Vox Pop

The Prospect's politics blog

Stuck With Each Other

AP photo/David Goldman
Imagine you're a religious right activist, used to being a serious player within the Republican party, the kind of person candidates court and party chieftains huddle with. You've done well at making sure that just about every politician in your party has the right position on your issues. You may not always get everything you want as quickly as you want, but you know that you don't have to waste energy fighting rear-guard actions within the GOP. But then bad things start to happen. We spend a couple of years talking about nothing but the economy and budgets, ignoring your favorite issues, and some in the party suggest that the real culture war isn't your culture war, it's an economic one. A couple of your favorite candidates get a little too candid with their views on rape, and end up losing at the polls, leading some influential strategists to suggest that the party needs to shift its focus away from your issues. Then one of your party's senators comes out in support of same-sex...

Visiting Israel, Juggling a Hundred Impossible Expectations

AP Photo/Ariel Schalit
AP Photo/Ariel Schalit It’s near impossible to lower expectations of a visit by the President of the United States, especially to a region as consequential in U.S. policy, and controversial in U.S. politics, as the Middle East. Obama is learning this firsthand as he prepares to land in Israel for the first time in his presidency today. The trip will include visits to the West Bank and Jordan, but it’s no secret that its primary function is to re-introduce the president to the Israeli people, and attempt to re-boot the relationship with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose resistance to Obama’s peace efforts and differences over the immediacy of the threat posed by Iran led to a frosty relationship during the president’s first term. I visited the country and the West Bank last week, and preparations on both sides were well under way to make sure that their messages were heard. In Ramallah, huge banners were hung, proclaiming “President Obama, don’t bring your smart phone to...

Ringside Seat: Don't Give Up on Gun Control Yet

In the wake of the horrific shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in December, it seemed that the time had finally come for some real restrictions on the kinds of firearms people can buy. After years of not even bothering to propose new laws, Democrats found their courage and put forward a number of proposals, none of which got more attention than a new ban on assault weapons. But now it looks like the assault-weapons ban is dead, or at least shunted indefinitely to the side. The ban's sponsor, Senator Dianne Feinstein, told reporters today that Majority Leader Harry Reid told her that while the assault-weapons ban may be offered as an amendment to a larger bill, it won't be a stand-alone measure, and it's unlikely to pass. So it looks like your God-given right to go down to the range and pretend you're G.I. Joe is intact for the foreseeable future. And that may not be such a disaster. The truth is that spectacular massacres like Sandy Hook and Aurora notwithstanding, almost nine in ten...

War of Cluelessness

Flickr/Gage Skidmore
I have a piece at CNN.com today about what the press did and didn't learn from its performance leading up to the war that I wanted to expand on a little. You might remember Donald Rumsfeld's philosophical musings on "known unknowns" and "unknown unknowns," which I think offers a good way to look at how so many people got so much wrong, with such tragic results. There were things they knew they didn't know, but they decided that those things didn't matter (or that they just didn't care), and there were things they didn't know they didn't know. That applies to the Bush administration, its supporters, the frightened Democrats who went along, and to the press. Here's a bit of what I wrote: When there's a war in the offing, the flags are waving and dissenters are being called treasonous, the media's courage tends to slip away. Which is particularly regrettable, since the time when the government is pressing for war should be the time when they are more aggressive than ever, exploring every...

Arizona versus the Right to Vote

Flickr/Wally Gobetz
As part of a broader anti-immigration initiative in 2004, Arizona passed Proposition 200, a law requiring voters to provide proof of citizenship before registering to vote. One person affected by this law was Jesus Gonzalez, a custodian and naturalized American citizen who twice had his registration rejected by the state. Arizona couldn't verify his naturalization number and erroneously identified his driver's license as belonging to a non-citizen. Gonzalez's case has reached the Supreme Court, which heard oral arguments about the constitutionality of Proposition 200 on Monday. The Court should rule that Arizona's burdensome requirements are inconsistent with federal law and therefore illegal. The Supreme Court has dealt with Republican legislators' attempts to suppress voting before. In a highly dubious 2008 decision , the Supreme Court found that an Indiana statute—requiring a show of ID before hitting the ballot box—was not unconstitutional on its face, although it left open the...

U.S. Out of Vermont!

Flickr/Gwen Roolf
Flickr/Gwen Roolf L ast September, about 60 Vermonters met in the chambers of the house of representatives in Montpelier to celebrate the state’s “independence spirit” and to discuss the goals of “environmental sustainability, economic justice, and Vermont self--determination.” The speaker of the house had given up the space free of charge for the one-day conference. First at the podium was a Princeton-educated yak farmer and professor of journalism named Rob Williams, one of the organizers of the event, who at 9 A.M. opened the proceedings by acknowledging what he called “some unpleasant and hard truths.” Amid the twin global crises of peak oil and climate change, the United States was “an out-of-control empire.” It was “unresponsive to the needs, concerns, and desires of ordinary citizens.” Williams, who wore a T-shirt that said “U.S. Out of Vermont,” did not advocate revolution. He was looking for a divorce. He wanted Vermont to secede. “Nonviolent secession,” he said, “the...

Ringside Seat: I'm Not a Wonk. I'm You.

After Democrats lost the presidential elections of 2000 and 2004, many on the left argued that part of their problem was that they approached politics through an often bloodless perspective centered on issues, while Republicans knew it was all about character. As one of us used to say when talking about this problem, in one election after another, the Democrat would come before the voters and say, "If you read my ten-point plan, you will see that my solutions are superior." The Republican would then point at the Democrat and say, "That guy hates you and everything you stand for." Republicans understood that politics isn't about issues, it's about character and identity. Today, an RNC committee tasked with figuring out what the GOP can do to reverse its flagging fortunes in national politics released its report . "While Democrats tend to talk about people," the committee said, "Republicans tend to talk about policy. Our ideas can sound distant and removed from people's lives. Instead...

Why Now, Mr. President?

AP Photo/Ariel Schalit
AP Photo/Nasser Shiyoukhi S ome free advice for anyone who lives in Jerusalem and hasn't been invited to meet with Barack Obama: stay out of the city center from Wednesday to Friday. One major artery, King David Street, will be shut throughout the president's visit this week, and parking will be banned on a host of others, City Hall has announced. Experience teaches that traffic will tie up in knots and buses trying to get from Point A to Point B will travel via Point Z. Beyond gridlock—in the original sense of the word, vehicles sitting in mid-intersection going nowhere—the potential impact of the president's pilgrimage remains a mystery. The trip's timing suggests that Obama feels it absolutely urgent to renew the comatose Israeli-Palestinian peace process, now, before the weekend, before it expires. The pre-trip spin from Obama himself, from sundry off-record officials and from the punditocracy of two countries suggests that the president is coming, to quote Thomas Friedman , as "a...

Just How Bad Is Television News?

Every year, the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism releases a huge report called "The State of the News Media," and this year's installment contains some surprising results, far beyond what you'd expect about declining newspaper revenues and the generalized slow death of journalism (though there's plenty of that). In particular, television news is undergoing some rapid changes, most of which are driven by finances and many of which look seriously problematic. Let's start with local TV news (we'll get to cable in a moment). For decades, it has been the most-used of all news media, despite the fact that it provides the sorriest excuse for journalism you can find anywhere. Why has it been so popular for so long? For starters, it's easy; you can just turn the TV on while you're cooking dinner or working on your toothpick sculpture of the Taj Mahal, and it won't require any concentration to keep up with. Second, it's on all the time; since news is the central profit...

The Political Is Personal

AP Photo/Mike Munden
On Friday, Senator Rob Portman of Ohio became the first Republican in the Senate to support same-sex marriage, explaining in a Columbus Dispatch op-ed that his change of heart came after his son told him he's gay. It was easy to be underwhelmed by Portman's announcement; as Michael Tomasky asked , "what if his son weren't gay? Were that the case, we have no reason whatsoever to believe Portman would have taken this step." That's true, and we might also ask what took him so long; after all, Portman wrote that his son came out to him two years ago, and that seems like a rather extended period of introspection. Portman may not be a civil-rights hero, but if nothing else his announcement is likely to force people to confront the ways public policy is or isn't shaped by legislators' own experiences. And now, many of them will be asked what they would do in Portman's shoes. That was what Speaker of the House John Boehner was asked on Sunday's This Week , and he answered, "I believe that...

Change They Can Believe In?

Gage Skidmore / Flickr
Gage Skidmore / Flickr RNC chairman Reince Priebus speaking at the Western Republican Leadership Conference in Las Vegas, Nevada. If you follow national politics at all, you’re familiar with the Republican Party’s current predicament. Not only has the party lost the popular vote in four of the last five presidential elections, but the public turned against the GOP in two consecutive wave elections: 2006 and 2008. The Republican Party's veto power in Congress and its substantive power in the states has everything to do with the Tea Party rebellion of 2010, which—in light of last year’s elections—looks more and more like an aberration. It's unpopular with a wide swath of Americans, and is associated in many minds with virulent strains of homophobia, nativism, sexism, and racial prejudice. In an effort to change perceptions and win new voters, national GOP officials have embarked on a plan of recovery and reform. The Republican National Committee commissioned an in-depth look at the...

The Boehner Rule

flickr/Talk Radio News Service
flickr/Talk Radio News Service A fter months of Republican resistance, the House of Representative finally renewed the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) late last month. What many casual political observers may not know is that there were always enough votes in the House for the bill to pass, but it couldn’t get a vote because of something called the “Hastert Rule”—an informal practice in the House by which only legislation supported by a majority of the majority party (in this case, Republicans) is allowed to come to a vote. How Speaker John Boehner got VAWA passed tells us a lot about what the next two years is going to be like in Washington. The Hastert Rule was coined during the speakership of Republican Denny Hastert, who said he would bring nothing to the floor of the House of Representatives unless a majority of the Republican conference supported it. As University of Miami political scientist Greg Koger explains, the logic behind such a rule is basically one of "an...

The Making of the "Other" Chicago

AP Photo/M. Spencer Green
AP Photo/M. Spencer Green A makeshift memorial at the site where 6-month-old girl Jonylah Watkins and her father, a known gang member, were shot on March 11. The girl, who was shot five times, died Tuesday morning. Her father, Jonathan Watkins, remains in serious but stable condition. J anuary was the deadliest month in Chicago in more than a decade. Forty-two people lost their lives on the city’s streets, most of them to gun violence. For 2012, the total number of homicides was 509, of which 443 involved firearms. While most of the shootings could be attributed to gang feuds, innocent people were caught in crossfire that often erupted in broad daylight and on public streets. Hadiya Pendleton’s shooting death, which took place only a week after the 15-year-old honors student performed at the presidential inauguration, is the latest tragedy to reinforce the perception that Chicago is the murder capital of the nation. Pendleton was killed when a gunman opened fire on a group of high-...

Forty Years Behind on Sick-Leave Policy, But Catching Up

AP Photo/Mary Altaffer
AP Photo/Mary Altaffer Emilio Palaguachi, center, speaks at a rally at New York's City Hall to call for a vote on paid-sick-days legislation, which has been held up by I t’s too late for Tonisha Howard , the mother of three in Milwaukee who was fired for leaving work to be with her hospitalized two-year-old. And for Felix Trinidad , who was so afraid of losing his job at Golden Farm fruit store in Brooklyn that he didn’t take time off to go to the doctor—even after he vomited blood. Trinidad, a father of two who had stomach cancer, continued to work until just days before his death at age 34. But for workers in Portland and perhaps Philadelphia, paid sick days just got much closer to becoming reality. Last Wednesday, the city council in Portland, Oregon, voted unanimously for a bill granting most employees up to 40 hours of paid sick leave per year. On Thursday, the Philadelphia City Council passed a similar law—and, with only one vote short of a veto-proof majority, advocates are...

Ringside Seat: Live from CPAC

For 2013, the American Conservative Union tagged their annual CPAC conference with the slogan "America's Future: The Next Generation of Conservatives." Presumably the organizers realized that the GOP's demographic troubles from 2012 spelled future trouble for the conservative movement. But Friday afternoon the panel trotted out the same old broken horses who ruined the party in the last election. Rick Santorum was up first, the still-hard-to-believe runner-up for the GOP presidential nomination. Santorum briefly showed an air of compassion missing from his presidential campaign, centering the speech on his the death of his nephew yesterday. He even displayed a hint of erudition one doesn't often associate with the former Pennsylvania senator, quoting Buddha and Viktor Frankl. But the speech quickly devolved into a typical diatribe on how Obama has ruined America and "wants to exchange the 'why' of the American Revolution for the 'why' of the French Revolution." Rick wasn't the lone...

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