Vox Pop

The Prospect's politics blog

Why Liberals Make Better Political Pop Culture than Conservatives

An image from the libertarian animated film "Silver Circle"

In my ongoing quest to reach across the aisle and foster bipartisanship, I come to praise Jonah Golderb—yes, that Jonah Goldberg, the author of "Liberal Fascism" and innumerable appalling columns, for what he writes in the Los Angeles Times, in which he recoils at the suggestion by some of his brethren that they need to buy a movie studio and start churning out conservative films:

There's a difference between art and propaganda. Outside the art house crowd, liberal agitprop doesn't sell. Art must work with the expectations and beliefs of the audience. Even though pregnancies are commonplace on TV, you'll probably never see a hilarious episode of a sitcom in which a character has an abortion — because abortion isn't funny.

The conservative desire to create a right-wing movie industry is an attempt to mimic a caricature of Hollywood. Any such effort would be a waste of money that would make the Romney campaign seem like a great investment.

There's something Goldberg doesn't mention, which is that when they've tried this kind of thing in the past, conservatives have failed miserably. The problem isn't that pop culture isn't a good way to influence people's political beliefs, it's that when conservatives have tried to use pop culture for those ends, the results have been almost uniformly awful. What was supposed to be funny wasn't funny, what was supposed to be thrilling was boring, and what was supposed to get your toes tapping and your head nodding produced nothing but derisive laughter.

An Empty Eighth Amendment Promise

Wikimedia commons

Warren Hill has an IQ below 70. Despite this, barring an unlikely intervention by the Supreme Court, he will be executed by the state of Georgia tonight. The likelihood of this outcome is a lesson in how Supreme Court decisions can't always be taken at face value.

White House Reporters versus the Obama Administration

White House reporters getting the story.

At some point in every presidency, the White House press corps begins to complain about how they're being treated. Sometimes these complaints are legitimate and necessary, the Fourth Estate demanding that the public be adequately informed of what its government is up to. At other times, it's little more than a bunch of overpaid prima donnas whining that the White House staff isn't treating them with the deference they feel they deserve and doing their jobs for them. So let's say you're one of those reporters, and your frustration has been mounting. How can you make sure everyone understands that your gripe is of the first kind and not the second? Well for starters, you might not want to rise up to express your outrage over the fact that you didn't get to watch the President play golf with Tiger Woods.

Stopping Domestic Violence: A Radical Feminist Idea?

AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin

Of all the strange choices made by the GOP in recent years, the sudden opposition to the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) is among the most confusing. The act had long counted on bipartisan support for its reauthorization every TK years—George W. Bush signed it without incident in 2005—but now Republicans in the House seem intent on killing it. Republicans haven’t suddenly morphed into evil comic-book villains who openly support rape and wife-beating, so what gives?

The New Liberals

AP Photo/Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Johnny Crawford, Pool

When he leaves office in January of 2017—provided there isn't a terrible scandal or some kind of economic or foreign policy disaster between now and then—Barack Obama will likely be hailed as the greatest Democratic hero since John F. Kennedy. He got most of the way there just by winning a second term, before we even get to his already substantial policy successes. But the real reason is that for a long time to come, Obama will represent for Democrats the moment when they and their beliefs were ascendant. You can see it in the way some Democrats are already positioning themselves to run for president in 2016.

Homeless, Hungry, Hung Out to Dry

USDA/Bob Nichols

The sequester—a set of deep, across-the-board cuts to discretionary spending set to take effect if lawmakers cannot agree to a longterm budget deal—was never supposed to happen. But as the deadline for reaching an agreement ticks ever closer, Congress appears hopelessly deadlocked. Under the original agreement, sequestration would have triggered $100 billion in cuts to both defense and non-defense discretionary spending on January 1—an 8.2 percent reduction in non-defense expenditures. The “fiscal-cliff” deal reached in December reduced that amount to $85.3 billion and pushed the deadline back to March. Under the new deal, non-defense discretionary spending would be cut by $42.7 billion yearly for the next nine years. This is on top of $1.5 trillion in cuts over the next decade that have already been enacted.

A Voice for Climate, 40,000 Strong

Jaime Fuller

Allison Chin, president of the Sierra Club, knows now is the moment to think big on climate. It’s been a year of “records”: A record number of droughts have hit towns across the country, record temperatures slowly roast the planet, and storms have left record amounts of snow and rain in their wake. Finally, too, a record number of people concede that we’re changing the environment for the worse. “Mothers, fathers, grandparents, children, businessmen, people of the faith—it’s not just environmentalists that are affected by this,” Chin says. She knows that environmentalists need to be practical—they need concrete demands that all people left adrift by a changing climate can endorse. But facing such long odds and high stakes, how can they be anything but ardent about the environment?

Pretty Words, Dismal Economics

AP Photo/ Evan Vucci

Barack Obama’s State of the Union address last week—which called for, among other things, universal pre-K and raising the minimum wage—offered a bold program for rebuilding the middle class. But the president’s continuing commitment to budgetary austerity makes these commitments hollow, if not cynical. And just as Obama and the Democrats paid the price in the 2010 midterm election for excess caution and conciliation, the results of tokenism are not likely to be pretty in the midterms of 2014.

Ringside Seat: You Cruise, You Lose

In 2013, the wonders of our technological prowess never cease to amaze. We can launch remote-controlled planes to smite our enemies thousands of miles away. In your pocket right now, you probably have a tiny computer with more processing power than a Cray supercomputer had a few decades ago. Literally millions of photos of kittens and puppies are but a click away, increasing the sum total of human happiness immeasurably.

On "Emboldening" Republicans

Flickr/Secretary of Defense

I want to expand on something I brought up yesterday on the utility, for the opposition party, of doing nothing more with your efforts than becoming the biggest pain in the president's ass you possibly can. As of now, Republicans have mounted an unprecedented filibuster against Chuck Hagel's nomination to be Secretary of Defense, the latest in a long line of cases in which they looked at a prevailing norm of doing business in Washington and realized that there was no reason they couldn't violate it. Sure, up until now we had an unspoken agreement that the president would get to appoint pretty much whoever he wants to his cabinet unless the nominee was a drunk, a criminal, or grossly unqualified. But Republicans feel perfectly free to cast that agreement aside. Why? Because screw you, Obama, that's why. In any case, it looks at the moment as though this filibuster will be temporary, and Hagel will eventually get confirmed.

So now, there are two ways to look at this. Having caused all this trouble, will the Republicans feel like they got it out of their system and calm themselves down a bit? Or will they be emboldened to find new and creative ways to throw monkey wrenches into the gears of government?

Now Hiring: A Few Good Judges


Chief Judge David Sentelle’s recent opinion in Noel Canning v. NLRB holding President Barack Obama’s recess appointments unconstitutional is a trenchant reminder that the D.C. Circuit is, as is often said, the nation’s “second most important court after the Supreme Court.” It has also been, historically, a stepping stone to the high Court. The court now faces four vacancies among 11 judgeships with Sentelle’s February 12 assumption of senior status. But the Obama administration is the first in decades which confirmed no D.C. Circuit judge and has only submitted two names for consideration. The importance and complexity of the circuit caseload means it requires all eleven judges to deliver justice. For this reason—and to increase ideological balance on the court, which has four active and five senior judges whom Republican presidents appointed—Obama and the Senate must expeditiously fill the D.C. Circuit openings.

Three's a Crowd

AP Photo/Ron Heflin

Here we go again: the false hope, or in some cases fear, of a massive crack-up of the two major parties, with third- and fourth- and maybe more-party candidates running viable races for the presidency.

Gunpocalypse Now

Imagine that after budget cuts force the dismantling of all law enforcement in your area and a natural disaster destroys any semblance of society, a horde of crazed cannibal zombies comes down your street, heading right for your door so they can kill and eat your entire family. Don't you want to be sufficiently armed to hold them off? You may say this is an unlikely scenario, but that's because OH MY GOD LOOK BEHIND YOU!

The Ridiculous, Unprecedented Filibuster of Chuck Hagel

Secretary of Defense / Flickr

As of this afternoon, Republicans have vowed to filibuster Chuck Hagel’s nomination to head the Department of Defense. It’s not hyperbole to say this is unprecedented—the Senate has never filibustered a president’s Cabinet nominee. It would be one thing if the nominee were clearly unqualified—if Obama had nominated Diddy to lead Defense, then Republicans would have a point. But Hagel is a decorated Vietnam veteran who served two terms in the Senate and built a reputation for seriousness on defense issues.

Explaining the Farce of the Hagel Hearings

Flickr/Secretary of Defense

It's easy to shake your head and laugh at the incredible things said by some of the nincompoops who occupy the GOP's backbench in Congress, whether it's Louie Gohmert ranting about "terror babies," or Paul Broun (an actual doctor, for whose patients I fear) saying "All that stuff I was taught about evolution, embryology, Big Bang theory, all that is lies straight from the pit of hell," or any of a thousand things Michele Bachmann has said over the years. But as we laugh, we know these people don't really shape policy, so the damage they can do is limited. Not that the rest of the Republicans on Capitol Hill are a bunch of geniuses or anything, but most of those who have that golden combination of crazy and stupid are pretty far down in the pecking order.

But looking forward to the next four years, you have to wonder if Barack Obama is, through little fault of his own, making the entire Republican party dumber with each passing day. Fred Kaplan, a thoughtful journalist who reports on military affairs for Slate, watched Chuck Hagel's confirmation hearings and can't contain his disgust at how little the Republican senators serving on the Armed Services Committee seem to understand about things related to the armed services: