Vox Pop

The Prospect's politics blog

Grover Norquist’s Last Laugh

Flickr/Gage Skidmore
When President Obama got Republicans to raise taxes on the top one percent of income earners as part of the January deal that ended the threat of the fiscal cliff, some Democrats gloated that Republicans had been made to go back on the famous Grover Norquist pledge never to raise taxes. It appeared that Obama, fresh from his November victory and taking advantage of Republicans’ divisions, had won big. Well, think again. If you compare the leverage that Obama had in that set of bargaining with the leverage he has now in the post-sequester budget negotiations, it is like night and day. Had Obama hung tough and demanded a lot more in the way of tax increases on the wealthy, Republicans were just stuck—because no action would have caused taxes to increase on everyone. Obama had begun the bargaining requesting a reversion to the pre-Bush tax levels on the top two percent, targeting revenue increases of at least $1.6 trillion over a decade. Instead, he settled for just $620 billion—meaning...

The Contest Over the Real Economic Problem

flickr/Starley Shelton
“Our biggest problems over the next ten years are not deficits,” the president told House Republicans Wednesday, according to those who attended the meeting. The president needs to deliver the same message to the public, loudly and clearly. The biggest problems we face are unemployment, stagnant wages, slow growth, and widening inequality—not deficits. The major goal must be to get jobs and wages back, not balance the budget. Paul Ryan’s budget plan—essentially, the House Republican plan—is designed to lure the White House and Democrats, and the American public, into a debate over how to balance the federal budget in ten years, not over whether it’s worth doing. “This is an invitation,” Ryan explained when he unveiled the plan Tuesday. “Show us how to balance the budget. If you don’t like the way we’re proposing to balance our budget, how do you propose to balance the budget?” Until now the president has seemed all too willing to engage in that debate. His ongoing talk of a “grand...

Ringside Seat: CPAC's Buried Lede

Today was the first day of CPAC, and thus another chance to see the GOP’s complete disinterest in reforming itself or its message. Each of today’s speakers, from Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli and Pennsylvania Senator Pat Toomey, to former Rep. Alan West and Dick Morris (world’s worst pundit), represents the right wing of the Republican Party. Indeed, from the panels to the speakers to the general tenor of the conference, CPAC gives no sign that Republicans are at all chastened by their loss in the 2012 elections. The agenda, it seems, is unchanged: Upper-income tax cuts, massive austerity at all levels of government, sharp attacks on reproductive rights, climate-change skepticism, and mounting efforts to limit voting rights through voter identification laws and other measures. For even more evidence the GOP has not abandoned its “severely conservative” positions of the last four years, look no further than Paul Ryan’s latest budget, which—as many commentators have pointed...

Francis I, a Jesuit Pope

AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia
AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia W e are living in a golden age of information. Any newshound or junkie will tell you so. More and more, the layers of position and personage that constitute establishment influence are being peeled back to their tendons, revealing the innermost workings of power. The wry cynicism of Twitter has become the lingua franca of information brokers. Public statements are easily picked apart and the official stagecraft of a flag-pinned lapel, a rolled-up shirtsleeve, an of-the-people photo op are all viewed as perfunctory gestures, rote and largely meaningless. The election of a new pontiff, quite literally a news event gleaned from smoke signals, lands on our doorstep and we are confounded—what sort of man is this Jorge Mario Bergoglio, now Pope Francis I? What will his platform be? What meanings should we divine about this man we’ve only just met, waving at us from a balcony? When symbolism is all you have, as it is with the successor to St. Peter, it becomes a...

Born This Way?

AP Photo/High Point Enterprise, Don Davis Jr.
AP Photo/Jeff Roberson Dr. Rob Garofalo, left, a physician specializing in adolescent medicine at Children's Memorial Hospital in Chicago, listens in on a conversation at the Broadway Youth Center in Chicago. Garofalo helped create the youth center, which is one of the few places across the country services and support to transgender youth. F rom the time she could talk, Maggie* has told her parents that she is a boy. She doesn’t say, “I want to be a boy.” She doesn’t say, “I feel like a boy.” She says, “I am a boy.” She tells her classmates, too. Lately—she’s in elementary school now—they’ve been having debates about it. “Maggie’s a boy,” one kid said recently, in a not-unfriendly, matter-of-fact sort of way. “No, you idiot,” countered another. “She’s a girl. She’s wearing pink shoes.” On a recent Tuesday morning, psychologist Kenneth Zucker tells this story...

Ringside Seat: D.C.'s Hottest Club Is...

If you wear fanny packs unironically or think "Free Bird" should be America's national anthem, Stefon's got just the spot for you. D.C.'s hottest club is CPAC. The Republicans who bleed the reddest are back for four days only to answer the question, "Are we doing this rebranding thing wrong?" with a resounding " Huh?! " This " Woodstock for Conservatives " has everything: real Sarah Palin , fake Sarah Palin , a dark corner where people wearing Wal-Mart chic go to hide, dads quoting rap music , that thing where old white men dress up like zombies and do the robot, and look who just walked in! It's method actor Mitt Romney ! He's pretended to be Republican presidential material for years longer than Daniel Day-Lewis, but with no shiny prizes at the end of his run. Rumor is it's starting to infect his brain ... oh no, there he goes chasing the bartender again! That's not the party advice you we're looking for? Hmm, well then, D.C.'s hottest club is ... nope, that's all we've got. The...

George P. Bush Makes His First Bid for Office

Gage Skidmore / Flickr
Gage Skidmore / Flickr The Washington Post reports that George P. Bush—son of former Florida governor Jeb Bush—is running for Texas land commissioner in the 2014 election cycle: George P. Bush, the eldest son of former Florida governor Jeb Bush and nephew of former president George W. Bush, is running for Texas land commissioner in 2014. Bush had already announced that he intended to run for statewide office. The 36-year-old lawyer and Naval Reserve lawyer has been raising money across the state. But there was some speculation that he would challenge Gov. Rick Perry in the Republican primary. The co-founder of the political action committee Hispanic Republicans of Texas, Bush is among those arguing that the GOP can reach out to Latino voters with new faces, not a new party doctrine. Bush is probably wrong on the merits of Republican outreach—Americans aren't just unhappy with GOP messengers, they're unhappy with the message as well. With that said, Bush is likely to win his race, on...

Toxic Masculinity

AP Photo/Herald Star, Mark Law
AP Photo/Herald Star, Mark Law Judge Thomas Lipps listens to arguments in Jefferson County Juvenile Court in a case involving two Ohio high school football players charged with raping a 16-year-old girl. L ast summer, two young football players in the Ohio town of Steubenville carried the unconscious body of a local girl from party to party, violating her in ways you’d probably prefer not to think about. (I’m not pretending this incident is merely “alleged,” because there’s video and this column isn’t a court of law.) Today, she’ll face her attackers in court for the first time. It’s a brave act, as she surely knows she’ll not only be facing down the boys who did this to her, but also the adults whose jobs it is to blame her and call her a liar. Only she can know what will make this sacrifice worthwhile: Is it enough for her to be heard in court? Will it only be healing if the boys are convicted? Whatever it is she needs, I hope she gets it. But rape prosecutions are argued on behalf...

The Motorbike Diaries

Tom D. Wu
I t’s 11 a.m. on a brisk Friday morning. In the middle of a short block of 40 th Road, just off Main Street in Queens, where colorful signs stand out against the densely packed four-story buildings, a handful of Chinese delivery workers dismount from their motorbikes. The dry pavement here is a welcome sight; much of the downtown area was buried under a foot of snow earlier in the week. The men, dressed in sneakers, blue jeans and puffy jackets, gather in a circle at one of the few empty parking spots. At the center of this congregation is Peter, a 25-year-old food delivery worker from Tianjin, China. Just ten minutes ago, Peter was pulled over by a traffic cop and fined $90 for not flipping down the eye shield on his motorcycle helmet. Peter vents to his impromptu support group in Mandarin: “I had it down, he was just out to get me. Nothing I could’ve done.” One of the workers asks Peter, “Is he bald and slow?” Without directly answering the question, Peter points to the southwest...

Ringside Seat: Grand Blergain

The sequester cuts have begun to bite, and if Congress doesn't pass a continuing resolution by the end of the month, the federal government will shut down. With that deadline looming, talk has turned once again to the possibility of a Grand Bargain, in which Republicans and Democrats come together in the spirit of compromise, putting aside their differences for the good of the country. "Yeah right," you may be saying, and you have good reason to be skeptical. When Washington pundits who worship at the altar of centrism talk about a Grand Bargain, what they usually mean is that Republicans will accept a modest bit of tax increases, while Democrats will give in to the Republican desire to undermine the social safety net. This is usually referred to as "reining in entitlements," as all Serious People know we must. If you point out that Social Security is actually doing just fine, and that Obamacare already found enormous savings in Medicare, and that Medicare is much more cost-effective...

The Dubya Albatross

When he was performing his Full Jeb of Sunday show interviews over the weekend, Jeb Bush got asked everywhere whether he's running for president, and each time he gave the same practiced answer (not thinking about it yet). He also got asked whether his brother's disastrous presidency, and the fact that Dubya left office with abysmal approval ratings ( Gallup had him in the 20s for much of 2008) would be a drag on him. Jeb gave the answer you'd expect: history will be kind to my brother, I'm very proud of him, and so on. Of course it's true that Jeb, what with his last name and all, would have to "grapple" with his brother's legacy more than other candidates. But when we think about it in those terms, I think we overlook something important about how the Bush legacy will continue to operate on Republicans, not just Jeb but all of them. I thought of this when reading Peter Beinart's take on Jeb, wherein he says something I think misses the mark: That's why Jeb Bush will never seriously...

Paul Ryan Still Wants to Dismantle Government

Gage Skidmore / Flickr
As he has in years past, Wisconsin Representative Paul Ryan presented his latest budget as a necessary step—the only thing we have to avert a destructive debt crisis. It may be painful to turn Medicare into a voucher program, cut spending on social services, and devolve Medicaid into a block grant for the states, but it's the only choice we have to avoid catastrophe. Here's Ryan in his own words: Unless we change course, we will have a debt crisis. Pressed for cash, the government will take the easy way out: It will crank up the printing presses. The final stage of this intergenerational theft will be the debasement of our currency. Government will cheat us of our just rewards. Our finances will collapse. The economy will stall. The safety net will unravel. And the most vulnerable will suffer. The problem, of course, is that we're not facing a debt crisis. Interest rates haven't spiked, and markets are still happy to lend the United States cash at astonishingly good rates. Our economy...

The Smart Strategy Behind Paul Ryan's Stupid Budget

Flickr/Donkey Hotey
For an ambitious politician, a spot on your party's presidential ticket is fraught with danger. On one hand, you immediately become a national figure, and if you win, you're vice president and you've got a good chance to become president. On the other hand, if you lose, you may wind up the target of contempt from forces within your own party and quickly fade away. Look at the list of recent VP losers: Sarah Palin, John Edwards, Joe Lieberman, Jack Kemp. None of them had any political future after their loss. And then there's Paul Ryan. You have to give him credit for one thing. Unlike, say, Palin, he didn't let his time on the national stage give him delusions of grandeur. Instead of proclaiming himself the leader of a movement, he went right back to what he was doing before: using the budgeting process to push an extraordinarily radical agenda, all couched in enough numbers and figures to convince naive reporters that he's a Very Serious Fellow, despite the fact that his numbers and...

Healing a Broken Catholic Church

Flickr/Doug88888
Because of its sins, the Roman Catholic Church is broken. The capital C in church is important; it signifies the institution, not the faithful. A wise Jesuit, the late Cardinal Avery Dulles, once wrote that the church can be viewed in different ways: as a herald, as a mystical communion, as an institution. It is the institution I am talking about. The Catholic Church is my church, and what it has done saddens me. The institution has protected pedophile priests. It has lifted the excommunication of bishops in an ultra-conservative society that seeks to undo the reforms of the Second Vatican Council. One of the bishops is a Holocaust denier. Members of the Roman Curia, the governing body of the institution, have engaged in corruption, intrigue, and struggles for personal power that would shame Machiavelli. At the same time, the Vatican Bank has failed to meet Council of Europe standards on fighting financial crimes, including money laundering and tax evasion. If that weren’t enough, the...

The Fundamentals of Immigration Reform

T he United States, with more than 40 million foreign-born, a number that includes the estimated 11 million illegal residents, is not just the largest immigration player in the world; it’s larger than the next four largest players combined. Because immigration amounts to social engineering, how well we do it has profound consequences for huge swaths of our society, from education to health care to economic growth to foreign relations. Most important, how a country treats its immigrants is a powerful statement to the world about its values and the principles by which it stands. Related Content Spotlight: The Fundamentals of Immigration Reform Demetrios Papademetriou talks about what's next for reforming our broken immigration system. On all these counts, recent U.S. immigration policy has been more notable for its failures than its successes. Almost half a century ago, in 1965, we reversed the discriminatory policies that over the course of the previous 80 years had either barred or...

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