Vox Pop

The Prospect's politics blog

A Contraception Compromise

Stacy Lynn Baum / Flickr
Last year, as part of implementation for the Affordable Care Act, the Obama administration rolled out a rule on contraception that inspired a huge backlash from religious conservatives and began the “war on women” fight that extended through the presidential campaign. In short, Health and Human Services required all employers to include contraception in health insurance plans, without extra charge. Religious institutions could receive an exemption as long as they met particular requirements: Said organizations had to be nonprofits who mainly employed co-religionists, and had “the inculcation of religious values” as their primary purpose. This definition precluded exemptions for certain religious charities—like Catholic hospitals—which prompted a variety of lawsuits, as well as a huge political spectacle that tarnished Republicans for the rest of the year. But the Obama administration listened to complaints, and has adopted a new definition of “religious organization” that’s a little...

Can Conservatives Change How They Talk about Immigrants?

For many years, it's been obvious conservatives do a better job of manipulating language than liberals, not only because they seem good at coming up with new terms to describe things, but more importantly because once they decide on a new term, they very quickly get everyone on their side to use it. One of the classic examples is how they took the "estate tax," with its evocation of a white-haired gentleman named something like Winthrop Flipperbottom III sipping brandy from a gigantic snifter while petting his afghan hound as he looks over the vast gardens of his estate, and renamed it the "death tax," which evokes a cruel IRS agent bursting in on your family mourning the death of your beloved uncle and making off with his lovingly amassed collection of vintage baseball cards. You will never, ever hear a conservative call the tax anything but the "death tax," because they all understand the utility of language. How much these kind of linguistic efforts really affect the outcome of...

The Senate-Hearing Circus Is in Session

AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite
AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite) Senator Ted Cruz uses a poster while questioning Chuck Hagel, a former two-term GOP senator and President Obama's choice for defense secretary, during his confirmation hearing at the Senate Armed Services Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, January 31, 2013. Hagel faced strong GOP resistance and was forced to explain past remarks and votes even as he appeared on a path to confirmation as Obama second-term defense secretary and the nation's 24th Pentagon chief. T hat really could’ve gone better. Appearing before yesterday’s marathon session of the Senate Armed Services Committee, former Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel, President Obama’s nominee for Secretary of Defense, seemed apologetic, hesitant, and adrift. To the extent Hagel seemed to have prepared at all, it was for a set of serious questions on serious issues from a completely different set of Senators who weren’t out to score petty partisan points. Looking to make sense of the spectacle...

Jobs on Jobs on Jobs on Jobs

Steve Benen, Maddow Blog
According to the latest report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the economy created 157,000 jobs in January, a solid number, though behind what we need to see a robust recovery. More important, as always, are the revisions. November’s job growth was revised to 247,000 (up from 161,000) and December’s was revised to 196,000 (up from 155,000). These are big revisions, and when analyzed as part of a trend, it’s clear that the government was been underestimating job growth for most of 2012, to the tune of 28,000 jobs a month. It should be said that this makes Barack Obama’s re-election victory even easier to explain. If the president’s standing was higher than expected, it’s because economic conditions were much better than we thought. And if Obama’s approval rating has seen a big, post-election bump—and it has—it might have something to do with the fact that employment growth broke the 200,000 barrier in November. Mitt Romney has received a huge amount of opprobrium for the tenor of...

The Bitter Twilight of John McCain

AP Photo/Susan Walsh
AP Photo/Susan Walsh Senator John McCain of Arizona asks a question of former Nebraska senator Chuck Hagel, center, President Barack Obama's choice for defense secretary, on Capitol Hill yesterday. Senator James Inhofe, a Republican from Oklahoma, listens at left. T hat one,” John McCain famously snarled in a presidential debate four years ago, referring to his opponent who was a quarter of a century younger and who had been in the Senate 3 years to McCain’s 20. It’s difficult to imagine a better revelation of the McCain psyche than that moment, but if there is one, then it came yesterday at the meeting of the Senate Armed Services Committee, convened to consider the nomination of Chuck Hagel as Secretary of Defense. The McCain fury is something to behold, almost irresistible for how unvarnished it is in all its forms. In the instance of the 2008 debate, McCain’s dumbfounded antipathy had to do with facing an opponent he so clearly considered unworthy. In the instance of the hearing...

Obama's Trump Card: Breaking the Filibuster

AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster
AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster President Barack Obama announces that he will re-nominate Richard Cordray, left, to lead the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, a role that he has held for the last year under a recess appointment, January 24, 2013. D id a hack conservative judge just lay the groundwork for the end of the filibuster? It’s very possible. At least, if the Supreme Court goes along—and if Democrats, as they should, fight back. The road begins not with last week’s D.C. Circuit Court decision, which if upheld would knock out virtually all recess appointments, but with the Senate Republican plan that Brookings scholar Tom Mann has called “ a modern form of nullification .” That was a scheme to prevent some government agencies—the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), the new Consumer Finance Protection Bureau (CFPB), and others—from functioning by blockading any presidential appointments, using the filibuster to require 60 votes and then keeping the Republican Senate conference...

Hagel Haggling

There are witnesses who wow the congressional committees before which they appear, and there are those that wither under tough questioning. And then there are those who don't do particularly well, but end up succeeding only because of the buffoonery of the questioners who attempt to undo them. Chuck Hagel's confirmation hearing today in defense of his nomination to be the next secretary of defense fell into the latter category. There was John McCain, whom you may recall was a grumpy old man even before he lost the presidency to Barack Obama, in an unusually belligerent performance, badgering Hagel to get him to admit that he was wrong when he opposed "the surge" in Iraq. There was Lindsay Graham, displaying his talent for overblown histrionics, upbraiding Hagel for not signing a pro-Israel letter a number of years ago protesting what Graham called "the infada." The senator from South Carolina is apparently easily frightened, because he said, "The lack of signature by you runs chills...

Homophobia in Sports and Changing Hearts

49ers cornerback Chris Culliver, celebrating his newfound respect for gay people. (AP photo by Paul Spinelli)
Almost all of us, at some time in our youth, had the experience of saying something that turned out to be way more inappropriate than we thought it was, whereupon people turned to us and said, "Dude. Not cool." In most cases, it concerned something we just hadn't thought that much about, and it often occurs when you move from one milieu to another with different mores and ideas, like going from high school to college. Or existing in a world of football players and suddenly finding yourself quoted in the media on a sociopolitical topic because your team is in the Super Bowl, which is what happened to San Francisco 49ers cornerback Chris Culliver. When it happens in your dorm room, someone will explain to you why the joke you made or the term you used was out of line, and you'll probably say, "Huh—I hadn't thought about it that way, but OK." And armed with that knowledge, you'll adapt to your new surroundings and the changing times. But Culliver found himself in hot water when he was on...

The Wrong Kind of Immigration Spending

AP Photo/Tuscaloosa News, Robert Sutton
The Republican party's abysmal performance among Latino voters in the 2012 election, and the ensuing realization among many in the GOP that they need to change their stance on immigration or risk more defeats, have made it a real possibility that passage of the first comprehensive immigration reform bill in over a quarter-century could happen soon. The debate will no doubt be intense, so as it begins, some facts about the recent and not-so-recent history of immigration in America will be important to keep in mind. Immigration had its first peak in the first decade of the 20th century, when over 8 million people from other countries became legal permanent residents of the United States, a number that wasn't exceeded again until the 1990s. By the 1960s, however, immigrants from North America (mostly Mexico) exceeded those from Europe; Asian immigrants exceeded Europeans in the 1970s. (These data, and many more, can be found in the Department of Homeland Security's annual yearbook of...

Did Republicans Lose the Election?

AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
Last November, Democrats seemed to be justified in believing that their party had won a victory of genuine significance. The ideological differences between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney were clear-cut, and Obama was re-elected. Despite the advantage that Republicans initially enjoyed in Senate races, Democrats increased their majority to 55, and that new majority is more liberal than the old one. In races for the House, more voters cast ballots for Democratic than for Republican candidates, though Republicans kept their majority thanks in large part to gerrymandered districts. But if you step back now, look at government as a whole, and think about the likely course of politics in the next several years, things look different. In what was a bad year for Republicans, they emerged with enough power to stymie major Democratic legislative initiatives and to advance key items on their own agenda through the arms of government that they continue to control. In other words, the United States...

ICYMI, Life Isn't a Die Hard Movie

If you had no knowledge of U.S. political debates and were judging the strength of interest groups off of their congressional testimony—admittedly, an odd approach—you’d think the gun lobby was weak and ineffectual. During this afternoon’s Senate hearing on gun control, gun advocates pushed a series of increasingly ridiculous rationales for opposing new gun laws. The National Rifle Association’s Wayne LaPierre began with the reasonable—if erroneous—assertion that background checks make no difference in keeping illegal guns off the streets, but then turned up the heat by claiming that new gun-control laws are futile because “homicidal maniacs” won’t follow them. Next, he pushed to scrap privacy laws and make the records of the mentally ill public and searchable. In other words, we should defend the Constitution by stigmatizing vulnerable people. This was followed by a performance from Senator Lindsay Graham of South Carolina, who argued against gun control by warning of a...

Immigration Catch-22

Yesterday, a bipartisan group of eight senators unveiled a comprehensive immigration-reform plan. Today, Barack Obama gave a speech outlining a very similar plan, causing the four Republicans in that group to disavow their own plan as a socialist plot whose only plausible purpose is to bring a tsunami of radical Kenyan immigrants to our shores so they can marry our women and produce future presidents who will further weaken this great nation. OK, so that's not really what happened. But given recent experience, it wouldn't have been all that surprising if it had. Now that Barack Obama has joined the immigration debate with his own plan (like the bipartisan one, at this point it's not particularly detailed), it will take all the fortitude Republicans can muster to keep from doing a 180, just as they did on the individual health-insurance mandate and cap and trade, once those ideas were infected by contact with Obama. They know that their political future may depend on not screwing up...

Why "Make Them Learn English" Is the Key to Immigration Reform

New Americans taking the oath of citizenship. (Flickr/Grand Canyon NPS)
Among the provisions in the immigration-reform proposal released by a bipartisan group of senators yesterday was a requirement that in order to get on that path to citizenship, undocumented immigrants would have to "learn English and civics." They don't detail exactly how it would happen, but presumably there'd be a test of English proficiency immigrants would have to pass, and perhaps some money appropriated for English classes. There are two things to know about this idea. First, in practical terms it's completely unnecessary. And second, in political terms it's an excellent idea. In fact, it could be the key to passing immigration reform. The reason it's unnecessary is that every wave of immigrants follows basically the same pattern when it comes to English. People who immigrate as adults tend not to learn much beyond the most basic words and phrases, and continue to speak their native language at home. Their children grow up bilingual, speaking one language at home and another at...

Bill Kristol Tells Republicans to Keep On Keeping On

Wikipedia
Writing at the Weekly Standard , William Kristol offers a little advice to the Republican Party as it looks for a path forward. He outlines four steps for the GOP to take, but it’s the second one that stands out: The second step is to recall Bill Buckley’s famous words, at the founding of National Review. The magazine​—​and by implication the conservative movement​—​would “stand athwart history, yelling Stop, at a time when no one is inclined to do so, or to have much patience with those who so urge it.” A little willingness on the part of Republicans to sometimes stand athwart History would also go a long way. Kristol has not just woken up from a four-year coma. But if he had, this advice would make much more sense. After all, he would have missed the GOP’s decision to adopt the mantle of “no,” and oppose the whole of President Obama’s agenda, beginning in January 2009, and continuing—with few exceptions—to the present. Republicans offered near-categorical opposition to the stimulus...

Leave Julia Alone!

Obama campaign
The life of Julia at age 27 In early May, shortly after the peak of the GOP's war-on-women problem, the Obama campaign released a simple online infographic that inspired outrage from conservative commentators. Titled "The Life of Julia," the slideshow followed a hypothetical woman named Julia throughout various stages of her life in order to compare Obama's policies to the ones proposed by Mitt Romney. At age three, toddler Julia plays with a bead maze and enjoys the benefits of Head Start under Obama's America, while the infographic warns that Romney would cut Head Start by 20 percent. By age 27 the adult Julia is a web designer—a knowing wink to the young urban hipsterati loathed by conservatives—whose birth control is covered by her health insurance thanks to Obamacare's reforms, but would have lost those if Romney had his way. It was silly, simple fodder that should have faded quickly amid the deluge of media noise. Except conservatives took it as the symbol of all that is wrong...

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