Vox Pop

The Prospect's politics blog

Presidential "Leadership" Doesn't Work

Intel Photos / Flickr
Intel Photos / Flickr One other thing about the death of background checks in the Senate. It’s further proof that the Beltway theory of presidential power—Obama needs to show “leadership” to move things forward—is wrong. Here’s what President Obama did in the service of passing new gun laws: He gave a widely-heralded speech after the Newtown shooting, demanding action from Congress. He held an event in January, announcing his new gun control proposals, with parents and children from Newtown in attendance. He followed up at the State of the Union, demanding that Congress put new gun laws to a full vote of the Senate. He held an event in early April, again demanding action on gun laws from the Senate. And just a few days ago , the mother of a Newtown victim gave Obama’s weekly address. None of this had any effect on the Republican senators who filibustered the Manchin-Toomey compromise, nor did it affect the red-state Democrats who feared political attacks for backing new gun laws. It...

The Filibuster Strikes Again!

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Earlier this year, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid brokered a “gentlemen’s agreement” on the filibuster with Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. Democrats wouldn’t try to seriously reform the filibuster if Republicans would limit use of the procedure on “motions to proceed” to legislation or nominations. The problem with this agreement is that there was never a political incentive for McConnell to keep his part of the deal. As we saw during President Obama’s first term, Republicans can filibuster legislation without consequence—the public is indifferent to the details of congressional procedure. And so, as soon as it became inconvenient, McConnell ditched the agreement. First with the filibuster of Caitlin Halligan’s nomination to the DC circuit court, and now, with the Manchin-Toomey compromise on gun control : The Senate plans to vote on nine proposed changes to a gun control bill Wednesday, with a centerpiece proposal on background checks appearing headed for defeat. The chief...

Is the Single-Issue Gun Voter Another Myth?

Over the last year or so, I've written at more length than most readers can probably tolerate about the myth of the gun lobby's power. But there's one part of that myth that I haven't addressed too much, and it comes up today as the Manchin-Toomey background-check proposal is being voted on in the Senate (as of this writing it looks like it will be unable to overcome a Republican filibuster). This part of the myth isn't completely false, it's just dramatically overstated. As you've probably heard, one of the reasons the gun lobby is successful is that gun owners are "single-issue" voters who not only won't consider voting for anyone who isn't right on guns, they're highly energized, writing and calling their representatives all the time, while the other side is passive and disengaged, not bothering to get involved on the gun issue. That means that representatives feel intense pressure from the right and no pressure from the left, making it all the more likely that any measure to stem...

Boston, Through a Crisis Darkly

AP Photo/Julio Cortez
AP Photo/Josh Reynolds T ucked in the hipster haven of Jamaica Plain on the southern side of this brash yet neighborly city, my apartment is just a few miles from the heart of Boston. As a beat reporter who covers local politics and mayhem, it's a convenient place to live. A typical morning commute to report at City Hall or the State House takes about 15 minutes on the Orange Line, or a bit longer by bus. But even though the trains are running on time today, it takes me longer than usual to get downtown. I just can't help but stop every couple of feet to note how drastically the Hub changed since two bombs went off near Copley Square, killing three people and injuring nearly 200 others. I'm accustomed to covering craziness—from police brutality to Occupy, I've been front-and-center, if not fully embedded—but today, this landscape is a wholly unfamiliar beast. Slideshow A View From Boston That much becomes clear less than a block away from home. In a rare occurrence, the bodega on the...

A History of Domestic Terrorism

Since the invention of dynamite in 1867, ideological radicals on both the left and right have used the awful spectacle of explosives to draw attention to political causes, to protest policy, and to inspire fear.

Ringside Seat: Where's the War on Torture?

Just after the attacks of September 11, 2001, Dick Cheney said with a gleam in his eye that in order to be safe, America would "have to work, though, sort of the dark side, if you will. We've got to spend time in the shadows in the intelligence world. A lot of what needs to be done here will have to be done quietly, without any discussion, using sources and methods that are available to our intelligence agencies, if we're going to be successful." As a bipartisan panel organized by the Constitution Project has concluded in a 600-page report released today, we did indeed go to the dark side, to our lasting shame. The bombing in Boston is a reminder that the "War on Terror" is a war without end, since terrorism is always possible. And this report is a reminder that even in a democracy as mature as ours, the government is capable of awful things. The Constitution Project's panel on treatment of detainees was led by former Democratic Congressman James Jones and former Republican...

All the World’s Eyes on the Globe’s Stage

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AP Photo/Charles Krupa T he Boston Globe has been through a tough year, or ten. The New York Times Company announced in February that it is putting the Globe up for sale. By shedding the New England Media Group from its holdings—which includes the Globe ’s online presence and the Telegram & Gazette of Worcester, Massachusetts—the media giant is ridding itself of its last remaining venture into print publishing outside of The New York Times . This slow attrition of the Boston Globe’s life force began in 2009, when The New York Times Company announced that it would shutter the Boston newspaper within 60 days if unions didn’t agree to $20 million in cuts. The equivalent of 50 full-time jobs were eliminated through buy-outs and lay-offs. Union employees had their pay reduced by 5 percent, and pension contributions ended. Later that year, the company tried unsuccessfully to sell the Globe . This week, potential buyers have weighed in with their initial bids, all far less than the $1.1...

Call It What You Will

President Obama speaking about the bombing in Boston.
Conservatives sometimes complain about the "language police" on the left who keep them from using the colorful words and phrases they learned at their pappys' knees, when those words and phrases turn out to be offensive to people. But the truth is that nobody pays the kind of careful attention to language the right does. They're forever telling us that the truth of President Obama's radicalism can be found not in his actions but in a thing he said one time, or on the other hand, criticizing him for something he failed to say. (For some reason, Rudy Giuliani was particularly obsessed with this. He loved to say about a speech an opponent made, "He never said the words 'islamo-fascist terror killers!' How can we trust that he understands the world's dangers if he won't say that???") It's a faith in the power of words to change the world and reveal the truth that I'm sure linguists find touching. From what I can tell, conservatives were getting only mildly pre-angry at Obama for not...

Obama's Failed Second Term?

Jamelle Bouie/The American Prospect
At the moment, President Obama is juggling three different legislative priorities—a gun control bill, a budget agreement, and comprehensive immigration reform. Of the three, only the latter has any chance at passing Congress, and that depends on whether Republicans see themselves as winning any advantage from agreeing to the legislation. At Bloomberg View , Ramesh Ponnuru looks at the situation , and—based on the scant odds for success in each case—concludes that Obama’s second term has already failed. He argues that “liberal policy gains have been sparse,” and that while liberals can “celebrate the rapidly increasing support for same-sex marriage,” it doesn’t have much to do with Obama. Ultimately, concludes Ponnuru, “It doesn’t look like he’s going to do much to advance” the “ambitious liberal agenda” presented in his inaugural and State of the Union addresses. All of this is correct on the facts, but it strikes me as a narrow view of Obama’s second term goals. Yes, the White House...

The Return of Herman Cain

Jamelle Bouie/The American Prospect
Jamelle Bouie/The American Prospect Herman Cain, the Georgia-based talk show host who used the Republican presidential primaries to propel himself to national fame, has returned to the public stage with a new organization of black conservatives—the appropriately named American Black Conservatives. Here’s The Washington Post : His news conference is held in a room named for progressive Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis. In attendance: three cameramen and three reporters, including one from the conservative publication NewsMax and another from CNN who is visibly disappointed when told that Carson had skipped the Monday event. Beneath a gilded chandelier, Cain explains the rationale behind the ABCs. “When black conservatives are attacked, they sometimes are more viciously attacked than white conservatives,” Cain says. “One of the themes of this meeting is: We will not be silenced; if anything, our voice collectively will be stronger.” Of course, no one is trying to silence black...

The Trouble with Scoops

Flickr/Aaron Tang
It seems that every time there's a dramatic breaking story like yesterday's bombing in Boston, media organizations end up passing on unconfirmed information that turns out to be false. This happens, of course, because in a chaotic situation where many people are involved in some way and the causes and results of some event are not initially clear, it can be hard to separate actual facts from what somebody thought or heard or believed. News organizations trying to cover it have an incredibly difficult job to do, and we should acknowledge the ones who do it well, even heroically, in the face of those challenges. For instance, The Boston Globe will deserve all the accolades and awards they get for their coverage of this event. And yet, the news media seem to get so much wrong when something like this happens. Why? I'd argue that the reason is that in the frenzy of this kind of happening, they fail to realize something important: Scoops are beside the point . When Americans are looking to...

The Curse of the Small Stuff

Flickr/Wally Gobetz/Katherine Hala
We can stop a plot. Get a group of would-be terrorists meeting with each other and our agents can infiltrate it. Get them meeting in Yemen and we can send in the drones. Let North Korea threaten the South and we can threaten them, completely plausibly, with obliteration. Scale is our friend—we know how to detect enemies who go to scale, and we detect so well in these post-9-11 years that it doesn’t take much to go to scale. It’s the small stuff that we can’t stop. The loners, the solo operators, the guys who march to their own deranged drummers. Be they bombers for some cause or shooters without one, whether we call them terrorists or just mass killers, they’re the ones most likely to slip our grasp. You can’t penetrate the social networks of the asocial. The unibombers of this world live inside their heads, coming out only in the acts of rage through which we meet them—too late. As I write, we don’t know if the Boston Marathon bombings were the act of one contorted soul or several,...

Ringside Seat: Fear Itself

Much of what we hear in the immediate aftermath of events like today's tragedy in Boston turns out to be wrong. You may remember, for instance, that just after the Oklahoma City bombing 18 years ago, initial media reports included copious baseless speculation that the culprits might be Arab terrorists. The press obviously has a difficult job to do when something like this happens, attempting to gather information quickly in a chaotic situation and, particularly on television and radio, explain events in real time when so little can be confirmed. So one can have some understanding when they get some things wrong, as they certainly will. In the coming days we'll learn what really happened in Boston and, we hope, find the terrorists responsible. Meanwhile, we should remember what terrorists' goal is: quite simply, to terrorize us. To make us live in fear, so that we make our own lives more difficult and unpleasant. When we do so we aren't merely making the only appropriate response, we'...

Reminder: Mass Unemployment is Terrible

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This line from David Brooks’ most recent column has stuck with me since I read it: “Right now, America faces two giant problems: social unraveling today and cataclysmic debt tomorrow.” Reasonable people can disagree about the long-term problem of debt, but it’s hard to argue that we haven’t seen some form of “social unraveling” over the last decade. As Brooks notes: We’re living in a country where 53 percent of children born to women under 30 are born out of wedlock, according to government data. Millions of people, especially men, are dropping out of the labor force. Nearly half the students who begin college are unable to graduate within six years. The social fabric for people without college degrees is in shambles What’s frustrating about this diagnosis is that, like most elite discussion, it ignores the huge elephant looming over all areas of American life—mass unemployment. If you lived on a diet of Beltway pundits, you’d have no idea that we’re facing an crisis of joblessness,...

Has Obama Forgotten that Republicans Want to Shrink Government?

Jamelle Bouie/The American Prospect
Jamelle Bouie / The American Prospect He still doesn't care about poor people. The lead Politico story today is on President Obama’s rhetoric of “class warfare” and its implications for showdowns on guns, immigration, and budget politics. Politico takes an odd tone throughout, treating Obama’s push for higher taxes on “millionaires and billionaires” as opportunistic rhetoric, and not as a (half-hearted) response to yawning income inequality and tax policies skewed to favor the wealthiest Americans. More interesting than that, however, is a line from David Axelrod, Obama confidante and senior strategist for the president’s reelection campaign. Responding to liberal discontent over Obama’s proposed cuts to Social Security (and to a lesser extent, Medicare), Axelrod offers a choice—liberals can accept mild cuts from a Democratic administration, or fight deep, destructive cuts from a Republican one: “There’s no doubt that there are some members of Congress who see Medicare and Social...

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