Vox Pop

The Prospect's politics blog

Ringside Seat: Bracket Racket

Let's be honest here: Congressional Republicans really, really dislike Barack Obama. Yes, they disagree with his agenda, and sometimes they engage in some half-sincere posturing against him for effect, but you can be pretty sure that deep down they just can't stand him. Which is fine—lots of us felt the same way about George W. Bush. But at times, their dislike only serves to make them look silly. Like today. As you may be aware, there's an intercollegiate athletics tournament about to begin, in which young people will take a break from their studies to play a few games of basketball. President Obama, who played on his high school team and is, like many Americans, a sports fan, takes a break from his own duties every year to let the public know his March Madness picks. Those picks tend to be somewhat conservative, with just enough upsets selected to let you know he has actually put some thought into it. How did Republicans respond to the presidential selections? By saying he's a fool...

How to Fix Entitlements? More Immigrants

Gallup
Given Washington’s obsession with spending, this won’t enter the picture, but this figure—from a recent Gallup poll on immigration—is more important to the future of entitlement reform than any policy discussed by President Obama or Congress: As Kevin Drum noted yesterday, the “primary reason that Medicare (and Social Security) expenditures are rising over the next 30 years is simply because we’re going to have more old people.” We can solve this by cutting spending on services for old people, raising taxes on everyone else to support these services, or we can take the (relatively) easier option and let more people into the country . In general, more people means more workers and greater productive capacity. Yes, these people will consume services, but they’ll also be paying taxes. In other words, if the problem with government spending is that the United States is getting older, the obvious solution is to find ways to make the country younger . At the moment, the best way to do that...

Have You Heard? Feminism's Over!

Flickr/Seattle Municipal Archives
Flickr/James Vaughan G ood news, ladies! Feminism has fizzled, and those of us who aren’t suckers are giving up our career dreams to follow our female nature. Our lady brains and lady bodies aren’t cut out for the workplace, you see, and our manly, oafish husbands will never be as good as we are at cleaning the toilet, so why fight it? We’ll all be more fulfilled if we quit our jobs and make like June Cleaver by way of Martha Stewart. At least this is the point of the latest "trend" piece in New York magazine by Lisa Miller. Let's get the debunking out of the way. The essential problem with Miller’s piece is that is doesn’t describe an actual, documented trend. Her entire theory is hung on a small uptick—in 2011—of women choosing to leave the workforce in order to parent. That's not a trend; it's a data point. Otherwise fact-free, this piece is perhaps best understood as an essay on its writer's self-concept, and on that of the publication in whose pages it appears. Miller clearly...

Why the Republicans Should Go Ahead and Have Their Civil War

Flickr/Donkey Hotey
Watching gleefully while your opponents tear themselves apart is a bipartisan Washington pastime. For many years, Republicans were able to do much more of it than Democrats, for the simple reason that Democrats tend to bicker among themselves more, and nothing produces such bickering like lost presidential elections. But now, having lost two such elections in a row, it's the Republicans who are at each other's throats, and Democrats who look on with a smile. I always find these arguments interesting, not because I enjoy giving a Nelson Muntz "Ha-ha!" to the GOP (OK, maybe just a little) but because their outcome ends up shaping our politics in the coming years. So I have a message for my Republican friends: Ignore the Democrats laughing at you about the infighting. Squabbling amongst yourselves is exactly what you should be doing right now. It's hard to keep that in mind when your opponents are belittling you and columnists are shaking their heads at your disarray ( see here for...

The New Gay-Rights Frontier

Flickr/Stéfan
A s the Supreme Court prepares to take its first serious look at the issue of same-sex marriage—with oral arguments set to begin March 26 in back-to-back challenges to California’s Proposition 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act—gay-rights activists and their supporters in the New Jersey Legislature are quietly advancing their fight for LGBT equality on a separate front, with a concerted push to undermine the practice of controversial gay conversion therapy in the state. Polls show that public support for legalizing gay marriage has hit an all-time high, with 58 percent of Americans—including a growing number of Republicans—now in favor of granting same-sex couples the rights and benefits enjoyed by their heterosexual counterparts. But even the staunchest of activists recognize that victory for marriage rights in Washington will be but an incremental step on the road to equality for a community that has been consistently denied equal protection under the law. Consider that only 18...

Judging on Color

AP Photo/Susan Walsh
Pro Publica has a long and excellent take on the plaintiff behind the challenge to the University of Texas’ affirmative action program, Abigail Fisher. In short, her central claim—that UT denied her application because of her race (she’s white)—just isn’t true: Even among those students, Fisher did not particularly stand out. Court records show her grade point average (3.59) and SAT scores (1180 out of 1600) were good but not great for the highly selective flagship university. The school’s rejection rate that year for the remaining 841 openings was higher than the turn-down rate for students trying to get into Harvard. As a result, university officials claim in court filings that even if Fisher received points for her race and every other personal achievement factor, the letter she received in the mail still would have said no. Later in the piece, Pro Publica goes to legal experts on both sides of the aisle for their perspectives. Erwin Chemerinsky, founding dean of the University of...

Banks Are Too Big to Fail Say ... Conservatives?

AP Photo/Jae C. Hong
AP Photo/Jae C. Hong M embers of the Federal Reserve don’t usually make the rounds at partisan gatherings. But amid the tri-cornered hats and “#StandWithRand” buttons of last week’s Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC)—the largest annual gathering of conservatives in the country—was Richard Fisher, president of the Dallas Federal Reserve Bank. In a Saturday morning speech , Fisher quoted Revolutionary War hero Patrick Henry, who once said that while “Different men often see the same subject in different lights,” such quibbling had to be set aside in a time of “awful moment to this country.” Fisher described the current time as an era of economic injustice in which the nation’s largest banks threaten our financial stability and act with immunity. He said that the Dodd-Frank financial reform law did not go nearly far enough to fix the problem, and that mega-banks still profited from being “Too Big to Fail.” His solutions included a proposal to limit the total assets held by...

Asking Serious People Silly Questions

Erin Burnett, trying to keep from giggling.
I've written before about the media's inability to talk about the issue of marijuana legalization without turning into eighth graders, peppering their stories with references to Cheech & Chong and making generally idiotic stoner references ("Put down those Doritos and turn down that Dead bootleg—a new policy statement from the Office of National Drug Control Policy could be a serious buzz-cruncher!"). Whether this is changing now that Washington and Colorado passed decriminalization schemes in the last election and momentum is building in other states for similar measures, I'm not sure. But Mark Kleiman, who has done extensive research on the potential consequences of drug legalization and is now acting as a consultant to the state of Washington as it finds its way toward implementing the law the voters there passed, found himself confronted with a smirking Erin Burnett on CNN, who wanted to know whether he's a pot smoker or not, and handled it perfectly . "I don't think there's...

Ringside Seat: Don't Cry for the GOP, Reince Priebus

If you paid attention to the 2012 election—at all—you probably have some idea of why Republicans lost. Their presidential primaries showcased the right-wing insanity of their base. Their candidate, Mitt Romney, couldn’t hide his contempt for ordinary people. Their policies were clear attempts to game the system for the wealthy, with massive tax cuts and sharp reductions in spending for the rest of America. Above all, they couldn’t provide a decent reason for jettisoning a president who—among other things—was presiding over a modest recovery from the worst economic disaster to hit the country since the Great Depression, a disaster exacerbated by the previous, Republican administration. None of this is hard to understand, but somehow, it has flown over the head of the man Republicans pay to understand national politics—Reince Priebus, head of the Republican National Committee. When asked on MSNBC this afternoon whether or not the party is changing, he replied by offering a quick list of...

Weird Friends of the Court

AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall
(AP Photo/J. David Ake) If you’ve felt encouraged by recent trends in favor of gay rights—including the new Washington Post poll showing 58 percent of Americans support marriage equality—swing over to SCOTUSblog and read some of the nearly 60 “friend of the Court” briefs opposing gay marriage. On Tuesday and Wednesday of next week, the Supreme Court will hear arguments in two cases—the first on California’s Prop 8, the second on the Defense of Marriage Act—that could determine whether the federal government can define marriage as between a man and a woman, and whether state bans on same-sex marriage are unconstitutional. The parties are represented by some of the lions of the Supreme Court bar, including two former Solicitor Generals—Paul Clement and Ted Olson—on either side of the issue (though arguing on separate days and on separate cases). Their briefs are strong. But the Court allows others to file briefs as amici curiae, or “friends of the Court.” These amicus briefs are usually...

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...

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