Vox Pop

The Prospect's politics blog

A Cleared Bill of Health

Flickr/Robert F. W. Whitlock

There have been few more consequential years in the history of health care in America than 2012. This year saw disasters averted, new problems identified, and hope triumphing over despair. The biggest health-care news in 2012 was the dramatic and surprising decision by the Supreme Court in late June to uphold (for the most part) the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Chief Justice John Roberts shocked his Republican admirers by siding with the liberals on the Court to affirm the constitutionality of the law's individual mandate as a tax, though he also gave Republicans a way to fight back by saying the federal government couldn't force states to accept what is arguably the law's most significant feature: its dramatic expansion of Medicaid.

The NRA's War of All Against All

The NRA wants you to think this guy is coming for your family.

It's quite salutary that Wayne LaPierre and the National Rifle Association are getting so much attention, because the truth is that most Americans aren't familiar with their rhetoric and the reality they inhabit. If you didn't know too much about LaPierre but tuned in to see him on Meet the Press yesterday, you probably came away saying, "This guy is a lunatic" (a word we'll get to in a moment).

I'm not talking about his preferred policy prescriptions. I'm talking about his view of the world. LaPierre gets paid close to a million dollars a year, which I'm guessing allows him a comfortable lifestyle. But he seems to imagine that contemporary America is actually some kind of post-apocalyptic hellscape a la Mad Max, where psychotic villains in makeshift armor and face paint cruise through the streets looking for people to kill.

Our Most-Trafficked Pieces in 2012

  1. My So-Called Ex-Gay Life

    A deep look at the fringe movement that just lost its only shred of scientific support

  2. Ten Arguments Gun Advocates Make, and Why They're Wrong

    A guide to the debate we'll be having, or at least we ought to have

  3. The Coming Obama Landslide 

    How Paul Ryan makes a big win much more likely for the current president

For Unions, It Was a Very Bad Year

AP Photo/Detroit News, Dale G. Young

American labor can begin the new year with thanks that 2012 is over. Not that the unions didn’t win some big victories in 2012. Their political programs in key swing states played a major role in President Obama’s re-election, both by turning out minority voters in record numbers in Ohio, Nevada, and Florida and by winning Obama a higher share of white, working-class voters in the industrial Midwest than he won in other regions. Their efforts also helped liberal Democrats hold key Senate seats in Ohio (Sherrod Brown) and Wisconsin (Tammy Baldwin), and pick up Massachusetts (Elizabeth Warren). In California, the nation’s mega-state, unions beat back a ballot measure designed to cripple their political programs by a decisive 12.5-percent margin, turning out so many voters that they also helped a key tax-hike measure pass at the polls and enabled the Democrats to win super-majorities in the state legislature.

Every Time, It's Personal

Eight years is a long time in politics, but you may remember that way back in 2004, Republicans considered John Kerry a wimpy, flip-flopping elitist who had faked his war injuries and betrayed America by coming back from Vietnam and criticizing the war. But today Barack Obama nominated Kerry to be secretary of State, just as one Republican after another begged him to. In contrast, the possibility that Chuck Hagel, once considered among the more conservative Republicans in the Senate (his lifetime rating from the American Conservative Union was a solid 84), might be nominated to be secretary of Defense has the GOP so outraged they have mounted a coordinated campaign to discredit Hagel as an anti-Semite who is also anti-gay (hey, whatever's handy). So what gives?

Obama Appoints Scott Brown as Senator from Massachusetts

Flickr/U.S Embassy Kabul Afghanistan

The Washington Post reports that President Obama has nominated Massachusetts Senator John Kerry to be the next Secretary of State. This doesn’t come as a surprise; he was on the short list behind Hillary Clinton, and has been a stalwart defender of the administration’s foreign policy choices over the last four years. Clinton is a hard act to follow, but there’s little doubt Kerry will perform well in the position.

Don't Count Boehner Out Just Yet

AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

The side of John Boehner we understand most is the one that offers that distant sense of comfort—the one who'll pander to the conservative movement during these fiscal cliff talks but understands a compromise must come through at the end. This is the John Boehner we dub the "dealmaker," the leader who must "stand up” to the Tea Party—and Majority Leader Eric Cantor, the rival who would do him in. His “dealmaker” persona stems from the assumption he isn’t a true believer or an aggressively ideological Republican, which is correct.

There's No Wizard Behind the NRA's Curtain

Google

The National Rifle Association has been in a tough spot since the shootings in Newtown, Connecticut. As an advocacy group for gun manufactuers, and a particular set of gun enthusiasts, it has no interest in new gun control regulations. But it as a powerful political force, it has to say something—otherwise, it’s vulnerable to continued criticism.

The NRA Shoots Itself in the Foot

NRA leader Wayne LaPierre at today's press conference.

The National Rifle Association finally weighed in on the gun debate today, in a news conference (albeit one in which they took no questions) setting out their feelings at this critical moment. And they gave the movement for greater restrictions on guns the biggest favor it could have hoped for. While the organization was once devoted to marksmanship and gun safety, in recent years it has increasingly become a shill for the gun manufacturers that fund it and the home of unhinged conspiracy theorists. As it showed today, the worst thing it can do for its cause is to step into the light.

The Nature of John Boehner's Problem

Flickr/Gage Skidmore

So last night, John Boehner suffered a particularly humiliating defeat. Attempting to pass "Plan B," a fiscal plan that would go nowhere in the Senate, and even if it did it would get vetoed by the President, Boehner was hoping that if nothing else he'd be able to say in the face of rising criticism, "We passed a plan!" But he couldn't accomplish even that; realizing that he couldn't muster the votes within his caucus for Plan B, he cancelled the vote. Boehner is clearly the weakest Speaker in memory. I picture Nancy Pelosi, who can corral more votes before her morning coffee than Boehner can in a week of begging, smiling a wicked little smile at her opposite number's bumbling failure.

So just why is it that Boehner finds even a symbolic vote like this one so impossible to win? I don't think it's that he's ineffectual, and a more skilled dealmaker would be able to accomplish more. The problem is in his troops.

How House Republicans Neutered Themselves

Gage Skidmore / Flickr

Last night witnessed the implosion of John Boehner’s efforts to pass a Republican-crafted fiscal cliff proposal, otherwise known as “Plan B.” Unlike the floated compromise, this would extend the Bush tax cuts for all income under $1 million, preserve a high estate tax cut off, and slash spending on tax credits for working-class Americans (in addition to cutting Obamacare and repealing key mechanisms of Dodd-Frank).

The Problem's Guns—Not the Mentally Ill

Flickr/Robert Huffstutter

In the aftermath of the massacre of first-graders at Sandy Hook elementary school, right-wing defenders of unregulated guns have gravitated to a common alibi: The problem isn’t guns; it’s mental illness. If only society kept better track of crazy people and kept weapons out of their hands, we could prevent more episodes of armed mayhem.

The Liberal's Gift-Giving Guide

As Mitt Romney knows all too well, liberals love handing out gifts, and now that it’s the holiday season, we’re excited to extend our generosity beyond minorities, women, and feckless young people. Here at the Prospect, we know it’s likely that you’ve been too busy with your heavy marijuana usage to get on that Christmas shopping, so we’ve compiled a handy gift-guide for all the lefties in your life.

 

For your nephew, the one who’s an “energy entrepreneur”

They're Just Not That into You

A White House Hanukkah celebration. You'll notice that Biden is seriously digging it.

I'd like to pre-predict something about the 2016 presidential race. During that race, there will be an article or two in Politico interviewing a few grumpy alter kockers in Palm Beach who say that this time, they've really had it with those Democrats. Republican politicians will assure reporters that the GOP's unswerving Likudnik loyalties are finally winning American Jews around. And then the Democratic nominee, whomever he or she may be, will get the overwhelming majority of the Jewish vote, somewhere between 70 and 80 percent. How do I know this? Because that's what always happens. John Sides at the Monkey Cage alerts us to a new paper by political scientist Eric Uslander explaning how once again GOP hopes were dashed in 2012:

Where Public Opinion On Guns Is Headed

In the last few years, gun advocates have made much of the fact that when pollsters ask people broad, non-specific questions about gun laws, like "In general, do you think gun control laws should be made more strict, less strict, or kept as they are now?", support for restrictions has gone down, in some cases below 50 percent. As I've discussed before, that doesn't mean that people ever stopped supporting specific restrictions like those we're now discussing, but there were enough polls confirming the decline in support for generalized "gun control" since the 1990s that we can be fairly sure the phenomenon was real. But now, new polling is showing increased support for restrictions. For instance, a CBS poll released the other day, which uses the text I just quoted, showed support for making laws more strict at 57 percent, an 18-point jump from when the question was asked in April and a 10-year high. A new CNN poll produced similar results, with 52 percent saying either that there should be major restrictions on guns or that all there should be no private ownership of guns at all.

So what exactly is going on, and where is opinion likely to go? I think the answer to the first question is only partly that many people were so horrified by the shooting in Newtown that they finally said enough is enough. Perhaps more importantly, people are being exposed to something they haven't seen in a long time: a two-sided debate on guns

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