Vox Pop

The Prospect's politics blog

Everyone Is a Taker

Pew Research Center
After a year where Republicans—even so-called “moderates,” like Mitt Romney—devoted themselves to dividing the public into “makers” and “takers,” a new survey from the Pew Research Service shows that most Americans—55 percent, in fact—are “dependent on government” in some form. Specifically, Pew found that “most Democrats (60 percent) and Republicans (52 percent) say they have benefited from a major entitlement program at some point in their lives.” Likewise, so have “nearly equal shares of self-identifying conservatives (57 percent), liberals (53 percent) and moderates (53 percent).” In the actual survey, Pew asked about the entire basket of programs we associate with “entitlements”: Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps, welfare, and unemployment benefits. Entitlement use begins early, and grows with age: A third of adults ages 18 to 29 say they have received at least one major entitlement payment, which grows to 45 percent for those ages 30 to 49, 59 percent for those...

Concealed Carry and the Triumph of Fear

Flickr/Of Small Things
Thanks to the tireless efforts of the NRA and the gun manufacturers, 49 states now issue concealed-carry permits to people for whom merely owning guns is not enough. As we focus our attention on military-style rifles and high-capacity magazines, we need to remember that the most important change in recent years isn't in the equipment, but in the spread of a new kind of mentality among many gun owners, one that seeks to make fear the organizing principle of American society. This has been the essential focus of gun advocates' work in recent years: changing laws so that as many people as possible can carry as many guns as possible into as many places as possible. Since the people who want to do so have driven the discussion and the laws on guns, it's important to understand where they're coming from. And frankly, it's an ugly place. Most gun owners don't have concealed carry permits, and there is a profound psychological difference between someone who has a gun in his home and someone...

The Real Barrier to Better Gun-Control Policy

WikiMedia Commons
The horrific mass killing of elementary schoolchildren in Newtown, Connecticut has served as another reminded that the United States is an unusually violent country. And the evidence is overwhelming that lax regulations of private firearms plays a major role in this unnecessarily high rate of violent death. And yet, it is very unlikely that any federal legislation will be passed in response to the Newtown killings, let alone regulations comparable to those in other liberal democracies. To many progressives, the reason for this is clear: the Second Amendment to the Constitution, which must be repealed for any real progress to gun control to take place. But to blame the Second Amendment for terrible American gun control policies is highly misleading. The Bill of Rights is not the primary political barrier to better gun control policies, and in any political universe in which repealing the Second Amendment was even thinkable such a repeal would be superfluous. To understand the relative...

Fixing Obama’s Second Term

AP Photo/Charles Dharapak
(AP Photo/M. Spencer Green) President Barack Obama waves to the crowd at his election night party celebrating his victory over challenger Mitt Romney. I n the president’s first term, a gauntlet of procedural hurdles stood in the way of progressive change. As Majority Leader Harry Reid promises to reform the filibuster—on the magical day when the new Senate convenes and can make new rules—most progressives are wondering whether it’s an end to many of President Barack Obama’s problems. After all, without the constant threat of a filibuster, Senate Democrats wouldn’t have had to scramble for votes from the centrists who watered down health-care legislation and stalled action on climate change in Obama’s first two years, when he had an outright majority in the Senate. But the filibuster was only the most obvious procedural challenge to a more progressive Obama first term. There are other things the president did in his first four years that caused important legislation to sputter and fail...

Chairman Summers? Let’s Hope Not

AP Photo/Shizuo Kambayashi
AP Photo/Shizuo Kambayashi Former U.S. Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers addresses a press conference after attending the Group of Seven finance ministers in Fukuoka, Japan in July 2000. He’s back. Larry Summers is running hard to succeed Ben Bernanke as chairman of the Federal Reserve when Bernanke’s term expires in early 2014. This is not a great idea, for three main reasons. The first is Summers’ famous temperament. The problem is not just that he’s less than sensitive to women. It’s that he’s a bully in general, cocksure of himself, using others as foils and prevailing by controlling the agenda. Through several turns in a career marked by falling upwards, Summers’ chief patron and sponsor, Robert Rubin, keeps assuring people that “Larry has changed.” And Larry keeps not changing. It was the bullying more than the disrespect towards women that finally got him fired as president of Harvard. Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. famously said of Franklin Roosevelt, “a second-rate...

Whither NRA?

There are some serious, perhaps insurmountable obstacles to any new gun-safety measures being passed through Congress. Specifically, the House of Representatives is controlled by Republicans, and nearly all of them have been endorsed by the National Rifle Association. Those endorsements didn't come for nothing; they're an acknowledgement of past service and a warning against future heresy. And as the GOP has grown more Southern and rural in recent years, the NRA's grip has only tightened. Nevertheless, for the first time in over a decade, measures to restrict gun ownership are being seriously discussed. Today, White House spokesman Jay Carney said that President Obama is looking favorably on a bill Senator Dianne Feinstein will soon introduce. It will create a new version of the assault-weapons ban that was in place between 1994 and 2004, not only forbidding the manufacture and sale of certain types of military-style weapons, but also outlawing ammunition magazines that hold more than...

The Uses and Limits of Knowledge About Guns

Flickr/Simonov
We're about to start the portion of this debate where we begin discussing specific actions the government might take to address gun violence. And as we do, particularly when it comes to those measures that concern the guns themselves (as opposed to measures focused on the people who can get them or the conditions of their purchase), it's likely that gun advocates will start complaining that there's a problem with all these effete urban northeastern liberals making laws governing guns they know nothing about. This isn't new; for instance, gun advocates have long hated the term "assault weapon," since it doesn't mean anything in particular (after all, every gun is a weapon designed for assault). We should be very wary of the argument that people who have a lot of experience with guns have some kind of greater moral claim to a voice in this debate (and we should also be wary, as Elsbeth Reeve writes , of coastal urbanite conservatives claiming to speak for "real America" about guns). Yes...

John Kerry, the Most Progressive Pick for the State Department?

AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite
Flickr/U.S Embassy Kabul Afghanistan Senator John Kerry and Afghanistan President Hamid Karzain in Kabul in 2009. T he optics of Susan Rice’s withdrawal from consideration for secretary of State are disheartening. Ruth Marcus of The Washington Post and Representative Marcia Fudge of Ohio attributed racism and sexism to the campaign against Rice, with Marcus writing that “the attack had something to do with Rice’s gender, and her sharp elbows and sometimes sharper tongue,” while Fudge said “[ Republican senators ] have never called a male 'unqualified,' 'not bright,' 'not trustworthy,' …there is a clear sexism and racism that goes with these comments.” Given that foreign policy circles are among the worst in terms of gender diversity, Rice’s withdrawal from consideration is a tough blow for the representation of women and minorities in top leadership positions. Even so, John Kerry may be a better secretary of State for progressives when it comes to philosophical approaches to military...

Putting the NRA on Defense

AP Photo/St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Christian Gooden
Every mass shooting, there’s a brief flare-up of discussion about gun control, followed by an inevitable dropping of the subject as liberals give up hope that anything can be done about guns when conservatives control the discourse so thoroughly . It’s become so predictable that even lamenting the process has in itself become a cliché. The notion that owning semi-automatic assault rifles that can shoot off six rounds a second is a “right” has become so embedded that many people, including our president, have calculated that it’s fruitless to even try to start drafting legislation that would restrict the sale of such weapons. Facing this stalemate, it’s time for gun control advocates to start changing the conversation. I propose we do this by starting attacking not the guns themselves, but gun culture . And we can start by calling for restrictions on the advertising of guns. A lot of liberals aren’t tuned into this, because they live in their own enclaves and absorb media that doesn’t...

Social Security: Will Obama Cave?

AP Photo/Charles Dharapak
AP Photo/Charles Dharapak President Barack Obama looks toward reporters shouting questions at him regarding the fiscal cliff as he walks to the White House after attending a holiday party for the National Security Council. O nce again, President Obama seems to be on the verge of folding a winning hand. Widely leaked reports indicate that the president and House Speaker John Boehner are making a fiscal deal that includes hiking tax rates back to the pre-Bush levels with a threshold of $400,000 rather than the original $250,000, and cutting present Social Security benefits. Obama, the reports say, will now settle for as little as $1.2 trillion in tax increases on the rich rather than the $1.6 trillion that he had originally sought. The difference, in effect, will come out of the pockets of workers, retirees, the young, and the poor. Especially foolish is the cut in Social Security benefits, disguised as a change in the cost-of-living adjustment formula. Before getting to the arcane...

Guns Are Different

Flickr/xomiele
It's safe to say that we've had more of a national discussion about guns in the last four days than we've had in the last 15 years. The particular measures to address gun violence that are now in the offing run from those that are well-intended but likely to be ineffectual (renewing the assault weapons ban, for instance) to some that could have a more meaningful effect even if they're difficult to implement (universal background checks, licensing, and training). But the most useful change that may come out of this moment in our history is a change in the way we look at guns. By that I don't mean that Americans will suddenly stop fetishizing guns, or that everyone will agree they're nothing but trouble. But if we're lucky, perhaps we could come to an agreement on something simple. Yes, our constitution guarantees that people can own guns, much as many of us wish it didn't. But even in the context of that freedom, we should be able to agree that guns are different. The freedom to own...

Republicans Float Plan to Make Electoral College More Unfair

Google
Google Republicans decide to go the dastardly route. Since their across-the-board defeat in November, Republicans have talked a great game about reform and outreach, with presidential hopefuls Paul Ryan, Marco Rubio, and Bobby Jindal leading the charge. But the actual actions of the GOP belie this stated commitment to change. According to National Journal , for example, Republicans are planning a big push to change how states distribute their electoral votes. Currently, most states have a winner-take-all arrangement—if you win the majority of votes, you take all of the electoral votes. For all but voters in deep red or dark blue states, this is unfair—the 48 percent of North Carolina voters who supported Barack Obama in this year’s election are all but irrelevant, since their votes play no part in the Electoral College distribution. Some reformers want to solve this problem with a national popular vote, others with nationwide proportional distribution of electoral votes. Republicans,...

Taking the Broad View on Guns

President Obama wipes away a tear as he discusses the shooting in Newtown.
Up until now, Barack Obama's record on guns has been one of the biggest disappointments for his liberal supporters. In his first term he signed two laws on guns, one allowing people to take their guns into national parks, and one allowing people to take their guns on Amtrak trains. But now there are some hints that the administration may be open to some modest measures to reduce the easy availability of some of the deadliest means of killing large numbers of people at one time. In particular, we could see a renewal of some version of the assault weapons ban that was in place from 1994 to 2004. That law used a somewhat complicated flow chart of features to define an assault weapon, and also banned magazines that held more than ten rounds. A ban on high-capacity magazines may be the easiest thing to pass today, because it's not hard to define and they are almost impossible to justify for any purpose other than killing people. The easy argument against any new law, and one we'll...

Even America's Safest Places Need Better Gun Control

(AP Photo/Jason DeCrow)
Flickr/Doug Kerr A garden in Newtown, Connecticut I f you ever have the chance, you should visit Newtown, Connecticut, a “picture-postcard place in New England, especially in the fall.” Or so urges Sperling ’s Best Places to Raise Your Family , which included the town among its 100 best spots to have kids, ranking it among the top ten where you could “keep your door unlocked.” The guide book for families looking for the ideal hometown also notes that Newtown is among its top ten of its 100 picks in terms of having a high percentage of households—44—that have an annual household income above $100,000 per year. No one could predict the tragedy that would befall this bucolic suburb of Danbury. The senseless murder of 20 six- and seven-year-old children and seven adults at Newtown’s Sandy Hook Elementary School has nothing to do with the fact that the town is scenic or expensive, but it is worth noting that a number of the horrendous shooting sprees that have taken place since the nation-...

While You Weren’t Looking, Michigan Turned Into Texas

Flickr/CedarBendDrive
The Michigan legislature’s lame duck session is only three weeks long, but the state house didn't need more than 18 hours to move the state sharply to the right. During a marathon session Thursday and Friday, the state house passed a variety of very conservative bills on issues from abortion to gun control to taxes. You can’t say they’re not efficient. The state, which favored Obama by 9 points and has long been home to a moderate-progressive movement, may now have a set of laws that puts it on America’s more conservative end. Perhaps most shocking for pro-choice advocates was the effort to restrict abortion rights—or, as Mother Jones put it, “ the abortion mega-bill. ” Assuming the governor signs the bill into law, women in Michigan will now have to buy separate insurance policies to cover abortion. Otherwise, even in cases of rape or miscarriage, the abortion will not be covered. Clinics that provide more than 120 abortions a year will now face significantly more stringent licensing...

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