Vox Pop

The Prospect's politics blog

He's Not Here to Make Friends

President Obama meeting with grim-faced members of Congress. (White House/Pete Souza)
If you walked into the home of an acquaintance and found yourself facing a wall of dozens of pictures of him shaking hands with powerful people, you'd probably think, "What a pompous ass. And how insecure do you have to be to put these things up on your wall? I get it, you're important. Sheesh." In Washington, however, these "brag walls" can be found all over town, particularly on Capitol Hill, where nearly every member of Congress has one. Maybe some offices do it just because that's what everyone else does, but you'd think that if you're a senator or member of Congress, the fact that you're an important person would be self-evident, and it wouldn't be necessary to make sure everyone who comes into your office knows that you've been in the same room as presidents and other high-ranking officials. There are some commercial establishments, like your local deli, that might put up pictures on their walls with the celebrities who have stopped in, but that's an understandable marketing...

Establishment Republicans Can't Blame the Tea Party for Everything

Wikipedia
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. In an effort to avoid a repeat of this in 2014, establishment Republicans have begun an effort to recruit more pliable candidates—ones who won’t sink GOP odds with ill-considered words on rape and women’s health. According to The New York Times , the “Conservative Victory Project” is “intended to counter other organizations that have helped defeat establishment Republican candidates over the last two election cycles. It is the most robust attempt yet by Republicans to impose a new sense...

Outsiders as Insiders

Flickr/Office of Governor Patrick
Flickr/Office of Governor Patrick M assachusetts 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. And then Democrats blew the special election for Ted Kennedy’s seat in January 2010, when Scott Brown upset Attorney General Martha Coakley. This occurred in a state that reliably votes Democratic for president, and hasn’t sent a Republican to the U.S. House since 1994. Despite the Democratic sentiments of Massachusetts voters, the institutional party has often seemed dysfunctional, decrepit, and not welcoming of new blood. In this odd history, however, one fact screams out. The two big statewide winners of recent decades were complete outsiders—Deval Patrick and Elizabeth Warren...

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. So when the White House released a photo over the weekend of President Obama shooting skeet, the smoke of freedom issuing forth from the barrel of his gun, you could almost hear him saying, "I'm not an effete socialist gun-hater. I'm you." If "you" happen to be one of the minority of Americans who own guns, that is. Even at this late date, Obama and his aides can't resist the urge, when...

What Would Jack Lew Do?

AP Photo/Win McNamee
AP Photo/Win McNamee Current White House Chief of Staff Jack Lew, whom President Barack Obama has nominated to be the new Treasury secretary, at the president's swearing-in ceremony during the 57th Presidential Inauguration. S ometime 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. Nevertheless, the Treasury secretary will be responsible for the overhaul of the legal and...

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. The 1880s and 1890s had been the Gilded Age, the time of robber barons, when a small number controlled almost all the nation’s wealth as well as our democracy, when poverty had risen to record levels, and when it looked as though the country was destined to become a moneyed aristocracy. But almost without warning, progressives reversed the tide. Teddy Roosevelt became president in 1901, pledging to break up the giant trusts and end the reign of the “malefactors of great wealth.”...

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. Promising to "ride my Harley to all parts of the Garden State," Geraldo may—just may—be playing this mostly for publicity. Call us crazy, but we have our suspicions. But if he were elected, he would double the number of United States senators sporting mustaches (recently elected Angus King of Maine brought the total from zero to one). An endorsement from the American Mustache Institute is all but assured. And amazingly, if you were picking the most...

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. Near as I...

Exit Scott Brown

Wikipedia
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: The special election would have been Brown’s third since his initial January 2011 election to the Senate, when he bested Democratic favorite Martha Coakley in an election to fill the seat of the late Sen. Edward Kennedy. Brown’s election came at the height of the fight over health care reform in Congress, and his victory was seen as the advent of the political influence of the Tea Party movement. The current contenders, then, are Democratic Representatives Edward Markey...

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. This definition precluded exemptions for certain religious charities—like Catholic hospitals—which prompted a variety of lawsuits, as well as a huge political spectacle that tarnished Republicans for the rest of the year. But the Obama administration listened to complaints, and has adopted a new definition of “religious organization” that’s a little...

Can Conservatives Change How They Talk about Immigrants?

For many years, it's been obvious 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...

The Senate-Hearing Circus Is in Session

AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite
AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite) Senator Ted Cruz uses a poster while questioning Chuck Hagel, a former two-term GOP senator and President Obama's choice for defense secretary, during his confirmation hearing at the Senate Armed Services Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, January 31, 2013. Hagel faced strong GOP resistance and was forced to explain past remarks and votes even as he appeared on a path to confirmation as Obama second-term defense secretary and the nation's 24th Pentagon chief. T hat really could’ve gone better. Appearing before yesterday’s marathon session of the Senate Armed Services Committee, former Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel, President Obama’s nominee for Secretary of Defense, seemed apologetic, hesitant, and adrift. To the extent Hagel seemed to have prepared at all, it was for a set of serious questions on serious issues from a completely different set of Senators who weren’t out to score petty partisan points. Looking to make sense of the spectacle...

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. It should be said that this makes Barack Obama’s re-election victory even easier to explain. If the president’s standing was higher than expected, it’s because economic conditions were much better than we thought. And if Obama’s approval rating has seen a big, post-election bump—and it has—it might have something to do with the fact that employment growth broke the 200,000 barrier in November. Mitt Romney has received a huge amount of opprobrium for the tenor of...

The Bitter Twilight of John McCain

AP Photo/Susan Walsh
AP Photo/Susan Walsh Senator John McCain of Arizona asks a question of former Nebraska senator Chuck Hagel, center, President Barack Obama's choice for defense secretary, on Capitol Hill yesterday. Senator James Inhofe, a Republican from Oklahoma, listens at left. T hat 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 3 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. In the instance of the hearing...

Obama's Trump Card: Breaking the Filibuster

AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster
AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster President Barack Obama announces that he will re-nominate Richard Cordray, left, to lead the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, a role that he has held for the last year under a recess appointment, January 24, 2013. D id 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...

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