Vox Pop

The Prospect's politics blog

For Unions, It Was a Very Bad Year

AP Photo/Detroit News, Dale G. Young
AP Photo/Detroit News, Dale G. Young Pro-union demonstrators crowd the Capitol Rotunda in Lansing, Michigan to protest "right to work" legislation being considered by the Republican-controlled legislature. A merican labor can begin the new year with thanks that 2012 is over. Not that the unions didn’t win some big victories in 2012. Their political programs in key swing states played a major role in President Obama’s re-election, both by turning out minority voters in record numbers in Ohio, Nevada, and Florida and by winning Obama a higher share of white, working-class voters in the industrial Midwest than he won in other regions. Their efforts also helped liberal Democrats hold key Senate seats in Ohio (Sherrod Brown) and Wisconsin (Tammy Baldwin), and pick up Massachusetts (Elizabeth Warren). In California, the nation’s mega-state, unions beat back a ballot measure designed to cripple their political programs by a decisive 12.5-percent margin, turning out so many voters that they...

Every Time, It's Personal

Eight years is a long time in politics, but you may remember that way back in 2004, Republicans considered John Kerry a wimpy, flip-flopping elitist who had faked his war injuries and betrayed America by coming back from Vietnam and criticizing the war. But today Barack Obama nominated Kerry to be secretary of State, just as one Republican after another begged him to. In contrast, the possibility that Chuck Hagel, once considered among the more conservative Republicans in the Senate (his lifetime rating from the American Conservative Union was a solid 84), might be nominated to be secretary of Defense has the GOP so outraged they have mounted a coordinated campaign to discredit Hagel as an anti-Semite who is also anti-gay (hey, whatever's handy). So what gives? The answer can be found in that old movie tag line: This time, it's personal. And also next time, and the time after that. You see, Barack Obama wanted his good friend Susan Rice to be Secretary of State, so she had to be...

Obama Appoints Scott Brown as Senator from Massachusetts

Flickr/U.S Embassy Kabul Afghanistan
Flickr/U.S Embassy Kabul Afghanistan Senator John Kerry and Afghanistan President Hamid Karzain in Kabul in 2009. The Washington Post reports that President Obama has nominated Massachusetts Senator John Kerry to be the next Secretary of State. This doesn’t come as a surprise; he was on the short list behind Hillary Clinton, and has been a stalwart defender of the administration’s foreign policy choices over the last four years. Clinton is a hard act to follow, but there’s little doubt Kerry will perform well in the position. If there’s a problem, it’s that Kerry’s departure from the Senate leaves an open seat in Massachusetts, and as it happens, there’s a former Republican senator—Scott Brown—itching to get back into the game. It helps that he’s still well liked by most Massachusetts voters; a recent poll from MassINC Polling Group shows Brown with high favorability—58 percent, compared to 28 percent who view him unfavorably. The New York Times ’ Nate Silver isn’t so sure that Brown...

Don't Count Boehner Out Just Yet

AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite
AP Photo/John Duricka Representative John Boehner holds up a copy of the Constitution on Capitol Hill in Washington Thursday, May 7, 1992, as Senator Don Nickles looks on. T he side of John Boehner we understand most is the one that offers a distant sense of comfort—the one who'll pander to the conservative movement during these fiscal-cliff talks but understands a compromise must come through at the end. This is the John Boehner we dub the "dealmaker," the leader who must "stand up” to the Tea Party—and Majority Leader Eric Cantor, the rival who would do him in. His “dealmaker” persona stems from the assumption he isn’t a true believer or an aggressively ideological Republican, which is correct. But it's his other side, the deeply ambitious one, that clouds our ability to predict where the fiscal saga ends. This is the Boehner who clawed his way to the House Speakership for over 20 years, a position that his conference may force him out of if he "surrenders" to President Obama in...

There's No Wizard Behind the NRA's Curtain

Google
Google The difference is that LaPierre did this to himself. The National Rifle Association has been in a tough spot since the shootings in Newtown, Connecticut. As an advocacy group for gun manufactuers and a particular set of gun enthusiasts, it has no interest in new gun-control regulations. But as a powerful political force, it has to say something—otherwise, it’s vulnerable to continued criticism. This morning, NRA president Wayne LaPierre held a press conference —occasionally interrupted by protesters—in which he explained where the organization stood in light of last week’s violence. But rather than stand behind the modest gun-regulation efforts brewing in Congress or even offer a simple message of condolence, LaPierre decided to go on the offensive, blaming everything from video games, movies ,and music— Natural Born Killers , a 20-year-old film, received a shoutout—to Obama’s budget for the proliferation of mass shooters. In fact, the media came in for wide criticism: “A child...

The NRA Shoots Itself in the Foot

NRA leader Wayne LaPierre at today's press conference.
The National Rifle Association finally weighed in on the gun debate today, in a news conference (albeit one in which they took no questions) setting out their feelings at this critical moment. And they gave the movement for greater restrictions on guns the biggest favor it could have hoped for. While the organization was once devoted to marksmanship and gun safety, in recent years it has increasingly become a shill for the gun manufacturers that fund it and the home of unhinged conspiracy theorists. As it showed today, the worst thing it can do for its cause is to step into the light. You can read Wayne LaPierre's entire statement here , but here's a choice excerpt: We care about the President, so we protect him with armed Secret Service agents. Members of Congress work in offices surrounded by armed Capitol Police officers. Yet when it comes to the most beloved, innocent and vulnerable members of the American family — our children — we as a society leave them utterly defenseless ,...

The Nature of John Boehner's Problem

Flickr/Gage Skidmore
So last night, John Boehner suffered a particularly humiliating defeat. Attempting to pass "Plan B," a fiscal plan that would go nowhere in the Senate, and even if it did it would get vetoed by the President, Boehner was hoping that if nothing else he'd be able to say in the face of rising criticism, "We passed a plan!" But he couldn't accomplish even that; realizing that he couldn't muster the votes within his caucus for Plan B, he cancelled the vote. Boehner is the weakest Speaker in memory. I picture Nancy Pelosi, who can corral more votes before her morning coffee than Boehner can in a week of begging, smiling a wicked little smile at her opposite number's bumbling failure. So just why is it that Boehner finds even a symbolic vote like this one so impossible to win? I don't think it's that he's ineffectual, and a more skilled dealmaker would be able to accomplish more. The problem is in his troops. Ed Kilgore offers his explanation : This raises a question that has been at the...

How House Republicans Neutered Themselves

Gage Skidmore / Flickr
Gage Skidmore / Flickr Last night witnessed the implosion of John Boehner’s efforts to pass a Republican-crafted fiscal-cliff proposal, otherwise known as “Plan B.” Unlike the floated compromise, Boehner's proposal would extend the Bush tax cuts for everyone earning under $1 million, preserve a high estate-tax cut-off, and slash spending on tax credits for working-class Americans (in addition to cutting Obamacare and repealing key mechanisms of Dodd-Frank). The idea was to build leverage in negotiations with the White House by passing a bill that could serve as an alternative to any deal that doesn’t give substantive weight to conservative interests. If, for example, the White House refused to concede further entitlement cuts, Boehner could send Plan B to the Senate, and force a vote, thus presenting himself as a sensible negotiator, pace President Obama’s partisan demands. If House Republicans had basic tactical skills, this might have worked. Instead, the right-wing fringe of the...

The Problem's Guns—Not the Mentally Ill

Flickr/Robert Huffstutter
In the aftermath of the massacre of first-graders at Sandy Hook elementary school, right-wing defenders of unregulated guns have gravitated to a common alibi: The problem isn’t guns; it’s mental illness. If only society kept better track of crazy people and kept weapons out of their hands, we could prevent more episodes of armed mayhem. Senator elect Marco Rubio has spoken of the need to “keep guns out of the hands of the mentally ill” and dozens of Tea Party Republicans have echoed the same talking point. The always predictable Charles Krauthammer wrote: “While law deters the rational, it has far less effect on the psychotic. The best we can do is to try to detain them, disarm them…. there's no free lunch. Increasing public safety almost always means restricting liberties.” And the NRA's Wayne LaPierre, in additional to calling for an armed guard in every school, urged an "active national database of the mentally ill." Oh my, where to begin? Mental illness is just now starting to...

The Liberal's Gift-Giving Guide

As Mitt Romney knows all too well, liberals love handing out gifts, and now that it’s the holiday season, we’re excited to extend our generosity beyond minorities, women, and feckless young people. Here at the Prospect , we know it’s likely that you’ve been too busy with your heavy marijuana usage to get on that Christmas shopping, so we’ve compiled a handy gift-guide for all the lefties in your life. For your nephew, the one who’s an “energy entrepreneur” He only just graduated from college, and yeah, he’s never had a real job, but you’ll be damned if he and his roommate didn’t start their own company doing God-knows-what during their last semester at school. Solar panels! Synergy! Thermo-voltaic wind! The kid’s got chutzpah. He’ll probably be burning the midnight oil, so how about some coffee to keep him on the move? But not just any kind—this guy has discerning tastes. Make it Kopi Luwak , a bean that gets its smooth taste from the excrement of a cat-like animal native to Southeast...

They're Just Not That into You

A White House Hanukkah celebration. You'll notice that Biden is seriously digging it.
I'd like to pre-predict something about the 2016 presidential race. During that race, there will be an article or two in Politico interviewing a few grumpy alter kockers in Palm Beach who say that this time, they've really had it with those Democrats. Republican politicians will assure reporters that the GOP's unswerving Likudnik loyalties are finally winning American Jews around. And then the Democratic nominee, whomever he or she may be, will get the overwhelming majority of the Jewish vote, somewhere between 70 and 80 percent. How do I know this? Because that's what always happens. John Sides at the Monkey Cage alerts us to a new paper by political scientist Eric Uslander explaning how once again GOP hopes were dashed in 2012: The realignment of the Jewish vote didn't happen. To be sure, Obama lost some support among Jews compared to 2008, but he lost votes among most groups in an election that was closer than four years ago. The story of Jewish voting in 2012 is straightforward...

Where Public Opinion On Guns Is Headed

In the last few years, gun advocates have made much of the fact that when pollsters ask people broad, non-specific questions about gun laws, like "In general, do you think gun control laws should be made more strict, less strict, or kept as they are now?", support for restrictions has gone down, in some cases below 50 percent. As I've discussed before, that doesn't mean that people ever stopped supporting specific restrictions like those we're now discussing, but there were enough polls confirming the decline in support for generalized "gun control" since the 1990s that we can be fairly sure the phenomenon was real. But now, new polling is showing increased support for restrictions. For instance, a CBS poll released the other day, which uses the text I just quoted, showed support for making laws more strict at 57 percent, an 18-point jump from when the question was asked in April and a 10-year high. A new CNN poll produced similar results, with 52 percent saying either that there...

Debating the Chained CPI

Flickr/The Survivor Woman/401(K)
Yesterday, I posted a piece that questioned the political and policy wisdom of President Obama’s latest offer for a budget deal. My qualms were vindicated when Speaker Boehner, rather than taking the widely leaked “progress” as a new common ground, went back to his starting point and offered his own “Plan B”. This left President Obama in just the position that he vowed that he’d be in again—“negotiating against himself.” In the piece, I also criticized the role of my friend Bob Greenstein in lending credence to backdoor cuts in Social Security. Bob is the much revered and tireless advocate for the poor who is the longtime president of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. My piece questioned both his political logic in assuming that Social Security cuts have any place in this budget deal and his assumption that including them will somehow protect programs for the poor. My piece mistakenly described the annual cut as 3 percent rather than 0.3 percent, but it accurately pointed...

Obama's Unwise, Unnecessary Concessions

AP Photo/ Evan Vucci
AP Photo/ Evan Vucci President Barack Obama talks about the fiscal-cliff negotiations during a news conference yesterday. W hy is the president back to making premature and unnecessary concessions to Republicans? Two central issues in the 2012 presidential election were whether the Bush tax cuts should be ended for people earning over $250,000, and whether Social Security and Medicare should be protected from future budget cuts. The president said yes to both. Republicans said no. Obama won. But apparently Obama is now offering to continue to Bush tax cuts for people earning between $250,000 and $400,000, and to cut Social Security by reducing annual cost-of-living adjustments. These concessions aren’t necessary. If the nation goes over the so-called “fiscal cliff” and tax rates return to what they were under Bill Clinton, Democrats can then introduce a tax cut for everyone earning under $250,000 and make it retroactive to the start of the year. They can combine it with a spending...

Where Have You Been?

Barack Obama doesn't do many press conferences, so when he came into the White House briefing room today it was because he had something important to say. Obama announced that Vice President Joe Biden will be heading a task force, or perhaps a working group—whatever you're going to call it, don't call it a commission ("This is not some Washington commission," Obama said)–to figure out just what can be done to reduce gun violence. "I will use all the powers of this office to help advance efforts aimed at preventing more tragedies like this," he said. "We won't prevent them all, but that can't be an excuse not to try." The reporters in the room didn't appear to be particularly interested. The first question Obama got—in fact, the first five questions—were not about Newtown or what kinds of measures on guns he might favor, but on the fiscal-cliff negotiations. As is typical among White House reporters—what they were after was the inside scoop, the low-down, the skinny. "Can you give us a...

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