Vox Pop

The Prospect's politics blog

Sarah Palin and Modern Political Entrepreneurialism

I f you were asking yourself, "How can I give Sarah Palin $9.95 a month, or $99.95 a year?" then you're in luck, because she has launched the Sarah Palin Channel , an online TV project with more Palin than you can shake a stick at. One's natural inclination is to just make fun of it, but let's not be too dismissive. Palin is charting a new path of political entrepreneurship, creating a lucrative model of ideological entertainment that could actually be good for everyone. You might think that anyone who would pay more than a Netflix subscription to watch Palin on their computer is a fool, but lots of us pay that much to indulge our hobbies and interests. And it'll probably be great for both Palin and the country. Many public officials turn their time in office into lucrative post-electoral careers, the most common of which is to become a lobbyist. Palin is doing much the same thing; she's just tailoring her offering to a different customer base. The former members of Congress who...

A New Phase In the Marijuana Legalization Debate

Flickr/Brett Levin
O n Sunday, the New York Times editorialized for the first time in favor of a repeal of the federal ban on marijuana, and did so in dramatic fashion, with a statement on the front page of the Sunday Review section and two more pieces going into greater detail. It wasn't particularly surprising, given the generally liberal bent of the Times editorial page and the fact that support for legalization has moved firmly into the mainstream. But it's still important, because the Times remains the most influential news outlet in the country, and they have an unrivaled ability to set the agenda for the rest of the media. There is a shift going on in this debate, and it isn't just that mainstream politicians and newspapers can now support legalization. It's also that the central question of the debate has changed, and changed to what legalization advocates have been asking for a long time. Instead of asking "Is smoking marijuana good or bad?", we're now asking "Is marijuana prohibition better or...

Today's Conservative Obamacare Baloney Debunked

AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, File
If you were perusing the conservative twitter-sphere this morning, you would have witnessed a kind of collective orgasm, as it was discovered that back in 2012, MIT economist Jonathan Gruber gave a talk to a small group in which he seemed to support the analysis of the two judges on the D.C. Circuit who ruled this week in Halbig v. Burwell that the subsidies for buying health insurance under the Affordable Care Act should go only to people who live in states that set up their own insurance exchanges. Since Gruber advised Mitt Romney on the creation of Massachusetts' health reform (which became the model for the ACA) and then advised the White House and Congress during the preparation of the ACA reform, conservatives are now convinced they have their smoking gun: The law, they contend, was always designed to deprive millions of Americans of subsidies, and was in fact never meant to achieve that "universal coverage" that everyone involved said was its goal. Up to the point where the...

How Did the GOP Turn Into Such a Bunch of Clowns?

AP Photo/Joe Marquette
(AP Photo/Joe Marquette) F or a lot of reasons, the current era will probably be seen as unusually consequential in the history of the two parties, particularly the GOP. For Republicans, it has been a time of ideological hardening and bitter infighting. But one aspect of the Republican dilemma hasn't gotten as much attention as those: This is a time of unusual, even stunning, Republican political incompetence. Let me back up for a moment, to put what I'm saying in context. As the 2012 election approached, liberals began to understand just how deluded many conservatives were about empirical reality, and in ways that could do them serious political damage. It's one thing to deny climate change (a denial that may benefit you and your allies), but if you convince yourself that you're going to win when you're actually going to lose, you're hurting no one but yourself. When they began to rally around a guy claiming to " unskew " the 2012 presidential polls that showed Barack Obama heading...

The Worst Excuse for Plagiarism You'll Ever Hear

Office of Senator John Walsh
Yesterday, the New York Times published an article with compelling evidence that Sen. John Walsh, the Montana Democrat who was appointed to fill the seat of Max Baucus when Baucus became ambassador to China, plagiarized most of the master's thesis he wrote at the Army War College. I confess I had no opinion about Walsh before this (he was likely to lose in November anyway, and hasn't done anything of note in his brief time in the Senate), but there are two things I want to point out. You can read Walsh's entire thesis at the Times , and it won't take you that long, because not including footnotes, it's all of 14 pages. And this is my first question: What the hell are the standards at the Army War College that you can write a 14-page paper and get a master's degree? Is it like that at the colleges the other services run? It might be OK if it was 14 pages of dense calculations for a degree in economics or something, but it reads like a paper written by a reasonably bright high school...

On Israel, Looking for Hope In a Sea of Bad Faith and Despair

NASA/Wikimedia Commons
I f you don't have mixed feelings about what's going on in Gaza, there's something seriously wrong with you. As Gershom Gorenberg says in his piece today, in a war, both sides can be wrong, and that's the case now. So how do we find a way to think and talk about this conflict when our natural impulse is to take a side? Complicating things even further is the fact that the people who do think that there's no ambiguity here range from the morally infantile to the unspeakably ghastly, and no matter what you say you'll find yourself on the same side as some of them, if only for a moment . On one hand you've got prominent conservatives trooping to the convention of Christians United For Israel (no fewer than five U.S. senators, plus A-list pundits like Charles Krauthammer and Bill Kristol), where they bow down before the group's leader, the demented pre-millenialist televangelist John Hagee, and proclaim that God smiles every time a bomb falls on Gaza. On the other you've got anti-Semites...

Health Insurance for Millions Threatened; Republicans Celebrate

If this woman looks familiar, your insurance coverage might be at risk.
When news broke this morning of the decision by a three-judge panel from the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals in Halbig v. Burwell , which states that because of a part of one sentence in the Affordable Care Act that was basically a typo, millions of Americans should lose the federal subsidies that allowed them to buy health insurance, I'm pretty sure a similar scene played out all around Washington. As word spread through the offices of conservative think-tanks, advocacy groups, and members of Congress, people gathered around TVs or computer screens, quickly taking in the decision. And there were smiles, laughter, maybe even a few high-fives and fist-pumps. Not long after, a second appeals court handed down an opposite ruling on the same question. (If you feel like you don't understand the issue, the rulings, and the implications, I'd recommend Ian Millhiser's explanation .) We won't know for some time whether the Supreme Court will hear these cases and. if it does, it's hard to predict...

Are the Media Reporting the Gaza War Fairly?

From the Israeli army's twitter feed.
Are the media finally getting the Israeli-Palestinian story right? It's a difficult question to answer, particularly when it would be hard to agree on what "right" means. But it does look like we're seeing and hearing more about what's happening to Palestinian civilians than we have in previous flare-ups of this endless conflict. That's what Benjamin Wallace-Wells argues in a piece saying that Israel is losing the PR war in the American media: Earlier this month, the IDF's twitter feed had been full of images of besieged Israelis. But by this weekend Israel was so clearly losing the public relations war that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu complained to reporters, tersely, that Hamas uses "telegenically dead Palestinians for their cause." If Netanyahu is so bothered by how dead Palestinians look on television then he should stop killing so many of them. But his complaint is in itself a concession. The story of the conflict between Israel and Palestine looks a little bit different...

Chris Christie Suddenly Suffers the Unbearable Specificity of Running for President

Flickr/Bob Jagendorf
Chris Christie went to Iowa this week, bringing what reporters inevitably call his "trademark New Jersey style" to the heartland, where he could mix and mingle with the small number of Republican voters who have the power, a year and a half hence, to either elevate him or crush his White House dreams. And in the process he got an education in what running for president means. While we often describe candidates as having to "move to the right" in the primaries (or to the left for Democrats), what actually happens is often not a move to edge, but a descent from the general to the specific. And in practice, that can mean much the same thing. Here's a report from one of Christie's events: New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) said Thursday that he backs the Supreme Court's Hobby Lobby ruling , after declining to give an opinion on the outcome of the case earlier this month. Christie voiced his support in response to a question from an attendee at a meet-and-greet event in Marion, Iowa, where...

Moral Responsibility and the Israel-Palestinian Conflict

Flickr/andlun1
A s Israel begins a ground invasion of Gaza in which hundreds of civilians will almost certainly be killed and the endless misery of the people who live there will only intensify, we haven't actually seen much debate about the subject here in the U.S. There's plenty of news about it, but unlike most issues, the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians is one we don't actually argue about much. There aren't dueling op-eds in every paper the way there are when even a country Americans care far less about, like Ukraine, works its way into our attention. There are many reasons for that, not least of which is the absurdly constrained debate we have over the topic of Israel. But I suspect that the relative quiet is in part because in a debate where even casting the two sides as equivalent is portrayed as a betrayal of Israel (you'll notice, for instance, that the White House is careful to say, again and again, that Israel has a right to defend itself, but you'll hear them say that the...

The Continuing Agonies of the Super-Rich

Next thing you know Harry Reid will criticize the horse, and then only the Lamborghini will be safe! (Instagram/roberthimler)
As we well know by now, being rich in America is tough. Imagine driving your Porsche out the Goldman Sachs garage, intent on a relaxing weekend at your Hamptons retreat, only to find some wretched Occupy sympathizer giving you a dirty look through the haze of patchouli and resentment that surrounds him. Who could endure it? No wonder they keep comparing their fearful existence to that of the Jews of late-1930s Germany. But now, according to the Washington Examiner , America's plutocrats have a new worry : Democratic super PACs have outraised their Republican counterparts by millions, a factor attributed in part to GOP donors' fear of being targeted by the Internal Revenue Service —or "getting Koch'ed." Republican political operatives concede that there are multiple reasons for the Democrats' advantage in super PAC money raised. Among them: Labor unions have become among their largest and most consistent donors. But this election cycle, two new challenges have chilled GOP super PACs'...

Why the IRS Non-Scandal Perfectly Represents Today's GOP

Darrell Issa by Donkey Hotey.
When John Boehner appointed South Carolina congressman Trey Gowdy to chair a select committee on Benghazi, it was like a manager taking the ball from a struggling starting pitcher and calling in a reliever to see if he might be able to carry the team to victory. Except in this case, the starter being pummelled—Darrell Issa, chair of the House Oversight Committee—was still pitching in another couple of games, with no improvement in results. Listening to this NPR story yesterday about Issa's continued inability to get where Republicans want to go with the IRS scandalette, it occurred to me that it really is an almost perfect expression of contemporary congressional Republicanism. There's the obsession with conservative victimhood, (For the record, not one of the nonprofit groups scrutinized by the IRS for possible political activity was constrained from doing anything by having its 501(c)(4) application delayed; a group whose application is pending can operate as freely one whose...

Getting the Government Out of Your Wedding

Awesome couple boldly goes, on the bridge of the Enterprise with Tasha Yar presiding from the captain's chair. (Flickr/Trek Radio)
Some years ago, I officiated at a wedding. It was a Quaker wedding, and since there are no Quaker ministers, the happy couple needed a kind of master of ceremonies to keep the program moving along. They handled most everything themselves; my job was mostly to say things like, "Now we're going to do the vows" and such. I wasn't breaking any laws, but a guy in the band did ask me afterward where my congregation was located, which, as a Jewish atheist, I found amusing. I've also been to a wedding or two that was officiated by a friend of the couple's who got ordained in the Universal Life Church (only $28.99 for the Ordination Package ), which is what you do in many states if you want to perform a wedding but you aren't a member of the clergy in one of the religions your state decides is legitimate. The question people inevitably raise on these occasions is, why the heck do we have this system in 2014? If you're going to have to go to city hall and fill out a bunch of forms to be...

Katrina v. Border Crisis: The Trouble With 'Optics'

AP Photo/Susan Walsh
I've been writing about politics for a long time, and it's a tribute to the dynamism of our glorious democracy that every time I think that things couldn't get any stupider, I'm proven wrong yet again. While we face a genuine humanitarian and policy crisis on our southern border, with thousands of children making their way across hundreds of miles to wind up in the arms of the Border Patrol, the news media allowed Republicans to turn the focus to the deeply important question of whether or not President Obama would travel there to mount a photo op. Seriously. Then because it wasn't removed enough from reality already, people in the media are now talking about whether Barack Obama does photo ops and how often, because if he rejected a photo op on this particular issue but has photo-opped before, then I guess he's a hypocrite and therefore...um...therefore something. I'm not saying that "optics" are, per se, a bad thing to discuss. I certainly agree with Kevin Drum that as a general...

Good Obamacare News and the Republican Dilemma

Today the Commonwealth Fund released a new survey on the performance of the Affordable Care Act, and it adds yet more data to the tide of good news on the Affordable Care Act. As a number of people have noted, the law's evident success is making it increasingly hard for Republicans to sustain their argument that Obamacare is a disaster and must be immediately repealed. But it's actually a little more complicated than that, and the ways different Republicans are changing—or not changing—their rhetoric on health care is a microcosm of the GOP's fundamental dilemma. But before we get to that, let's look at what the survey showed: The uninsured rate for people ages 19 to 64 declined from 20 percent in the July-to-September 2013 period to 15 percent in the April-to-June 2014 period. An estimated 9.5 million fewer adults were uninsured. Young men and women drove a large part of the decline: the uninsured rate for 19-to-34-year-olds declined from 28 percent to 18 percent, with an estimated 5...

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