The Pasty Little Putz has extruded a thing called “A Sneaky Peek at Obama’s Speech.” he babbles that Obama has four more years and he’s feeling pretty good about it. Not only is it not half as funny as he undoubtedly thought it was, it also reeks of flop sweat. In “Sheriff Andy of Albany” MoDo says as usual, the question burns: What’s Andrew Cuomo up to? In “Warnings From a Flabby Mouse” Mr. Kristof points out that studies suggest that endocrine disruptors, chemicals found everywhere from couches to shampoos, may contribute to obesity along with Twinkies and TV. In “Love, Marriage and Voters” Mr. Bruni says storybook married lives and effective governance have nothing to do with each other, and that will become ever more accepted in presidential politics. Here’s The Putz:
President Barack Obama’s Second Inaugural Address, revised for maximum honesty:
My fellow Americans, I am grateful for the honor of this hour, mindful of the consequential times in which we live, and determined to fulfill the oath that I have sworn and you have witnessed.
Hey, no, just kidding: That’s from George W. Bush’s second inaugural. I just wanted to see if you could tell the difference.
I’m going to keep this brief, because we’re all cold and there’s always a chance that the House Republicans might start imitating the Donner Party if we stay out here too long.
[broad wink at Eric Cantor]
You already know how the better angels of our nature are going to make hope and history rhyme, and all the usual fluff. So I’ll skip that part. But before my second term gets under way, I do have a few people from the last four years I want to acknowledge.
First, my dear friends in the press and on the professional left (but I repeat myself). It’s so nice to have you back on the bandwagon, guys! I’ve been surfing the Interwebs, reading the tweets, and it feels like old times. The Obama realignment is all the rage again. The thrill is back on MSNBC. Newsweek’s comparing me to Jesus. All I need is a will.i.am video to really take me back.
But don’t think I’ve forgotten that when the going got tough, you guys went weak at the knees. I always knew my fellow liberal elites were self-involved, self-dramatizing and out of touch: I was in academia, remember? But the kind of mood swings I’ve had to put up with have been absolutely ridiculous.
The fact is, I’ve been your dream president; you’ve just spent four years coming up with reasons not to notice. I spend a gazillion dollars on stimulus, and the next day I wake up and it’s all, “Why didn’t he spend two gazillion dollars?” I pass universal health care — your goal for what, a thousand years or so? — and it takes all of five seconds before you start whining about how I didn’t cure cancer too. I suffer a few setbacks — that midterm business, a bad debate — and you start panicking about how some stuffed-suit corporate raider who stepped out of an Eisenhower-era time capsule is going to beat cool, multiracial, 21st-century ME.
Next, a big, big shout-out to my opponents on the right — I really couldn’t have done it without you. Sure, you won a few battles here and there: Scott Brown versus Martha Coakley, cap-and-trade, and yes, again, that midterm business. But in the larger war, has any president ever been so lucky in his enemies?
Every time I needed to paint the American right as paranoid and out-of-touch, misogynistic and mindless, you were there for me. Thanks for making Sandra Fluke a martyr, Rush. Thanks for Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity, Mr. Ailes. Thanks for everything, Donald Trump. Todd Akin — I love you, man.
And that parade of lightweights you put up against Romney in the primaries? A godsend. Bless you, Herman Cain. Never change, Michele Bachmann. Oh — and hope you enjoy being president of Purdue, Mitch Daniels.
Of course, my friends in right-wing media have been lucky in me as well. I kept your ratings stellar, your book sales booming, your page views sky-high. You got the income stream, I kept the power. So here’s to another flush four years for you.
Finally, to all the centrist wise men and reasonable-sounding conservatives — how do you like me now? You said I couldn’t get re-elected unless I was more bipartisan, more moderate, more Clintonian. You blamed me for Washington’s gridlock and assumed the country would as well. You said I should campaign on Simpson-Bowles, of all things, instead of social issues.
Well, guess what? I did it my way, and it worked. I got tax increases without entitlement cuts, I flipped the script on the culture war, and now Marco Rubio is going to help me pass an immigration bill. I’m still up for a grand bargain, but I don’t need one: The economy’s limping back, the deficit should stabilize in the short run, and the long term — well, that’s my successor’s problem. I’d like to win on gun control and climate change, but I’ll settle for making the case and seeing whether a Biden administration (you only think I’m kidding) can finish the job.
Sure, second terms can be dicey propositions. But as long as I don’t get impeached or start a land war in Asia, I’m feeling pretty good about my legacy.
And oh, you centrist chin-strokers who kept saying I was no Clinton? You were absolutely right.
I’m the liberal Reagan. Deal with it.
Next up we have MoDo:
When he was a young henchman for his father in Albany, Andrew Cuomo gave intensity a bad name.
Now that he is New York’s governor himself, Cuomo gives intensity a good name.
In the old days, that dark zeal was scattered around, directed at anyone who insulted or crossed him. Now he channels it more narrowly on the handful of things he wants to get done that he thinks the public wants.
“I was 23 years old then; now I’m 55 years old,” he says with an air of the Stephen Sondheim classic “I’m Still Here.” “I was a linear, focused person. Then I got knocked on my rear end. I went through professional and personal hell. So now I keep it very simple. One day at a time. I’m killing myself to do the best job I can as governor. I do what I’m supposed to do and forget about the unhealthy things that used to distract me. I put one foot in front of the other. We take on big problems. And to say there’s no solution to the problems is not an option.”
Following the grotesque murders of children in Newtown, Conn., and firefighters in Webster, N.Y., the governor bellowed “Stop the madness” and shoved through tough gun-control legislation so blindingly fast that some state senators had scarcely read the bill, and the N.R.A. conceded that it had no time to thwart it.
Cuomo, who worked the phones every day for a month, straight through the holidays, to drum up support, dismisses criticism of rushing and secrecy: “Everyone said, ‘You did it so quickly.’ That perspective is skewed. We’re years and years late. The federal assault weapons ban had lapsed. The state assault weapons ban was on the books, but everybody knew it wasn’t working. Government just failed to perform, and people died. So it’s all bittersweet because I have to say to myself, maybe if we had done earlier what we were supposed to do, figured out how to overcome the politics of extremes, we could have saved all those lives.
“We should have done it as a prophylactic, but maybe it’s human nature to tend to respond to an emergency. You have to sniffle before you get a flu shot.”
You could say it’s not so hard to pass such a bill in a left-leaning state with a popular governor (he is floating at a 71 percent favorability rating), and that it’s a far easier achievement than the gay marriage bill.
But with the president privately signaling some pessimism on new gun laws, as his domestic policy aides take a slower, less stringent approach, it’s bracing to see somebody, anybody, actually make government hum.
Cuomo doesn’t spend much time on TV baring his soul or hustling to get name recognition. (He doesn’t need to.) He focuses-focuses-focuses on the matter at hand, and on proving that government can work — if you apply the proper intensity at times of intense awareness.
“You have to try to hit a home run,” he said. “Home run hitters also have notoriously high strikeout rates. But it’s like when we tried to pass marriage equality. You have to be willing to fail.”
On BuzzFeed, Blake Zeff said “the latest unachievable triumph” shows that Cuomo has “a seemingly superhuman mastery of legislative politics.” And The Daily News christened Cuomo “America’s Sheriff.”
“I’m psyched,” Sheriff Andy said in a call from Albany, not Mayberry, joking, “But I never really saw myself in a big cowboy hat.”
And there is always suspicion swirling: What is Andrew up to? He is always up to something, but is he really deserving of the ever-present assumption that self-advancement trumps his true beliefs? On gun control, was he driven to beat the White House to the punch — or perhaps to beat a fellow governor and 2016 prospect, Martin O’Malley of Maryland? Was he pandering to the left to make up for centrist moves?
“Even when we’re building a bridge,” the governor noted dryly, “opponents say, ‘You’re only building a bridge to run for president.’ People are cynical about politicians. I’m the son of a politician, and I grew up in the political world, so people think I must be that — on steroids.”
The N.R.A. and Greg Ball, a Republican state senator, denounced the New York law as a product of the governor’s 2016 ambition, although it could hurt Candidate Cuomo in places like Nevada, Colorado and Florida.
The governor doesn’t have the president’s public magnetism. But Cuomo, who devotes a lot of time to wining, dining and wheedling legislators, is far more deft at carrots, sticks and baby-talk than President Obama is. It’s a fascinating — and open — question about whether those skills could work the same way to jolt comatose Washington.
“It’s more nuanced than carrots and sticks,” the governor explained. “People are complex. It’s about the full panorama of relationships, the positive and negative. There’s love, fear, desire to please, fear of reprisal. It’s not a fist. I would much rather be home watching a ballgame. But it takes time. It takes effort. It’s the job.”
Of course MoDo came up with carrots and sticks and a slap against Obama, and had to be told about nuance… MoDo don’t do no nuance. Here’s Mr. Kristof:
[A photograph of 2 mice, the one on the top about twice the size of the one on the bottom, accompanies his column.]
One of the puzzles of the modern world is why we humans are growing so tubby. Maybe these two mice offer a clue.
They’re genetically the same, raised in the same lab and given the same food and chance to exercise. Yet the bottom one is svelte, while the other looks like, well, an American.
The only difference is that the top one was exposed at birth to just one part per billion of an endocrine-disrupting chemical. The brief exposure programmed the mouse to put on fat, and although there were no significant differences in caloric intake or expenditure, it continued to put on flab long after the chemical was gone.
That experiment is one of a growing number of peer-reviewed scientific studies suggesting that one factor in the industrialized world’s obesity epidemic (along with Twinkies, soda and television) may be endocrine-disrupting chemicals. These chemicals are largely unregulated — they are in food, couches, machine receipts and shampoos — and a raft of new studies suggest that they can lead to the formation of more and larger fat cells.
Before I describe some of this research, a more basic issue: Why should an op-ed columnist write about scholarship published in scientific journals? Don’t pundits have better things to fret about, like the feuding between Democrats and Republicans?
One answer is that obesity is an important national problem, partly responsible for soaring health care costs. Yet the chemical lobby, just like the tobacco industry before it, has impeded serious regulation and is even trying to block research.
A second is that journalists historically have done a poor job covering public health issues — we were slow on the dangers of tobacco and painfully delinquent in calling attention to the perils of lead — but these are central to our national well-being. Our lives are threatened less by the Taliban in Afghanistan than by unregulated contaminants at home.
Endocrine disruptors are a class of chemicals that mimic hormones and therefore confuse the body. Initially, they provoked concern because of their links to cancers and the malformation of sex organs. Those concerns continue, but the newest area of research is the impact that they have on fat storage.
Bruce Blumberg, a developmental biologist at the University of California, Irvine, coined the term “obesogen” in a 2006 journal article to refer to chemicals that cause animals to store fat. Initially, this concept was highly controversial among obesity experts, but a growing number of peer-reviewed studies have confirmed his finding and identified some 20 substances as obesogens.
The role of these chemicals has been acknowledged by the presidential task force on childhood obesity, and the National Institutes of Health has become a major funder of research on links between endocrine disruptors and both obesity and diabetes.
Among chemicals identified as obesogens are materials in plastics, canned food, agricultural chemicals, foam cushions and jet fuel. For example, a study in the fall found that triflumizole, a fungicide used on many food crops, like leafy vegetables, causes obesity in mice.
Just this month, a new study in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives found that endocrine disruptors that are sometimes added to PVC plastic cause mice to grow obese and suffer liver problems — and the effect continues with descendants of those mice, generation after generation.
Another study found that women with a pesticide residue in their blood bore babies who were more likely to be overweight at the age of 14 months.
That’s a common thread: The most important time for exposure appears to be in utero and in childhood. It’s not clear whether most obesogens will do much to make an ordinary adult, even a pregnant woman, fatter (although one has been shown to do so), and the greatest impact seems to be on fetuses and on children before puberty.
The magazine Scientific American recently asked whether doctors should do more to warn pregnant women about certain chemicals. It cited a survey indicating that only 19 percent of doctors cautioned pregnant women about pesticides, only 8 percent about BPA (an endocrine disruptor in some plastics and receipts), and only 5 percent about phthalates (endocrine disruptors found in cosmetics and shampoos). Dr. Blumberg, the pioneer of the field, says he strongly recommends that people — especially children and women who are pregnant or may become pregnant — try to eat organic foods to reduce exposure to endocrine disruptors, and try to avoid using plastics to store food or water. “My daughter uses a stainless steel water bottle, and so do I,” he said.
For all the uncertainty, these latest studies are one more reason to worry that endocrine disruptors may be the tobacco of our time. Science-based decisions to improve public health — like the removal of lead from gasoline — have been among our government’s most beneficial public policy moves. In this case, a starting point would be to boost research of endocrine disruptors and pass the Safe Chemicals Act. That measure, long stalled in Congress, would require more stringent safety testing of potentially toxic chemicals around us.
After all, which mouse would we rather look like?
Last but not least here’s Mr. Bruni:
Andrew Cuomo doesn’t dally. If he deems something important, he pounces on it. Last week he did that with gun control, signing sweeping new legislation.
He’s also ambitious. A 2016 presidential bid may be in the offing, especially if Hillary Clinton doesn’t jump in. And the national profile that he’s forging — trailblazer on gay marriage, guardian of public safety — almost surely reflects his sense of where the country is heading and what voters will and won’t reward.
How, then, are we supposed to read his romantic situation?
He’s unmarried, but has been living with the irrepressible food celebrity Sandra Lee for years now, most recently in her Westchester house. “Public concubinage” is what one Roman Catholic official once called their cohabitation, generating a flurry of articles that mentioned “living in sin.” The couple made no apologies. And they’ve never signaled any plans to wed.
That wasn’t a factor in Cuomo’s successful New York gubernatorial campaign, but whether it would be a liability in a national race is hard to say. Political strategists told me yes, no, maybe. I’m rooting for no, because that would be an affirmation that we, as a voting public, have wised up to the frequent lack of any correlation between a tableau of traditional family life and the values, character and skills it takes to govern effectively. And I’m intrigued by politicians who are writing fresh scripts and handling their personal situations in surprising ways.
Recently I visited Colorado, whose governor, John Hickenlooper, is another prominent Democrat sometimes mentioned in connection with 2016. I met up with him just a few hours after his State of the State address. Its distinctions included this: when he thanked his wife, Helen Thorpe, for coming to hear it, he was reminding Coloradans that the two had separated midway through 2012, less than two years into his first term.
“I greatly appreciate Helen being here today,” he told the gathered lawmakers. Then, mentioning their 10-year-old son, he added, “Even with the changes in our life, she remains a beacon of light to me and Teddy.”
Hickenlooper has handled the separation not with terse acknowledgments and speedy pivots to the next topic but with a transparent emotionalism. It’s arresting — and refreshing. The couple announced that he was moving out of their Denver house and into the governor’s mansion in a joint statement that the governor’s office e-mailed to their friends and to journalists last July. Half news release, half personal letter, it was unlike any political document I’d seen.
In it he and Thorpe wrote that they remained “close friends,” that they and Teddy would still take vacations and spend holidays together and that acquaintances should “feel free to include both of us in social gatherings, as we will not find it awkward.” They also said that neither of them had had an affair.
During my recent conversations with Hickenlooper, he brought up Thorpe readily and repeatedly. She’s a journalist, and he proudly described her progress on a new book. He expressed sorrow that the public eye and the whirl of his political life had never really suited her. When they married in 2002, his political career had really yet to begin.
He said that over the last few years, as he rose in political prominence, they were careful to carve out private time, thinking that that would do the trick. He was sure to be home with his wife by 7 p.m. at least four of every seven nights, he said.
But, he said: “There was just always somebody interrupting. She’s someone who just thinks so deeply and feels so deeply — it was just so distracting for her. I didn’t appreciate that properly.”
If he hadn’t run for governor, I asked, would the marriage have survived? “It’s conceivable,” he said. Then he volunteered that when they discussed separating, she had told him: “If you want to run for president, I’m in. We’ll stay married. I’ll figure it out and I’ll be fine.”
He shook his head. “It was amazingly generous,” he said.
He turned down that offer, he told me, because he didn’t want to prolong her unhappiness and had “pretty much made my mind up to focus on Colorado and not to spend time imagining any national campaigns.” There are few signs that he’s gearing up for one.
“I never considered how a voter might respond,” he said. “Marriage ‘status’ still matters to some people, but it seems like less and less.”
Is he right? Could he or Cuomo run for national office without a spouse at his side? Could Mayor Cory Booker of Newark, another rising Democratic star? He’s steadfastly single. What about Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa of Los Angeles, whose marriage unraveled messily in 2007? Although Jerry Brown strode unmarried onto the national stage — and sought the Democratic presidential nomination sans bride — decades ago, that was a different thing. He was a decided iconoclast, and his stubborn bachelorhood was part and parcel of his outré political appeal.
There’s certainly no divorce taboo in contemporary presidential politics. Ronald Reagan demonstrated that, and then came Bob Dole and John McCain, with one divorce apiece, and Rudy Giuliani and Newt Gingrich, with two each. Gingrich last year won two Republican primaries in socially conservative Southern states, including South Carolina, where another messily divorced Republican, Mark Sanford, the state’s former governor, announced a candidacy for Congress last week.
Lucky for him and Gingrich and others, there’s no infidelity taboo, either. Bill Clinton demolished that. Lewinsky or no Lewinsky, most Americans have come to see his presidency as a bright one and Hillary as an estimable public servant, yet none of those supporters mistake the Clintons’ marriage for the stuff of storybooks, unless maybe we’re talking about Rona Jaffe or David Baldacci novels.
We’ve seemingly moved away from conventional and naïve expectations, if we ever really had them, and in the years to come we’ll surely see, on the national stage, more proof of that: candidates without partners, candidates with partners they haven’t wed, candidates with partners of the same sex.
And my guess is that many of them will do just fine, as long as they aren’t defensive or opaque and they permit enough of a view into their lives and hearts for voters to see — and identify with — a bedrock of common longings, a braid of recognizable frailties and frustrations.
Hickenlooper is doing that, and if Cuomo does likewise, he could find that an outspoken, aggressive support of regulations on firearms is a bigger political problem in much of the United States than, er, concubinage is. Ours is a peculiar land, growing saner in some regards even as we remain absolutely bonkers in others.