Vox Pop

The Prospect's politics blog

We Hate Obamacare (But Like What It Does)

The word on Americans—one bit of conventional wisdom that is nonetheless true—is that they are ideologically conservative and operationally liberal. They are opposed to big government but support actual universal government programs like Social Security and Medicare. 

Confronted with Obamacare, conservative Americans have taken this paradox to new heights. They intensely dislike the program, but they like what it actually does.

Daily Meme: The Court's Faux Colorblindness

"A blinkered view of race in America won out in the Supreme Court on Tuesday when six justices agreed, for various reasons, to allow Michigan voters to ban race-conscious admissions policies in higher education ... " So starts the New York Times's righteous take-down of today's Supreme Court ruling in Schuette v. BAMN, in which the Justices upheld a Michigan law banning the consideration of race in admissions.

The Religion of Unreason

Flickr/Dustin Grayson

I think it's safe to say that this period in history is one in which liberals have felt unusually exasperated with conservatives, perhaps more than ever before. I can say this with some confidence as a liberal who runs in liberal circles; it may well be that conservatives are also more exasperated with liberals than they have ever been. Our ability to feed that exasperation is driven by the fact that, for all the polarization of information sources, we're actually more aware of what people on the other side say than we ever have been before. Fifteen years ago, I would have had no idea if Rush Limbaugh said something offensive, but today (once it rises to a certain level of horror), Media Matters will record it and put it on their web site, the Huffington Post will put it on their web site, and half a dozen people in my Twitter feed will let me know it happened. So there are all kinds of new ways to become appalled with your opponents.

And there's nothing we liberals find more frustrating than the contemporary conservative aversion to facts, particularly on a few select topics, none more than health care.

Justice Sotomayor's Powerful Defense of Equality

AP Photo/Steven Senne

Yesterday, the Supreme Court upheld a provision of Michigan's constitution that bans the state or any of its subdivisions from "grant[ing] preferential treatment to any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin in the operation of public employment, public education, or public contracting." The Court was fractured; the six justices who voted to uphold the amendment did so for three independent reasons. Written by Justice Anthony Kennedy, the majority decision—to which Chief Justice John Roberts and Associate Justice Samuel Alito signed on—was narrow: It upheld the amendment without disturbing any precedent. Far more interesting was Justice Sonia Sotomayor's dissent, which makes a strong case for a robust interpretation of the equal-protection clause of the 14th Amendment and represents perhaps her most compelling work in her tenure on the Court so far.

Today In American Exceptionalism

This graph will blow your mind. Click inside to see why.

We're going to talk about rich people and government spending, but first, some context. At some point you may have wondered about parliamentary systems like they have in Great Britain, in which the party that gets the most seats in the legislature also installs its leader as chief executive. With complete control over government, why don't they go hog-wild and completely remake the entire country after every election? The simple answer is that they know they'll have to stand for another election before long. But the other key factor is that a transition from, say, Labour to the Conservatives isn't as jarring as a transition of total control from our Democrats to Republicans might be, because there isn't as much distance between the parties.

Daily Meme: Ladies' Choice

Nothing sparks speculation in Washington like a new political memoir, but two are a true bonanza, enough fodder for days of online chatter. Last week, Hillary Clinton announced that the story of her four years as Secretary of State, the unimaginatively named Hard Choices, will appear in bookstores in June.

Future of Television at Stake at Supreme Court Today

Photo courtesy of Aereo.

Today, the Supreme Court is hearing arguments in ABC vs Aereo, a case that will (cue drumroll) decide the future of television. Or maybe it won't, but it's a fascinating case, involving the intersection of technology with political and market power. There's a comprehensive explanation here, but the short version is that Aereo is a service that allows you to get broadcast TV, i.e. the major networks and a few others that send signals over the air, through an internet connection instead of a set of rabbit ears on top of your TV. The broadcast networks and the big cable companies want to shut it down, because they'd both rather have everyone getting the signals through cable. You see, your cable company pays a license fee to ABC, NBC, CBS, and every other network, fees that amount to billions of dollars a year (and get passed on to you). Someone who uses Aereo to cut the cable cord isn't paying those license fees, and isn't paying for a cable subscription either.

Aereo is, without question, a potentially disruptive technology that threatens one of the networks' profit streams. The question is whether the Supreme Court should step in to protect those profits.

Manly Men Condemn Obama's Lack of Manliness

Maybe one of these guys should run for president. (Flickr/David!)

Here's a question: If Hillary Clinton becomes president, what are conservatives going to say when they want to criticize her for not invading a sufficient number of other countries? I ask because yesterday, David Brooks said on Meet the Press that Barack Obama has "a manhood problem in the Middle East." Because if he were more manly, then by now the Israelis and Palestinians would have resolved their differences, Iraq would be a thriving, peaceful democracy, and Iran would have given up its nuclear ambitions. Just like when George W. Bush was president, right?

It really is remarkable how persistent and lacking in self-awareness the conservative obsession with presidential testosterone is. Here's the exchange:

A Chance to Remake the Fed

Janet Yellen has only chaired the Federal Reserve for a few months, but you could forgive her if she feels like the new kid in school that nobody wants to sit with at lunchtime. With the resignation of Jeremy Stein earlier this month, there are only two confirmed members of the seven-member Board of Governors: Yellen and Daniel Tarullo. Three nominees—Stan Fischer, Lael Brainard and Jerome Powell, (whose term expired but has been re-nominated)—await confirmation from the Senate. Another two slots are vacant, awaiting nominations.

Republicans on the ACA: Wrong, but Rational

Courtesy of earloftaint.com

I find it strange," said Barack Obama on Thursday as he announced that the total of Americans getting private insurance through the exchanges has now exceeded 8 million, "that the Republican position on this law is still stuck in the same place that it has always been. They still can't bring themselves to admit that the Affordable Care Act is working." But it really isn't so strange. The Republicans' continued refusal to grant that anything good could possibly come from a law they've fought so bitterly for five years, even as encouraging news continues to roll in, is quite understandable. What's more, it's perfectly rational, even when all the predictions they made about its inevitable self-destruction fail to come true.

Would You Let a Robot Give You a Sponge Bath?

Getting ready for their shift on the pediatric ward. (Kai Schreiber/Wikimedia Commons)

Imagine it's 50 years from now, and you've checked into the hospital for a minor surgery that will require you to spend a couple of nights there. There's a nurses' station down the hall, but you know that the nurses are also caring for lots of other patients and may not be able to come quickly when you have a need, particularly if it isn't an emergency, like getting a hand walking to the bathroom, or having someone pick up the TV remote you dropped, or maybe getting a foot rub just because that would be nice. Upon checking in, the clerk says to you, "I see that your insurance provides for a robotic aide while you're here. Is that something you'd like?" What are you going to say?

Where the Death Penalty Stands

Yesterday, the New Hampshire state Senate deadlocked on a bill that would have eliminated the state's death penalty, killing the bill for the moment and leaving New Hampshire as the only state in New England that still has a law providing for executions. The bill had already passed the state House and has the support of the governor, so one more vote would have passed it. I thought this was a nice opportunity to look at the state of the death penalty in America and around the world. On to the charts and graphs!

The Circle of Scam Keeps Turning

Flickr/Kevin Trotman

A couple of times in the past I've written about what I call the conservative circle of scam, the way so many people on the right are so adept at fleecing each other. Here's a piece about high-priced consultants milking the Koch Brothers for everything they can get, and here's one about my favorite story, the way in 2012 Dick Morris played ordinary people who wanted to see Barack Obama driven from office (he solicited donations to a super PAC for that purpose, laundered the money just a bit, and apparently kept most of it for himself without ever spending any of it on defeating Obama). The essence of the circle of scam is that everybody gets rich at some stage of the game, with the exception of the rank-and-file conservatives who fuel it all with their votes, their eyeballs, and their money.

And today there are two new media stories showing that the circle of scam is humming along nicely.

Daily Meme: Voting Machinations

    • We're all about voting and elections today, starting with this Fox News poll showing a wide-open race for the 2016 GOP nomination. Chris Christie leads with 15 percent, followed by Jeb Bush and Rand Paul with 14 percent each, going all the way down to Bobby Jindal with room to move at 2 percent. Looks like it's time for some traffic problems in Des Moines.

Judging Obama's "Evolution" on Marriage Equality

White House photo by Pete Souza

Years from now, Barack Obama will almost certainly be seen as the most significant American president in the history of the gay rights movement. Under his watch, the military ended its policy of discrimination against gay servicemembers, the Defense of Marriage Act was abandoned by the administration and then overturned by the Supreme Court, and a majority of Americans came to embrace marriage equality, not least the president himself.

But there's another way to look at that story, which is that on marriage at least, Obama had to be dragged to the position he eventually took. An article in next Sunday's New York Times Magazine by Jo Becker details just what the process was, and if you're looking for evidence that Obama's "evolution" on the issue was purely political, there's plenty. I don't know too many liberals who would doubt it—or conservatives either, for that matter. The former see a president whose heart was in the right place but was cautious about when it would be possible for him to embrace same-sex marriage, while the latter see a president who dishonestly hid his radical agenda.

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