance of city businesses and civic organizations; the turnout then, in October 2012, was 400, and the reaction was chilly—especially when De Blasio unveiled what would become a signature element of his run for mayor, a proposal to tax the wealthy to pay for new pre­kindergarten and after-school programs. This morning—fresh off an improbable, resounding victory in the Democratic primary—De Blasio is greeted by a sold-out crowd of 800 and a standing ovation.

Still, there’s a bit of tension served with the scrambled eggs: De Blasio unflinchingly repeats his vow to boost taxes, to which he adds emphatic praise for labor unions and higher minimum wages. To lighten the mood, De Blasio improvises a running joke. He decries the decline in city and state funding to the City University of New York, and the table directly in front of the podium—full of CUNY executives—breaks into loud applause. A few paragraphs later, De Blasio says he wants to restore $150 million in funding to CUNY, producing the same thrilled, noisy result. “I love these guys!” he cracks. “Whenever I need a little pick-me-up, I’ll just say the word ‘CUNY’ and this whole table will erupt!” When he opens the floor to questions, a woman from a tech firm asks how the likely future mayor feels about her industry. “I would like to have seen the same vigorous applause as from CUNY,” he says, “so you need to think about that.” But De Blasio quickly makes it clear he’s joshing, that he loves the tech sector, too. Then, a few minutes later, a representative of the hospital industry stands up and praises De Blasio. “You know, I just want to say, I’ve lost my interest in CUNY,” De Blasio says, smiling. “I think the health-care sector is where I want to put my attention after all! They placated me better than CUNY did! CUNY, it was great while it lasted.”

More laughter, but this time there’s an uneasy undercurrent. And, at a table of real-estate executives, raised eyebrows and shaking heads. They’ve got nothing against hospitals or city colleges, mind you. They’re just wondering what, exactly, the city’s next mayor really stands for.

Bill de Blasio ran probably the most surgically focused mayoral campaign in modern New York political history, relentlessly repeating a few key phrases—“a tale of two cities” … “income inequality” … “end the stop-and-frisk era”—that played brilliantly to the hopes, angers, and guilts of the city’s liberal, Bloomberg-fatigued Democratic-primary electorate. De Blasio genuinely believes in the ideals underlying the progressive rhetoric he’s been retailing; in 1988, he traveled to Nicaragua to support the leftist revolution, and he still converses knowledgeably about liberation theology. But in his own career in elected office—first as a Brooklyn city councilman and then as public advocate—De Blasio has shown a gift for the crafty compromise.

Which is why, as De Blasio nears what is likely to be a general-election landslide victory, the central questions are about just what he believes and just who he’d be as mayor. The business leaders at the ABNY breakfast weren’t all that upset about the prospect of a tax increase on New Yorkers making more than $500,000. And most weren’t buying the notion, lately promoted in a hyperventilating TV ad by Joe Lhota, the Republican candidate, that blood will run in the streets and crime will soar if De Blasio wins. The nervousness flows from something more subtle: the prospect that De Blasio will be a mayor who responds to whoever “placates” him the most, bouncing from one interest group to the next—an unsettling contrast to Bloomberg, who, whether you agreed with him or not, was a predictable and stabilizing force in city life.

And this isn’t simply a concern of the city’s wealthy elites: What’s more surprising is that De Blasio’s friends on the left aren’t quite sure of his core political identity either. “We want him to be Elizabeth Warren and not Barack Obama or Andrew Cuomo,” a labor leader close to De Blasio says. “I think that’s who he really wants to be. But I really don’t know.” De Blasio campaigned as a crusading lefty: against corporate subsidies, in favor of expanding access to food stamps and paid sick leave and taxing the rich to help the poor. Yet his formative political training came from wily realists like Cuomo and Hillary Clinton. The risk of a Bill de Blasio mayoralty is that it sputters with politically correct incompetence. But the great promise is that he might turn out to be a complicated, highly unusual mix of ideologue and operative. The stakes are high—not just for the continued vitality of New York, but as a test of whether progressive values can deliver a more equitable city.

Why Bill de Blasio’s Promise May Also Be His Problem -- New York Magazine
Dante, Chiara, Chirlane, and Bill.Photo: Christopher Anderson/Magnum Photos/New York Magazine. Makeup by Elizabeth Yoon for M.A.C Pro. Hair by Takeo Suzuki.

Enter the candidate, sweating and laughing. “Hey!” De Blasio says, bounding through the front door of his Brooklyn house and spotting me sitting at the kitchen table with his wife and son and noticing that I’m wearing a dress shirt and tie. “Chris Smith thinks he’s on East 79th Street, in a townhouse!”

Which is funny and self-deprecating, because this sure isn’t the $30 million Bloomberg manse. The De Blasio homestead in Park Slope is a humble three-story rectangle covered in faded green-painted wood paneling. Inside, the first floor is a combined living room and kitchen, all of it well worn. On one wall is a small, framed drawing of the “Sodium Avenger,” a superhero created by daughter Chiara to lovingly tease Mom for banning salt from the dinner table. On the opposite wall is a vivid yellow-and-red floor-to-­ceiling poster commemorating the mid-eighties Artists Against Apartheid movement; his wife, Chirlane McCray, did poetry readings and is listed among the performers. If I needed any further indication that the city is on the verge of a radical change in mayoral style from Bloomberg, who seems as if he were born in a pin-striped suit, there’s the 52-year-old De Blasio himself: He’s just back from his daily workout at the 9th Street Y and wearing a frayed, sweat-soaked blue T-shirt and baggy gray sweatpants.

Chirlane, 58, hasn’t given up completely on getting her kids to eat healthy, but there’s only so much a mom can do with a strong-minded teenager. Dante is gobbling a second greasy slice of takeout pizza before tackling a mountain of Brooklyn Tech math homework. He has inherited his father’s heavy-lidded eyes, his mother’s bright smile. All his own, though, is the famous Afro, which Dante tugs at nervously with his left hand. “This one guy at school keeps saying ‘Go with the ’fro!’ when he sees me,” Dante says. “It’s pretty funny. It’s funny to him. I don’t mind it much, though, as long as it’s my friends who are doing it.”

Otherwise, the celebrity inflicted by starring in a charming, campaign-changing commercial doesn’t seem to have made much difference in his sixteen-year-old life. He’s more anxious about an upcoming debate-team tournament at Bronx Science than any added pressure from being the next mayor’s son. “I get my grades for myself,” he says, “and generally do not engage in behaviors that are going to incriminate my father in any way.”

Chirlane laughs, hard, but she knows he’s being honest. “Dante’s tough on himself,” she says. “He’s got standards for himself that are probably higher than the ones we have for him.”

Topping both, though, are Chirlane and Bill’s standards for themselves as parents, an outgrowth of their own difficult childhoods. Chirlane grew up in a small, predominantly white western-Massachusetts town, where her family was the target of ugly racism. Bill’s father, Warren Wilhelm, was a Yale-educated war hero who was gravely wounded in Okinawa, losing most of one leg to a Japanese grenade. Wilhelm returned and got a graduate degree from Harvard, then went to work in the Commerce Department. Bill’s mother, Maria, the daughter of Italian immigrants, graduated from Smith College and was hired by the Office of War Information. Both became ensnared in a McCarthy-era Red Scare investigation and eventually left Washington for jobs in New York and a house in Connecticut. Warren Wilhelm Jr. was born in Manhattan in 1961—he was always known as Bill, though no one in the family seems to remember why—and has brothers who are thirteen and sixteen years older. In the mid-sixties, the family moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts. Warren Wilhelm was increasingly trying to drown his physical and emotional pain in whiskey; when Bill was 7, Warren left the family. “Bill’s experience in those years was pretty bleak,” says Steve Wilhelm, one of his brothers. “Dad just kind of vanished, basically.”

Steve was living on a commune when he got a phone call that his father had been found dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the chest. “He’d had lung cancer, and it was coming back, metastasizing. He wrote a beautiful letter: ‘I don’t want to die in a hospital with tubes stuck in me,’ ” Steve says. “Bill and I emerged out of all that with some clear ideas of what we would do and not want to do if we were ever parents.”

De Blasio understands all the recent fascination with his father’s story but says the attention is misplaced, at least when it comes to understanding what shaped him. “My mother was the greatest influence on my life by far,” he says. “She was often very, very sad about things that had happened to her, but she had a fierce resilience—a very sharp, purposeful resilience. She was very practical. She always talked to me about a kind of Italian understanding of the world—she would juxtapose somewhat my father’s upbringing and what she saw as sort of an American affectation for a certain romanticism, a certain idealism, with her own Southern Italian sense of practicality. She was nobody’s fool, and when the whole McCarthy thing happened, it bothered her intellectually and it troubled her personally, but she was not surprised one bit. She came out of that experience further armored. My father came out of that experience further troubled.” When Bill changed his last name from Wilhelm to De Blasio, his brothers weren’t surprised. “The Wilhelm side didn’t mean that much to him,” Steve Wilhelm says, “and like everyone, he was looking for a family.”

Why Bill de Blasio’s Promise May Also Be His Problem -- New York Magazine
Photo: Christopher Anderson/Magnum Photos/New York Magazine

He extended one through politics. In high school, De Blasio was a student-­government geek; in college, at NYU, he became a leading activist, helping form the Coalition for Student Rights, which rallied to protest tuition hikes and organized an overnight sit-in of Bobst Library to demand that it stay open later. He also argued for the superiority of Talking Heads over Blondie with an NYU roommate, Tom Kirdahy. “Bill was very smart but very funny,” says Kirdahy, who remains a friend. “And he had a crush a week.” De Blasio’s interest in politics, and the underclass, deepened as a grad student in Columbia’s School of International and Public Affairs, where he shared one class, in Latin American politics, with Dan Cantor, who years later would team with De Blasio and others to launch the Working Families Party. He soon made two other pivotal friends and mentors: Bill Lynch, the wily Harlem political consultant who masterminded the winning 1989 mayoral campaign of David Dinkins, and Harold Ickes, the combative second-generation Democratic insider. De Blasio volunteered for the Dinkins campaign, then was hired as a coordinator of volunteers; in City Hall, Lynch hired him as a junior aide in community affairs. De Blasio says he learned how not to run an administration during the four tumultuous Dinkins years—“The organizational structure was divided, and there was a real lack of unity, a real lack of singleness of purpose a lot of the time”—but the most significant personal event during that period was meeting Chirlane, a press-office staffer in the Commission on Humans Rights.

De Blasio was persistent; McCray was reluctant. After a few months, she handed him a story she’d written for Essence about being lesbian. De Blasio wasn’t dissuaded. They were married in 1994, in Prospect Park, by a pair of gay ministers; McCray was three months pregnant with Chiara. “The fact that my parents’ marriage turned out so badly was not a great recommender of how easy it was to get it right,” De Blasio says. He tried psychotherapy in his mid-twenties, attempting to sort out his feelings about family. “I took a long time to believe,” he says. “And it’s absolutely connected to meeting Chirlane. That’s what finally made me comfortable, was finding a soul mate, finding someone I could believe that I could actually work it out with. And I was right.”

As his own life has become more public, De Blasio has propelled his family into the spotlight with him. Having cheery, mixed-race kids has paid political dividends, but De Blasio claims his motivation is educational as much as anything else. “You have to understand our family is different in the way we think about things. Chirlane and I met in City Hall; we had both had a history of activism,” he says. “We talked about it in broad ways; it was unspoken that we were going to pursue not only our love, our relationship, but our commitment to the world, and that was going to be a given in our lives … These are kids who, by the time Chiara was 5 and Dante was 2, they had slept overnight in the Clinton White House. [The kids] both got so much out of this experience this year, they got some real-life lessons about how the world works, but they also gained a lot of strength, a lot of confidence, a lot of understanding.”

De Blasio believes that his family would have become media fodder whether they were a prominent part of his campaign or not. And it’s true that everything about this family, as normal as it is in many ways, is inescapably political. Even the house. In 2000, when De Blasio decided he wanted to run for City Council, they moved one block so he’d be a resident of a district with an open seat. Chirlane still loves the neighborhood, but she disdains what she thinks the Bloomberg era has done to it. “The nursery school Chiara and Dante went to, both of them had fairly diverse classes—economically, racially. That was the cool thing. The two mommies, and Asian, and black, and Latino kids,” she says. “That’s not the case now. It’s gone the way of the mom-and-pop stores. It’s wealthier and whiter.”

Now the family may be relocating to the Upper East Side. McCray’s memory of one visit to Gracie Mansion is still vivid. She remembers going to a reception there in 2006 for council members and spouses. Chiara de Blasio—now 18 and a sophomore at a college in Northern California—had just begun middle school, and Bloomberg’s Department of Education had instituted a ban on student cell phones. McCray approached the mayor. “I said, ‘Mayor Bloomberg, you are my hero! Because you instituted the smoking ban, which is so important and has done so much for people who have respiratory problems in this city and for our children. I want to thank you for that. But the cell phones in the schools’—and as soon as I said the words cell phones, he turned his back and walked away from me,” she tells me. “I was so shocked. I had never had that experience before—someone just turning and walking away like that! Bill shook his head and said, ‘That’s just how he is.’ ”

De Blasio’s family and professional political career were launched in the Dinkins administration, but his training in hardball politics came later, from some of its craftiest Democratic practitioners. Harold Ickes helped De Blasio land a job as New York State director of Bill Clinton’s 1992 campaign. For Clinton’s second term, De Blasio worked under HUD secretary Andrew Cuomo as regional director for New York and New Jersey. Then, in 2000, he was hired to be campaign manager when Hillary Clinton ran for the U.S. Senate. The job titles and responsibilities differed, but De Blasio’s skills were deployed in similar ways. “Bill was the person you would send to deal with people,” says a fellow operative from the Hillary Clinton campaign. “He finds common ground, and he sees the chess moves six moves ahead,” says another veteran of that campaign. “For instance, he was very good at working the Orthodox Jewish community, even though he’s neither Orthodox nor Jewish.” De Blasio became the chief emissary to Dov Hikind, a conservative, cantankerous state assemblyman from Borough Park who had the potential to deliver a large bloc of votes—or to create gigantic headaches. Hikind kept pressing for the candidate—and her husband, the president—to support the pardon of Jonathan Pollard, an American intelligence analyst jailed for spying for Israel. “Bill is very real, he’s very much willing to listen, he’s very much willing to learn,” says Matthew Hiltzik, who worked with De Blasio on the Hillary campaign and now runs a top New York public-relations firm. “And while he’s a little more liberal than I am, he is someone who’s very principled in his beliefs and also at the same time pretty practical.”

In the Hillary Clinton campaign, the questions that arose were not about his political instincts but about his performance as an executive. His title, campaign manager, was misleading—the major decisions were always in the hands of Hillary’s Washington inner circle. But lower-level matters could produce prolonged discussions. One of De Blasio’s talents as an operative—the ability to see and argue an issue and a strategy from every angle—could be a liability as a boss. Friends also wonder whether De Blasio’s desire for inclusiveness in decision-making will be a refreshingly democratic improvement on Bloomberg’s top-down management or a prescription for stagnation. “The advantage of his background as an operative, though,” says a Democratic strategist, “is that it brings Bill a lifetime of relationships.”

De Blasio is in many ways a characteristic product of the city’s political system—and a master of it, as illustrated by a story that is a minor legend in city political circles. In 2003, De Blasio wanted to become leader of the Brooklyn delegation of the City Council. First he made an alliance with Al Vann, promising to share the post. Then the pair quietly went about assembling votes for the coup to depose the incumbent, Lew Fidler. To nudge the final few into line, Fidler claims, De Blasio told three different council members that they wouldn’t be the decisive swing vote—that each would merely be a little insurance margin. The three agreed, only to be surprised when they arrived in a meeting room and counted the minimum number of plotters. But they’d given their word and didn’t defect.

In the winter of 2008, though, De Blasio was coming off what, on the surface, appeared to be a significant defeat: He’d loudly and tenaciously opposed the extension of term limits for Bloomberg (though three years earlier, running for City Council speaker, he’d been in favor of an extension for council members). The loss turned out, in the bigger picture, to have significant political benefits: It raised De Blasio’s profile and gave him a jump on harnessing the Bloomberg fatigue he anticipated would peak in 2013. But in the meantime, De Blasio needed a new job. The public advocate’s office was open; the problem there was that John Liu, a fellow councilman, was shaping up as a formidable competitor.

Liu remembers an “impassioned” phone call from De Blasio urging him to shift to a run for city comptroller. Around the same time, Liu went to a breakfast meeting at Junior’s in Brooklyn with several labor leaders. They were inclined to back De Blasio for public advocate—but said Liu, too, might enjoy their support, if he switched to the comptroller’s race. “At that point, it wasn’t a difficult decision, and it was clearly an intelligent one,” says one of the participants.

Both Liu and De Blasio won citywide jobs in November 2009, with crucial backing from the Working Families Party and its union allies, setting themselves up for a run for mayor four years later. De Blasio, though, was holding a powerful ace. During the Dinkins years, he and another young, ambitious operative, named Patrick Gaspard, became fast, inseparable friends. ­“BillandPatrick—it was like one word,” an associate says. De Blasio’s daughter was the flower girl at Gaspard’s wedding; Gaspard’s son played Little League baseball for a team coached by De Blasio. Gaspard eventually became the political director of SEIU 1199, the city’s health-care-workers union and one of New York’s most effective Election Day machines. After serving as political director for Obama’s victorious 2008 presidential run, Gaspard moved to Washington to work in the White House and then head the Democratic National Committee, and then earlier this year to South Africa, as U.S. ambassador—but he has kept working the phones for his friend Bill. This spring, when De Blasio was struggling in the single digits in the polls, 1199 delivered a crucial endorsement, and this fall it spent at least $2 million on De Blasio’s behalf. Mayor Bloomberg has weekended in Bermuda; Chirlane McCray says she can envision a De Blasio mayoral visit to Pretoria.

It’s a diner, not a metaphor. De Blasio has chosen this place because it’s two blocks from his Park Slope house, he’s hungry, and the waitress knows him so well she assumes De Blasio wants his regular oatmeal. The name of the diner does indeed seem apt, however, for a conversation about politics and principles: Little Purity.

De Blasio squeezes his six-foot-five-inch frame into a booth in the back, turning sideways to angle his legs across the seat; behind his head is a mirror decorated for Halloween with stickers of goblins and pumpkins and BOO! in black and orange letters. It’s the morning of De Blasio’s first debate with Joe Lhota, the Republican nominee, and he’s fortifying himself with an egg-white Greek omelette and some nimble sparring. In 1990, he called himself a “democratic socialist.” At ABNY, he tried on “fiscal conservative.” Does he think, in an ideal world, socialism would be a better economic system than capitalism? “I have described my philosophy,” he says, a bit testily. “My worldview is one part Franklin Roosevelt—the New Deal—one part European social democracy, and one part liberation theology. That’s how I see the world.”

He is not now, nor has he ever been, a Marxist. But De Blasio is a sincere and loyal product of the late-twentieth-century American left wing who is only half-­jokingly called “comrade” by friends. “If you look at the whole body of my work, it’s not hard at all to figure out who I am and what I believe in,” he tells me. “My grounding in progressive movements is pretty solid, and it continues to be a way I think about the world, and so I don’t think there’s any question about where I come from ideologically and how consistent my views are today.”

The question is how those ideals will translate into actual governing. De Blasio says that if elected mayor, he will push to expand the “targeting” of city contracts and jobs to minority- and women-owned businesses—not quotas—and to use zoning to increase the supply of subsidized housing. “I think we have some real methods for doing that that have been underutilized by the current administration,” he says. “Local ­hiring—recognizing that there are legal challenges but also recognizing that a number of developers have agreed voluntarily, as part of a broader negotiation process, to some kind of requirement. That is a model I think we can do a lot more with—using the power of the city government to maximize the amount of affordable housing and to maximize the amount of job creation, but also to make sure that the jobs created reach people from the five boroughs and in particular people who have been less economically advantaged.”

As a council member, De Blasio did follow through on his principles even when there was minimal political gain: In the wake of the murders of Nixzmary Brown and Marchella Pierce, he staged hearings but also spent months collaborating on ground-level improvements to the city’s child-welfare system. Bertha Lewis, the fiery housing advocate and a close friend of De Blasio’s, lauds him for holding bad landlords accountable. But De Blasio can also be elastic and opportunistic. He’s talked about the outer boroughs’ deserving the same quality of services as Manhattan, but this summer he landed large donations from the entrenched taxi-medallion owners—and sided with them against an outer-borough taxi-expansion plan. He’s been exceedingly patient on the delayed construction of subsidized housing at Atlantic Yards, a project that got key backing from his friend Lewis and whose developer, Bruce Ratner, co-hosted a birthday-party fund-raiser for De Blasio.

“On things that are not moral issues, you see what a tactician Bill is,” a former City Council colleague says. “Like horse carriages.” De Blasio declared he’d banish the Central Park ponies as one of his first mayoral acts; coincidentally, an animal-rights group bashed Christine Quinn for months, with some of its money coming from a major De Blasio donor. After winning the primary and being endorsed by the union that represents hansom-cab drivers, De Blasio has been a bit wobbly, first saying he’d “start the process” to institute a ban, then insisting the move is still a high priority. He trumpets transparency but last week shut the press out of a $1 million fund-raiser starring Hillary. None of those moves were corrupt, or even hypocritical, necessarily. But they were the footwork of a political pro. “I think he’ll be able to manage the conflicting pressures and stay true to his values,” says Bob Master, political director of the communications-workers union and a co-chair of the Working Families Party. “But look, do I think this is a guy who will never compromise? No. And we don’t want somebody like that. We want somebody who understands how to push things as far as you can go and make the best possible deal when it’s available.”

De Blasio’s signature campaign promise will test his political skills immediately once he’s elected—actually, the machinations are well under way. De Blasio needs state legislative approval to raise taxes on wealthy city residents and fund the pre-K and after-school programs that he says will slowly close the economic divide. Governor Cuomo, who says he’s determined to lower New York’s taxes, has questioned whether the proposal is merely campaign rhetoric. “Never forget that Bill worked for Andrew” at HUD, a Democratic strategist says. “And Andrew will always see the relationship that way.” The dynamic won’t be nearly that simple, though. De Blasio’s camp believes a landslide in November will become momentum in Albany. “Andrew is going to want De Blasio to help him next year, big time, on the left,” a pol who knows them both says. “Now, here’s the dilemma for De Blasio: What does he do if Andrew gives him the money for pre-K but eviscerates poor people outside the city?”

De Blasio often begins his answer to tough questions with a version of “Let me frame this,” and then proceeds to rearrange the subject to his advantage. It’s a skill he shares with Cuomo—and one reason he thinks he understands the governor’s psyche so well. “Bill is New York’s leading Cuomo-ologist,” a liberal strategist says. “Whenever we had questions about Andrew, it was, ‘Call De Blasio!’ ” He is being careful not to antagonize the governor even before he’s officially mayor. The pending state referendum on the expansion of casino gambling provides an intriguing example. You might expect De Blasio, the “true progressive,” to oppose such a regressive industry. But in addition to seeing policy benefits from casinos, De Blasio the pol knows that the referendum is highly important to Cuomo. “I don’t accept the characterization [that legalized gambling is incompatible with progressive values], first of all,” he says. “That may get back to my mother’s pragmatism. The industry exists. It’s state sanctioned when you call it Lotto. The money and the jobs are going elsewhere; we’re not in a position to let that kind of economic impact go elsewhere. And you know, since that is the reality, certainly the financial impact on a city, if we get $50 million, $100 million, whatever the final figure is each year for our schools, you know, that’s gonna do some good. I think it’s a very practical equation. I think we have to, at the same time, try to address the underlying dynamics—help people get the best jobs, the best education possible, then they will make their own choices.”

The financial industry won’t be going away, either, despite its fears of De Blasio. One fringe benefit to his enormous general-­election lead over Joe Lhota is that De Blasio has had time to sit down with Wall Street giants and real-estate-industry players, cashing their checks and parrying their skepticism. “I don’t think we have to have a philosophical ‘Kumbaya’ moment,” De Blasio tells me. “I think it’s clear I’m a progressive and that if the people choose me, I’m going to take this city in a progressive direction to address these inequality issues, and I think that certainly some of the business leaders I have met are not particularly interested in doing that. Some are, to be fair—there are some very progressive people within the business community who have told me with energy that they agree the inequality crisis is getting out of hand. All I care about there is where we have to work together practically to create jobs.” A top Democratic strategist who has worked with De Blasio puts it much plainer: “He’s more pragmatic than progressive. He’s a deal guy—which is why Wall Street should love him. They’re deal people, too!”

De Blasio is far from selecting a City Hall lineup, at least publicly. His campaign aides quickly bat down the names of potential commissioners that have been floated in the media, leery of looking overconfident, even with a 44-point lead. “I’ve been talking to people for advice for the last year or two while simultaneously assessing them,” De Blasio tells me. “You can do a lot of deep thinking, a lot of playing things out in your mind. If I’m the one [elected], I’m certainly not going to be caught flat-footed.”

The exception to this wariness, however, has been instructive. De Blasio himself has talked up two people he’d consider selecting for police commissioner. The first, Bill Bratton, is associated with dramatic turnarounds in both Los Angeles and New York—and, usefully for De Blasio, Bratton is also remembered positively by many in the city for clashing with Rudy Giuliani. The second, Philip Banks III, is currently chief of department in the NYPD—and, usefully for De Blasio, Banks is ­African-American. Both are law-enforcement lifers and very much in the mainstream of policing theory and practice, which allows De Blasio to tamp down worries that he’d make radical changes in a department that’s reduced crime to record lows. But, again, the floating of these names is more political than executive. De Blasio is savvy enough to understand the downsides: Bratton is a media magnet, and some police insiders consider Banks too nice a guy to run the department forcefully.

De Blasio’s ultimate choice for NYPD commissioner will be judged against the clarity of his campaign rhetoric. Given his belief that stop-and-frisk tactics have antagonized innocent residents of minority neighborhoods, wouldn’t hiring a nonwhite police chief to succeed Ray Kelly be a step toward healing what De Blasio claims is a dangerous rift? “I think the philosophy is the most important thing and the capacity to implement that philosophy,” he says. “So, I want a community-policing worldview, I obviously want to bring policing and the community back together, I want to fundamentally reform our current approach, and whoever can do that most effectively, that’s my priority. It’s less about demographics.” The other high-profile pick a Mayor De Blasio will need to make is for schools chancellor. As a candidate, he’s talked about greatly increasing parental participation in the school system and about reducing the Bloomberg-era breaks given to charter schools. Beyond that, however, De Blasio has been vague about what he considers the best ways to improve the city’s public schools.

In shaping his administration, De Blasio says he intends to borrow a goal from one of his former bosses, Bill Clinton, and strive to assemble a Cabinet that looks like New York. And New York, increasingly, looks like De Blasio’s family, which is one reason he’s stirred such optimism. His household touches more than a hopeful multiracial chord—it also represents the economically beleaguered middle class, a segment of the city that hasn’t been at the center of the Bloombergian universe. De Blasio is a true believer in the importance of unions in bolstering the middle class; he has been close to the movement much of his life—a cousin, John Wilhelm, rose to become president of the hospitality-and-textile-workers union. So De Blasio would enter office with an enormous reservoir of goodwill. He’ll need every ounce of it: The next mayor will be trying to find the money to pay thousands of civil-service workers whose contracts expired as many as six years ago—and who could ask for as much as $7 billion in retroactive raises. Real leaders, though, tell allies things they don’t want to hear; isn’t De Blasio going to need to disappoint some of his union boosters? “You misunderstand the theory I’m putting forward,” he says stiffly. “I’m not here to tell them how much they’re gonna hate me. I’m here to tell them that we are going to get to a deal and balance our budget. The whole campaign and all that preceded it was telling people things they didn’t want to hear. Telling the wealthy they were going to pay more taxes, telling developers they were gonna be required to create affordable housing. Go down the list, and the last time I checked, those are some powerful positions you could have.”

True, but too easy: The wealthy and the real-estate interests aren’t the people who have put you in a position to win the mayoralty. “But, hold on,” he says. “It’s native to me that when you have a sense of mission, you keep pursuing the mission, and you give people an opportunity. Put people around the table and say, ‘Here is our task, here is the budget we have to balance, here’s the money we have, here are the options of how to do it. I need to find cost savings.’ That is usually a phrase that a lot of labor doesn’t like to hear at the jump. But I’m not here to say, ‘Look how big and bad I am,’ because that approach with Bloomberg and many others simply failed. I am here to say, ‘Let’s work together for a common good.’ ” And here’s where De Blasio’s gift for seeing multiple angles helps: Achieving the tax increase on the wealthy could make it easier for him to get labor unions to swallow reductions in benefits.

De Blasio will be a significant shift in tone and style from Bloomberg. The hard part will be how much, and how quickly, he can deliver on the substance of rebalancing city life. Hasn’t his campaign raised expectations unrealistically? “I’ve obviously thought about this issue,” he says. “The combined impact of all the pieces we’re talking about—the early-childhood and after-school plan, the affordable-housing plan, paid sick days, living wage, reprogramming dollars to small business and to CUNY—a lot of pieces packing a lot of firepower. And they’re going to add up to a lot.” Here he nimbly injects a note of caution. “So, is it going to end the problem of income inequality? Of course not. But do I think it will make a noticeable contribution toward progress? Do I think people will feel movement on a lot of different fronts and a real commitment from City Hall to addressing these issues? Yeah.”

One week before I visited him at home, De Blasio had been in the plush corporate boardroom at Viacom, lunching with the likes of Philippe Dauman, the media conglomerate’s chairman, and Rupert Murdoch, whose Post had been running a red-and-black caricature of “Che de Blasio.” Before the talk turned to sticky subjects like taxes and charter schools, De Blasio turned to Lloyd Blankfein, of Goldman Sachs—but also, De Blasio pointed out, a man who’d grown up in a Brooklyn public-­housing project and knew what it was like to be among the striving have-nots. It was a smart attempt at connecting; Blankfein, afterward, said De Blasio had made a favorable first impression.

Now De Blasio stomps down the stairs into his endearingly cramped living room, freshly showered and gray-suited and ­yellow-necktied, ready to head to midtown for another fund-raiser, this one crowded with real-estate executives. Does Chirlane worry that all this wooing of the one percent will change her prole-loving husband? “Bill? No,” she says firmly. “Not in a bad way. People change, because they have to grow in order to live.” Bill de Blasio leans down, kisses his wife, and heads out his rickety front gate and into a mammoth black SUV, slipping into the front seat, next to his NYPD driver, and getting comfortable with his ride to power.



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Why Race Has Been the Real Story of Obama's Presidency All Along -- New York Magazine

An Excerpt From Mark Halperin and John Heilemann’s ‘Double Down: Game Change 2012’ — New York Magazine


The debate was only a few minutes old, and Barack Obama was already tanking. His opponent on this warm autumn night, a Massachusetts patrician with an impressive résumé, a chiseled jaw, and a staunch helmet of burnished hair, was an inferior political specimen by any conceivable measure. But with surprising fluency, verve, and even humor, Obama’s rival was putting points on the board. The president was not. Passive and passionless, he seemed barely present.

It was Sunday, October 14, 2012, and Obama was bunkered two levels below the lobby of the Kingsmill Resort in Williamsburg, Virginia. In a blue blazer, khaki pants, and an open-necked shirt, he was squaring off in a mock debate against Massachusetts senator John Kerry, who was standing in for the Republican nominee, Mitt Romney. The two men were in Williamsburg, along with the president’s team, to prepare Obama for his second televised confrontation with Romney, 48 hours away, at Hofstra University in New York. It was an event to which few had given much thought. Until the debacle in Denver, that is.

The debate in the Mile High City eleven days earlier had jolted a race that for many months had been hard fought but remarkably stable. From the moment in May that Romney emerged victorious from the most volatile and unpredictable Republican-nomination contest in many moons, Obama had held a narrow yet consistent lead. But after Romney mauled the president in Denver, the wind and weather of the campaign shifted in something like a heartbeat. The challenger was surging. The polls were tightening. Republicans were pulsating with renewed hope. Democrats were rending their garments and collapsing on their fainting couches.

Obama was nowhere in the vicinity of panic. “You ever known me to lose two in a row?” he said to friends to calm their nerves.

The president’s advisers were barely more rattled. Yes, Denver had been atrocious. Yes, it had been unnerving. But Obama was still ahead of Romney, the sky hadn’t fallen, and they would fix what went wrong in time for the town-hall debate at Hofstra. Their message to the nervous Nellies in their party was: Keep calm and carry on.

Williamsburg was where the repair job was supposed to take place. The Obamans had arrived at the resort, ready to work, on Saturday the 13th. The first day had gone well. The president seemed to be finding his form. He and Kerry had been doing mock debates since August, and the session on Saturday night was Obama’s best yet. Everyone exhaled.

But now, in Sunday night’s run-through, the president seemed to be relapsing: The disengaged and pedantic Obama of Denver was back. In the staff room, his two closest advisers, David Axelrod and David Plouffe, watched on video monitors with a mounting sense of unease—when, all of a sudden, a practice round that had started out looking merely desultory turned into the Mock From Hell.

The moment it happened could be pinpointed with precision: at the 39:35 mark on the clock. A question about home foreclosures had been put to potus; under the rules, he had two minutes to respond. Before the mock, Kerry had been instructed by one of the debate coaches to interrupt Obama at some juncture to see how he reacted. Striding across the bright-red carpet of the set that the president’s team had constructed as a precise replica of the Hofstra town-hall stage, Kerry invaded the president’s space and barged in during Obama’s answer.

The president’s eyes flashed with annoyance.

“Don’t interrupt me,” he snapped.

When Kerry persisted, Obama shot a death stare at the moderator—his adviser Anita Dunn, standing in for CNN’s Candy Crowley—and pleaded for an intercession.

The president’s coaches had long worried about the appearance of Nasty Obama on the debate stage: the variant who infamously, imperiously dismissed his main Democratic rival in 2008 with the withering phrase “You’re likable enough, Hillary.” His advisers saw glimpses of that side of him in their preparations for the first showdown—a manifestation of a personal antipathy for Romney that had grown visceral and intense. Now they were seeing it again, and worse. The admixture of Nasty Obama and Denver Obama was not a pretty picture.

Challenged by Kerry with multipronged attacks, the president rebutted them point by point, exhaustively and exhaustingly. Instead of driving a sharp message, he was explanatory and meandering. Instead of casting an eye to the future, he litigated the past. Instead of warmly establishing connections with the town-hall questioners, he pontificated airily, as if he were conducting a particularly tedious press conference. While Kerry was answering a query about immigration, Obama retaliated for the earlier interruption by abruptly cutting him off.

Excerpted from Double Down: Game Change 2012, by Mark Halperin and John Heilemann, to be published on November 5, 2013, by the Penguin Press.

An Excerpt From Mark Halperin and John Heilemann’s ‘Double Down: Game Change 2012’ -- New York Magazine
Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

In the staff room, Axelrod and Plouffe were aghast. Sitting with them, Obama’s lead pollster, Joel Benenson, muttered, “This is unbelievable.”

Watching from the set, the renowned Democratic style coach Michael Sheehan scribbled furiously on a legal pad, each notation more alarmed than the last. Reflecting on Obama’s interplay with the questioners, Sheehan summed up his demeanor with a single word: “Creepy.”

After 90 excruciating minutes, the Mock From Hell was over. As Obama made his way to the door, he was intercepted by Axelrod, Plouffe, Benenson, and the lead debate coach, Ron Klain. Little was said. Little needed to be said. The ashen looks on the faces of the president’s men told the tale.

Obama left the building and returned to his sprawling quarters on the banks of the James River with his best friend from Chicago, Marty Nesbitt, to watch football and play cards. His advisers retreated to the president’s debate-prep holding room to have a collective coronary.

That the presidential debates were proving problematic for Obama came as no real surprise to the members of his team. Many of them—Axelrod, the mustachioed message maven and guardian of the Obama brand; Plouffe, the spindly senior White House adviser and enforcer of strategic rigor; Dunn, the media-savvy mother superior and former White House communications director; Benenson, the bearded and noodgy former Mario Cuomo hand; Jon Favreau, the dashing young speechwriter—had been with Obama from the start of his meteoric ascent. They knew that he detested televised debates. That he disdained political theater in every guise. That, on some level, he distrusted political performance itself, with its attendant emotional manipulations.

The paradox, of course, was that Obama had risen to prominence and power to a large extent on the basis of his preternatural performance skills—and his ability to summon them whenever the game was on the line. In late 2007, when he was trailing Hillary Clinton in the Democratic-­nomination fight by 30 points. In the fall of 2008, when the global financial crisis hit during the crucial last weeks of the general election. In early 2010, when his signature health-care-reform proposal seemed destined for defeat. In every instance, under ungodly pressure, Obama had pulled up, set his feet, and drained a three-pointer at the buzzer.

The faith of the president’s people that he would do the same at Hofstra was what sustained them in the wake of Denver. For a year, the Obamans had fretted over everything under the sun: gas prices, unemployment, the European financial crisis, Iran, the Koch brothers, the lack of enthusiasm from the Democratic base, Hispanic turnout in the Orlando metroplex. The one thing they had never worried about was Barack Obama.

But given the spectacle they had just witnessed at Kingsmill, the Obamans were more than worried. After spending ten days pooh-poohing the widespread hysteria in their party about Denver, Obama’s debate team was now the most wigged-out collection of Democrats in the country, huddling in a hotel cubby that had become their secret panic room. Three hours had passed since the mock ended; it was almost 2 a.m. Obama’s team was still clustered in the work space, reading transcripts and waxing apocalyptic.

“Guys, what are we going to do?” Plouffe asked quietly, over and over. “That was a disaster.”

Among the Obamans, there was nobody more unflappable than Plouffe—and nobody less shaken by Denver. But while Plouffe believed the public would brush off a single bad debate showing, he was equally convinced that two in a row would not be so readily ignored. If Obama turned in a performance at Hofstra like the one they had seen that night, the consequences could be dire.

“If we don’t fix this,” Plouffe said emphatically, “we could lose the whole fucking election.”

Almost from the moment that Obama stepped off the debate stage in Denver, he had been bombarded with advice about how to remedy what had gone wrong. But the truth was that virtually no one on the planet could understand what he was going through or up against.

A rare exception was Bill Clinton. Before Denver, Clinton had watched in wonder as Obama caught break after break. Although the economy wasn’t roaring back, neither the European banking crisis nor the unrest in the Mideast had caused it to nosedive. Meanwhile, Romney’s ineptness staggered Clinton. After the release of the 47 percent video, he remarked to a friend that, while Mitt was a decent man, he was in the wrong line of work. (“He really shouldn’t be speaking to people in public.”) As for Obama, Clinton trotted out for his pals the same line again and again: “He’s luckier than a dog with two dicks.”

An Excerpt From Mark Halperin and John Heilemann’s ‘Double Down: Game Change 2012’ -- New York Magazine
Obama confers with Ron Klain during debate prep with John Kerry, Henderson, Nevada, October 2, 2012.Photo: Pete Souza/The White House

Though the first debate brought the incumbent’s streak of good fortune to a crashing halt, Clinton was insistent that the Obamans not overreact. On the phone to Axelrod, 42 counseled restraint at Hofstra, warning that if 44 was too hot or negative in a town-hall debate, it would backfire. Four days after Denver, at a fund-raiser at the Beverly Hills home of Hollywood mogul Jeffrey Katzenberg, Clinton huddled with Obama and repeated the instructions.

Don’t try to make up the ground you lost, the Big Dog said. Just be yourself.

Obama faced a more immediate challenge, which was to arrest the metastasizing panic among his supporters. In 2008, Plouffe had airily dismissed Democrats who lost their minds in the midst of Palinmania as “bedwetters.” But now there was a similar drizzle as the public polls sharply narrowed—and worse. “Did Barack Obama just throw the entire election away?” blared the title of an Andrew Sullivan blog post.

Chicago’s internal polling strongly suggested that the answer was no—the race was back to where it had been following the party conventions, with Obama holding a three- or four-point lead.

Even so, as the full desultoriness of his Denver performance sank in, the president was consumed by a sense of responsibility—and shadowed by fears that his reelection was at risk. Outwardly, he took pains to project the opposite. When his staffers asked how he was doing, he replied, “I’m great.” To Plouffe, who had volunteered to soothe Sullivan, Obama joked, Someone’s gotta talk him off the ledge!

Obama returned from the West Coast and met with his debate team in the Roosevelt Room on the afternoon of October 10. He opened by saying he had read a memo drafted by Klain about what went awry in Denver and how to fix it before Hofstra, now six days away. He agreed with most of it but wanted everyone to know that they hadn’t failed him; he had failed them. “This is on me,” Obama said.

“I’m a naturally polite person,” he went on. Part of my problem is “erring on the side of being muted. We have to get me to a place where internally I’m not biting my tongue … It’s important for me to be fighting.”

The debate team received a boost 24 hours later from Obama’s second-in-­command, when Joe Biden took on Paul Ryan in the vice-presidential debate in Danville, Kentucky. “You did a great job,” the president told the V.P. by phone. “And you picked me up.”

In 36 hours, Obama would set off for debate camp in Williamsburg. But watching his understudy had already provided him with one helpful insight.

“These are not debates,” Obama observed to Plouffe. “These are gladiatorial enterprises.”

The first lady worried about her Maximus and his return to the Colosseum. In truth, she had fretted over the debates even before Denver. In July, around the time her husband’s prep started, she met with Plouffe and expressed firm opinions. That Barack had to speak from the gut, in language that regular folks could understand. Had to avoid treating the debates like policy seminars. Had to keep his head out of the clouds. (Michelle’s advisers paraphrased her advice as “It’s not about David Brooks; it’s about my mother.”) FLOTUS loved POTUS like nobody’s business, but she knew his faults well.

In the wake of Denver, Michelle was unfailingly encouraging with her husband: Don’t worry, you’re going to win the next one, just remember who you’re talking to, she told him. Before a small group of female bundlers, she pronounced that Barack had lost only because “Romney is a really good liar.”

Privately, however, Michelle was unhappy about how her spouse’s prep had been handled. There had been a late arrival in Denver, a rushed dinner at a crappy hotel. Inexplicably, he had been unable to reach Sasha and Malia by phone. He seemed overscheduled, overcoached, and under-rested. At first, Michelle conveyed her displeasure via senior White House adviser and First Friend Valerie Jarrett, who flooded the in-boxes of the debate team with pointed e-mails, employing the royal “we.” But the day before debate camp in Williamsburg, Michelle delivered marching orders directly to Plouffe: If the president wants our chef there, he should be there; if he wants Marty Nesbitt there, he should be there. Barack’s food, downtime, exercise, sleep, lodging—all of it affects his frame of mind. All of it has to be right.

Plouffe saluted sharply and thought, I guess the First Lady understands the stakes here.

That same Friday, October 12, Obama’s debate team gathered again in the Roo­sevelt Room for a final pre-camp session. The president was presented with a piece of overarching advice and a memo, both of which would have been inconceivable before Denver. The advice was: Be more like Biden, whose combativeness, scripted moments, and bluff calls on Ryan (“Not true!”) the night before had all proved effective tactics. The memo was an alliterative flash card to remind Obama of what it called “the Six A’s”:

Advocate (don’t explain)
Audience
Animated
Attacks
Answers with principles and values
Allow yourself to take advantage of openings

An Excerpt From Mark Halperin and John Heilemann’s ‘Double Down: Game Change 2012’ -- New York Magazine
The first debate.Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Ron Klain had no shame about such contrivances—whatever worked. A Washington super-staffer, Klain had served on every Democratic presidential debate-prep team for twenty years and co-led Obama’s effort in 2008. But his relationship with the president was not straightforward or particularly close. Right after the Denver disaster, he offered to resign from the debate team, but Obama refused to let him. Klain’s ego, pride, and future ambitions were all wrapped up in correcting the miscues from the Mile High City and constructing a comeback at Hofstra.

Klain turned Obama’s prep regime upside down: new strategy, new tactics, new structure. In Williamsburg, there would be an intense concentration on performance, including speeding up Obama’s ponderous delivery. There would be less policy Q&A and more rehearsal of set pieces and lines that popped. Less emphasis on programmatic peas and spinach, more on anecdote and empathy. Contrary to Clinton’s advice, there would be plenty of punching to go along with the counterpunching.

Camp commenced on Saturday in Williamsburg. Two levels down from the lobby of the Kingsmill Resort Center, on the precisely built replica of the Hofstra town-hall set, the president spent most of the day sharpening his answers with Klain and Axelrod. That night, his mock went better than any of the six sessions prior to Denver. The members of the debate team weren’t ready to declare victory yet, but they were relieved. Obama’s friend Nesbitt was exultant.

“That’s some good shit!” he told the president, patting him on the back. “That’s my man! He’s back!”

In the Sunday daytime sessions, Obama showed still more improvement, honing a solid attack on the 47 percent and another on his rival’s economic agenda. (“Governor Romney doesn’t have a five-point plan; he has a one-point plan, and that’s to make sure folks at the top play by a different set of rules.”) As the team took time off for dinner before Obama and Kerry went at it again, Klain thought, Okay, we’re getting to a better place. Plouffe thought, He’s locked in.

A little before 9 p.m., they returned to the Resort Center. Obama and Kerry grabbed their handheld microphones and took their places—and the president proceeded to deliver the Mock From Hell.

Even before Nasty Obama snarled at Kerry-as-Mitt and Anita Dunn as CNN’s Candy Crowley at the 39:35 mark, Klain was mortified. The president’s emotional flatness from Denver was back. He was making no connection with the voter stand-ins asking questions. He was wandering aimlessly, digressing compulsively, not merely chasing rabbits but stalking them to the ends of the Earth. His cadences were hesitant and maple-syrupy slow: phrase, pause, phrase, pause, phrase. His answers were verbose and utterly devoid of message.

In Klain’s career as a debate maestro, he had been involved in successes (Kerry over Bush three times in a row) and failures (Gore’s symphony of sighs in 2000). But he had never seen anything like this. After all the happy talk from Obama and his consistent, if small, steps forward, the president was regressing—with 48 hours and only one full day of prep between them and Hofstra.

At the Pettus House, a colonnaded red- brick mansion on the riverbank where Obama and Nesbitt were bunking, the two men stayed up late hashing out what hadn’t worked, how the president was still struggling to find the zone. “You can’t get mad” at Romney’s distortions, Nesbitt said. “You come off better when you just say, ‘Now, that’s fucking ridiculous.’ When you laugh, that shit works, man.”

In Obama’s hold room at the Resort Center, his staff was moving past puzzlement and panic toward practical considerations. The lesson that Plouffe had taken from Denver was that you could no longer count on fourth-quarter Obama; what you saw in practice was what you got on the debate stage. If he doesn’t have a good mock tomorrow, there’s no reason to believe that it’ll get fixed when he gets to New York, Plouffe said.

Two schools of thought quickly emerged within the team. The first, pushed by Washington super-lawyer Bob ­Barnett—who was also a longtime debate prepper and was there serving on Kerry’s staff—was that Obama needed to be shown video in the morning. “This is what we did with Clinton,” Barnett sagely noted. The other, advanced by Favreau, was that Obama should be given transcripts. He’s a writer, Favreau argued. Words on the page will make a deeper impression.

The full transcript was in hand within 45 minutes—and became a source of gallows humor. As the clock ticked well past midnight, Favreau stagily read aloud some of Obama’s most dreadful answers. Soon his colleagues joined in, with Axelrod, Benenson, and Plouffe offering recitations and laughing deliriously over the absurdity and horror of the circumstances.

Barnett and others believed that Obama’s playbook had to be stripped down more dramatically, to a series of simple and crisp bullet points on the most likely topics to come up in the debate. Klain agreed and wanted to go a step further. In 1996, Democratic strategist Mark Penn had devised something called “debate-on-a-page” for Gore in his V.P. face-off with Jack Kemp. Klain suggested they do the same for Obama: a sheet of paper with a handful of key principles, attacks, and counterattacks.

Axelrod and Plouffe thought something more radical was in order. For the past six years, they had watched Obama struggle with his disdain for the theatricality of politics—not just debates, but even the soaring speeches for which he was renowned. Obama’s distrust of emotional string-pulling and resistance to the practical necessities of the sound-bite culture: These were elements of his personality that they accepted, respected, and admired. But they had long harbored foreboding that those proclivities might also be a train wreck in the making. Time and again, Obama had averted the oncoming locomotive. Had embraced showmanship when it was necessary. Had picked his people up and carried them on his back to the promised land. But now, with a crucial debate less than two days away—one that could either put the election in the bag or turn it into a toss-up—Obama was faltering in a way his closest advisers had never witnessed. They needed to figure out what had gone haywire from the inside out. They needed, as someone in the staff room put it, to stage an “intervention.”

The next morning, October 15, Klain stumbled from his room to the Resort Center, eyes puffy and nerves jangled. He’d been up all night hammering together and e-mailing around his debate-on-a-page draft. In Obama’s hold room, the team members gathered and laid out their plan for the day. They would screen video for the boss. They would show him transcripts. They would present him with his cheat sheets. They would devote the day to topic-by-topic drills until he had his answers memorized.

Normally, the whole group would now meet with the president to critique the previous night’s mock. Instead, everyone except Axelrod, Klain, and Plouffe cleared the room just before 10 a.m. Obama was on his way. The intervention was at hand.

Where’s everybody else?” Obama asked as he ambled in across the speckled green carpet with his chief of staff, Jack Lew, at his side. “Where’s the rest of the team?”

We met this morning and decided we should have this smaller meeting first, one of the interventionists said.

Obama, in khakis and rolled-up shirtsleeves, looked nonplussed. Between his conversation with Nesbitt the night before and a morning national-security briefing with Lew, he was aware that his people were unhappy with the mock—but not fully clued in to the depth of their concern.

The president settled into a cushy black sofa at one end of the room. On settees to his left were Axelrod, Plouffe, and Lew; to his right, in a blue blazer, was Klain, now caffeinated and coherent.

“We’re here, Mr. President,” Klain began, “because we need to have a serious conversation about why this isn’t working and the fundamental transformation we need to achieve today to avoid a very bad result tomorrow night.” We’re not going to get there by continuing to grind away and marginally improve, Klain went on. This is not about changing the words in your debate book, because the difference between the answers that work and the answers that don’t work is just 15 or 20 percent. This is about style, engagement, speed, presentation, attitude. Candidly, we need to figure out why you’re not rising to and meeting the challenge—why you’re not really doing this, why you’re doing … something else.

Obama didn’t flinch. “Guys, I’m struggling,” he said somberly. “Last night wasn’t good, and I know that. Here’s why I think I’m having trouble. I’m having a hard time squaring up what I know I need to do, what you guys are telling me I need to do, with where my mind takes me, which is: I’m a lawyer, and I want to argue things out. I want to peel back layers.”

The ensuing presidential soliloquy went on for ten minutes—an eternity in Obama time. His tone was even and unemotional, but searching, introspective, diagnostic, vulnerable. Psychologically, emotionally, and intellectually, he was placing his cards face up on the table.

“When I get a question,” he said, “I go right to the logical.” You ask me a question about health care. There’s a problem, and there’s a response. Here’s what my opponent might say about it, so I’m going to counteract that. Okay, we’re gonna talk about immigration. Here’s what I’d like to say—but I can’t say that. Think about what that means. I know what I want to say, I know where my mind takes me, but I have to tell myself, No, no, don’t do that—do this other thing. It’s against my instincts just to perform. It’s easy for me to slip back into what I know, which is basically to dissect arguments. I think when I talk. It can be halting. I start slow. It’s hard for me to just go into my answer. I’m having to teach my brain to function differently. I’m left-handed; this is like you’re asking me to start writing right-handed.

Throughout the campaign, Obama had been criticized for the thin gruel of his second-term agenda. Now he acknowledged that it bothered him, too, and posed a challenge for the debates.

You keep telling me I can’t spend too much time defending my record, and that I should talk about my plans, he said. But my plans aren’t anything like the plans I ran on in 2008. I had a universal-health-care plan then. Now I’ve got … what? A manufacturing plan? What am I gonna do on education? What am I gonna do on energy? There’s not much there.

“I can’t tell you that ‘Okay, I woke up today, I knew I needed to do better, and I’ll do better,’ ” Obama said. “I am wired in a different way than this event requires.”

Obama paused.

“I just don’t know if I can do this,” he said.

Obama’s advisers sat silently at first, absorbing the extraordinary moment playing out in front of them. In October of an election year, on the eve of a pivotal debate, the president wasn’t talking about tactics or strategy, about this line or that zinger. He was talking about personal contradictions and ambivalences, about his discomfort with the campaign he was running, about his unease with the requirements of politics writ large, about matters that were fundamental, even existential. We are in uncharted territory here, thought Klain.

More striking was Obama’s candor and self-awareness. The most self-contained president in modern history (and, possibly, the most self-possessed human on the planet) was laying himself bare, deconstructing himself before their eyes—and admitting he was at a loss.

All through his career, Obama had played by his own rules. He had won the presidency as an outsider, without the succor of the Democratic Establishment. He owed it little, offered less. He had ignored the traditional social niceties of the office, and largely resisted the media freak show, swatting away its asininities. He had refused to stomp his feet or shed crocodile tears over the BP spill, because neither would plug the pipe spewing oil from the ocean floor. He had eschewed sloganeering to sell his health-care plan, although it meant the world to him.

Now he was faced with an event that demanded an astronomical degree of fakery, histrionics, and stagecraft—and while he was ready to capitulate, trying to capitulate, he found himself incapable of performing not just to his own exalted standards but to the bare minimum of competence. Acres of evidence and the illusions of his fans to the contrary, Barack Obama, it turned out, was all too human.

Axelrod was more intimate with Obama than anyone in the room. The president’s humanity and frailties were no secret to Axe—nor was 44’s capacity for self-doubt. Since Denver, Obama had been subjected to a hailstorm of criticism, a flood of panic, and a blizzard of psychoanalysis. Like every president, he claimed he was impervious to it. But Axelrod knew it was a lie. All this shit is in his head, the strategist thought.

Look, said Axelrod softly, we know that you find these debates frustrating, that they’re more performance than substance. It’s why you are a good president. It’s why all of us feel so strongly about your winning. But you have to find a way to get over the hump and stop fighting this game—to play this game, wrap your arms around this game.

For the next hour, the three Obamans tried to carry the president across the psychic chasm. Plouffe reminded him of the stakes. “We can’t have a repeat of Denver tomorrow night,” he warned. “Right now, we’re not losing any of our vote, but we’re on probation. If we have another performance that causes people to scratch their heads, we’re gonna start losing votes. We gotta stop this now.”

Over Obama’s despair about his lack of an agenda, Plouffe and Axelrod took him on. “You do have an agenda, goddammit!” Plouffe said. “This isn’t a bunch of b.s. you’re selling. This is an agenda the American people support and believe in. But they’re not gonna believe in it if you don’t treat it that way, by selling it with great fervor. If you sell your agenda and Romney sells his agenda with equal enthusiasm, we will win.

“Think about this,” Plouffe went on. “You have two debates left. So take out Romney, take out moderator questions: You’ve got basically 75 to 80 minutes left of doing this in your entire life. That’s less than the length of a movie! You can do this! I know it’s uncomfortable. I know it’s unnatural. But that’s all. That’s the finish line, you know?”

Klain employed a sports analogy. The Tennessee Titans lost the Super Bowl a couple of years ago because their guy got tackled on the one-yard line, he said—the one-yard line! That’s where we are. The hardest thing for any candidate in a debate is to know the substance. You have that down cold. All we need is a little more effort on performance. You need to go in there and talk as fast as you can. You need to add a little schmaltz, talk about stuff the way that people want to hear it. This isn’t about starting over, starting from scratch. We’ve got most of it right. The part we have left to get right is small. But as the Titans proved, small can mean the difference between winning and losing.

Obama’s aides couldn’t tell if their words were sinking in. “I understand where we are,” the president said finally. I’m either going to center myself and get this or I’m not. The debate’s tomorrow. There’s not much we can do. I just gotta fight my way through it.

As the meeting wound to a close, the Obamans felt relief mixed with trepidation. Oddly, for Klain, the president’s lack of confidence about his ability to turn himself around was comforting. After all the blithe I-got-its of his pre-Denver prep, Obama for the first time was acknowledging that a genuine and serious modification of his mind-set was necessary.

Plouffe felt less reassured. “It’s good news–bad news,” he told Favreau afterward. “The good news is, he recognizes the issue. The bad news is, I don’t know if we can fix it in time.”

The full team reconvened in Obama’s hold room. Klain ran through his memo of the previous night and explained to the president the new new format for his prep: For the rest of the day until his final mock, they were going to drill him incessantly on the ten or so topics they expected to come up in the debate, compelling him to repeat his bullet points over and over again. Klain also presented Obama with his debate-on-a-page:

MUST REMEMBER
1. (Your) Speed Kills (Romney)
2. Upbeat and Positive in Tone
3. Passion for People and Plans
4. OTR [Off the Record] Mind-set—Have Fun
5. Strong Sentences to Start and End
6. Engage the Audience
7. Don’t Chase Rabbits

BEST HITS
1. 47%
2. Romney + China Outsourcing
3. Heaven & Earth
4. 9/11 Girl
5. Sketchy Deal
6. Mass Taxes—Cradle to Grave
7. Preexisting and ER
8. Women’s Health
9. Borrow From Your Parents

REBUTTAL CHEAT SHEET
1. Jobs—The 1-point plan
2. Deficits—$7 trillion and The Sketchy Deal
3. Energy—Coal plant is a killer
4. Health—Preexisting fact check and the ER
5. Medicare—He wants to save Medicare … by ending it!
6. Bus Taxes—60 Mins in rebuttal (i.e., pivot to personal taxes)
7. Pers Taxes—Tax cuts for outsourcing (i.e., pivot to job creation)
8. Gridlock—Romney brings the lobbyist back
9. Benghazi—Taking offense
10. Education—Borrow from your parents and/or Size Doesn’t Matter

That the intervention had had some effect on Obama was immediately apparent, though how much was unclear. He brought a new energy and focus to his afternoon drills. When he delivered an imperfect answer, he stopped himself short: “Let’s do that again.” At his debate camp before Denver, outside Las Vegas, Obama had been so intent on escaping that he took off one day for a visit to the Hoover Dam. Now he refused even brief breaks for a walk by the river. As the afternoon went on, the debate team concocted cutesy catchphrases to cue him at the slightest hint of backsliding.

“Fast and hammy! Fast and hammy!” Klain would say when his delivery was lugubrious.

“Punch him in the face!” Karen Dunn, another team member, chipped in when he missed a chance to cream Kerry-as-Mitt.

For Klain, the turning point came that afternoon, during a session in which Obama was fielding questions from junior members of the team who were standing in as voters. Tony Carrk, a researcher, introduced himself as Vito, a barbershop proprietor from Long Island, and asked which tax plan—Obama’s or Romney’s—would be better for small-business owners like him. Without missing a beat, the president savaged Mitt’s plan with verve, precision, and bite, closing with some good-natured joshing about Vito’s shop.

The perfect town-hall answer, Klain thought.

That night, for the final mock, Kerry was instructed to bring his A-game. With the team on pins and needles, Obama earned a solid B-plus. The contrast with the previous night was so dramatic it called to Axelrod’s mind the triumphant scenes in Hoosiers. When it was over, the team rose in unison and gave Obama a standing ovation.

“All right, all right, all right,” the president said, waving them off, smiling abashedly.

The next morning, before setting off for Hofstra, the team gathered once again in Obama’s hold room to review the mock. No one was remotely certain they were out of the woods. The past three days had carried them too close to the abyss for firm convictions of any kind. But the president’s mood could not have been more buoyant. Running through the team’s critique, he reveled in their praise of a particularly strong answer.

“Oh, you guys liked that?” Obama said, grinning broadly. “That was fast and hammy, right?”

For all the progress Obama had made in his final practice session, his team was far from serene as the witching hour approached at Hofstra. Backstage, Klain was a nervous wreck. One pretty good mock, one disaster in the past 48 hours, Plouffe thought. So which Obama shows up?

Just then, the president emerged from his holding room a few minutes before heading onstage. He found Klain, Plouffe, Axelrod, and Jim Messina in the hallway.

“Guys, I’m going to be good tonight,” Obama said. “I finally figured this out.”

When the lights went up, it took all of one answer for the Obamans to realize that the president wasn’t kidding. Replying to the first questioner, a 20-year-old college student worried about finding work after graduation, Obama locked eyes with the young man and spoke crisply and pointedly. In the space of six sentences, the president plugged higher education and touted his job-creation record, his manufacturing agenda, and his rescue of the auto industry—plunging an ice pick into Romney by invoking “Let Detroit Go Bankrupt.” When Mitt cited his five-point economic plan in answer to a follow-up from Crowley, Obama let loose with his one-point-plan zinger. He was fast. He was hammy. He was gliding around the stage.

In the staff room, Obama’s increasingly giddy team kept track of his progress, using his debate-on-a-page as a scorecard, ticking off the hits one by one as he delivered them. On outsourcing to China, immigration (self-deportation), women’s issues (Planned Parenthood), and more, the president was not only proving himself an able student but making Romney pay for every rightward lunge he had taken during the nomination contest.

Romney responded aggressively but with visible annoyance as he found himself forced to keep doubling back to answer attacks from minutes earlier, which made him appear petty and threw him off rhythm. In Denver, Mitt’s propensity for gaffes had vanished as if by magic; at Hofstra, presto-change-o, it returned. Boasting of his commitment to gender equity in the Massachusetts statehouse, he referred to the résumés he reviewed for Cabinet posts as “binders full of women.”

About two thirds of the way through the 90 minutes, Romney tried to roll out a hit on Obama’s financial portfolio. “Mr. President, have you looked at your pension?” Romney asked.

“You know, I don’t look at my pension,” Obama said without missing a beat and with a mile-wide smile. “It’s not as big as yours, so it doesn’t take as long.”

The debate was now a little more than an hour old. The next question from the audience had to do with Benghazi. Obama explained the steps he had taken in the wake of the September 11 attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission there—and then turned his attention to his opponent. “While we were still dealing with our diplomats being threatened, Governor Romney put out a press release trying to make political points,” the president said sternly.

Romney got in a jab about the inappropriateness of Obama having taken a political trip on September 12. But Romney went further. “There were many days that passed before we knew whether this was a spontaneous demonstration or actually whether it was a terrorist attack,” he said. “And there was no demonstration involved. It was a terrorist attack, and it took a long time for that to be told to the American people.”

Obama summoned his highest dudgeon and responded: “The day after the attack, Governor, I stood in the Rose Garden, and I told the American people and the world that we are going to find out exactly what happened, that this was an act of terror. And I also said that we’re going to hunt down those who committed this crime. And then a few days later, I was there greeting the caskets coming into Andrews Air Force Base and grieving with the families. And the suggestion that anybody in my team, whether the secretary of State, our U.N. ambassador—anybody on my team—would play politics or mislead when we’ve lost four of our own, Governor, is offensive. That’s not what we do. That’s not what I do as president. That’s not what I do as commander-in-chief.”

Obama returned to his stool and took a sip of water. Romney, incredulous, began to splutter.

“You said in the Rose Garden the day after the attack it was an act of terror? It was not a spontaneous demonstration? Is that what you’re saying?”

With an icy stare, Obama set a trap: “Please proceed, Governor.”

“I want to make sure we get that for the record, because it took the president fourteen days before he called the attack in Benghazi an act of terror,” Romney insisted.

“Get the transcript,” Obama said—at which point Candy Crowley interceded.

“He did, in fact, sir,” Crowley said to Romney. “He did call it an act of terror.”

“Can you say that a little louder, Candy?” Obama said, twisting the knife in Romney’s back. The crowd burst into laughter and applause.

Minutes later, the debate was over. The Obamans were ebullient. The president’s performance hadn’t been perfect, but judged against the standards of Denver (or the Mock From Hell) it was pure genius. As he came off the stage, Obama thought he had done well. But having initially misjudged his performance the last time out, he was slightly tentative.

“That was good, right?” Obama asked.



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