Vox Pop

The Prospect's politics blog

Why Now, Mr. President?

AP Photo/Ariel Schalit
AP Photo/Nasser Shiyoukhi S ome free advice for anyone who lives in Jerusalem and hasn't been invited to meet with Barack Obama: stay out of the city center from Wednesday to Friday. One major artery, King David Street, will be shut throughout the president's visit this week, and parking will be banned on a host of others, City Hall has announced. Experience teaches that traffic will tie up in knots and buses trying to get from Point A to Point B will travel via Point Z. Beyond gridlock—in the original sense of the word, vehicles sitting in mid-intersection going nowhere—the potential impact of the president's pilgrimage remains a mystery. The trip's timing suggests that Obama feels it absolutely urgent to renew the comatose Israeli-Palestinian peace process, now, before the weekend, before it expires. The pre-trip spin from Obama himself, from sundry off-record officials and from the punditocracy of two countries suggests that the president is coming, to quote Thomas Friedman , as "a...

Just How Bad Is Television News?

Every year, the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism releases a huge report called "The State of the News Media," and this year's installment contains some surprising results, far beyond what you'd expect about declining newspaper revenues and the generalized slow death of journalism (though there's plenty of that). In particular, television news is undergoing some rapid changes, most of which are driven by finances and many of which look seriously problematic. Let's start with local TV news (we'll get to cable in a moment). For decades, it has been the most-used of all news media, despite the fact that it provides the sorriest excuse for journalism you can find anywhere. Why has it been so popular for so long? For starters, it's easy; you can just turn the TV on while you're cooking dinner or working on your toothpick sculpture of the Taj Mahal, and it won't require any concentration to keep up with. Second, it's on all the time; since news is the central profit...

The Political Is Personal

AP Photo/Mike Munden
On Friday, Senator Rob Portman of Ohio became the first Republican in the Senate to support same-sex marriage, explaining in a Columbus Dispatch op-ed that his change of heart came after his son told him he's gay. It was easy to be underwhelmed by Portman's announcement; as Michael Tomasky asked , "what if his son weren't gay? Were that the case, we have no reason whatsoever to believe Portman would have taken this step." That's true, and we might also ask what took him so long; after all, Portman wrote that his son came out to him two years ago, and that seems like a rather extended period of introspection. Portman may not be a civil-rights hero, but if nothing else his announcement is likely to force people to confront the ways public policy is or isn't shaped by legislators' own experiences. And now, many of them will be asked what they would do in Portman's shoes. That was what Speaker of the House John Boehner was asked on Sunday's This Week , and he answered, "I believe that...

Change They Can Believe In?

Gage Skidmore / Flickr
Gage Skidmore / Flickr RNC chairman Reince Priebus speaking at the Western Republican Leadership Conference in Las Vegas, Nevada. If you follow national politics at all, you’re familiar with the Republican Party’s current predicament. Not only has the party lost the popular vote in four of the last five presidential elections, but the public turned against the GOP in two consecutive wave elections: 2006 and 2008. The Republican Party's veto power in Congress and its substantive power in the states has everything to do with the Tea Party rebellion of 2010, which—in light of last year’s elections—looks more and more like an aberration. It's unpopular with a wide swath of Americans, and is associated in many minds with virulent strains of homophobia, nativism, sexism, and racial prejudice. In an effort to change perceptions and win new voters, national GOP officials have embarked on a plan of recovery and reform. The Republican National Committee commissioned an in-depth look at the...

The Boehner Rule

flickr/Talk Radio News Service
flickr/Talk Radio News Service A fter months of Republican resistance, the House of Representative finally renewed the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) late last month. What many casual political observers may not know is that there were always enough votes in the House for the bill to pass, but it couldn’t get a vote because of something called the “Hastert Rule”—an informal practice in the House by which only legislation supported by a majority of the majority party (in this case, Republicans) is allowed to come to a vote. How Speaker John Boehner got VAWA passed tells us a lot about what the next two years is going to be like in Washington. The Hastert Rule was coined during the speakership of Republican Denny Hastert, who said he would bring nothing to the floor of the House of Representatives unless a majority of the Republican conference supported it. As University of Miami political scientist Greg Koger explains, the logic behind such a rule is basically one of "an...

The Making of the "Other" Chicago

AP Photo/M. Spencer Green
AP Photo/M. Spencer Green A makeshift memorial at the site where 6-month-old girl Jonylah Watkins and her father, a known gang member, were shot on March 11. The girl, who was shot five times, died Tuesday morning. Her father, Jonathan Watkins, remains in serious but stable condition. J anuary was the deadliest month in Chicago in more than a decade. Forty-two people lost their lives on the city’s streets, most of them to gun violence. For 2012, the total number of homicides was 509, of which 443 involved firearms. While most of the shootings could be attributed to gang feuds, innocent people were caught in crossfire that often erupted in broad daylight and on public streets. Hadiya Pendleton’s shooting death, which took place only a week after the 15-year-old honors student performed at the presidential inauguration, is the latest tragedy to reinforce the perception that Chicago is the murder capital of the nation. Pendleton was killed when a gunman opened fire on a group of high-...

Forty Years Behind on Sick-Leave Policy, But Catching Up

AP Photo/Mary Altaffer
AP Photo/Mary Altaffer Emilio Palaguachi, center, speaks at a rally at New York's City Hall to call for a vote on paid-sick-days legislation, which has been held up by I t’s too late for Tonisha Howard , the mother of three in Milwaukee who was fired for leaving work to be with her hospitalized two-year-old. And for Felix Trinidad , who was so afraid of losing his job at Golden Farm fruit store in Brooklyn that he didn’t take time off to go to the doctor—even after he vomited blood. Trinidad, a father of two who had stomach cancer, continued to work until just days before his death at age 34. But for workers in Portland and perhaps Philadelphia, paid sick days just got much closer to becoming reality. Last Wednesday, the city council in Portland, Oregon, voted unanimously for a bill granting most employees up to 40 hours of paid sick leave per year. On Thursday, the Philadelphia City Council passed a similar law—and, with only one vote short of a veto-proof majority, advocates are...

Ringside Seat: Live from CPAC

For 2013, the American Conservative Union tagged their annual CPAC conference with the slogan "America's Future: The Next Generation of Conservatives." Presumably the organizers realized that the GOP's demographic troubles from 2012 spelled future trouble for the conservative movement. But Friday afternoon the panel trotted out the same old broken horses who ruined the party in the last election. Rick Santorum was up first, the still-hard-to-believe runner-up for the GOP presidential nomination. Santorum briefly showed an air of compassion missing from his presidential campaign, centering the speech on his the death of his nephew yesterday. He even displayed a hint of erudition one doesn't often associate with the former Pennsylvania senator, quoting Buddha and Viktor Frankl. But the speech quickly devolved into a typical diatribe on how Obama has ruined America and "wants to exchange the 'why' of the American Revolution for the 'why' of the French Revolution." Rick wasn't the lone...

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

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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...

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