Vox Pop

The Prospect's politics blog

Government Treating Peaceful Left Activists Like Terrorists--Again

Police in Oakland breaking up an Occupy protest. (Flickr/Glenn Halog)
Both liberals and conservatives spend time arguing that the other side contains people who are nutty, highlighting extreme statements in an attempt to convince people that there's something fundamentally troubling about their opponents. There are many differences between the extreme right and the extreme left, perhaps most importantly that the extreme right has a much closer relationship with powerful Republicans than the extreme left has with powerful Democrats. When you find a crazy thing a liberal said, chances are it's an obscure professor somewhere, or a blogger with twelve readers, or a random person at a protest. The crazy people on the right, in contrast, are often influential media figures or even members of Congress, people with real influence and power. There's another critical difference that doesn't get as much attention: the extreme left is, generally speaking, harmless. That's their nature. They're more likely to meditate and form committees than hurt anyone. It's been...

Daily Meme: Who's to Blame for the V.A. Crisis?

When a scandal erupts in Washington, it spawns a circular firing squad. The unfolding drama over new reports of false record-keeping and long waiting lists for treatment within the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs' medical system is proving to be no exception. The facts are bad: Not only is there evidence that veterans died while waiting for care — often simple procedures like colonoscopies—whistleblowers at some VA hospitals claim that officials kept secret lists to cover up the outrageous wait times. You know things have really gotten out of hand when allegations of evidence shredding get tossed around. A doctor who recently retired from a VA hospital in Phoenix says that administrators , seeking to evade the VA policy that requires hospitals to provide care to their patients in a timely manner, shredded soldiers' requests for appointments and told staff not to enter their information into the computer system. Investigative reporters for CNN broke the story in late April (and...

A Few Things to Keep In Mind About the V.A.

Click inside for more charty goodness.
Even though there may be somewhat less demagoguery around the scandal at the Veterans Health Administration than around some other issues, there will no doubt be a certain amount on the way. So here are a few handy things to keep in mind: This scandal isn't about the quality of care . While there are surely some veterans who have gotten poor care, just as there are plenty of patients at private hospitals who get poor care, the V.A. actually has an excellent record on this score. Surveys consistently show most veterans are extremely satisfied with the care they get at V.A. facilities, often more so than private insurance customers. And independent studies from places like the RAND Corporation have found that patients have outcomes as good or better at the V.A. as in private care. The problem around which this scandal revolves is how long vets have to wait to see a doctor, not what happens once they get there. This is an important distinction to make, because there are going to be...

The Good Scandal

Flickr/Adam Fagen
The controversy over whatever might have happened at the Veterans Health Administration, particularly the V.A. facility in Phoenix, is going to get some elevated attention now that President Obama came out before the press to address it. If there has to be an administration scandal, this is a good one to have. Let me explain what I mean. The most important reason is that there is actually a problem at the V.A., or more correctly a series of problems, that need to be solved. If some officials in Phoenix falsifying records to make it seem like veterans were getting care quicker than they actually were is what it takes to generate the will to solve it, then that's a good thing. This is something we sometimes pay lip service to with regard to scandals, but in this case it's genuinely meaningful. For instance, I'm not the only one who has said about Benghazi that if what we get out of the various investigations is a better understanding of how to protect our embassies and consulates...

Daily Meme: Is Same-Sex Marriage Unstoppable?

Marriage is all over the headlines these days. First, an anniversary: Earlier this week, Marcia Hams and Susan Shepherd celebrated ten years of legal marriage . In May 2004, after a years-long legal battle, they were the first and only people in line at City Hall in Cambridge, Massachusetts, ready to to receive a marriage license. At the time, they were worried that a protester would shoot them. Now, gay marriage is legal in 19 states, including the entire Northeast. Court rulings in favor of same-sex marriage have been coming fast and furious. The latest state to jump on the gay-marriage bandwagon is Pennsylvania; on Tuesday, a judge once endorsed by Rick Santorum struck down the state's ban on same-sex unions . On Monday, another federal judge ruled Oregon's same-sex marriage ban unconstitutional . The landscape has changed so quickly that some commentators are wondering whether the movement is "unstoppable." Americans are more and more likely to favor legalizing gay marriage: A...

In Yesterday's Primaries, It Was Money That Mattered

Flickr/Andrew Magill
The dominant media narrative about the round of primaries that happened yesterday is that the Republican establishment struck back, vanquishing a bunch of pesky Tea Party insurgents to reestablish the control of the sane and electable. That's one way to look at the results, but there's another, equally plausible explanation for who won: money. Because in pretty much every race, the person who spent more won. That isn't to say that money was the only factor, or that the arrow of causality couldn't have still originated with the establishment in some cases ( i.e., they funded someone who then won because of the money he got). But you could have predicted the outcome of most every race just by looking at the fundraising. While we don't yet have final spending totals, the Center for Responsive Politics has numbers up through the candidates' filings at the end of April, three weeks ago; it's unlikely that the broad picture changed since then. Let's look at how things turned out in the...

Daily Meme: Poll Dancing

Architect of the Capitol
They’re calling it a “mini-Super Tuesday .” Today’s round of primaries for U.S. Senate seats in six states—Kentucky, Georgia, Pennsylvania, Oregon, Arkansas and Idaho—could determine the Democrats’ chances for holding on to control of the World’s Greatest Deliberative Body. In Kentucky, where Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is expected to beat right-wing challenger Matt Bevin, the prognosticators at Politico fret that unless McConnell wallops the upstart, there’ll be whispering about his weakness on the right. (Egads!) The most entertaining story to emerge so far from the primary races is that of Republican contender and neurosurgeon Monica Wehby, who would take on Democrat Jeff Merkley if she were to win the GOP nomination, depending on whether or not that story Politico broke about a police report filed against her by her onetime boyfriend sinks her chances. Speaking of elections, the New York Times ran a fascinating article about David Koch’s 1980 vice presidential bid on...

The Republican Candidate's Marijuana Dilemma

Democratic voters at a 4/20 rally. (Flickr/Jonathan Piccolo)
Back in 1992 when Bill Clinton said he kinda smoked pot, but "I didn't inhale," it was a big deal, both for the sort-of admission and for the squirreliness of the evasion. Eight years later, when Barack Obama said not only did he smoke pot, but he inhaled ("That was the point"), it was much less of a big deal, partly because Obama made no attempt to explain it away. As we move toward an era when most American adults have at least tried marijuana (more on that below), the chances that any particular candidate will have done it at least a time or two in their younger days grows higher and higher. But if you're a Republican, it's still complicated, since a large proportion of the population whose votes you need look at pot as something only done by hippies and jazz musicians. You can see this struggle in the person of Marco Rubio, soon-to-be presidential candidate and erstwhile GOP golden boy. Yesterday he got asked in an interview with ABC's Jonathan Karl whether he had ever smoked pot...

Gray Matter: 'Bush's Brain' Short-Circuits

©Jenny Warburg
©Jenny Warburg Karl Rove, former political strategist to President George W. Bush, at a forum in 2012. Karl Rove, the most brilliant political strategist of his generation, the man George W. Bush called "the Architect," the man Stephen Colbert immortalized as "Ham Rove," the pundit to whom Fox News viewers turn to give them the low-down, stuck his foot in it again. Should anyone really be surprised? In case you've been in the desert on a vision quest, last week Rove implied, with some mangled facts, that Hillary Clinton might have lingering brain damage from the incident in 2012 when she suffered a concussion and had a blood clot removed. Democrats and even some Republicans got really mad, even as all agreed that the health of presidential candidates is a legitimate topic for discussion. Then over the weekend on Fox News Sunday , Rove was on the defensive but refused to back down. "Look, I'm not questioning her health," he said, right after questioning her health. "What I'm...

Dally Meme: Delusion and Moxie, Rove and Jindal

Politics may not be for the faint of heart, but it's often for the deluded of mind. Today's meme is about those who are deluding either themselves or others, and will inevitably have their hopes dashed by cruel reality. We start with Karl Rove, who went on Fox News Sunday and said that despite all that talk about Hillary Clinton and traumatic brain injuries, "Look, I'm not questioning her health." Sure, OK. Louisiana governor and future presidential candidate Bobby Jindal penned an op-ed for foxnews.com arguing that the Affordable Care Act can still be repealed , despite what "those in the elite salons of Washington" may think. All you need is "political will," and maybe another 50 repeal votes in the House. That ought to do it. San Antonio mayor Julian Castro is going to be Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, and a lot of people see that as a stepping stone to a vice-presidential bid in 2016. Phillip Bump says : keep dreaming. Almost 60,000 people have signed a petition...

Rebels Without a Cause

I think this is one of the Georgia GOP Senate candidates. (Flickr/Mez Love)
At a debate Saturday night among the Republican candidates competing in tomorrow's U.S. Senate primary in Georgia, something interesting happened when the contenders were asked whether they plan on supporting Mitch McConnell for another term as the body's Republican leader. Three of the candidates, including front-runner David Perdue and Karen Handel, who is battling to come in second and thereby reach a runoff, gave an outright "no." Three other candidates hedged, saying they hadn't made up their minds. The only one who said "yes" was an obscure candidate who has no chance of advancing to the next round in the nomination fight. Most voters probably couldn't care less about a question like this one. But the Georgia candidates' reactions show something important about where Republican politics are at the moment, and the strange and sometimes contradictory things GOP voters expect from their candidates—or at least what those candidates believe voters expect. It isn't just a Tea Party-...

Daily Meme: Strange Doin's in Dixie

AP Photo/Susan Walsh
No subject tends to confound political pundits—or national Democrats and liberals in general—quite like Southern politics. And if you don't believe it, take a gander at the oft-cited 2006 manual for Democratic Dixie-bashing , Tom Schaller's Whistling Past Dixie, which bizarrely recommended that the party abandon the nation's largest and fastest-growing region (not to mention its largest African-American population) and just let the GOP have it. Fortunately, President Obama ignored that sage advice and won three electoral-vote-rich Southern states in 2008. But old habits of stereotyping the South as incurably right-wing die hard—if they die at all. This year, liberal pundits fretting about losing the Democrats' majority in the U.S. Senate were asking the same old questions: How could the Democrats possibly hope to hold onto their Senate seats in such snake-handling, Confederate flag-waving, gay-bashing, Obamacare-hating backwaters as Louisiana, Arkansas and North Carolina? As yet...

Sorry, Right-Wing Media, Unionization Is Good for Liberal Publications

Credit Meg McLain/Matt Ortega
Meg McLain I can't tell if it's intellectual dishonesty or intellectual incompetence, but a number of conservative outlets have wildly misconstrued comments from The Nation 's Richard Kim in my recent piece on diversity at liberal publications. Here's what Kim said about diversity at the country's oldest liberal magazine: “The staff here is unionized, which means there is little job turnover,” says Richard Kim, executive editor at The Nation , who is Asian American and gay. “We only get to make a hire every four or five years.” And here is what the staff at the Washington Free Beacon took away : A top editor at one of the nation’s oldest liberal magazine says unionization has destroyed diversity in the newsroom. … Richard Kim, executive editor at the Nation , told the American Prospect that union restrictions on hiring and firing have made it impossible to bring more minorities on board. If this were written by a first-year college student, I'd ask, "Does your evidence support the...

Who Do You Hate?

Flickr/mafleen
Think fast: Which politicians from the other side do you merely dislike, and which do you absolutely despise? Can you say why? I was thinking about this because of Harry Reid, who really, really gets on conservatives' nerves, and seems to be constantly trying to figure out new ways to make them mad. Unlike Nancy Pelosi, who generates contempt from the right mostly for who she is (a San Francisco liberal, a woman with power), with Reid it's about what he does, specifically his propensity for saying things about conservatives that are over the top. Most liberals look at Reid and see him as an extremely skilled legislative leader, even if they cringe a bit when his statements go too far. For instance, it's possible to criticize the Koch brothers without saying they "are about as un-American as anyone I can imagine"; things like that seem designed to just drive Republicans nuts. As Simon Malloy says , "Harry Reid is a troll. He's an effective majority leader and he knows how to work...

Fast Food, Slow Movement

Flickr/The All-Nite Images
Not long ago, I was interviewing Hahrie Han, a political scientist at Wellesley who studies social movements, for an article in an upcoming print edition of the Prospect , and we started talking about the Occupy movement and some of the problems it faced. She pointed out that liberals are great at exploiting new technologies, but sometimes that can actually pose a problem for movement-building. One of the great benefits social media offer is their ability to organize quickly—have people activate their networks, and within hours you can get hundreds or even thousands of people out to an event or a protest. But that quick ramp-up can mean that your effort becomes very big while its demands are still in the process of formation, which may have had something to do with the trouble Occupy had sustaining itself. For all of social media's efficiency, "they don't have a lot of the side benefits that the kind of organization that used to be required to get lots of people to come to a public...

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