Content Section

Latest Updates

BACK TO POLITICS!

Second Chance for Sanford

He was Tea Party before there was a Tea Party, a rising GOP governor with White House buzz. An extramarital scandal ended all that—or did it? Mark Sanford tells John Avlon about running for his old House seat, how he got his ex-wife’s blessing, and his marriage plans with Belen.

It’s official: Mark Sanford is running for his old congressional seat in South Carolina.

150795250MB00328_2012_Repub

Mark Sanford at the 2012 Republican National Convention in Tampa. The former South Carolina governor has announced a run for his old House seat. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty)

The former governor, who ended his second term in disgrace after admitting to an extramarital affair with an Argentine woman he described as his “soulmate,” had previously been considered a leading potential contender for the 2012 GOP nomination before the scandal consumed those ambitions.

But suddenly Sanford is back. Among many locals, he is considered the frontrunner in the special election to fill the congressional seat held by Tim Scott before he was appointed to the U.S. Senate—an unusual degree of turnover in a state where Fritz Hollings served as junior senator to Strom Thurmond for 36 years.

“Life has a lot of different strange twists and turns, as I’ve come to understand firsthand,” Sanford said over the phone from South Carolina on Wednesday, when he announced his run. “Lo and behold, a U.S. senator resigns—that happens so infrequently—and then the governor appoints the congressman from the First District, which I used to represent. When that happened, the phones lines lit up. I started getting these phone calls and emails, and the intensity told me something was going on ... Tom Davis [a friend and South Carolina legislator] said, ‘Mark, you’ve to do this thing. You were talking about debt and deficit spending decades ago.’”

This is true. Sanford was Tea Party before there was a Tea Party—and before the brand was damaged by Michele Bachmann–like zealots. A charter member of the 1994 Republican revolution, Sanford was a sometimes lonely voice arguing for Social Security reform at a time when the public treasury was piling high with surpluses in the late 1990s. He was never afraid to take hold of that politically perilous third rail and talk about existential issues facing the United States.

But Sanford was also a modernizer, committed to a new Republican Party that was fiscally conservative but not dogmatic on matters of faith, despite representing a state often considered a bastion of the religious right. He exhibited a rare and welcome soft libertarian streak amid Southern conservatism. He criticized pork-laden bills that were backed by fellow Republicans. His Lowcountry district—where my parents live—has always been a bit more relaxed and live and let live, inspiring the title of a glowing Economist profile from 1998, “Mark Sanford, Surfboarding Revolutionary.”

Before the scandal, Sanford was known as an unusually honest and self-effacing politician, and he says he understands the obligation to rebuild trust from the ground up. Nothing is assumed. He peppers his conversation with phrases like “If I’m afforded this second chance,” acknowledging the need to admit to his mistakes if he ever hopes to move on.

Reversal of Fortune

Jerry Brown’s California Miracle

The California governor deserves credit for turning his state’s deficit into a surplus, although the increased tax burden may drive away the wealthy—eroding the state’s tax base.

Something close to a civic miracle seems to have occurred—at least on the surface.

California Budget

Gov. Jerry Brown points to a chart showing the reduction of the budget deficit as he unveiled his proposed state budget at the capitol in Sacramento, Calif., Jan. 10, 2013. (Rich Pedroncelli/AP)

California has long been synonymous with budget deficits so deep that it looked like the Golden State would inevitably be our Greece—beautiful and bankrupt.

But Gov. Jerry Brown announced that his state has suddenly projected a surplus of $851 million. Two years ago, when Brown came back into office, the state had a $25.4 billion deficit, a Sisyphean problem Governor Arnold struggled with unsuccessfully all last decade.

This reversal of fortune raises a lot of questions. What caused California’s budget turnaround? Is it sustainable? And finally, could there be a national lesson here as Washington tries to confront deficits and debt?

The top-line takeaway is that a balanced deficit-reduction approach seems to have worked in the Golden State. When he entered office in 2011, Brown proposed billion-dollar-plus cuts in welfare and Medi-Cal, as well as $500 billion from the UC system.

All told, his initial proposed budget was almost $20 billion less than Governor Schwarzenegger’s 2008–09 budget, which clocked in at $103 billion. Democrats and unions howled, and Brown’s ultimate budget was less austere than originally advertised, but deep cuts were enacted.

Crucially, Brown also took on the unpopular task of raising taxes—winning a 2012 ballot fight sonorously known as Proposition 30 and 39—that raised sales taxes and closed business tax loopholes. Next year, the combined new revenues are expected to exceed $5.8 billion.

Rodeo Clown Remake

Rodeo Clown Remake

With a straight face, the king of ranting is cynically trying to recast himself as a sensible libertarian. John Avlon isn’t buying it.

It took me a few days to stop laughing.

Glenn Beck is rebranding himself as–get this–the alternative to “far-right, far-left” polarized debates on cable news, dominated by people “yelling at each other.”

Glenn Beck

Beck speaks to Tea Party supporters in Texas last summer. (Joan Barnett Lee/Fort Worth Star-Telegram/MCT, via Getty)

“We're not going to play in that crazy space as a network," he announced earnestly.

The irony meter just died. Hypocrisy and chutzpah had a child.

This is, after all, the man who rode to riches by screaming louder and crazier than anyone else in the collective conservative nervous breakdown known as Obama Derangement Syndrome circa 2009 and 2010. Here are just a few of his unhinged greatest hits, lest we forget:

•    “There is a coup going on. There is a stealing of America … done through the guise of an election.”
•    “They’re marching us to a non-violent fascism. Or to put it another way, they’re marching us to 1984. Big Brother. Like it or not, fascism is on the rise.”
•    “The president is a Marxist ... who is setting up a class system.”
•    “The health care bill is reparations. It’s the beginning of reparations.”
•    “We are a country that is headed towards socialism, totalitarianism, beyond your wildest imagination.”
•     “The government is a heroin pusher using smiley-faced fascism to grow the nanny state.”

Glenn Beck used his 15 minutes of fame to cast himself as King of the Wingnuts, eventually becoming too extreme for even Roger Ailes to put up with on Fox News.

After coming unglued in an interview with Piers Morgan, conspiracy theorist Alex Jones claims he's being stalked by an 'armed mafia.' John Avlon on America's battiest personality.

Most Americans got their first taste of Alex Jones’s brand of crazy last night on Piers Morgan Tonight, when the CNN host confronted this particular critic, who in turn called the CNN host “a hatchet man of the new world order,” raved that “1776 will commence again if you try to take our firearms!” and warned of “foreigners” and “mega-banks” trying to disarm Americans as part of a master plan to institute “world tyranny.” 

Piers Morgan withstood a verbal assault from Alex Jones on his show Monday night.

Unedited and in person, Jones comes off even more unhinged than on primetime or in his role as a conspiracy entrepreneur on his syndicated radio show and at InfoWars.com. Jones was booked by Morgan because he started a petition, much promoted on the Drudge Report, to have the British host deported.

But the real mystery is why this manifestly unstable personality manages to claim any role in civic debates at all. In a post-Piers video Jones posted to YouTube, he warned viewers about the possibility of his assassination at the hands of the NYPD under orders from Michael Bloomberg. He tells his listeners: “If something happens to us and we’re killed by crackheads, it was the NYPD or mafia.”

Below the video, which has the title “Armed Mafia Are Stalking Us: Post Piers Morgan Debate,” is a note:

“We just got off CNN and undercover cops are all over us. They have been on our ass all day but now they are stalking us! We need to put this on the record in case the [sic] set us up.”

Despite such ravings, Jones has kept his profile up with the help of a steady stream of traffic-pushing Drudge Report links—114 of them in a 12-month stretch ending last year, according to Aviva Shen of Think Progress, as the hysterical tone of Jones’s headlines and stories creates a mutually beneficial cycle of clicks.

But Drudge has no responsibilities beyond his self-selecting audience—and the real scrutiny should be directed at members of Congress like Sen. Rand Paul, his father former congressman Ron Paul, and current Reps Louie Gohmert, Alan Grayson, and Dennis Kucinich, who regularly appear on this 9/11 Truther’s radio show, giving him their imprimatur of respectability. 

The Republican congressmen who use New York as a campaign ATM, but turn a blind eye to suffering here must be held accountable, writes John Avlon.

Slap a scarlet “S” on these callous conservatives. Sixty-seven members of Congress–all Republicans—voted against even $9 billion of Hurricane Sandy relief yesterday.

Remember their names, and hold them accountable.

Sandy Debris on Staten Island

A laborer empties debris from a home damaged by Superstorm Sandy on January 4, 2013 in the Midland Beach area of the Staten Island borough of New York City. More than two months after the storm, Congress passed legislation that will provide $9.7 billion to cover insurance claims filed by people whose homes were damaged or destroyed by Sandy. (John Moore/Getty)

Twelve of the scarlet 67 voted for Hurricane Katrina relief—which passed ten days after that devastating Gulf Coast storm—but against Hurricane Sandy relief 69 days after its landfall in the Northeast. Their names: Trent Franks (AZ), Ed Royce (CA), Sam Graves (MO), Steve Pearce (NM), Steve Chabot (OH), Jimmy Duncan (TN), Kenny Marchant (TX), Randy Neugebauer (TX), Mac Thornberry (TX), Bob Goodlatte (VA), Tom Petri (WI), and Paul Ryan (WI). 

These congressmen are content to use New York City and the tri-state area as an ATM when they are looking for campaign funds, yet they willfully turn a blind eye when hundreds of thousands of homes and small businesses are damaged or destroyed and more than 100 Americans are dead.

Note the name of last year’s vice presidential nominee and potential 2016 presidential candidate Paul Ryan on this list. Donors would do well to ask him about this vote. The Texas delegation likewise asked for federal funds when hurricanes have devastated their state, yet are ignoring suffering in the Northeast. But then conservatives often become liberal when an issue affects them personally. Just two years ago, Missouri Congressman Sam Graves begged President Obama for an emergency declaration to deal with flooding in his district—now he is afflicted with convenient amnesia.

The full list of the 67 “nos” is tilted toward the conservative Gulf Coast states and the congressmen—many elected after Katrina—whose constituents often feel the brunt of natural disasters.

Congressman Paul Broun—who when Obama was elected in 2008 called the president-elect a “Marxist” and compared him to Hitler, who denounced evolution as a “lie from the pit of hell” despite serving on the Science Committee—had no trouble asking for FEMA funds when his district was flooded in 2009. And Alabama’s Mo Brooks was equally eager for federal funds when tornados devastated his district in 2011.

CLASS OF 2013

A Do-Something Congress

There’s reason to hope that Capitol Hill’s new lawmakers—more diverse and solution-oriented than their do-nothing predecessors—will go beyond politics and work together to benefit America, says John Avlon.

Today, the new 113th Congress officially enters Capitol Hill. Their swearing-in represents a fresh start and the hope that maybe, just maybe, the ideological excesses and obstructionism of the Tea Party class of 2012 are over.

“Spread your legs, you’re gonna be frisked!” Yes, Vice President Joe Biden did say that during Senator Heidi Heitkamp’s (D-ND) mock swearing in. Enjoy.

Ironically, the first major act of the new Congress will be to deal with some of the priorities the Tea Party established for itself—dealing with the deficit and debt through a combination of entitlement reforms, spending cuts, and tax reform—which is expected to come due with the debt ceiling and sequester cuts in two months. The Congress’s challenge will be to deal with this opportunity more constructively and cooperatively than its Tea Party predecessors.

There is some rational reason for optimism rooted in the key differences between the 2010 and 2012 elections.

The Class of 2010 was elected by a narrow but intense slice of the electorate—the anti-Obama, recession-fueled rage of the 2010 midterm election landslide. 

The Class of 2012 was elected in a presidential year, with a broader and more representative segment of the electorate. The message this freshman class heard from voters was all about finding a way to work together in Washington—stop fighting and start fixing. And, at least so far, that demand seems to be reflected in the attitudes of this freshman class.

For example, many of the 2013 freshmen attended an orientation session at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government after the election. The director of the Institute of Politics, Trey Grayson told me the staff noticed a distinct difference between these new congressmen and previous classes.

“The common attitude among those who attended our conference was that they wanted to be solution-oriented,” said Grayson. “They heard loud and clear from voters during the campaign that voters wanted solutions, not rhetoric.”

Priorities

Washington’s Sandy Shame

Apparently drywall safety and a war memorial 96 years in the works are more urgent than getting billions of dollars in aid to Hurricane Sandy victims. John Avlon on the GOP’s new low.

It was a congressional slap in the face to victims of Hurricane Sandy.

More than two months after hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses in the tristate area were destroyed or damaged by Hurricane Sandy, Republicans in the House of Representatives intentionally killed the $60 billion bill passed by the Senate by refusing to bring it to a vote on New Year’s Day. 

New York Republican Peter King told CNN that the GOP ‘turned its back’ on his constituents, and suggested he might leave the party.

Right-wing activist groups like Americans for Prosperity, the Club for Growth, and Heritage Action have all pressured congressional Republicans to vote against the bill.

Yes, the final hours of the 112th Congress were crowded with the chaos of avoiding the fiscal cliff, a vote that Speaker Boehner pushed despite the opposition of a majority of conservatives in his conference. Nonetheless, there were plenty of opportunities. 

As a reality check, here is a list of items Speaker Boehner did decide to bring for a vote on New Year’s Day before Congress fled for the night/year, provoking well-deserved outcries from New York Republicans like Pete King and Michael Grimm. These are the items that are apparently more urgent than Hurricane Sandy relief, excluding multiple post-office renamings.

• Drywall safety
• Frank Buckles WWI Memorial
• Redesignate Neil A. Armstrong Flight Research
  Center and Hugh L. Dryden Test Range
• Conveyance of certain property in Kotzebue, AK

None of these items exactly screams urgency. The World War I memorial has waited 96 years, and drywall safety seems like the definition of optional. Paying tribute to Neil Armstrong is always welcome but could have waited until the next Congress or for that matter been passed earlier without much objection. And as far as the “Conveyance of certain property in Kotzebue, AK”—after multiple readings, I don’t have a clue what it means, and I’m willing to guess that the vast majority of congressman who voted for it don’t either, although I’m sure it’s important to the 3,201 people who live there.  

Laughable

Congress’s Cliff Chaos

Yes, the House did manage to push through a deal to avoid the fiscal cliff at the last possible moment. But the ugly scramble was exasperating—and leaves us facing yet another showdown before spring, says John Avlon.

“You can always count on Americans to do the right thing—after they’ve tried everything else,” Winston Churchill once said. But even by that standard, the scramble to avoid the entirely predictable fiscal cliff at the last possible minute was an exasperating exercise that made sausage-making look good.

Fiscal Cliff

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of Calif., center, flanked by Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-N.Y.), left, and Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.), at a news conference on Capitol Hill to discuss the fiscal-cliff bill passed by the Senate, Jan. 1, 2013. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

Despite 518 days to deal with the sequestration cuts and 12 years to anticipate the end of the Bush tax cuts, it took two late-night votes on the hinge of the New Year to stop Congress from kicking America’s economic recovery in the teeth. The Chinese must have been laughing, watching C-Span these last few days. This is not a textbook example how great nations govern themselves.

But as bad as it looked from the outside, the atmosphere in the corridors of Congress was even worse, according to staffers. With the sun setting on New Year’s Day, chaos was the order of the day inside the House Republican conference, when Majority Leader Eric Cantor came out against the Senate’s bipartisan bill to avoid the fiscal cliff. The complaint among conservatives was that spending cuts were absent from the last-minute deal.

That’s true—and irrelevant at this particular moment. All hope of a grand bargain evaporated when House conservatives undercut Speaker John Boehner’s attempts to negotiate with President Obama. House Republicans’ rational right to amend any bill ended when they hightailed it out of town to enjoy an extended Christmas vacation and kicked the responsibility for negotiations to the Senate.

The irony, of course, is that hard-core conservatives’ impulse to condemn any compromise ended up costing them a better, more comprehensive deal on overall deficit and debt reduction. The president had been offering entitlement reform, at the risk of angering his base. None was included in this package.

As it stands, the fiscal-cliff bridge—crafted largely by Vice President Joe Biden and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell—represents a compromise on taxes that in saner times would be seen as a win for the center right, permanently extending tax cuts for 98 percent of Americans, fixing the onerous Alternative Minimum Tax by adjusting it for inflation, and taxing estates over $5 million at 40 percent—lower than just a few years ago. Revenue is going up, but not nearly as much as many liberals had wished. The AFL-CIO strongly opposed the measure.

But despite this, almost precisely two times the number of House Democrats supported the bipartisan Senate plan as Republicans. The final vote count was 172 Democrats in favor versus just 85 Republicans in favor, including Speaker Boehner. The no votes from Republicans totaled 151, while just 16 Democrats gave the Heisman.

OPINION WRITING

12 Best Columns of 2012

From a Mitch Albom piece on the recession to Dave Barry riffing on the Olympics to Mary Schmich commenting on a small urban kindness, John Avlon picks the best opinion writing of the year.

It can be hard to appreciate the present, because we have no perspective on it. But year-end “best of” lists help create a sense our times, even if it requires some instant nostalgia. And because I’ve always enjoyed annual lists of best albums, books, and movies, I decided to compile a list of the 12 best columns of 2012, crowdsourcing the suggestions to cut the inevitable subjectivity.

avlon-best-columns-tease

(Clockwise) Gail Collins, Mary Schmich, Dan Barry, Dave Barry, David Brooks, Colbert King.

After editing Deadline Artists with Jesse Angelo and Errol Louis, we often have been asked whether this American art form is still alive and well. The good news is that there are still deadline artists working today, turning out reported columns. And even though we are living in a time when obituaries are being written for newspapers every day, opinion writing is proliferating online like never before.

There were many great columns written this election year. But you’ll find that this list is, if anything, underrepresentative of the political debates in 2012. That’s because the best columns sidestep the rapid-fire opinions and ideological jousting between members of warring tribes.

The essential quality for a great column is storytelling, the ability to entertain as well as educate. The classic reported column isn’t as widespread yet online as in the newspapers, where memories of that tradition still infuse the newsroom. This list skews toward the stylists who combine the urgency of news with the precision of poetry, writing history in the present tense. But there are humor columnists represented here as well.

It’s fair to say that the distinctions among newspaper columns, blogs, and first- person online journalism are beginning to blur. In the near future, focusing on print publications will be an irrelevant distinction. But to keep the category clear and clutter-free, this list focuses only on columns originally published in newspapers, which also avoids competition between colleagues at The Daily Beast and elsewhere.

So take it with a grain of salt, as an appreciation, the start of a conversation. Below, listed in alphabetical order by author, are 12 of the best columns from 2012. Read and enjoy.

Mitch Albom: “From Bank Job to Trimming Bushes, Man Keeps His Faith”
The Detroit Free Press

Rush to Judgment

Give Chuck Hagel a Fair Shake!

Critics trying to derail the ex-senator’s likely nomination as defense secretary should read his 2008 book to understand his true, reasonable views—and Obama should not allow himself to be intimidated out of picking him, says John Avlon.

The preemptive strike on Sen. Chuck Hagel’s possible nomination to be secretary of defense has been relentless this holiday season. It is trial by Twitter, character assassination by media narrative, a steady drumbeat of accusations and innuendo all designed to make the Nebraska Republican seem politically toxic.

Hagel Obama 2008

Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., walks with Barack Obama as they tour the citadel in Amman, Jordan, in July 2008. (Jae C. Hong / AP)

The irony is that the political logic of a Hagel appointment is to demonstrate bipartisan outreach by President Obama—the appointment of a second Republican secretary of defense to follow in Robert Gates’s pre-Panetta footsteps. While Hagel has strong defenders, pointed critics have come from the far right, and a few from the far left. Liberal Democrats primarily question the need for any outreach to Republicans at all after a decisive election victory, while Republicans who might normally cheer the nomination of a fellow party member disdain Hagel for his outspoken independence during the Bush years.

Hagel’s cardinal sin among some conservatives is opposing the surge in Iraq and being the most vocal Republican critic of neoconservatism, saying, “For the most part, ideology hijacked diplomacy during the Bush administration.” He did so from the perspective of a small-government conservative and a highly decorated Vietnam vet, skeptical of the costs that come with unnecessary wars. This earned him lasting opposition from the neocon crowd, which has attempted to tar him as anti-Israel—a serious charge in our domestic politics and one easily blurred with the toxic personal accusation of anti-Semitism.

As a New Yorker and witness to 9/11, I am instinctively pro-Israel—along with Britain, they are our closest allies in a world too full of countries that would coddle tyrants and terrorists.

But beyond my appreciation for independent voices and bipartisan coalitions, my extended family’s experience with Chuck Hagel serves as a small character reference. He and my mother’s cousin Dean Phillips were friends and fellow Vietnam vets who worked together in the VA to under Presidents Carter and Reagan. Previously Dean served with the 101st Airborne Division as a paratrooper on long-range reconnaissance patrols and was awarded two Silver Stars, two Bronze Stars, and the Purple Heart. After the war, both men devoted themselves to their fellow soldiers in a time of thankless transition. When Dean died at age 42 of what was believed to be Agent Orange–related cancer, Hagel gave the eulogy. Even as a senator, years later, Hagel stayed in touch with Dean’s mother, Helen, back home in Ohio. The experience is anecdotal (I’ve never met the man), but it is testimony to his character.

Perspective on Hagel’s qualification is needed on at least two fronts. First, it is striking that so many of the vocal critics against Hagel’s possible appointment to serve as defense secretary have not served in the military. That would seem to be a prerequisite for the post, though of course it is not. Nonetheless, I’d be more interested in what leading members of the military—past and current—might say, rather than lobbyists or pundits, pro or con.

The most potent reality check, however, is a look at Hagel’s own beliefs as a counterweight to the accusations that have been thrown against him. In the surreal half-light of a trial-balloon nomination, it is difficult for an individual to come to his own defense. Statements are taken out of context, and facts offered up in isolation to present a picture of someone as a quasi-monster, disfigured beyond recognition even to those who know him. The antidote is available with a little effort—ditch the well-funded opposition research being fed to partisan pundits and instead take a look at what Hagel has written about his own beliefs.

Fiscal Cliff

It Just Got Even Worse

John Boehner tried to get his ideologues in line, but instead they weakened the GOP's hand. Now the risk is high for no bargain, more paralysis—and a speaker job in peril.

Extremes are always their own side’s worst enemy.

Boehner denies that Congress is ‘quitting’ from solving the fiscal cliff.

Speaker John Boehner’s failure to cobble together enough conservative votes to pass his Plan B is not just bad news for Boehner. It is bad news for the Republican Party and the country.

Not only is the path to avoiding the fiscal cliff now far less clear; Boehner’s position as speaker is imperiled.

This is a symbol of the sickness in our politics: a dogged dealmaker like Boehner is left stranded in the center, while irresponsible ideological activists in his own party encourage insurrection. It’s a no-win situation for the nation because his potential successors—Eric Cantor and Jeb Hensarling—would be even less likely to try and make a deal with the Obama White House.

The now-inevitable Christmastime talk about a conservative congressional coup will be focused on finding an even more rigid and ideologically pure leader of the party. That means someone who would rather charge off the cliff than raise taxes on families who make more than $1 million a year. If successful, it would mean even more polarization and paralysis for the next years—a complete misreading of the election results, with potentially devastating effects on our economy.

On Monday, it seemed as if the speaker and the president were coming close to a deal—both men had made significant concessions, with Boehner agreeing to raise tax rates for those making more than $1 million a year while President Obama lowered his revenue goals and agreed to entitlement reform by changing the formula for Social Security payments. The $2 trillion savings plan wouldn’t solve our deficit and debt problem, but it would mark a major step forward—a solid foundation for a productive second term. The remaining gaps were significant but far from unbridgeable.

Midweek, Boehner switched gears to play offense with a Plan B that would have prevented tax hikes for 99.5 percent of Americans. This was always a bit of congressional kabuki theater, because Plan B was DOA in the Senate. But it backfired big time when Boehner and Co. couldn’t get the votes late Thursday night—more than 24 conservative votes were bolting and so Plan B was scuttled. Reeling, leadership sent out a terse email to their members: “The House has concluded legislative business for the week. Members are advised that the House will return for legislative business after the Christmas holiday when needed.”

INDEPENDENT PICKS

The Best Books of 2012

From magisterial biographies to the fine art of column writing, it’s been a good year in reading.

Some great – and in the case of Robert Caro’s latest, long awaited – books came out this year. Caro’s Passage of Power topped my list of must-reads from 2012 in a list compiled for Newsweek and The Daily Beast that included editor Tina Brown, Andrew Sullivan, and David Frum, among others.

My other choices included Hemingway’s Boat by Paul Hendrickson and Defender of the Realm by William Manchester and Paul Reid. The latter is another history that no lover of multi-volume explorations of political character should be without.

Last but not least, pick up a copy of Deadline Artists: Scandals, Tragedies and Triumphs, co-edited by myself, Jesse Angelo, and Errol Louis. Chock full of columns by true greats like Jimmy Breslin, Murray Kempton, and Mike Royko, its perfect for the newspaper reader in your family – and a nice introduction to the art of reported column-writing for the blogging generation.

Read all of the choices by Newsweek / The Daily Beast editors, columnists, and reporters.

Fiscal Cliff

Go Big, Then Go Home

Obama and Boehner should close the fiscal-cliff deal they seem to be nearing, and their skittish parties need to climb aboard—and send the message that our country can solve problems by reasoning together, says John Avlon.

In 12 days, our country goes off the fiscal cliff.

Fiscal Cliff

Protesters make their voices heard on the fiscal-cliff debate. (Joe Raedle / Getty Images)

That’s why it’s time for Congress to go big and then go home for the holidays.

With House Speaker John Boehner’s “Plan B” basically DOA in the Democratic Senate, skepticism is growing after an encouraging start to the week in Washington.

But put all the congressional Kabuki theater aside and there’s still evidence that real progress is being made toward what could be a historic step toward bipartisan deficit and debt reduction.

President Obama and Speaker Boehner both deserve credit for making significant concessions in recent days, working toward a balanced plan.

On the Republican side, Boehner has offered to raise not just tax revenues, but tax rates—a risky violation of anti-tax theology as well as a concession to reality in the form of the sun-setting Bush tax cuts. The catch, of course, is that Boehner now wants to raise taxes only on families making more than a $1 million. More important for the country, Boehner has offered to take the debt ceiling off the table for two years, allowing for a degree of stability in the coming Congress.

On the Democratic side, Obama backed off his threshold for the top tax-rate of $250,000, which he’d used as a rhetorical red line throughout the campaign. Instead, the president offered to make the return to Clinton-era rates apply only to the money families earn over $400,000. He also agreed to a significant reform of Social Security with the obfuscating name “chained CPI,” which would adjust the benefit formula for inflation. This is a relatively painless form of entitlement reform that could have significant impact on bending the long-term cost curve.

GUN CONTROL

‘What on Earth Are We Waiting For?’

While politicians step softly around the gun lobby, Americans keep dying.

Independent New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is scheduled to make a major announcement on gun control at 12:30 today.  One of his former deputies on the issue, Arkadi Gerney, wrote an excellent op-ed this weekend for the New York Daily News, detailing the escalation of mass shootings in America and – crucially – laid out some remedies, with an eye-opening stat about NRA member support for some reasonable restrictions. 

“There is no single cause of these gun murders and no single solution. But some solutions are clear. One of the most obvious is passage of the Fix Gun Checks Act, a bill in Congress supported by police organizations and 700 mayors. It would ensure that the record of every person already prohibited from possessing a gun is in the background check database and that a background check is conducted on every gun sale.

“These two gaps contributed to Columbine and Virginia Tech — as well as countless, forgotten street killings. And, by the way, when Republican pollster Frank Luntz asked NRA members earlier this year whether they support background checks on every gun sale, 74% agreed.

“What on earth are we waiting for?”

Read the full op-ed at the New York Daily News.

NO EXCUSES

Don’t Delay – Act on Guns

No more excuses – it’s time to tighten gun regulations, writes John Avlon.

It happened in the safest sort of neighborhood. If there’s anywhere in America where children should feel like there children are always secure, it’s a place like Newtown, Connecticut, I write in my weekend column for The Telegraph. The time for politicians to make excuses for America’s epidemic violence came to an end in the halls of Sandy Hook Elementary School, as 20 children and six adults faced a young man armed with assault weapons:

"America has become almost numb to gun violence in recent years, despite an escalating body count.

"More than 200 people have been murdered in mass shootings in the last five years alone – and that's on top of the 10,000 people killed by guns here each year.

"Earlier this week, a 22-year old opened fire in an Oregon shopping mall and killed two people. Television coverage dissipated by the next morning.

"But the unusual cruelty of this mass killing should shake the cold certainty of the most hardened guns rights advocate. Kindergartners are not supposed to be gunned down at school."

 It shouldn’t have happened in Newtown. It can’t happen again. It’s time for a new era when it comes to debate around guns in America.

Read the full column at The Telegraph.

About the Author

Author headshot

John Avlon

John Avlon is senior columnist for Newsweek and The Daily Beast, and the host of Beast TV. He is a CNN contributor and winner of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ award for best online column in 2012.

Who Is Frazier Glenn Miller?

Daily Beast editor-in-chief John Avlon dissects the story of Miller, a 'nightmare image' of 'hate groups nestled in the heartland' who went on a Kansas killing spree on Sunday.

  1. The Tragedy of the Tea Party Play

    The Tragedy of the Tea Party

  2. Obama's 'Powerful Argument' Play

    Obama's 'Powerful Argument'

  3. Glenn Beck's Apology Is Not Enough Play

    Glenn Beck's Apology Is Not Enough

Unlimited Funds

Probing the Super-PAC Economy

The Dark Money Shuffle

The Dark Money Shuffle

The strange, opaque world of politically minded nonprofits. By John Avlon and Michael Keller.

Our Toothless Watchdogs

BENEFACTORS

Stop Hating the Super PAC Moneymen!

The Coming GOP Super-PAC Tsunami

The Super-PAC Economy

See More Politics

From The Daily Beast

Ladies Love the Wage Gap

Ladies Love the Wage Gap

Equal pay would just make finding a husband so much harder, Mike Huckabee likes his chances in North Korea, and a Fox News host wants no minimum wage.

Forebearance

Rand Paul and the Welfare Rancher

Complex History

Can HRC Count on Women This Time?

Do Something

Millennials and the American City

Fool Me Once…

The Fringe Sect Duping The GOP