Vox Pop

The Prospect's politics blog

The President's Fantasy Cabinet

Flickr/The White House
Flickr/The White House As the president’s second term gets underway, experts and activists look back and weigh in on who Obama should have chosen to serve, if partisan politics (and reality) were no object. Secretary of State John Kerry would be a safe bet and a solid Secretary of State. But I’m not sure if a safe, solid Secretary of State—or a solid Secretary of Defense—is precisely what America needs now. That Kerry turned against the Iraq war and revised his views on the use of force is a credit to him. President Obama has clearly decided that he wishes to pursue a prudent, status quo-oriented foreign policy. But as the Middle East threatens to implode and with America’s moral leadership increasingly in doubt, a better choice would be someone at least slightly outside the Washington consensus—someone who saw foreign policy as a way to fashion new opportunities rather than manage the same set of threats. Though the Obama administration may not agree , the Arab Spring is on par with...

Barack Obama, Student of Power

EPA/Pool/Sipa USA/dapd
EPA/Pool/Sipa USA/dapd E very time during his first term that Barack Obama stumbled, had difficulty getting a piece of legislation passed, or got mired in the ugly realities of contemporary politics, conservatives could be counted on to say, "Ha! Where's your hope and change now, huh? Huh?" It's true that his 2008 campaign was an unusually idealistic one, both in its lofty rhetoric and in what it inspired in his supporters, so much so that the mundane realities of governing were bound to be disillusioning for many. As his second term begins, there's no question that Obama has learned a great deal. He understands Washington better, he understands Congress better, and he certainly understands the Republican party better. And that may just make for a more effective second term, despite all the obstacles in front of him. Before we get to why and how, let's take a moment to remind ourselves that for all its drama and all its compromises, Obama's first term was one of remarkable...

Hardball Works

It would be easy to gloat over the fact that Republicans backed down (sort of) from their threat to cripple the American economy by destroying the full faith and credit of the United States government if they don't get everything they want. True, they didn't withdraw their debt-ceiling threat, they just said they're going to put it off for three months. But we can give them a bit of credit for stepping back and realizing that they were acting like a bunch of crazy people. It's a sign of the times that when congressional Republicans announce that they'll put off intentionally tanking the American economy for an entire 90 days, we react as though reason and sanity have finally returned to Washington. The bill that Speaker Boehner will allow to the floor of the House for a vote will also include a provision withholding pay for members of Congress unless the Senate passes a budget in that time. Gimmicky? Sure? Unconstitutional? Yep. (The 27 th Amendment mandates that changes to Congress'...

Obama Emerges with a Win on the Debt Ceiling

Google
I wasn’t sure to expect when President Obama announced that he would oppose anything other than a clean debt-ceiling increase. The incentives that led Republicans to the brink in 2011 haven’t gone away, and Tea Party lawmakers still hold considerable influence with the House Republican conference. What’s more, as Jonathan Bernstein points out, there isn’t much of a positive GOP agenda; Republicans have no ideas that could appeal to swing voters, and form the basis of a genuine opposition. All they have, instead, is an inchoate rage at the fact of Obama’s presidency. As it turns out, Obama made the right decision. With no possible out, Republicans have caved on the debt ceiling, rather than stand strong and risk the ire of the public and the political class. According to the New York Times , House Republicans said they would agree to “lift the federal government’s statutory borrowing limit for three months, with a requirement that both chambers of Congress pass a budget in that time to...

How Obama Might Make the School-to-Prison Pipeline Worse

Josh Beasley / Flickr
Included in President Obama’s plan for reducing gun violence is an idea made famous, or infamous, by the National Rifle Association in its press conference following the massacre in Newtown, Connecticut. After railing against violence in movies and video games, NRA spokesperson Wayne LaPierre called on Congress “to act immediately to appropriate whatever is necessary to put armed police officers in every single school in this nation.” Obama’s plan isn’t as dramatic or far-reaching, but it is a variation on the same idea. His executive action on guns calls for federal agencies to “provide incentives for schools to hire school resource officers.” This includes mental-health professionals, guidance counselors, and police officers or other security officials. Schools with more police might be safer from violence, but there are also unintended consequences to exposing students to law enforcement. “With the increase of police in schools, we’ve seen a dramatic increase in school-based...

Here a Gun, There a Gun, Everywhere a Gun

A gentleman exercising his rights in a way that won't make anyone else uncomfortable. (Flickr/Teknorat)
As Jaime and I noted yesterday, many Democratic politicians feel the need to preface any discussion of guns with an assurance that they, too, own guns and love to shoot, as though that were the price of admission to a debate on the topic. But what you seldom hear is anyone, politician or otherwise, say, "I don't own a gun and I don't ever intend to" as a statement of identity, defining a perspective that carries moral weight equal to that of gun owners. So it was good to see Josh Marshall, in a thoughtful post , say, "Well, I want to be part of this debate too. I'm not a gun owner and, as I think as is the case for the more than half the people in the country who also aren't gun owners, that means that for me guns are alien. And I have my own set of rights not to have gun culture run roughshod over me." Let me tell you my perspective on this, and offer some thoughts on the question of what sort of a society we want to have when it comes to the question of guns. Because there are two...

The 13-Year War

Press Association via AP Images
In October 2001, George W. Bush told the country he was sending the American military to Afghanistan in order to "bring justice to our enemies." It's safe to say support for the war would not have been as nearly unanimous as it was had he said, "Oh, and by the way, our troops are going to be fighting there for the next 13 years." But if all goes according to plan and Barack Obama follows up on his pledge to bring them home by the end of 2014, that's how long the Afghanistan war will have lasted. We thought it would be useful to take a brief look at some of the basic facts of our involvement there. Last spring, Afghanistan passed Vietnam (measured by the time between the Gulf of Tonkin resolution in 1964 and the departure of the last Americans from Saigon in 1975) to become America's longest war. To date, we've spent over half a trillion dollars in Afghanistan, a figure that includes only the direct yearly costs for both military expenditures and civilian aid. It doesn't include the...

Don't Worry, We Love Guns

In case you were wondering how many shotguns Joe Biden has, the answer is two, a 20-gauge and a 12-gauge. That's what he told the U.S. Conference of Mayors today, though his audience was that larger group of Americans looking for reassurance that the Vice President is indeed a gun-totin' man. Or perhaps no one was looking for such reassurance, but he gave it to them anyway. The administration's plan to contain gun violence now moves toward the legislative arena, where its prospects are uncertain at best. The emerging consensus has it that the component of the plan with the greatest chance of making it through Congress is the expansion of the FBI background-check system. Today, background checks are only required for purchases at licensed gun dealers (of which there are 130,000 in America; compare that to the nation's 144,000 gas stations). As Biden said, requiring you to "take another 20 minutes and go to Dick's Sporting Goods" if you want to buy a gun from your neighbor strikes most...

No, We Don't Need More Immigration Enforcement

AP Photo/Tuscaloosa News, Robert Sutton
AP Photo/Cliff Owen Members of immigration rights organizations, including Casa in Action and Maryland Dream Act, demonstrate in front of the White House in Washington, Thursday, November 8, 2012, calling on President Barack Obama to fulfill his promise of passing comprehensive immigration reform. I f you need proof that nothing short of a Soviet-style blockade along our Southern border will satisfy immigration hardliners, look no further than Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies—a think tank that, as the Southern Poverty Law Center points out, "has never found any aspect of immigration it liked." Krikorian has previously used his space at the National Review Online to grouse about the "unnatural" pronunciation of Sonia Sotomayor's name and to suggest that the United States slough off Puerto Rico to end the "gravy train." Last week, he used it to denounce a recent Migration Policy Institute report showing the United States spends approximately $18...

Elected by 32 Donors, for 32 Donors

Flickr/ Tax Credits
When was the last time you contributed $1,000 to a political candidate or cause? If you’re like most people, the answer is “Never—if I have that kind of money it’s in the college savings account.” Well, candidates for the U.S. Senate this election got nearly 64 percent of the money they raised from individuals in contributions of at least $1,000—from just four one-hundredths of one percent of the population. Billion-Dollar Democracy , the latest Demos and U.S. PIRG Education Fund analysis of the role of money in the 2012 elections, reveals what most Americans already know: political power in America is concentrated in the hands of an elite fraction of the populace—threatening the very concept of government of, by, and for the people. Running for federal office means spending your days and nights courting a very narrow set of very rich donors who have the power to fuel your campaign or turn off the lights. Add the post- Citizens United Super PACs to the equation and big money dominance...

Movin' on Up

Google
Every Thursday, the federal government releases data on new jobless claims, and for the last several months, they’ve hovered between 350,000 and 400,000. For the sake of context, a number below the latter is evidence of an improving jobs landscape, and a number below the former is a sign that jobs are growing at a fast pace. Today, the Department of Labor announced there were only 335,000 new jobless claims for the previous week: New applications for U.S. unemployment benefits fell by 37,000 to a seasonally adjusted 335,000 in the week ended Jan. 12, the Labor Department said Thursday. Claims fell to the lowest level since January 2008, but the big drop likely stems from a seasonal-adjustment quirk whose effects could quickly fade and push the numbers back up in the next few weeks. Economists surveyed by MarketWatch expected claims to drop to 368,000 from last week’s slightly revised 372,000. When combined with increased housing activity , and firmer consumer spending , this is a sure...

Who Has Abortions and Why it Matters

Guttmacher Institute
The Guttmacher Institute has a useful set of charts detailing the state of abortion in 2013, apropos of Roe ’s 40th anniversary. The short story is that abortion is far more widespread than Americans tend to think; by age 45, almost half of American women will have an unintended pregnancy, and nearly one in three will have an abortion. Sixty percent of women who have abortions already have one child, 44 percent are married or have a partner, and 69 percent are economically disadvantaged. Conservative rhetoric notwithstanding, the vast majority of abortions occur in the first trimester, and 73 percent of women who have abortions are “religiously affiliated.” Unintended pregnancies and unplanned births are highest among African Americans and Latinos, and accordingly, those groups have the highest abortion rates—40 percent for blacks, 29 percent for Latinos. The most interesting facts—and the ones which should complicate the conservative message on reproductive rights—are on the economic...

It's Not Over When the Fat Lady Sings (in Hebrew)

AP Photo/Abir Sultan
(AP Photo/Abir Sultan) W ith Israel's national election just five days off, it's worth remembering two principles of politics here: First, Israel polls do have more predictive power than tea leaves, but not enough to inspire confidence. Second, it's definitely not over when the fat lady sings. The vote tally is only the end of the first act. The second act is putting together a ruling coalition; the third is holding it together in order to rule. Since the beginning of the campaign in October, Benjamin Netanyahu has essentially been the sole candidate for prime minister, certain to defeat the fractured parties of the center- left and to return to power. Even now, it would take a freak set of conditions, a perfect electoral storm, for him to lose. But his margin of victory will affect how much power he actually has, how dependent he is on rivals even further to the right than he is, and how he responds to international pressures. Here the picture is murkier. Israeli pollsters ask voters...

In the Three Branches, Sharing is Caring

AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster
AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster O ne of the most misleading things that high school civics classes teach is that the United States government is based on strict separation of powers: Congress legislates, the executive branch carries out those laws, and courts judge. But as Obama’s announcement on gun regulation yesterday—in which the president laid out 23 executive actions he could take on gun safety without congressional approval—shows, that’s just not the system the framers of the Constitution gave us. In fact, as Richard Neustadt, the late founder of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, explained long ago , we have a system of separated institutions sharing powers. Yes, Congress legislates. But not only does the president have a direct role in the legislative process thanks to the veto; he signs executive orders and issues regulations through agencies that look an awful lot like making law. You won’t hear it from House Republicans and other conservatives, who are talking impeachment...

Obama's Second-Term BFD Agenda

Victor Juhasz
J ust after Barack Obama signed the Affordable Care Act into law on March 23, 2010, Joe Biden came up to him and, thinking they were out of range of the microphone, said to the president, “This is a big fucking deal.” If I understand the concept of a BFD in the technical sense that Biden must have had in mind, it’s a historic reform that changes America in a fundamental way. Presidents have other imperative responsibilities, such as upholding the Constitution, keeping the nation safe from foreign threats, and promoting a strong economy. As critical as those are, they are not BFDs; a president who does all those things will probably get re-elected yet receive only brief mention in the history books. To be celebrated by future generations requires the accomplishment of substantial change with enduring benefit. In the language of the political scientist James MacGregor Burns, that is the work of a transformational leader, not merely a transactional one. Illustration by Victor Juhasz This...

Pages