Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Social Justice, Whiteness & Discursive Restraint: A Case Example in US Democracy

New York City
My NYTimes comment
September 17th, 2009
3:53 am

Comment #93.
New York City
September 17th, 2009
8:36 am

(scroll all referenced URLs below my comments)

Using RACE as a Political Weapon against We the People

President Obama is making the right decision by refusing to get drawn into the so-called race debate.

What debate? This is no debate. It is a cynical attempt, by some inside and outside Congress, to destroy healthcare reform.

It is WE the People who will pay the price, if healthcare reform is not enacted.

A majority of Republicans would like to USE RACE to scuttle Obama's healthcare agenda. That is what one Republican, Joe Wilson, did when he insulted the President, on primetime national TV in an unprecedented shoutout, inside Congress.

But here's the issue. Joe Wilson has the healthcare I want.

Both Clyburn and Carter EXPOSED Wilson and Co. and the hate agenda of some Americans both inside and outside Congress. Actually Maureen did it first. Dowd led the way.

Let us keep our Eyes on the Prize -- FAIR healthcare for ALL Americans, with no one left out.

Chithra KarunaKaran
Ethical Democracy as Lived Practice
My NYT Comment #132.

New York City
September 16th, 2009
12:07 pm

Joe Wilson, Republican of South Carolina shouts "You lie" on primetime national TV, to President Obama while Obama is addressing the joint session of Congress on his proposed Healthcare plan.

Wilson is White, Obama is Black.

Wilson is advised by some of his Republican colleagues to call Obama to "apologize".

Wilson calls the White House and conveys his apology to White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emmanuel. Emanuel informs Wilson his apology is "accepted" by the President.

The House of Representatives, controlled by Democrats, discusses and passes a Resolution of Disapproval on Wilson's accusation against the President

Former President Carter, white, male and Southern like Wilson, asserts that Congressman Wilson statement was "based on racism."

Wilson's performance of whiteness can be explained most comprehensively through the Theory of Systemic Whiteness. Without using a rigorous theoretical explanation, statements like Wilson's, as well as the statements and actions that follow, will continue to be seen as unusual, atypical, incidental. When viewed through the lens of Systemic Whiteness, we see race as performative and structural, indispensable to US civil society and its particular trajectory of democracy. We see whiteness as a system of Power exercised over unadmitted others. WE undestand Toni Morrison's comment that Bill Clinton was the nations first black president. WE can understand why powerful middle aged white men in the Republican Party did not think he was qualified to be President because Clinton satisfied every Black stereotype -- poor, working class, raised by a single mother. With all those self-fullfilling racialized stereotypes, why should he be allowed to be president? Strip him. Now, that's the power of systemic whiteness.

Q. Is discursive restraint essential to advance social justice in Ethical Democracy, or will ethical practices advance precisely because of the absence of discursive restraint in the public sphere?


NYTimes Comment
New York City
September 16th, 2009
6:17 am

Discursive Restraint & Democracy

Maureen I think you were the first reporter in the entire country to pick up on, and analyze the racial subtext of Joe Wilson's \"You Lie\"

verbal assault on President Obama, in Your earlier \"Boy Oh Boy\" column. I think you gave Clyburn the boost he may have needed, to follow up with that successful Resolution of Disapproval that passed today in Congress 240 - 179.

Even former President Carter made his assertion that Wilson's comment was racist, AFTER your column. Good going, thanks, your antiracism, not to mention drawing scathing attention to boorishness disguised as candor in public service, is appreciated.

Persuasive persistence pays, that is Discursive Democracy at its best -- and it made Wilson pay.

Chithra KarunaKaran

Ethical Democracy As Lived Practice


Chithra KarunaKaran
Ethical Democracy As Lived Practice
New York Times copyright
Op-Ed Columnist
Boy, Oh, Boy
Published: September 12, 2009

Skip to next paragraph
Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times

Maureen Dowd
The normally nonchalant Barack Obama looked nonplussed, as Nancy Pelosi glowered behind.

Surrounded by middle-aged white guys — a sepia snapshot of the days when such pols ran Washington like their own men’s club — Joe Wilson yelled “You lie!” at a president who didn’t.

But, fair or not, what I heard was an unspoken word in the air: You lie, boy!

The outburst was unexpected from a milquetoast Republican backbencher from South Carolina who had attracted little media attention. Now it has made him an overnight right-wing hero, inspiring “You lie!” bumper stickers and T-shirts.

The congressman, we learned, belonged to the Sons of Confederate Veterans, led a 2000 campaign to keep the Confederate flag waving above South Carolina’s state Capitol and denounced as a “smear” the true claim of a black woman that she was the daughter of Strom Thurmond, the ’48 segregationist candidate for president. Wilson clearly did not like being lectured and even rebuked by the brainy black president presiding over the majestic chamber.

I’ve been loath to admit that the shrieking lunacy of the summer — the frantic efforts to paint our first black president as the Other, a foreigner, socialist, fascist, Marxist, racist, Commie, Nazi; a cad who would snuff old people; a snake who would indoctrinate kids — had much to do with race.

I tended to agree with some Obama advisers that Democratic presidents typically have provoked a frothing response from paranoids — from Father Coughlin against F.D.R. to Joe McCarthy against Truman to the John Birchers against J.F.K. and the vast right-wing conspiracy against Bill Clinton.

But Wilson’s shocking disrespect for the office of the president — no Democrat ever shouted “liar” at W. when he was hawking a fake case for war in Iraq — convinced me: Some people just can’t believe a black man is president and will never accept it.

“A lot of these outbursts have to do with delegitimizing him as a president,” said Congressman Jim Clyburn, a senior member of the South Carolina delegation. Clyburn, the man who called out Bill Clinton on his racially tinged attacks on Obama in the primary, pushed Pelosi to pursue a formal resolution chastising Wilson.

“In South Carolina politics, I learned that the olive branch works very seldom,” he said. “You have to come at these things from a position of strength. My father used to say, ‘Son, always remember that silence gives consent.’ ”

Barry Obama of the post-’60s Hawaiian ’hood did not live through the major racial struggles in American history. Maybe he had a problem relating to his white basketball coach or catching a cab in New York, but he never got beaten up for being black.

Now he’s at the center of a period of racial turbulence sparked by his ascension. Even if he and the coterie of white male advisers around him don’t choose to openly acknowledge it, this president is the ultimate civil rights figure — a black man whose legitimacy is constantly challenged by a loco fringe.

For two centuries, the South has feared a takeover by blacks or the feds. In Obama, they have both.

The state that fired the first shot of the Civil War has now given us this: Senator Jim DeMint exhorted conservatives to “break” the president by upending his health care plan. Rusty DePass, a G.O.P. activist, said that a gorilla that escaped from a zoo was “just one of Michelle’s ancestors.” Lovelorn Mark Sanford tried to refuse the president’s stimulus money. And now Joe Wilson.

“A good many people in South Carolina really reject the notion that we’re part of the union,” said Don Fowler, the former Democratic Party chief who teaches politics at the University of South Carolina. He observed that when slavery was destroyed by outside forces and segregation was undone by civil rights leaders and Congress, it bred xenophobia.

“We have a lot of people who really think that the world’s against us,” Fowler said, “so when things don’t happen the way we like them to, we blame outsiders.” He said a state legislator not long ago tried to pass a bill to nullify any federal legislation with which South Carolinians didn’t agree. Shades of John C. Calhoun!

It may be President Obama’s very air of elegance and erudition that raises hackles in some. “My father used to say to me, ‘Boy, don’t get above your raising,’ ” Fowler said. “Some people are prejudiced anyway, and then they look at his education and mannerisms and get more angry at him.”

Clyburn had a warning for Obama advisers who want to forgive Wilson, ignore the ignorant outbursts and move on: “They’re going to have to develop ways in this White House to deal with things and not let them fester out there. Otherwise, they’ll see numbers moving in the wrong direction.”
Recommend More Articles in Opinion » A version of this article appeared in print on September 13, 2009, on page WK17 of the New York edition.
NYTimes copyright

Rapping Joe’s Knuckles

The pressure from House Democrats, and a handful of Republicans, on Joe Wilson to apologize was a rare triumph for civility in a country that seems to have lost all sense of it.
CNN copyright
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The House of Representatives on Tuesday formally admonished Republican Rep. Joe Wilson for shouting "you lie" during President Obama's speech to a joint session of Congress last week.
Rep. Joe Wilson, R-South Carolina, shouts "You lie!" during President Obama's speech Wednesday night.

Rep. Joe Wilson, R-South Carolina, shouts "You lie!" during President Obama's speech Wednesday night.

The House passed a resolution of disapproval on a 240-179 vote that was mostly along party lines, reflecting the Democratic majority in the chamber. Twelve Democrats voted "no," while seven Republicans voted for the measure. Five representatives, all Democrats, voted "present."

According to the Office of the House Historian, it was the first time in its 220-year history that the House has disciplined a member for speaking out during a presidential speech in the chamber to a joint session of Congress.

During debate on the resolution, Wilson called the measure a waste of time and failed to apologize to the chamber, as demanded by House Democrats.

"When we are done here today, we will not have taken any further steps toward helping" the nation deal with urgent challenges, said Wilson, of South Carolina. "It is time that we move forward and get back to work for the American people." Video Watch House members debate the resolution »

He and other Republicans noted that Wilson apologized to Obama immediately after the speech, and that the president accept it. Asked after the vote if he apologized privately to House leaders such as Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Wilson told journalists it wasn't necessary.

"In my view, by apologizing to the president, the most important person in the history of the world, that applied to everyone," Wilson said.

However, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Maryland, said Wilson's refusal to apologize to the House for his disrespectful behavior to the chamber required admonishment.
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The issue, he said, "is whether we are able to proceed with a degree of civility and decorum" that Congress requires.

The House resolution was the mildest form of discipline the chamber can exercise for misconduct on the House floor.

"Whereas the conduct of the Representative from South Carolina was a breach of decorum and degraded the proceedings of the joint session, to the discredit of the House: Now, therefore, be it resolved that the House of Representatives disapproves of the behavior of the Representative from South Carolina, Mr. Wilson, during the joint session of Congress held on Sept. 9, 2009," said a text of the resolution posted earlier on Hoyer's legislative Web site.

Before debate on the measure began, one Democrat said the disrespect shown Obama by Wilson never would have happened to a white president.

"It only happened when this country elected a president of color," said Rep. Hank Johnson of Georgia. Another noted the heckling of the president in the House was unprecedented, and the chamber needed to enforce discipline in order to maintain civility. Video Watch Johnson comment on why he supports the resolution »

"No president has been subjected to that type of treatment on the floor of the House of Representatives, and if we go down that road, then it's the law of the jungle, and I think that's just wrong," said Rep. Gerry Connolly of Virginia.

However, House Minority Leader John Boehner of Ohio called the resolution "piling on."

In the debate, Boehner and other Republicans acknowledged the mistake by Wilson while citing his military career and how his four children also served in the military. They noted that he already had apologized to Obama and accused Democrats of a partisan stunt intended to deflect attention from what they called increasingly unpopular health care legislation. Video Watch Boehner talk about health care, support Wilson's apology »

"The American people want less politics and more jobs," said Rep. Mike Pence, R-Indiana.

In closing the debate, Democratic Rep. James Clyburn of South Carolina, the House Majority whip, noted that all Americans, especially schoolchildren, learn about civics and government by observing the House.

Clyburn, a former schoolteacher, said failing to enforce House rules against Wilson's outburst would send the wrong message.

The House Democratic leadership agreed to move forward with the vote after meeting to discuss the issue Monday evening, according to two Democratic leadership aides.

Kristie Greco, a spokeswoman for Clyburn, said the discussion at Monday's meeting was about "how this speaks to the breach of decorum alone, and not addressing the issue sets a precedent for bad behavior."

"We're not the British Parliament for a reason," Greco added. Video Watch combative politicians in other countries »

Wilson on Sunday described his loud retort to Obama's statement that illegal immigrants would not be covered under the Democrats' health care bill as "a town hall moment." But he made it clear he would not apologize on the House floor.

"I called immediately, I did apologize, but I believe one apology is sufficient," he said.

Last week, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called the episode "unfortunate" and told reporters at her weekly news conference, "It's time for us to talk about health care and not Mr. Wilson."

But when Pelosi met with Democratic leaders later that day, her colleagues argued that unless Wilson apologized on his own, they would want a formal vote on a resolution of disapproval, according to several Democratic sources.

On Tuesday, Pelosi refused to comment on the resolution to reporters outside the weekly Democratic caucus meeting, saying that journalists should be focusing on the health care reform issue.

Other Democrats offered their thoughts.

Johnson said Wilson's comment amounted to a "wink" of approval to right-wing extremists who have brought highly charged language and imagery -- such as posters depicting Obama with a Hitler mustache or as an African witch doctor -- to the health care debate.

"He [Wilson] did not help the cause of diversity and tolerance with his remarks," Johnson said. "If I were a betting man, I would say that it instigated more racist sentiment feeling that it's OK -- you don't have to bury it now."

Johnson added that failing to rebuke Wilson would bring increased racism in the public discussion on health care, saying: "You can bring it out and talk about it fully, and so I guess we will probably have folks putting on white hoods and white uniforms again riding through the countryside intimidating people."

"That's the logical conclusion if this kind of attitude is not rebuked, and Congressman Wilson represents it," Johnson said. "He is the face of it, and that's why I support the resolution."

To Rep. Jason Altmire of Pennsylvania, a member of the moderate Blue Dog Democratic coalition, the issue was simple: "He has not apologized to the House for the embarrassment he brought" to the chamber, Altmire said.

Democratic Rep. Barbara Lee of California, a leading member of the Congressional Black Caucus, said Wilson's violation of House rules was "egregious enough that it warrants an apology on the floor." Without that, the resolution of disapproval is called for, she said.

On the Republican side, Rep. Steve King of Iowa began circulating a letter among House Republicans last weekend urging Wilson not to apologize on the House floor.

The letter stated, "We urge that you hold your ground against those who seek partisan advantage and reject all demands for additional redress. When the president of the United States accepts an apology, no observer has an additional claim."
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CNN's Deirdre Walsh and Lisa Desjardins contributed to this report.

Associated Press/Yahoo News copyright

Jimmy Carter: Wilson comments 'based on racism'

By GREG BLUESTEIN, Associated Press Writer Greg Bluestein, Associated Press Writer – 2 hrs 39 mins ago

ATLANTA – Former President Jimmy Carter said Tuesday that U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson's outburst to President Barack Obama during a speech to Congress last week was an act "based on racism" and rooted in fears of a black president.

"I think it's based on racism," Carter said in response to an audience question at a town hall held at his presidential center in Atlanta. "There is an inherent feeling among many in this country that an African-American should not be president."

The Georgia Democrat said the outburst was a part of a disturbing trend directed at the president that has included demonstrators equating Obama to Nazi leaders.

"Those kind of things are not just casual outcomes of a sincere debate on whether we should have a national program on health care," he said. "It's deeper than that."

Wilson, a South Carolina Republican, was formally rebuked Tuesday in a House vote for shouting "You lie!" during Obama's speech to Congress last Wednesday.

The shout came after the president commented that illegal aliens would be ineligible for federal subsidies to buy health insurance. Republicans expressed their disbelief with sounds of disapproval, punctuated by Wilson's outburst.

Tuesday's rebuke was a rare resolution of disapproval pushed through by Democrats who insisted that Wilson had violated basic rules of decorum and civility. Republicans characterized the measure as a witch hunt and Wilson, who had already apologized to Obama, insisted he owed the House no apology.

Wilson's spokesman was not immediately available for comment, but his eldest son defended his father.

"There is not a racist bone in my dad's body," said Alan Wilson, an Iraq veteran who is running for state attorney general. "He doesn't even laugh at distasteful jokes. I won't comment on former President Carter, because I don't know President Carter. But I know my dad, and it's just not in him."

"It's unfortunate people make that jump. People can disagree — and appropriately disagree — on issues of substance, but when they make the jump to race it's absolutely ludicrous. My brothers and I were raised by our parents to respect everyone regardless of background or race."

South Carolina's former Democratic Party chairman said that he doesn't believe Wilson was motivated by racism, but said the outburst encouraged racist views.

"I think Joe's conduct was asinine, but I think it would be asinine no matter what the color of the president," said Dick Harpootlian, who has known Wilson for decades. "I don't think Joe's outburst was caused by President Obama being African-American. I think it was caused by no filter being between his brain and his mouth."

Harpootlian said he received scores of racial e-mails from outside South Carolina after he talked about the vote on Fox News.

"You have a bunch of folks out there looking for some comfort in their racial issues. They have a problem with an African-American president," he said. "But was he motivated by that? I don't think so. I respectfully disagree with President Carter, though it gives validity to racism."

Carter called Wilson's comment "dastardly" and an aftershock of racist views that have permeated American politics for decades.

"The president is not only the head of government, he is the head of state," he said. "And no matter who he is or how much we disagree with his policies, the president should be treated with respect."


Associated Press Writer Seanna Adcox in Columbia, S.C., contributed to this report.
New Yorker magazine copyright

New Yorker comment by Toni Morrison on Clinton as the nation's first Black President

Thanks to the papers, we know what the columnists think. Thanks to round-the-clock cable, we know what the ex-prosecutors, the right-wing blondes, the teletropic law professors, and the disgraced political consultants think. Thanks to the polls, we know what “the American people” think. But what about the experts on human folly?
by Toni Morrison October 5, 1998

Lewinsky, Monica;
Clinton, Bill (Pres.);
African-Americans (Blacks)

This summer, my plan was to do very selective radio listening, read no newspapers or news magazines, and leave my television screen profoundly, mercifully blank. There were books to read, others to finish, a few to read again. It was a lovely summer, and I was pleased with the decision to recuse myself from what had become since January The Only Story Worth Telling. Although I wanted cognitive space for my own pursuits, averting my gaze was not to bury my head. I was eager for information, yet suspicious of the package in which that information would be wrapped. I have been convinced for a long time now that, with a few dazzling exceptions, print and visual media have thrown away their freedom and chosen jail instead—have willingly locked themselves into a ratings-driven, money-based prison of their own making. However comfortable the prison may be, its most overwhelming feature is loss of the public. Not able, therefore, to trust reporters to report instead of gossip among themselves, unable to bear newscasters deflecting, ignoring, trivializing information—orchestrating its minor chords for the highest decibel—I decided to get my news the old-fashioned way: conversation, public eavesdropping, and word of mouth.

I hoped to avoid the spectacle I was sure would be mounted, fearing that at any minute I might have to witness ex-Presidential friends selling that friendship for the higher salaries of broadcast journalism; anticipating the nausea that might rise when quaking Democrats took firm positions on or over the fence in case the polls changed. I imagined feral Republicans, smelling blood and a shot at the totalitarian power they believe is rightfully theirs; self-congratulatory pundits sifting through “history” for nuggets of dubious relevancy.

I did not relinquish my summer plans, but summer is over now and I have begun to supplement verbal accounts of the running news with tentative perusal of C-span, brief glimpses of anchorfolk, squinting glances at newspapers—trying belatedly to get the story straight. What, I have been wondering, is the story—the one only the public seems to know? And what does it mean?

I wish that the effluvia did add up to a story of adultery. Serious as adultery is, it is not a national catastrophe. Women leaving hotels following trysts with their extramarital lovers tell pollsters they abominate Mr. Clinton’s behavior. Relaxed men fresh from massage parlors frown earnestly into the camera at the mere thought of such malfeasance. No one “approves” of adultery, but, unlike fidelity in Plymouth Rock society, late-twentieth-century fidelity, when weighed against the constitutional right to privacy, comes up short. The root of the word, adulterare, means “to defile,” but at its core is treachery. Cloaked in deception and secrecy, it has earned prominence on lists of moral prohibitions and is understood as more than a sin; in divorce courts it is a crime. People don’t get arrested for its commission, but they can suffer its grave consequences.

Still, it is clear that this is not a narrative of adultery or even of its consequences for the families involved. Is there anyone who believes that that was all the investigation had in mind? Adultery is the Independent Counsel’s loss leader, the item displayed to lure the customers inside the shop. Nor was it ever a story about seduction—male vamp or female predator (or the other way around). It played that way a little: a worn tale of middle-aged vulnerability and youthful appetite. The Achilles’ heel analogy flashed for a bit, but had no staying power, although its ultra meaning—that Achilles’ heel was given to Achilles, not to a lesser man—lay quietly dormant under the cliché.

At another point, the story seemed to be about high and impeachable crimes like the ones we have had some experience with: the suborning of federal agencies; the exchange of billion-dollar contracts for proof of indiscretion; the extermination of infants in illegal wars mounted and waged for money and power. Until something like those abuses surfaces, the story will have to make do with thinner stuff: alleged perjury and “Lady, your husband is cheating on us.” Whatever the media promote and the chorus chants, whatever dapples dinner tables, this is not a mundane story of sex, lies, and videotape. The real story is none of these. Not adultery, or high crimes. Nor is it even the story of a brilliant President naïve enough to believe, along with the rest of the citizenry, that there were lines one’s enemies would not cross, lengths to which they would not go—a profound, perhaps irrevocable, error in judgment.

In a quite baffling and frustrating manner, it was not a “story” but a compilation of revelations and commentary which shied away from the meaning of its own material. In spite of myriad “titles” (“The President in Crisis”), what the public has been given is dangerously close to a story of no story at all. One of the problems in locating it is the absence of a coherent sphere of enunciation. There seems to be no appropriate language in which or platform of discourse from which to pursue it. This absence of clear language has imploded into a surfeit of contradictory languages. The parsing and equivocal terminology of law is laced with titillation. Raw comedy is spiked with Cotton Mather homilies. The precision of a coroner’s vocabulary mocks passionate debates on morality. Radiant sermons are forced to dance with vile headlines. From deep within this conflagration of tony, occasionally insightful, arch, pompous, mournful, supercilious, generous, salivating verbalism, the single consistent sound to emerge is a howl of revulsion.

But revulsion against what? What is being violated, ruptured, defiled? The bedroom? The Oval Office? The voting booth? The fourth grade? Marriage vows? The flag? Whatever answer is given, underneath the national embarrassment churns a disquiet turned to dread and now anger.

African-American men seemed to understand it right away. Years ago, in the middle of the Whitewater investigation, one heard the first murmurs: white skin notwithstanding, this is our first black President. Blacker than any actual black person who could ever be elected in our children’s lifetime. After all, Clinton displays almost every trope of blackness: single-parent household, born poor, working-class, saxophone-playing, McDonald’s-and-junk-food-loving boy from Arkansas. And when virtually all the African-American Clinton appointees began, one by one, to disappear, when the President’s body, his privacy, his unpoliced sexuality became the focus of the persecution, when he was metaphorically seized and body-searched, who could gainsay these black men who knew whereof they spoke? The message was clear: “No matter how smart you are, how hard you work, how much coin you earn for us, we will put you in your place or put you out of the place you have somehow, albeit with our permission, achieved. You will be fired from your job, sent away in disgrace, and—who knows?—maybe sentenced and jailed to boot. In short, unless you do as we say (i.e., assimilate at once), your expletives belong to us.”

For a large segment of the population who are not African-Americans or members of other minorities, the elusive story left visible tracks: from target sighted to attack, to criminalization, to lynching, and now, in some quarters, to crucifixion. The always and already guilty “perp” is being hunted down not by a prosecutor’s obsessive application of law but by a different kind of pursuer, one who makes new laws out of the shards of those he breaks.

Certain freedoms I once imagined as being in a vault somewhere, like ancient jewels kept safe from thieves. No single official or group could break in and remove them, certainly not in public. The image is juvenile, of course, and I have not had recourse to it for the whole of my adult life. Yet it is useful now to explain what I perceive as the real story. For each bootstep the office of the Independent Counsel has taken smashes one of those jewels—a ruby of grand-jury secrecy here, a sapphire of due process there. Such concentrated power may be reminiscent of a solitary Torquemada on a holy mission of lethal inquisition. It may even suggest a fatwa. But neither applies. This is Slaughtergate. A sustained, bloody, arrogant coup d’état. The Presidency is being stolen from us. And the people know it.

I don’t regret my “news-free” summer. Getting at the story in that retrograde fashion has been rewarding. Early this week, a neighbor called to ask if I would march. Where? To Washington, she said. Absolutely, I answered, without even asking what for. “We have to prevent the collapse of our Constitution,” she said.

We meet tonight. ♦
end of New Yorker copyrighted comment

As Race Debate Grows, Obama Steers Clear of It

Beyond posing a distraction, the race issue could further strain the president’s broad but tenuous coalition.

(My NYT comment in response to this article, appears above