Jonathan Alter

Stories by Jonathan Alter

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    Alter: Obama, BP, and Theodore Roosevelt

    The BP spill is a failure not just of technology but ideology. That oil flows into the ocean from the deregulatory tide of the last 30 years. President Obama is right to compare the fiasco to 9/11. If he can frame the message more memorably than he did in his Oval Office address, Obama may yet use the largest environmental disaster in U.S. history to speed the transition to a green economy, just as George W. Bush used terrorism to refashion foreign policy. To do so, “deregulation”—once a Reaganite call to arms—must be transformed into an epithet. If the president can’t put the antigovernment, Tea Party types in their place now, when will he? The legacy of the American progressive tradition is on the line.
  • The President Names a Better BP Watchdog

    President Obama's speech was most noted for its martial themes, but I was struck by what he said about the abuses at the Minerals Management Service. Finally, Obama went on offense.
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    Ladies' Night

    In an election season marked by voters' desire for outsider candidates, the true story of the primaries is the women who won.
  • Obama Deserves Credit for DADT Repeal

    The struggle over gays in the military offers an important lesson about Washington: when public opinion moves, politicians follow, even on the most seemingly toxic issues. And with the proper patient and, yes, political approach, "do overs" are possible....
  • Obama Takes Charge Before the Election

    Barack Obama was more cunning than anyone knew. Obama wasn't much of a tennis player, but he mulled a tennis metaphor offered by a friend: his opponent was like one of those guys in white shorts running from the baseline to the net, then from sideline to sideline, all over the court trying to hit the ball. With a bit of luck, Obama might make him run right out of the match....
  • Excerpt: Healthcare End Game

    At the beginning of 2010, health care reform had passed both the House and Senate (where Democrats had 60 votes) and was merely awaiting the resolution of the differing versions of the bill. Through endless meetings Obama stayed patient. With another week or two of talks, his aides thought, he would have a final bill approved. Then he could pivot fully to jobs in his State of the Union Address....
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    Obama, Year One, The Promise

    From The Promise: President Obama, Year One, by Jonathan Alter. To be published on May 18 by Simon & Schuster, Inc. © 2010 by Jonathan Alter.
  • Andy Stern's Legacy: Not All Bad

    Friday's Washington Post story about Andy Stern leaving the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) with debts offers a revealing look at the internecine strife that has long plagued the labor movement. And give the Post credit for covering a labor story, which most of the rest of the press simply ignores. But on the occasion of Stern stepping down after 13 years as head of the second largest (after the Teamsters) and fastest growing union in the country, the assessment of his legacy deserves a bit more perspective. ...
  • Kagan Might Not Be Prepared to Sway Anthony Kennedy

    Elena Kagan is being attacked for her lack of judicial experience by some of the same folks (e.g., Sen. John Cornyn) who said Harriet Miers was especially qualified for the Supreme Court because President Bush had gone outside the usual suspects and nominated someone who wasn't a judge. That's Washington, where hypocrisy is just another day at the office....
  • Will Obama Take Next Step on Teachers?

    States and school districts across the country are about to lay off boatloads of teachers if something isn't done soon. Worse, outdated seniority rules mean that many of the best younger teachers will lose their jobs first. Some "teachers of the year" have already received pink slips. Fortunately there's something we can do about it if Washington has the guts. ...
  • Will Oil Spill Give Momentum to Energy Reform?

    The news media and public can only see current events through the prism of the past. So we're all looking for a Katrina replay in the oil-spill story. David Axelrod was on Good Morning America tamping down any suggestion that the White House had been tardy in reacting. But history doesn't repeat itself exactly, so some new political storyline is sure to come out of this disaster (quite possibly the biggest non-Washington story of the year once the oil hits land and we see Exxon Valdez–style pictures of oil-soaked ducks). What will that angle be? "Drill, baby, drill!"—the battle cry of the 2008 GOP convention—is already sounding lame, as is President Obama's statement earlier this year that today's oil rigs don't cause spills. Is making politicians look like fools the only medium-term political outcome? Only if we lack any ability to turn crisis into opportunity. After the immediate crisis passes and the cleanup is well underway, we should look to...
  • Replacing Stevens on the Supreme Court: Where Does It Stand?

    1. No decision has been made by the president.2. The top four candidates are Elena Kagan, Diane Wood, Merrick Garland, and Janet Napolitano.3. Dark horses are still possible, especially if one could be found who is an economic progressive who could help redress what the president considers to be the tilt toward the powerful on the court. That's why I'm told that Harvard Law School professor and consumer advocate Elizabeth Warren, whose expertise in bankruptcy law is a match for many of the business cases before the court and who comes from modest origins (her father was a janitor), is in the running. Kagan has never been a judge, but she waived tuition when she was dean of Harvard Law School for anyone entering public service, a policy recently abandoned for financial reasons but sure to be viewed favorably by Obama.4. In the short and medium term it's all about "getting to five"—bringing Justice Anthony Kennedy along to build new majorities. Garland has...
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    Huey Long and Alan Grayson—Separated at Birth

    Fiery populist Rep. Alan Grayson of Florida is in the news for reporting death threats and comparing the right wing to Nazis who burned the Reichstag. But another comparison from the 1930s may be more apt, at least visually.
  • Why Bayh Is Retiring

    I'm not sure people realize just how much the failure of health care demoralized Evan Bayh. As I learned in reporting for my upcoming book, The Promise: President Obama, Year One, out in May, White House aides David Axelrod and Jim Messina visited the Senate just before the August recess last year and left feeling much better after hearing from Bayh. He made them feel that the politics of getting reelected demanded passage of the bill, which at the time looked iffy. "We're all screwed if you don't get something real on health care," Bayh told them. This made Axelrod and Messina think that the moderates would be on board. After the Massachusetts debacle, Bayh thought it was too late to get something real and that it was time to shift to other priorities. I think he figured he could beat Dan Coats in Indiana but it wasn't worth the effort. He and the Democrats were, in his mind, "all screwed."
  • Living With Cancer in America

    I took the call on my cell phone at the Starbucks in New York's Penn Station. It was from a doctor I barely knew telling me that a CT scan—ordered after three weeks of worsening stomach pain—showed a large mass in my abdomen, with what she said was "considerable lymph node involvement." I rubbed my eyes and sensed the truth instantly: cancer, and not one that had been detected early. I was 46 years old and had not spent a night in the hospital since I was born. Nonsmoker. No junk food beyond the occasional barbecue potato chips. Jogged a couple of times a week. I was not remotely ready for this.It was Super Tuesday, March 2, 2004, the day voters would select most of the delegates to the Democratic National Convention. Although the complete diagnosis was still several days off, the intense abdominal pain meant that my wife, Emily, and I had no time to stop, absorb and adjust to our twisted new world. We immediately began negotiating the endless round of doctors' appointments and...
  • The Other America

    An Enduring Shame: Katrina Reminded Us, But The Problem Is Not New. Why A Rising Tide Of People Live In Poverty, Who They Are--And What We Can Do About It.
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    Rudy's Moment

    The quintessential New Yorker, Mayor Giuliani has set the standard for crisis management: inspiring, emotional and as tough as ever. By Jonathan Alter