Vox Pop

The Prospect's politics blog

Have the Politics of Gun Control Changed?

Flickr/White House
At The Washington Post , Greg Sargent reports that five red-state Democrats—Kay Hagan of North Carolina, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, Mark Pryor of Arkansas, Joe Donnelly of Indiana, and Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota—have been unwilling to voice support for expanding the background-check program—"the centerpiece," he writes, "of President Obama's package of gun reforms." Their rationale is straightforward: Supporting this policy might hurt us in our states, or leave us vulnerable to Republican attacks. This, despite the fact that expanded background checks have wide support from the public. It's hard, at this point, to make predictions on the status of the policy, but if this is any indication, the situation doesn't look good—if Democrats have backed away from an assault-weapons ban, and are skittish over expanded background checks, then what hope is there for meaningful gun control policies? Indeed, it's tempting to argue— as Chris Cillizza does —that national outrage notwithstanding...

(Female) Politicians Acting Badly

Christine Quinn pressing the flesh. (Flickr/Azi Paybarah)
Unless you follow New York politics, you probably don't know anything about (or maybe haven't even heard of) Christine Quinn, the speaker of the city council and front-runner to replace Mayor Michael Bloomberg when his term runs out at the end of this year. The story of the morning is a front-page piece in today's New York Times , detailing how in private, Quinn is a holy terror, tearing people's heads off when they displease her, threatening and sometimes retaliating against those who cross her, and leaving a trail of shocked and intimidated people in her wake. So, does being a jerk make you less effective as a politician? And are female politicians like Quinn inevitably going to be judged more harshly than male politicians who act the same way? We'll address those questions in a moment, but here's an excerpt from the article: As she pursues a high-profile bid for mayor, Ms. Quinn, a Democrat, has proudly promoted her boisterous personality, hoping that voters will embrace her blend...

The Runaways

Flickr/Kymberly Janisch
Flickr/ Kymberly Janisch T he first time Breanna found herself homeless, she’d left her mom’s house when she was 12 because her stepdad didn’t like her and her mom never took her side in fights. That had left her sharing a room in a Motel 6 with her father and sick grandmother near her high school in Jefferson County, Colorado. A short, slim, dark-haired Latina, she’d grown up in the area, and most of her family was there; it’s where she felt at home. In the motel, though, her dad, who was a drug addict, would occasionally beat her. “My Grandma would tell him I deserved it,” Breanna says. “I never understood why I deserved it.” Sometimes her father kept Breanna out of school because she had bruises on her arms and he didn’t want the abuse reported to authorities; sometimes Breanna missed school because she was too tired to wake up. When she finally wanted to leave for good, her father said he wouldn’t let her go unless she peed in a cup for him so he could pass a drug test; she agreed...

The Weeklies

Flickr/Steve Schroeder
Flickr/Steve Schroeder F rom the outside, it is hard to know that people live in the Ramada Inn. The parking lot is always empty. The hotel sits facing a wide suburban boulevard called Kipling Street, just off Interstate 70 in Wheat Ridge, Colorado. The interchange where Kipling meets the freeway is packed mornings and evenings with daily commuters going to or coming from Denver and with skiers heading west into the Rockies. Hotels dot I-70 as it cuts through the 764-square-mile stretch of suburbia that runs from the city into the mountains, but at the intersection with Kipling is a cluster of seven budget-savers that travel websites warn tourists away from. The hotels advertise low prices—ranging from $36 to $89 a night—on neon signs next to gigantic flags that whip in the Front Range wind. Most offer even lower weekly or monthly rates. The Ramada is farther from the frontage road than the other hotels and is harder to notice, with its plain yellow stucco and dimly lit red sign...

Prospects for Legal Marijuana? Higher and Higher

Flickr/Torben Bjørn Hansen
Anyone who still saw the marijuana-reform movement as a hopeless collection of hippies and slackers got a reality check last November, when advocates successfully passed three major initiatives. Massachusetts became the 18th state to allow for medical marijuana and, most notably, Washington and Colorado became the first two states in the country to legalize recreational use of the drug. Now, less than five months later, a slew of pro-marijuana measures has been introduced in legislatures across the country. At least six have a good chance of passing. Seventeen states have bills to allow medical marijuana. Nine others would make the punishment for possession a fine rather than jail time. Eight states' bills would create a taxing and regulatory system for the drug. And those are just the measures that have already been introduced; others are yet to come. Traditionally, most major progressive changes to drug laws have occurred through ballot initiatives rather than the legislative...

Ringside Seat: All Eyes on Kennedy

This week, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in two landmark cases on the question of same-sex marriage, one about California's Proposition 8 and the other about the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which denies hundreds of federal benefits to legally married same-sex couples. The cases could go any of a number of ways, with many predicting that the Court will strike down DOMA but find some way to avoid saying that laws banning same-sex marriage in a particular state are unconstitutional. (Options include upholding Prop 8 and ruling that those defending the initiative have no legal standing to do so.) As usual, all eyes will be on Anthony Kennedy, presumed as always to be the swing justice whose opinion will determine the outcome. Regardless of how the Court decides, it's feeling more and more like this is a battle whose ultimate outcome is no longer in doubt. On our web site today, E.J. Graff marvels at how quickly things have changed; it was only ten years ago, after all,...

The Evolution of MSNBC

What MSNBC used to be.
At the New Republic , Rebecca Dana has a profile of MSNBC chief Phil Griffin, during which she points out that the network's current incarnation as the liberal's home on cable came about only because Griffin tried a bunch of other stuff that didn't work. There wasn't an ideological motivation, just a financial one. "Fox News is a TV network that succeeds because of its ideological slant," she writes. "MSNBC is a TV network that has an ideological slant because that's what happened to succeed." That came about after a period in which the network tried hard to duplicate Fox by hiring a bunch of conservatives. At various times the network gave shows to the likes of Pat Buchanan, Michael Savage, Tucker Carlson, and Alan Keyes (the latter, called Alan Keyes Is Making Sense , for some reason didn't include "No, really!" in its title). When it turned out nobody wanted to watch any of those programs, they kept trying different things until Keith Olbermann tapped into the zeitgeist of the...

No, the Religious Right Hasn't Gone Away

Gage Skidmore / Flickr
Gage Skidmore / Flickr Tony Perkins speaking at the Values Voter Summit in Washington, DC. At this point, it's almost cliché to say that we've seen a sea change in attitudes toward same-sex marriage. But it's hard not to remark on the rapid move from widespread opposition to widespread support. Recall, for instance, that it was just eight years ago when the sitting president ran a re-election campaign with gay baiting as a key strategy. Now, looking ahead to 2016, both parties are likely to field candidates who are either supportive of marriage equality (in the case of Democrats) or simply silent on the issue (Republicans). Writing at TechCrunch, Gregory Ferenstein attempts to root this shift in the rapid growth of the Internet, and even goes as far as to argue that the web has weakened the Religious Right—the main political opponents of same-sex marriage—to the point of irrelevance : As the GOP struggles to regain its footing with bright young programmers and the growing libertarian...

The Unending Terror of the Red-State Democrat

An image from a new ad advocating universal background checks for gun purchases.
Over the weekend, we learned that New York mayor Michael Bloomberg will spend $12 million airing ads in 13 states pushing senators to support expanded background checks for gun purchases. NRA honcho Wayne LaPierre, in his usual restrained fashion, described Bloomberg's engagement as "reckless" and "insane," but what's so remarkable is that this is something you need an ad war to accomplish. After all, universal background checks (which would extend such checks to gun shows and private sales) enjoy pretty much universal support, with polls showing around 90 percent of Americans in favor, including overwhelming majorities of Republicans and gun owners. And yet, not only are lots of Republicans still holding back, but even some Democrats are afraid to take a position on universal background checks. Greg Sargent reports that at least five Democratic senators—Mark Pryor (AR), Mary Landrieu (LA), Kay Hagen (NC), Joe Donnelly (IN) and Heidi Heitkamp (SD)—are refusing to say where they stand...

Claire McCaskill Jumps on the Marriage Equality Train

KOMUnews / Flickr
KOMUnews Recent polls show majority support for marriage equality, a rapid change from just a few years ago. Unfortunately, the same isn't true of Congress. The same malapportionment that gives Republicans a structural advantage in the House and Senate also overweights the votes of social conservatives, who tend to reside in the nation's more rural areas. Congress will eventually voice its support for same-sex marriage, but it will lag behind the country as a whole. For this reason, it's worth noting Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill's support for marriage equality, announced yesterday afternoon on her Tumblr . In some sense, there's nothing remarkable about a Democratic politician announcing support for marriage equality—between President Obama, Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, and others, it's the mainstream position of the party. Whoever is the nominee in 2016 will almost certainly support same-sex marriage, and may even push for a national law to codify the right. Even still, it's not...

Don't Be Naïve. That Speech Was a Revolution

flickr/AJstream
flickr/AJstream Barack Obama acknowledges the crowd after his speech last week at the Jerusalem Convention Center. After a couple of days for careful reflection, it's clear: Barack Obama gave an amazing speech. The president of the United States stood in a hall in Jerusalem, and with empathy and with bluntness that has been absent for so long we forgot it could exist, told Israelis: The occupation can't go on. It's destroying your own future. And besides that, Palestinians have "a right to … justice" and "to be a free people in their own land." If you don't think this is a breakthrough, you are letting naïve pessimism overcome realism. Yes, it's true that one speech will be worth nothing if not followed by intense American diplomacy. That comment has become banal. A realistic assessment is that Obama's visit, and the speech, were the opening act of an American diplomatic effort — a near perfect opening. The first breakthrough was in method: Obama started by negotiating with the...

Gay Rights, There and Back Again

Flickr/Chris Phan
AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez Demonstrators chant during a rally against Proposition 8 outside City Hall in San Francisco, March 4, 2009. The Supreme Court is slated to hear oral arguments about the constitutionality of the ban this week. T omorrow, I’m going to the Supreme Court to hear a bunch of lawyers debate the status of my marriage. Do I have a right to be married? Am I married just in Massachusetts, or in the United States at large? Simply attending the arguments feels like a high point in my career: I’ve written about and followed LGBT issues, and marriage in particular, for most of my adult life. I still remember sitting at my cousin’s wedding in 1993 when someone told me about the trial-court win in Baehr v. Lewin , the Hawaii marriage lawsuit that kicked off the past twenty years of marriage organizing. Before that, marriage hadn’t occurred to me—or many of us, back in the day—as something I could have. By 2003, I knew that we would win it, and in my lifetime. This will be...

Battle of the Budgets

AP Photo/Alex Brandon
For the next year, at least, Republicans will have one less talking point to turn to when they want to hit Democrats on the budget. Over the weekend, Senate Democrats came together to pass their first budget since 2009, a comprehensive package that calls for additional stimulus and modest deficit reduction, stretched over the next ten years. Under Senate rules, lawmakers can’t filibuster a budget resolution, allowing Democrats to pass it by a vote of 50 to 49 , with four Democrats—Mark Pryor of Arkansas, Kay Hagan of North Carolina, Mark Begich of Alaska, and Max Baucus of Montana—voting against the bill. Unlike the House budget—crafted by Republican Paul Ryan—the Senate plan isn’t meant to restructure the federal government or redefine its obligations. Nor does it try to balance the budget or order dramatic and controversial changes to the tax code. Instead, it’s a modest package responsive to the economic needs of the moment. It includes $100 billion in immediate infrastructure...

Another Court Nominee Down

WikiMedia Commons
Last Friday afternoon, the Obama administration surrendered on its latest attempt to fill one of four vacancies on the nation's second most-important court. Caitlin Halligan, facing a Republican filibuster, officially withdrew from consideration for a judgeship on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. This is not surprising or unexpected. Halligan, who was nominated to fill the seat vacated by Chief Justice John Roberts, had seen her nomination languish since 2010. The successful filibuster that snuffed Halligan's nomination early this March represents another example of why real reform or (better yet) elimination of the filibuster is desperately needed. The filibustering of Halligan is striking, even in the context of an utterly dysfunctional Senate, for two reasons. First, Halligan is a mainstream nominee , with broad support for her credentials and temperament from across the political spectrum. And second, Obama is the first president in at least 50 years not to get a single nominee...

Ringside Seat: ICYMI: GOP Hates Obamacare

If at first you don't succeed, the saying goes, try, try again. But if you try again and fail, and then you keep trying until you've tried and failed 36 times, maybe it's time to just give up and find something more productive to do with your time. That's the advice one might give to Senate Republicans today, after an amendment offered by freshman Senator Ted Cruz of Texas to repeal the Affordable Care Act failed. Senator Tom Harkin, the Iowa Democrat, said that by his count it was the 36 th such unsuccessful attempt; the tally in the House passed 30 last summer, so there it may be even higher by now. Look, Republicans, we get it: You really, really don't like Obamacare. If you could repeal it, you would. But you can't. Even if you could muster the votes in both houses of Congress, which you can't, President Obama would veto the repeal anyway. Because, as you may remember, he got reelected in November. So what's the point of having all these repeal votes? Whatever it is, they just can...

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