Vox Pop

The Prospect's politics blog

A Question About Southern Culture and the Confederate Flag

Flickr/Cyrus Farivar
Today, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a confirmation hearing for Michael Boggs, a conservative Georgia state judge whom President Obama nominated for a federal judgeship as part of a deal to get Republicans to allow votes on some of his other nominees. (Lesson: Obstructionism works, so keep doing it!) Boggs got grilled by Democrats over some of the votes he took as a state legislator, including one to keep the Confederate stars and bars as part of the Georgia state flag. Which gives me the opportunity to get something off my chest. Before I do though, it should be noted that there are plenty of white Southerners who wish that their states had long ago put the Confederate flag issue behind them, and agree with us Yankees that it's a symbol of treason and white supremacy, and not the kind of thing you want to fly over your state house or put on a license plate, a s you can in Georgia . Boggs claimed in his hearing that he was offended by the Confederate flag, but voted for it...

Hating Hillary

Marc Nozell/Wikimedia Commons
If you asked an average Republican why America shouldn't make Hillary Clinton president, the response you'd likely get would be, "Where do I start?" There's just so much they don't like about her, from her radical feminist schemes, to that jerk she's married to, to the way that she personally ordered her friends in Al Qaeda to kill Ambassador Stevens in Benghazi (probably, anyway—the select committee is going to find out). Hell, why not just suggest she has brain damage? That's what naughty little Karl Rove did yesterday , in reference to the incident in 2012 when Clinton fainted and knocked her head on the way down, then had a blood clot removed that doctors discovered when she went for treatment. "Thirty days in the hospital? And when she reappears, she's wearing glasses that are only for people who have traumatic brain injury? We need to know what's up with that," Rove said. Sure, it was only three days, and the glasses she wore are for people who have temporary double vision, not...

Daily Meme: Is the Obamacare Tantrum Finally Over?

AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin
Sometimes, the best thing to do with a child throwing a tantrum is to let them have it and wait for them to wear themselves out. Could the GOP—after voting to repeal Obamacare more than 50 times —have finally grown tired of its own screams? For the first time in quite some time, Republicans' congressional calendar over the next few weeks is clear of any hearings or votes about the health-care law. According to The Hill , “The lack of action highlights the GOP’s struggle to adjust its message now that enrollment in the exchanges beat projections and the uninsured rate is going down.” The reason? Sign-ups have beaten expectations, people are paying their premiums, and the rate of uninsured is plummeting. In total, 17.8 million people now have health-care coverage because of Obamacare . “There is absolutely zero evidence that any Republican is talking about Obamacare less,” says the National Republican Senatorial Committee. Just like climate change, huh? It may be futile given...

Tracing the Republican Evolution on Climate Change

This played an unusually important role.
Over at the Washington Post today, I ran down where all the potential 2016 Republican presidential candidates stand on climate change, on the occasion of Marco Rubio's foray into denialism . Unlike in 2012, where one candidate after another had to renounce his previous belief both that climate change was occurring and that cap and trade would be a good way to deal with it, this time almost all the candidates (with the exception of Chris Christie) have comforting histories of denialism, in one variant or another. But even though climate denial now seems mandatory for GOP presidential candidates, if you look at public opinion, there's actually nothing approaching a consensus among Republican voters. And there has been a shift over time; Republicans are actually slowly growing more willing to accept the reality of climate change. Look at this graph from the Pew Research Center : Between 2006 and 2009, the number of both Republicans and independents believing there was solid evidence for...

The Politics of Polarization: Not as Simple as They Seem

AP Photo/Jae C. Hong
AP Photo/Jae C. Hong P olarization is everywhere these days. Voters are polarized, legislators are polarized, the courts are polarized , all perhaps to different degrees at different moments, but the movement of the parties—and those who represent them—away from each other is evident in one realm after another. But too often, journalists talk about this phenomenon as though it were symmetrical, with Republicans and Democrats moving away from the center at roughly the same rate, even though that's not true. For instance, Congress has seen asymmetrical polarization in recent years, with Democrats growing slightly more liberal and Republicans growing much, much more conservative. There are a lot of reasons that has happened, but what I want to focus on at the moment is the differing internal dynamics of the two parties that help produce it. Political scientist Hans Noel, fresh from a conference on polarization, reports that his colleagues may be paying too much attention to the...

Daily Meme: It Ain't Easy Being a Koch

AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes
Pity the poor Koch brothers. All Charles and David want to do is make America safe for good, old-fashioned, Wild West capitalism. But somehow, they seem to be teeing everybody off—left and right. Plus, it's so doggone pricey to buy control of the federal government these days! The K-Bros dished out $400 million to defeat President Obama in 2012, all for naught. According to an Americans for Prosperity memo that fell into the hands of Politico , they learned a startling lesson from the effort: “If the presidential election told us anything, it’s that Americans place a great importance on taking care of those in need and avoiding harm to the weak." Who knew!?! So now, as they prepare to spend $125 million to buy Congress this year, the memo says the Kochs are softening their message so people don't get the wrong idea : "We consistently see that Americans in general are concerned that free-market policy—and its advocates—benefit the rich and powerful more than the most vulnerable of...

Koch Brothers Struggle Against Misconception That They Care About the Wealthy

Jared Rodriguez/Truthout
Politico's Kenneth Vogel got hold of some internal strategy documents from Americans for Prosperity, the pass-through for much of the political spending by cartoon villains Charles and David Koch, and while apart from the eye-popping spending being planned ($125 million this year) there isn't too much that's shocking, there is this poignant passage about how misunderstood free-market ideology is among the voters: "If the presidential election told us anything, it's that Americans place a great importance on taking care of those in need and avoiding harm to the weak," reads the AFP memo. Echoing Charles Koch's opposition to the minimum wage , it asserts that free market, low-regulation policies "create the greatest levels of prosperity and opportunity for all Americans, especially for society's poorest and most vulnerable." Yet, the memo says, "we consistently see that Americans in general are concerned that free-market policy — and its advocates — benefit the rich and powerful more...

Meet Trey Gowdy, GOP Benghazi Attack Dog

AP Photo/Cliff Owen
AP Photo/Cliff Owen Rep. Trey Gowdy of South Carolina Since House Speaker John Boehner announced the creation of a select committee to investigate the Benghazi affair, Republicans have been saying it will be a serious investigation, while Democrats have been saying it will be a partisan circus. To get a sense of who might be right, I spent some time watching YouTube videos of Rep. Trey Gowdy, the heretofore obscure second-term Tea Party congressman from South Carolina whom Boehner named to lead the committee. There are a lot of these videos of Gowdy in congressional hearings, posted by conservatives, with titles like "Gowdy DESTROYS Obama Admin Stooge!" He's obviously very popular among the base. To call Gowdy prosecutorial would be an understatement. Uniformly angry and outraged, these videos show Gowdy always seemingly on the verge of shouting, he's so damn mad. Like any good lawyer, he never asks a question to which he doesn't already know the answer. But when a witness gives him...

Daily Meme: Desperate Times, Desperate Measures

AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster
Our theme today is desperation, which seems to be gripping our nation's capital. Last night the House of Representatives voted to hold former IRS official Lois Lerner in contempt of Congress because she asserted her right not to answer their questions, a final desperate attempt to get people angry about yet another scandal that didn't turn out nearly as scandalous as they had hoped. Republicans may carry around copies of the Constitution in their pockets, but that Fifth Amendment can be awfully annoying. Republicans are also desperate for America to understand that their select committee on Benghazi will not just be a bunch of grandstanding and feigned outrage, producing nothi ng . "The goal here will be to select serious, sober-minded members who will make this about finding answers to some troubling questions and will not make this a partisan shouting match," an anonymous aide told Politico . "We’re not going to convene a kangaroo court." What would ever have made people think such...

Why Republicans Should Go Ahead and Raise Money Off Benghazi

Are you outraged?
Let it not be said that Democrats are incapable of meeting umbrage with umbrage. Yesterday, it came out that the National Republican Congressional Committee sent out a fundraising email touting the new select committee on Benghazi; once you click through, you're told, "You're now a Benghazi Watchdog. Let's go after Obama & Hillary Clinton." Democrats got faux-outraged, and Rep. Trey Gowdy, who will be heading the committee, said he would never do any such thing: "I have never sought to raise a single penny on the backs of four murdered Americans." Now John Boehner's being hounded at press conferences about the propriety of such shameless politicization of a tragedy. Everybody get a grip. This is Washington. Everything is political. Are you telling me that as long as nobody used Benghazi to raise money, it would remain somehow outside the messiness of politics? Politics is all it's about, and all it has been about from the beginning. The unstated assumption is that there's some...

Daily Meme: You Probably Should Check Your Privilege

Screen shot of Tal Fortgang via Fox News
Sometimes, in the wilds of the internet, all it takes to get people's blood boiling is a screed from one college freshman. Such is the saga of Tal Fortgang, a Princeton first-year who wrote an inflammatory essay in the campus conservative magazine about being told to "check his privilege."If you're not familiar with the phrase ( described by the New York Times as "conversational kryptonite"), it's often used to remind those who may not be aware of their elite status (including, but not limited to, white male Princeton students) of their personal social advantages. Fortgang wrote that "check your privilege" has become a kind of liberal policing mechanism. "The phrase, handed down by my moral superiors, descends recklessly, like an Obama-sanctioned drone, and aims laser-like at my pinkish-peach complexion, my maleness, and the nerve I displayed in offering an opinion rooted in a personal Weltanschauung." (Extra points here for his exceptional use of jargon.) In other words: This...

Clinton Derangement Syndrome Will Soon Be Back

This drives some people to distraction. (White House photo)
There was a time when I thought that the heights of derangement to which Barack Obama drove his political opponents were even greater than what we saw during the Clinton years. The dark warnings of socialism, the inability to accept that he is actually a U.S. citizen, the musings from prominent Republican figures about his "Kenyan anti-colonial behavior," the conspiracies sketched out on Glenn Beck's chalkboard , the "unskewed" polls, the fifty Obamacare repeal votes (and counting), the tricorner hats, the whole mad chaotic mess of the last five years—surely these people were nuttier than they had ever been. But now, as the possibility of a Hillary Clinton presidential campaign, and thus of a Hillary Clinton presidency, becomes real, I'm beginning to wonder. There are some things you just can't compare with any precision—what's crazier, believing that Barack Obama's parents planted a false birth announcement in Hawaii newspapers when he was born so that one day he could illegitimately...

In Defense of Star Wars

Flickr/tzotzil
The new Star Wars movie is in production , and this has occasioned a round of revisionist writing on the film, with lots of people saying, "Wait a minute— Star Wars sucks!" As the resident Gen-Xer here, I feel it is my duty to address this matter, and offer some thoughts about why Star Wars had the cultural power it did, and maintains so much of it to this day. In some ways, it did suck. The dialogue was awful, the acting was mediocre at best (Carrie Fisher's intermittent British accent is just one of the many sins), and there are some glaring plot holes. We can debate whether its ultimate influence was positive or malign, but even with its weaknesses, the film's success, and its persistence, were no accident. It has to be understood in the context of the moment at which it arrived. The first reason Star Wars made such an impact when it was released in 1977 was that it just looked so spectacular. Even though today we might see the special effects as primitive and some of the creatures...

Daily Meme: Monica Lewinsky Tells All (Again)

Online editors and traffic-watchers across the country jumped for joy today when Vanity Fair published a teaser of Monica Lewinsky's tell-all piece in its latest issue, due out later this week. Here's the money quote: “Sure, my boss took advantage of me, but I will always remain firm on this point: it was a consensual relationship. Any ‘abuse’ came in the aftermath, when I was made a scapegoat in order to protect his powerful position.” Now, let the scandal-reminiscing and chattering begin! The timing—just as Hillary Clinton toys with another presidential run—is uncanny, writes Doug Mataconis at Outside the Beltway. Maybe, says CNN's Ashley Banfield, but this isn't the first time Hillary has run for president. At least Republicans may finally have something to obsess about besides the faux Benghazi scandal . (Already, Rand Paul is galavanting around the TV circuit saying the Clinton affair shows that Democrats are the ones with the real war on women.) Is this Lewinsky's last-ditch...

What a Real Propaganda Campaign Looks Like

U.S. Navy photo by Photographer's Mate 3rd Class Tyler J. Clements
Unfortunately, I have the sense that I'll be writing quite a bit about Benghazi in the coming months, since Republicans are cranking up their scandal calliope and the news media will eventually turn its bored gaze to the noise and fireworks. As we should keep in mind, the alleged misdeed at the heart of this matter has been downgraded from "the administration allowed four Americans to be killed" to "the administration tried to spin the story to make sure they didn't look bad." That is, quite literally, the terrible crime Republicans now believe the Obama administration committed, and the thing about which we're all supposed to be outraged. That's it. They spun. And how can we get to the bottom of this spinning without a select committee, and hour upon hour of hearings, complete with a blizzard of feigned outrage, to pile on top of the hour upon hour of hearings we've already had? Last night, the Daily Show gave us a little reminder of what a real propaganda campaign looks like: The...

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