Vox Pop

The Prospect's politics blog

Establishment Republicans Can't Blame the Tea Party for Everything


When Republicans began 2012, the Senate was within in their grasp—Democrats were defending a huge number of seats, and several incumbents, like Claire McCaskill of Missouri, were deeply unpopular. They finished it, however, with a smaller minority than anyone could have predicted. Obviously, this was a huge defeat for the GOP, and blame for it has fallen on two particular candidates—Richard Mourdock in Indiana and Todd Akin in Missouri—who represent the failures and excesses of Tea Party conservatism.

Outsiders as Insiders

Flickr/Office of Governor Patrick

Massachusetts could be the harbinger of a hopeful national trend in Democratic Party politics – the reformer as regular. For 16 years, this bluest of blue states oddly kept electing Republican governors. Between 1990 when Gov. Michael Dukakis stepped down and 2006 when Deval Patrick took the governorship back, no fewer than four Republicans sat in the governor’s chair.

New Term, New Truthers, Same Obama

(Flickr/The White House)

If I had to pick my favorite political ad of the last few years, a strong contender would be the one from 2010 Delaware Senate candidate Christine O'Donnell, in which she looked into the camera and said sweetly, "I'm not a witch. I'm nothing you've heard. I'm you." The combination of a hilarious lack of subtlety with a kind of sad earnestness made it unforgettable. And it's the message that almost every politician tries to offer at one point or another (the "I'm you" part, not the part about not being a witch). They all want us to think they're us, or at least enough like us for us to trust them.

What Would Jack Lew Do?

AP Photo/Win McNamee

Sometime this month, the Senate is expected to grill President Obama’s pick for Treasury secretary, Jack Lew, who if confirmed will replace outgoing secretary Timothy Geithner. As the president’s chief of staff, Lew has been influential in the budget battles President Obama fought with House Republicans in the past year and has a deep knowledge of how government spending works. Conventional wisdom is that the president chose Lew to have a strong ally as the White House battles with congressional Republicans over spending and taxes. But with only a short stint at Citigroup amid a life of public service, there isn’t a deep record on what he thinks about financial reform.

The First Progressive Revolution

Flickr/Mike Chaput

Exactly a century ago, on February 3, 1913, the Sixteenth Amendment to the Constitution was ratified, authorizing a federal income tax. Congress turned it into a graduated tax, based on “capacity to pay.”

It was among the signal victories of the progressive movement—the first constitutional amendment in 40 years (the first 10 had been included in the Bill of Rights, the 11th and 12th in 1789 and 1804, and three others in consequence of the Civil War), reflecting a great political transformation in America.

Senator Pornstache

On the day we learned of Ed Koch's death, we also learned that someone who has been making trouble in New York almost as long is thinking of running for Senate from New Jersey, where he now lives. We're speaking, of course, about Geraldo Rivera, the man who uncovered Al Capone's empty vault, who got his nose broken in a televised brawl with white supremacists on his daytime talk show, who drew American troop movements in the sand on-air during the Iraq invasion, who will be forever defined by the New York of the same era that produced Koch.

Is Obama Moving to the Left?

President Obama sets his radial plan in motion (White House/Lawrence Jackson)

Is Barack Obama moving to the left in his second term, and what is he risking by doing so? That's what Ron Brownstein asks in a long National Journal article, and though Brownstein is as comprehensive and careful as ever, there are some fundamental flaws in his premises. But here's what he says:

On issues from gay rights to gun control, immigration reform, and climate change—all of which he highlighted in his ringing Inaugural Address last week—Obama is now unreservedly articulating the preferences of the Democratic "coalition of the ascendant" centered on minorities, the millennial generation, and socially liberal upscale whites, especially women. Across all of these issues, and many others such as the pace of withdrawal from Afghanistan and ending the ban on women in combat, Obama is displaying much less concern than most national Democratic leaders since the 1960s about antagonizing culturally conservative blue-collar, older, and rural whites, many of whom oppose them.

Exit Scott Brown


When it was clear that Barack Obama would choose John Kerry to lead the State Department, I wrote that it was tantamount to giving Scott Brown—and the Republican Party—another Senate seat. Brown may have lost his bid for reelection, but he remained popular among Massachusetts voters, and would have been well-positioned for a comeback.

As it turns out, however, Brown won’t be back in the Senate anytime soon. NBC News reports that the former senator has decided against running in the special election to replace Kerry:

A Contraception Compromise

Stacy Lynn Baum / Flickr

Last year, as part of implementation for the Affordable Care Act, the Obama administration rolled out a rule on contraception that inspired a huge backlash from religious conservatives and began the “war on women” fight that extended through the presidential campaign. In short, Health and Human Services required all employers to include contraception in health insurance plans, without extra charge. Religious institutions could receive an exemption as long as they met particular requirements: Said organizations had to be nonprofits who mainly employed co-religionists, and had “the inculcation of religious values” as their primary purpose.

Can Conservatives Change How They Talk about Immigrants?

For many years, it's been obvious that conservatives do a better job of manipulating language than liberals, not only because they seem good at coming up with new terms to describe things, but more importantly because once they decide on a new term, they very quickly get everyone on their side to use it. One of the classic examples is how they took the "estate tax," with its evocation of a white-haired gentleman named something like Winthrop Flipperbottom III sipping brandy from a gigantic snifter while petting his afghan hound as he looks over the vast gardens of his estate, and renamed it the "death tax," which evokes a cruel IRS agent bursting in on your family mourning the death of your beloved uncle and making off with his lovingly amassed collection of vintage baseball cards. You will never, ever hear a conservative call the tax anything but the "death tax," because they all understand the utility of language. How much these kind of linguistic efforts really affect the outcome of policy conflicts is debateable, and the left certainly tries to do the same thing, but few people would argue that over the past twenty or thirty years the right hasn't been far better at it. It doesn't happen by accident—there are people who come up with the new words and phrases, people who test them in surveys and focus groups, people who work to spread them, and then all the people who reinforce them with frequent use. It's a system, and it works very well.

All of which makes it so odd that it has taken until now for conservatives to realize that they have a real language problem, and what they really need is a little of the political correctness they've so despised in the past. As Garance Franke-Ruta of The Atlantic explains, not only are Republicans telling each other to shut up about the whole "legitimate rape" thing, but some of them are urging a change in how they talk about immigration...

Jobs on Jobs on Jobs on Jobs

Steve Benen, Maddow Blog

According to the latest report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the economy created 157,000 jobs in January, a solid number, though behind what we need to see a robust recovery. More important, as always, are the revisions. November’s job growth was revised to 247,000 (up from 161,000) and December’s was revised to 196,000 (up from 155,000). 

These are big revisions, and when analyzed as part of a trend, it’s clear that the government was been underestimating job growth for most of 2012, to the tune of 28,000 jobs a month.

The Bitter Twilight of John McCain

AP Photo/Susan Walsh

“That one,” John McCain famously snarled in a presidential debate four years ago, referring to his opponent who was a quarter of a century younger and who had been in the Senate three years to McCain’s 20. It’s difficult to imagine a better revelation of the McCain psyche than that moment, but if there is one, then it came yesterday at the meeting of the Senate Armed Services Committee, convened to consider the nomination of Chuck Hagel as Secretary of Defense. The McCain fury is something to behold, almost irresistible for how unvarnished it is in all its forms. In the instance of the 2008 debate, McCain’s dumbfounded antipathy had to do with facing an opponent he so clearly considered unworthy of him. In the instance of the hearing yesterday, McCain’s bitter blast was at somebody who once was among his closest friends, a former Vietnam warrior and fellow Republican of a similarly independent ilk, who supported McCain’s first run for the presidency in 2000 against George W. Bush but then appeared to abandon the Arizona senator eight years later.

Obama's Trump Card: Breaking the Filibuster

AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster

Did a hack conservative judge just lay the groundwork for the end of the filibuster? It’s very possible. At least, if the Supreme Court goes along—and if Democrats, as they should, fight back.

The road begins not with last week’s D.C. Circuit Court decision, which if upheld would knock out virtually all recess appointments, but with the Senate Republican plan that Brookings scholar Tom Mann has called “a modern form of nullification.” That was a scheme to prevent some government agencies—the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), the new Consumer Finance Protection Bureau (CFPB), and others—from functioning by blockading any presidential appointments, using the filibuster to require 60 votes and then keeping the Republican Senate conference united against any nominee. In the case of the NLRB, blocking appointments would mean there was no quorum to do (any) business; leaving the CFPB leaderless would stop the agency from carrying out many of its responsibilities. In both cases, the effect was not only to undermine a Democratic president and Senate, but to bring Republicans something they might not have been able to achieve even if they controlled the White House and Congress: de facto repeal of legislation establishing government regulatory agencies.

Hagel Haggling

There are witnesses who wow the congressional committees before which they appear, and there are those that wither under tough questioning. And then there are those who don't do particularly well, but end up succeeding only because of the buffoonery of the questioners who attempt to undo them. Chuck Hagel's confirmation hearing today in defense of his nomination to be the next secretary of defense fell into the latter category.