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Saturday, August 19, 2017

What will you remember about the summer of 2015?

Will it be the GOP tying its fate to the most divisive, thin-skinned and clownish Republican frontrunner/birther in American history? Will it be an amorphous Benghazi investigation that has been impaneled longer than the investigation into Iran-Contra — an actual Constitutional crisis that saw a sitting vice president/candidate for president refuse to release relevant diary entries that may have implicated him in the crime — yielding nothing but questions about administrative vagaries of classified email? Will we remember how the right and a complicit media machine that invented Whitewater, summoned a ridiculous impeachment, and misled us into war deployed every argument at its disposal to destroy the strongest non-incumbent and first female frontrunner for president in American history?

Or will these daffy distractions go the way of the media’s illusory concern for Ebola, the missing plane, and President Obama’s tan suit?

Who knows? But what we can say for sure is that truly historic things have unfolded this summer, and been only glanced at by a media transfixed on conflict and personality. Here are five important events that history will definitely have to reckon with, even if the media would rather not.

1. The Iran deal.
On Sunday, Colin Powell joined Richard Lugar and Brent Scowcroft to support the deal the U.S., its European allies, China, and Russia reached with Iran to bring the nation under compliance with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. These three former high-ranking Republicans represent the last remaining rinds of right-wing realism, and they join with 38 Democratic senators who have vowed to support the president’s veto on any attempt to undermine the agreement. Legitimate fears and concerns about Iran’s conduct have been overwhelmed by a calculus that assumes the rogue state is both canny enough to evade the laws of physics and suicidal enough to secretly build a bomb, knowing that would invite the world to destroy its economy and possibly the entire existence of the regime. This deal could be the first successful attempt in history to use diplomacy to dissuade a nation that has defied the world to swear off the pursuit of a nuclear weapon. It does not eliminate Iran’s ability to fund terrorism any more than our long relationship with Saudi Arabia prevented that nation and its citizens from funding terrorism, including the seeds of al Qaeda and ISIS. But it does stand in sharp contrast to the way America approached Iraq’s alleged nuclear program. This caution and realignment of strategies makes sense given the incredible humanitarian disaster that was fueled by the failures of the neoconservative approach to Iraq. If America were to suddenly shift back to the chauvinism of the recent past, either by choice or force, history would distinctly note how profoundly disappointing the collapse of this noble effort was.

2. Syrian refugee crisis.
No disaster has gone more ignored by the American media than the ongoing refugee crisis in the countries surrounding Syria. And that probably would have continued forever if a small percentage of those fleeing the war-torn nation had not begun to seep into Europe, and the world had not been shocked by the image of a dead toddler on a beach. Predictably, the right has advanced fantasies that more western interventionism could have fixed a problem ignited by western interventionism. There’s no doubt that the nations that have done the most to fuel the catastrophe—which include the United States, Iran, Russia and Saudi Arabia—have done little to nothing to take responsibility for the brunt of this humanitarian crisis. From Europe, we’ve seen both images that conjure the vile specter of how Jews were treated in the 1930s and incredible acts of enlightened graciousness. Both will play a role in the European perception of the costs of a belief that the west can reshape the Middle East by force. But for America, the agony is still distant. And, for many, so are the lessons.

3. Climate change.
We joke that President Obama has done more to fight climate change than all other U.S. presidents combined because it’s impossible to multiply by zero. His stimulus was a ginormous green-energy bonanza that manifested an American renewables industry from almost nothing, leading us to a revolution that has now seen clean energy become cheaper in some instances than its dirty competitors. The president’s deal with China, the world’s largest carbon polluter, to limit emissions neutered the strongest argument against persistent climate action. This summer, the president presented his finalized plan for demanding power producers reduce their carbon output by 32 percent from what it was a decade ago, by 2032. This new rule is tougher on the states that have been the most recalcitrant in pursuing limitations on emissions, and arrives as we have increasing evidence that fighting climate change is actually helping the economy. This rule still needs to survive legal challenges, which seems likely given the current makeup of the Supreme Court, which rejected a Bush administration attack on regulating CO2 under the Clean Air Act in 2007. So like much of Obama’s legacy, this will truly be decided by the outcome of the 2016 election.

4. Record job growth.
We’ve finally recovered all the full-time jobs lost in the Great Recession and it only took a record 66 months of private-sector job growth. That Obama has gone from the president who prevented a greater depression to the steward of a genuine boom is too much to handle for many Republicans. They argue that his unemployment rate is only lower than anything ever achieved by Reagan because so many people have left the job market out of fear of contracting a bad case of Obama’s Muslim atheism. To make this argument, they have to ignore trends that have been going on for decades or reveal that they’re really upset that Baby Boomers are actually getting to retire. This isn’t to say the economy is perfect, at all. Wage growth is far too slow and too much of the recovery is going to the richest Americans, and this is a problem that Marco Rubio, for instance, wants to solve by cutting Mitt Romney’s taxes to zero. The economy is definitely not as good as we should demand. It’s just better than it’s been all century, and it’s showing great resilience despite persistent claims it would be destroyed by inflation, food stamps and — of course — Obamacare.

5. Obamacare wins.
Perhaps the most underreported story of the summer of 2015 is that Obamacare won again.

This wasn’t proven by the uninsured rate dropping below 10 percent for the first time in decades. Though that’s impressive. And it wasn’t proven by Obamacare spending its first two straight months receiving higher favorable than unfavorable ratings in the Kaiser Foundation’s tracking poll. That’s good, but nope.

This was proven by Scott Walker — the Koch brothers’ mascot — actually producing an Obamacare alternative that resembles… OBAMACARE.

“At the talking-point level, Governor Walker’s plan sounds an awful lot like Obamacare,” said Larry Levitt, a senior vice president of Kaiser Family Foundation.

The big difference? It protects way fewer people, and the people it does protect aren’t those who need it the most. This isn’t surprising, but it’s proof that after a half-decade of vowing the destruction of Obamacare, even the most right-wing Republicans recognize that the American public will refuse to give up much of what the law offers. You can see why Republicans aren’t eager to have that story get out.

Photo: A guest takes a video of U.S. President Barack Obama with his mobile phone during a welcome reception for the WNBA Champions Phoenix Mercury team at the East Room of the White House in Washington, August 26, 2015. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

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