Vox Pop

The Prospect's politics blog

Conservatives Seek to Blot Bob McDonnell's Name from the Book of Reagan

Jamelle Bouie / The American Prospect
Jamelle Bouie / The American Prospect I wrote yesterday that Ken Cuccinelli was the clear winner of the fight over Virginia's new transportation bill. Yes, it passed the General Assembly and is on its way to becoming law, but Cuccinelli successfully positioned himself as an opponent of new spending and higher taxes, and in a low-turnout election where energized supporters are key, Cuccinelli bought himself a small advantage. As did Terry McAuliffe, who—in supporting the bill—positioned himself in the sensible center of Virginia politics. The only loser in this fight, so far, is the governor, Republican Bob McDonnell. In his campaign for the governorship, as Scott Galupo points out for The American Conservative , McDonnell pledged not to raise taxes to pay for new transportation projects. When fully implemented, however, the current bill would raise taxes on Virginians by $6.1 billion over the next five years . Given the trade-off—better roads, bridges and mass transit for more than 8...

Nobody Knows What They're Doing

He loves it when a plan comes together, but he doesn't work in Washington.
In his Washington Post column today, Ezra Klein makes an important point about politics generally and Washington in particular that I think isn't widely enough understood. He calls it "the myth of scheming," and what it amounts to is that in politics, things don't operate they way do in the movies. Or to put it less charitably, nobody knows what the hell they're doing and everyone is bumbling around blindly: This is the most pervasive of of all Washington legends: that politicians in Washington are ceaselessly, ruthlessly, effectively scheming. That everything that happens fits into somebody's plan. It doesn't. Maybe it started out with a scheme, but soon enough everyone is, at best, reacting, and at worst, failing to react, and always, always they're doing it with less information than they need. That's been a key lesson I've learned working as a reporter and political observer in Washington: No one can carry out complicated plans. All parties and groups are fractious and bumbling...

The Sequestering of Barack Obama

AP Photo/Susan Walsh
AP Photo/Susan Walsh President Barack Obama urges Congress to come up with a plan to avert the automatic spending cuts set to kick in on March 1, 2013 last week. P resident Obama has miscalculated both the tactical politics of the sequester and the depressive economic impact of budget cuts on the rest of his presidency. The sequester will cut economic growth in half this year. But it’s now clear, one way or another, that we will get cuts in the $85 billion range that the sequester mandates this fiscal year. All that remains are the details. Obama’s miscalculation began in his fist term, with his embrace of the premise that substantial deficit cutting was both politically expected and economically necessary, and his appointment of the 2010 Bowles-Simpson Commission as the expression of that mistaken philosophy. Although the Commission’s plan was never carried out, its prestige and Obama’s parentage of it locked the president into a deflationary deficit reduction path. This past week,...

Save the Surpluses for Another Rainy Day

Guido Bergmann/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images
The last several years have been bleak for state governments. Most had to tap, if not drain, rainy-day funds—money set aside for emergencies. But that usually wasn’t enough to bridge shortfalls. Some raised taxes and other revenue, but for the most part, states relied on cuts. Since 2007, states have slashed nearly $300 billion from their budgets, with health care and education being hardest hit; according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), a progressive think tank, over the last five years 23 states have made deep cuts to pre-K and public school spending, while 20 have made major cuts to health care. But the economic recovery that began nearly four years ago is finally beginning to come to states, albeit slowly. Only eight states made emergency mid-year cuts to their budget, and others are finding themselves with more money than they’d budgeted. According to the National Association of State Budget Officers, 34 states wound up with revenues higher than expected. (...

Karl Rove Is Going to Haunt American Politics Forever

Ah, the good old days.
Karl Rove is, it's fair to say, the most famous political consultant of the modern age. There are a few others who achieved notoriety, like Lee Atwater, but none has had quite Rove's profile. He's admired and reviled, has had biographies written about him, and has been satirically immortalized by Stephen Colbert as a canned ham with glasses (" Ham Rove "). This came about partly because he was extremely successful at his craft, and because his success came out of some of the most ruthless and immoral tactics you could imagine, the kind of stuff you ordinarily only see in movies about politics but not in actual politics ( see here for some details). But more than anything else, it was because the politician he drove to the White House was assumed by so many to be a dolt, and therefore the idea of Rove as the evil genius puppetmaster pulling all the strings made sense. After reaching the pinnacle of his profession, most people in Rove's position would have left the actual work of...

Trading The Blame Game for The Bully Pulpit

Flickr/Neon Tommy
The White House apparently believes the best way to strengthen its hand in the upcoming “sequester” showdown with Republicans is to tell Americans how awful the spending cuts will be and blame Republicans for them. It won’t work. These tactical messages are getting in the way of the larger truth, which the president must hammer home: The Republicans’ austerity and trickle-down economics are dangerous, bald-faced lies. Yes, the pending spending cuts will hurt. But even if some Americans begin to feel the pain when the cuts go into effect Friday, most won’t feel it for weeks or months, if ever. Half are cuts in the military, which will have a huge impact on jobs (the military is America’s only major jobs program), but the cuts will be felt mainly in states with large numbers of military contractors, and then only as those contractors shed employees. The other half are cuts in domestic discretionary spending, which will largely affect lower-income Americans. There will be sharp...

Ringside Seat: It's All in the Details

As a number of commentators have pointed out in the last few days, with the sequester looming, the Democrats have a single message they're sending to the public. Republicans, on the other hand, are a bit more muddled. The former say that this will be a disaster, with effects seen in every corner of the country and in too many areas of American life to count. The latter say that it was all Barack Obama's idea, so blame him (even if Republicans voted for it), and besides, Democrats are exaggerating how bad it'll be. But Republicans are facing what they've faced in previous showdowns: When you actually shut down the government or cut it back drastically, the debate moves from the abstract to the specific. And that's not where they want to be. For many decades, political scientists have known that as a group, Americans are "symbolic conservatives" but "operational liberals." They like the idea of "small government," as long as you're staying at that level of abstraction. But they also...

Ken Cuccinelli Makes Smart Moves in Virginia's Transportation Fight

Gage Skidmore / Flickr
Gage Skidmore / Flickr Attorney General of Virginia Ken Cuccinelli speaking at the 2012 Liberty Political Action Conference in Chantilly, Virginia. On Saturday, the Virginia General Assembly ended its session by passing a landmark transportation funding bill that would overhaul how Virginians pay for roads, highways and mass transit. The new plan would replace the 17.5 cents-per-gallon tax on gasoline—unchanged for 26 years—with a new 3.5 percent tax on motor fuels that would keep pace with inflation and growth. It allows for lawmakers to divert as much as $200 million in general fund revenue toward transportation instead of other services, and it charges a registration tax on hybrid, electric, and alternative fuel vehicles. Finally, it raises the state sales tax to 5.3 percent, and creates a special funding mechanism for the Hampton Roads area, where sales taxes are bumped to 6 percent to pay for regional transportation improvements. Merits of the law aside (it all but subsidizes...

Better Technology Won't Save the GOP

NewsHour / Flickr
It's hard to argue there isn't a large technology divide between Republicans and Democrats. The Obama campaign was lightyears ahead of Team Romney in terms of its online sophistication, including its presence on social media. As a result, some Republicans argue for a greater focus on technology as a way to appeal to younger voters and recover lost support in national elections. Stuart Stevens, chief guru for the Romney campaign, disagrees. Writing in The Washington Post , he argues that Republicans need a new message—and not just new technology—if they want to make inroads: In this fourth decade of the Internet, one of the original truisms is still true: Content is king. The ugly, clunky Drudge Report site still harvests record numbers of eyeballs because it serves up a hearty meal at a good price: free. The content rule is true across mediums. How many graphic makeovers and relaunches has CNN attempted to arrest its slow slide? The simple truth is that most people feel there is no...

Leaning Out—of This Fight

AP Photo/Keystone, Laurent Gillieron, File
I am leaning in just a little as I write this. OK, I’m not. But I am feeling a little sick as I ponder the next unpleasant installment of the “mommy wars” that’s hurtling toward us. This past Friday, The New York Times’ Jodi Kantor assembled the ingredients for yet another bitter and prolonged back-and-forth about women and work. At its center is Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead , a new book that purports to show American women the way out of our relative powerlessness. In it, Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook, gives women advice on how to assume leadership roles by, among other things, understanding our strengths and reassessing how we hold our bodies in business meetings. On the other side of the ring, we have Anne Marie Slaughter , the Princeton Professor and former Obama Administration official, who with her viral “we can’t have it all” essay in The Atlantic this past summer, can serve as a foil to the first. Finally, critically, we have the media , who (myself...

Ted Cruz Is the Next Jim DeMint, Not the Next Barack Obama

Flickr/Gage Skidmore
As the old saying goes, you never get a second chance to make a first impression. That isn't to say that first impressions are necessarily immutable destiny in politics, since there are those who have bombed in their national debut and turned things around, and others who looked terrific at first but turned out to be something less. Bill Clinton gave a famously terrible speech at the 1988 Democratic convention, and Sarah Palin was dynamite in her speech at the GOP's 2008 gathering. Nevertheless, there are some things you just can't overcome, particularly if what caused them wasn't a bad night's sleep but the very core of your being. A year or two ago, if you asked Republicans to list their next generation of stars Ted Cruz's name would inevitably have come up. Young (he's only 42), Latino (his father emigrated from Cuba), smart (Princeton, Harvard Law) and articulate (he was a champion debater), he looked like someone with an unlimited future. But then he got to Washington and started...

Shorter White House on the Sequester: "It Will Destroy Everything"

Wikipedia
At this point, odds are low for a deal to avert the sequester. Republicans want an agreement to replace the planned across-the-board spending cuts—which include cuts to defense spending—with ones that target social spending and entitlements. President Obama is willing to compromise on spending cuts, but insists on new revenues. "Balanced" deficit reduction—a key part of his reelection platform—is still a priority for the administration, and it commands wide support from the public. It's unclear what happens next, but the administration is attempting to build support for its position with a new lobbying campaign, aimed at the states. Just last night, the White House released detailed descriptions of how the sequester would affect each state. If it hits, says the administration , 70,000 children would lose access to Head Start, 2,100 fewer food inspections could occur, up to 373,000 mentally ill adults and children would go untreated, and small businesses may see $900 million in reduced...

Fix the Economy, Not the Deficit

AP Photo/Charles Dharapak
AP Photo/Charles Dharapak President Obama discuses the sequester last week surounded by emergency responders, whom the White House says could be affected if state and local governments lose federal money as a result of budget cuts. I t’s hard to be happy about the prospect of the sequester—the huge, automatics cuts to domestic spending set to take place if lawmakers can't reach a long-term budget deal—going into effect at the end of the week. Not only will it will mean substantial cuts to important programs; it will be a further drag on an already weak economy, shaving 0.6 percentage points off our growth rate. The end of the payroll tax cut, which expired on January 1, has already pushed it down to around 2.0, but the sequester cuts will depress it below the rate needed to keep pace with those entering the labor market. As a result, we are likely to see a modest increase in unemployment over the course of the year if the cuts are left in place. Of course, it could be worse. Half of...

Bringing Up Beltway at the Oscars

AP/Matt Sayles
Photo by Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP A lthough we shouldn’t stretch the point, Academy Award campaigns aren’t so entirely different from other kinds of campaigns. There are demographics and constituencies (actors are by far the academy’s largest faction), trends and backlashes, and the equivalent of caucuses and primaries that, in terms of the final outcome, range from the meaningless (the Golden Globes) to the barely meaningful (critics groups) to the incontestably significant (the guild awards). This political nature exists even when the nominees themselves have nothing to do with politics. It’s all the more apparent, then, when the movies contending for last night’s Oscars are distinguished by a political subtext so obvious even the broadcast’s producers couldn’t miss it among the “boob” songs and William Shatner beaming in from the future and Seth McFarlane’s contempt-laced humor; thus the First Lady of the United States was recruited to present the final prize. Fully two thirds of...

Ringside Seat: Prospect'd

There's nothing wrong with being a centrist, if you find that your true ideology happens to lie between where Democrats and Republicans are at this particular moment in history. There are some people who feel that way. But far more common in Washington is centrism not as a sincere expression of beliefs, but as an attitude, or even a pose. The idea that wisdom is always to be found at the precise midpoint between what Democrats and Republicans are saying is a particular Washington curse, accompanied by its pox-on-both-their-houses handmaiden, the idea that both parties are always equally guilty of whatever sins are currently being committed in politics. So when David Brooks of The New York Times wrote a column claiming that neither Democrats nor Republicans had a plan to replace the sequester and reduce the deficit, The Washington Post 's Ezra Klein, using the skills he learned as a writer for The American Prospect , decided to see if Brooks might want to have a chat about the topic...

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