Vox Pop

The Prospect's politics blog

The Peak of Her Game

AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais
AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, listens to questions from lawmakers during her testimony on Capitol Hill, Wednesday, January 23, 2013, before Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on the deadly September attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans. W ith due respect to Barack Obama, his second inaugural address—containing not a single phrase likely to end up chiseled in stone, but a tactical masterpiece in its GOP-marginalizing, progressive redefinition of what the traffic will bear—wasn't the best political TV of the week. The best political TV of the week was Hillary Clinton's testimony in front of the Senate and then House Foreign Relations Committees on Wednesday. After licking their chops for weeks at the prospect, Republicans eyeing 2016—specifically, potential contenders Marco Rubio and Rand Paul, both of whom were among her quizzers—may be wondering why...

Equality, Brought to You by U.S. Airways?

Flickr/Robertsharp
Poking holes in the arguments that appear on The Wall Street Journal’s editorial pages bears a close resemblance, I admit, to shooting fish in a barrel, but an op-ed in Thursday’s Journal makes points so idiotic I cannot restrain myself. Its thesis, as woozily argued by Donald Boudreaux, a George Mason University economics professor, and Mark Perry, a University of Michigan economics professor, is that the decline and stagnation of the American middle class is a myth. Careful analyses of American income distribution by economists like U.C. Berkeley’s Emmanuel Saez—who has found that 93 percent of U.S. economic growth since the trough of the recession has gone to the wealthiest 1 percent of our compatriots – are not even considered in the Boudreaux-Perry manifesto. Rather, they note that Americans’ life expectancy has increased in recent decades (though they fail to grapple with the recent report from the National Research Council and the Institute of Medicine, which found that...

What Killed Filibuster Reform?

Flickr/theqspeaks
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Senator McConnell reached an agreement yesterday that will be called "filibuster reform" by some reports. But as The Washington Post 's Ezra Klein summarizes it , "The deal is this: The filibuster will not be reformed." There were some minor changes in the deal that will streamline the confirmation process for nominees to federal district courts (although not appeals courts), but overall the deal is a fizzle for supporters of filibuster reform. The failure to reform the filibuster is a very bad thing . The question is why so many Democratic senators—including some blue-state representatives like Vermont's Patrick Leahy and California Senators Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer—showed so little inclination to act in the interests of progressive values. One issue is that some senators may not accurately perceive the damage that the filibuster does to Democratic interests. One Senate staffer wrote Talking Points Memo to defend the non-reform: I have...

Fighting Firearms with Firearms

Flickr/Marcin Wichary, Keary O.
Flickr/Marcin Wichary O n Saturday, just a few days after President Obama put forth 23 executive actions to curb gun violence, approximately 1,000 gun-rights activists gathered at the Texas state Capitol to show their opposition . The protest was one of 49 organized around the country by pro-gun group Guns Across America, but the one in Texas was among the biggest. Signs pronounced assault weapons “the modern musket” and quoted the Second Amendment. Speakers including Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson and state Representative Steve Toth argued that gun control had no place in America. “The Second Amendment was an enumeration of a right that I already had received from God,” speaker Ralph Patterson, the McLennan County Republican Party chair, told the crowd . “God gave me the right to defend myself.” Three days after the rally, on Tuesday, Texas was in the national headlines when a shooting occurred at a Houston community college. After the tragic events in Newtown, Connecticut, Aurora...

Why People Hate D.C.: Exhibit A, B, and C

Yesterday, a bunch of silly Republicans pretended to be mad at Hillary Clinton, then got genuinely mad when she replied to them sharply. Today some of the same Republicans pretended to be mad in the general direction of John Kerry, who was testifying in support of his nomination to be secretary of state. Tempers stayed in check for the most part, though, and despite their distress at the fact that Kerry is likely to support the policies of the president who appointed him, Republicans will let Kerry slide through without too much of a fight. Meanwhile, Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell reached a deal on filibuster reform, agreeing that actually reforming the filibuster in any meaningful way would be a bad idea (more details below). So we can look forward to another Congress in which every piece of legislation more momentous than declaring August to be National Snap Pea Awareness Month will require a supermajority of 60 votes in order to pass. Not that much of anything would pass the House...

Republicans Puzzled as to Why They Didn't Slay Hillary Clinton Yesterday

Hillary Clinton making a point to Republicans at a hearing on Benghazi yesterday.
Today, Republicans are wondering why they didn't manage to make Hillary Clinton fall whimpering into a fetal position of the floor of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing room, then get up and admit that the Obama administration had engaged in a massive cover-up of their terrible crimes in Benghazi. Senator Ron Johnson, one of the most intellectually challenged members of that august body, with whom Clinton had an exchange that ran on all the news programs, triumphally told a reporter he had got "under her skin," and said, "I think she just decided before she was going to describe emotionally the four dead Americans, the heroes, and use that as her trump card to get out of the questions. It was a good way of getting out of really having to respond to me." Diabolical indeed, that she managed to evade your skillful cross-examination. John McCain, on the other hand, blamed an "adoring media" for not helping the Republicans stick it to Clinton. Could be. Or it could be that when...

Will the Virginia GOP's Electoral Vote Rigging Pass?

James Madison University
To follow up on yesterday’s post on the Virginia GOP and it’s attempt to gerrymander presidential elections, ThinkProgress reports that one Republican—State Senator Jill Holtzman Vogel—abstained from the initial vote, sending it to the Privileges and Elections Committee without full recommendation. Her abstention was more procedural than anything else—she chairs the redistricting subcommittee—but she has announced her opposition to the proposal. If the bill reaches the floor, and Vogel joins the Democratic opposition—it will fail to win passage, on account of the Virginia Senate’s even split between Republicans and Democrats. One thing worth noting about this is how much it’s a just an admission of electoral defeat. Last year was only the second time in over 40 years that Virginia voted for a Democratic presidential candidate, and even still, it remains more Republican than the 270th electoral vote—any Democrat close to winning Virginia has already cleared the hurdle for the White...

Deficits: The End of an Obsession

AP Photo/Alan Diaz
The consensus around debt reduction is beginning to crumble. Some straws in the wind are more careful attention to the actual numbers, as well as public conversions by such key players as Larry Summers and Peter Orszag, two former top aides to President Obama, who only yesterday were key members of the deflate-your-way-to-recovery club. Summers wrote a piece in Wednesday’s Financial Times titled “End the Damaging Obsession with the Budget Deficit,” pointing out that the more serious deficits were in jobs, wages, and infrastructure. His former colleague Orszag wrote a piece pointing out that the rest of the budget is in decent shape—the huge outlier is federal health care costs, projected to rise from 5.5 percent of GDP now to 12 percent by 2050. President Obama, in his second inaugural address, had little to say about deficit-reduction as some kind of panacea and more about broadly-shared recovery. In the era of the Bowles Simpson Commission, the Peterson Foundation’s regular...

The Glory of Earned Media

Flickr/Gage Skidmore
A few years ago, the political operatives whose job it is to handle press coverage decided that the traditional dichotomy between "paid media" (ads you buy) and "free media" (press coverage you get) was insulting to their efforts. So they stopped using the term "free media" and began referring instead to "earned media." Because after all, when their boss got a glowing write-up in a newspaper, it didn't come for free, that press secretary and her staff earned it! And somebody sure as heck earned this piece in The Washington Post about Louisiana governor and likely 2016 hopeful Bobby Jindal. "Bobby Jindal Speaking Truth to GOP Power," reads the headline, establishing Jindal as outsidery, honest, and brave. The subject is a speech he'll be delivering to the RNC tonight, helpfully previewed to the Post 's Chris Cillizza and Aaron Blake, who could be guaranteed to run their "scoop" without the barest shred of skepticism. Shield your eyes, lest the bright light of his truth-telling blind...

Don't Go Chasing Reagan Myths

AP Photo/Peter Southwick
AP Photo/Peter Southwick President Ronald Reagan gives the thumbs up gesture during his acceptance speech at the 1984 Republican National Convention in Dallas. T he verdict from pundits is in: Barack Obama’s Inaugural speech signaled his ambition to be the “liberal Reagan,” and the Big Question about his second term is whether he’ll achieve that goal. People mean different things by what Ronald Reagan achieved as president, and therefore what it would mean to be a “liberal Reagan.” The Prospect ’s Paul Waldman says that to be like Reagan, Obama would need to “define an era that continues even after he leaves office.” At The New York Times , conservative columnist Ross Douthat talks about “a long, Reagan-like shadow over subsequent policy debates.” T he Washington Examiner ’s Philip Klein considers whether Obama will match Reagan as “a president who not only wins elections (as Bill Clinton and George W. Bush did), but one who ideologically shifts the nation in his direction.” I think,...

To Run or Not to Run, That Is the Question

If the latest poll from ABC News and The Washington Post is any indication, Hillary Clinton is one of the most popular political figures in the country. Sixty-seven percent of Americans have a positive view of the Secretary of State, former senator, and former first lady. Twenty-six percent hold a negative opinion, and only six percent say they have no thoughts on Clinton. All of which means, to many pundits, that she'd have a cakewalk into the White House in 2016. Before we begin a second premature coronation for the potential presidential candidate, however, it’s worth noting that Clinton's popularity is a partial function of her remove from partisan politics. She wasn’t at all involved in the presidential campaign, and while she belongs to a Democratic administration, she's spent the last four years representing the interests of the nation writ large. But as we saw this afternoon with the testimony over last year’s incident in Benghazi, where American diplomats were killed after...

Women to Serve In Combat Units

Flick/U.S. Marine Corps
Today, acting on the recommendation of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta announced that he is lifting the ban, in place since 1994, on women serving in combat roles in the United States military. One has to wonder how much longer this would have taken had we not had the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, but the reality on the ground—that women have been fighting and dying alongside their male colleagues for the last decade—made this almost inevitable. What changes now is that women can serve in units like infantry that are designated as combat units. I'm sure some conservatives are going to start hemming and hawing about how the lack of upper body strength among your average lady-type means this will accelerate the wussification of the U.S. military, and how it was just inevitable under Barack Obama's plan to destroy America. No doubt we'll hear that from Rush Limbaugh, who probably couldn't do a push-up if there was a capital gains tax cut waiting at the top of it...

Virginia Republicans Move Forward with Mass Disenfranchisement

James Madison University
James Madison University Virginia's congressional districts. This morning, I wrote on an emerging Republican plan—in swing states won by President Obama—to rig presidential elections by awarding electoral votes to the winner of the most congressional districts. Because Democratic voters tend to cluster in highly-populated urban areas, and Republican voters tend to reside in more sparsely populated regions, this makes land the key variable in elections—to win the majority of a state’s electoral votes, your voters will have to occupy the most geographic space. In addition to disenfranchising voters in dense areas, this would end the principle of “one person, one vote.” If Ohio operated under this scheme, for example, Obama would have received just 22 percent of the electoral votes, despite winning 52 percent of the popular vote in the state. For this reason, I didn’t expect Republicans to go forward with the plan—the risk of blowback is just too high. My skepticism, however, was...

Labor, and Middle Class, Still Shrinking

AP Photo/Keith Srakocic
Can we at least agree to stop using the term “Big Labor?” Whatever else may be said of the American union movement, it’s not really big any more. Today, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released its report on the number of Americans in unions in 2012, and it tells a tale of steady, and in some cases, dramatic shrinkage. In 2011, 11.8 percent of American workers were unionized; last year, that figure dropped to 11.3 percent. The percentage of public sector workers in unions dropped from 37.0 percent to 35.9 percent, while the share of unionized private sector workers went from 6.9 percent to 6.6 percent. For all intents and purposes, collective bargaining in the U.S. private sector has just about vanished. In 1970, there were 17.8 million union members in a nation of 203 million. Last year, 14.4 million Americans were union members (down by 400,000 from the previous year) in a nation of 315 million people. In percentage terms, the 11.3 percent national unionization rate is just...

Why Balance the Budget?

Google
I mentioned in the previous post that Republicans have pledged to craft a plan that balances the budget in ten years. As a political matter, it’s easy to see why they would do this—Americans like the idea of a balanced budget. As an economic issue, however, the question is less clear. Here’s Matthew Yglesias asking if there’s anything—anything at all—that we gain from having a balanced budget: The budget will, presumably, cut spending down to a level that conservatives think is appropriate. Say that sums up to 18 percent of GDP. Well if you’re spending 18 percent of GDP and 18 percent of GDP is the right amount to spend, then why is it better to raise 18 percent of GDP in taxes rather than raise 16 percent and borrow the rest? Is it because a 2 percent of GDP budget deficit would be inflationary? Is it because an inflation-targeting central bank faced with a 2 percent of GDP budget deficit would be forced to peg short-term interest rates at a high level? What’s the problem, exactly,...

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