Vox Pop

The Prospect's politics blog

It Isn't Easy Being Fox

Karl Rove on election night, insisting it wasn't over.

Fox News has been in the news a bunch over the last two days, with stories like Roger Ailes' wooing of David Petraeus, and now the discovery by Gabriel Sherman of New York that the network has benched Karl Rove and Dick Morris, though for slightly different reasons. Morris is just an embarrassment because he's always so hilariously wrong about everything, while Rove apparently angered top management by challenging the network's call of Ohio for Obama on election night. "Ailes's deputy, Fox News programming chief Bill Shine, has sent out orders mandating that producers must get permission before booking Rove or Morris." This highlights something we liberals may not appreciate: it isn't easy being Fox.

For starters, MSNBC and CNN don't get nearly as much attention for their internal conflicts as Fox does. That's not only because there's a healthy appetite among liberals for these kinds of stories, but also because there seem to be many people within Fox who are happy to leak to reporters about what goes on there, presumably because they don't like their employer's politics. Without them, we'd never know about these things. But more importantly, Fox has a lot of people and factions to keep happy. To see what I mean, let's start with Ed Kilgore's explanation for the sidelining of Morris and particularly Rove:

GOP Just Can't Quit the Right

Republican elites have been pushing the party to moderate its image in order to stave off losses as the national electorate becomes increasingly diverse. But all the preening is unlikely to amount to substantive change. Sure, Republicans can talk about softening their tone against undocumented workers, or agree to hypothetical tax hikes, but when it comes down to it, they are still indebted to the right-wing base.

Insiderism in Action

Bob Woodward got himself a nice little scoop, an audio recording from spring 2011 in which Fox News analyst K.T. McFarland delivers a message from her boss Roger Ailes to David Petraeus, encouraging him to run for president, among other things. The facts that Ailes sees himself as a Republican kingmaker and that Fox is not just an observer but a participant in American politics are news to no one, of course. Nor is McFarland's fawning tone a surprise, nor the fact that she asks Petraeus whether there is "anything Fox is doing, right or wrong, that you want to tell us to do differently?" (Petraeus responds that he'd like the coverage to be a bit more fawning). Others have pointed to various parts of the conversation, particularly when McFarland passes on Ailes' advice that Petraeus should only accept the job of Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, since from there the Obama administration would feel that they couldn't contradict him, which would put him in a good position to run for president (Petraeus replies that he'd also like to be CIA director, the post he eventually got).

But there was another part of the conversation I found most interesting. "Can I give you the gossip that I picked up?" McFarland says. She then proceeds to lay out what she has learned, as a well-connected insider, about the Obama administration's hidden agenda:

News Flash: Americans Still Don't Understand Deficits

Business Insider

At Business Insider, Walter Hickey reports results from an online survey (commissioned by the website) that show a public muddled over the consequences of going over the fiscal cliff. Per the survey, 47.4 percent of Americans said that the deficit would increase if we went over the cliff, only 12.6 percent say that it would decrease.

The Importance of Elizabeth Warren

(AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)

The Boston Globe, Politico, and Huffington Post are all reporting that Senator-elect Elizabeth Warren has been granted her wish to get a seat on the Senate Banking Committee.

This victory for progressives is huge. It means that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid—who makes the committee selection, later ratified by the Democratic caucus—did not cave to pressure from either the financial lobby or from Senate Banking Committee Chairman, Tim Johnson of South Dakota, who is effectively part of that lobby. (South Dakota gutted its usury laws decades ago to make the state hospitable to the back office operations of the biggest banks.)

Better-Looking, Spunkier Senator From Kentucky Now a Possibility

In 1964, George Murphy was elected as the junior senator from California. Murphy, a Republican, had been a song-and-dance man in the thirties and forties, appearing in Hollywood musicals. Despite having a substantial career as a political operative after leaving show business (he had led the California Republican party, among other things), the idea that a performer would be a U.S. senator struck some people as absurd, so much so that satirist Tom Lehrer wrote a song about Murphy ("At last we've got a senator who can really sing and dance!"). When Ronald Reagan was elected governor of California two years later, it didn't seem so funny anymore.

Resistance (on Tax Rates) Is Futile

Google

It seems that Republicans are beginning to understand the futility of their opposition to higher tax rates on the wealthiest Americans. Writing for the Washington Examiner, Byron York reveals the extent to which GOP lawmakers know the weakness of their position.

Republicans, Exposed

(Flickr/David Silver)

President Barack Obama’s persistence has managed to smoke out House Speaker John Boehner and the Republicans. Their just-announced plan for cutting the deficit is what we suspected: cuts in Medicare and Social Security; no higher tax rates on the rich; limits on tax deductions that would hit the middle class as well as the wealthy, but only raise half the revenue of Obama’s plan; and a lot of fudging with numbers.

The Republicans might as well be parading around with a sign that reads “Kick Me.” None of this stuff solves the real problem of getting a recovery going. If you believe that deficit reduction is required, it doesn’t even solve that. And the plan cuts into social insurance programs that are hugely popular, while Obama defends them.

It's Time to Kill the Debt Ceiling

(AP Photo/CBS News, Chris Usher)

There are a number of strange aspects to the negotiation/maneuvering/posturing now taking place between the White House and congressional Republicans about the Austerity Trap (a.k.a. fiscal cliff), but one that hasn't gotten much attention is the disagreement over the debt ceiling. As part of their initial offer, the White House included something I and other people have been advocating for some time: Just get rid of the debt ceiling altogether. The Republicans, particularly in the House, don't seem to be interested. But we should take a good look at how crazy their position on this issue is.

In an ordinary negotiation, each side has things it wants, while it dislikes some or all of the things the other side wants. A union wants higher wages for its workers, while the company doesn't want to pay the higher wages. You'd rather have your partner do the laundry while you do the dishes, but your partner doesn't like doing the laundry either. The White House wants to increase taxes on the wealthy, which Republicans don't like, while Republicans want cuts to social programs, which the White House doesn't like.

But the debt ceiling is something entirely different. In this case, what Republicans want is the ability to plunge the country into a financial catastrophe, making life miserable for who knows how many Americans. That's what they want. Seriously.

Heads I Win, Tails You Lose

Since President Obama unveiled his proposal for the fiscal cliff last week, Republicans have been complaining that it’s nothing new. “After the election, I offered to speed this up by putting revenue on the table and unfortunately, the White House responded with their la-la land offer that couldn’t pass the House, couldn’t pass the Senate, and it was basically the president’s budget from last February,” House Majority Leader John Boehner told reporters this afternoon.

As such, there’s been some anticipation about what Republicans would offer. If the GOP is so opposed to old ideas, then surely they’d come up with something new and exciting to break the impasse over the fiscal cliff?

Nope.

How to Talk about a Changing America

New American citizens at a naturalization ceremony at the Grand Canyon. (Flickr/Grand Canyon NPS)

After the election revealed the central demographic problem the GOP faces—it is emphatically the party of white people in a country that grows more diverse by the day—there was some triumphalism among liberals about this state of affairs. But the always humane and thoughtful Harold Pollack reminds us that we should reserve some sympathy for the people who feel unsettled by the rapid pace of change in 21st century America:

Party of Rich Guys Suffers from Image as Party of Rich Guys

Typical Republican youth.

Losing is never good for your party's image, but Mitt Romney may have left the GOP in a particularly bad position by reinforcing the party's most unappealing characteristic. As a son of privilege worth hundreds of millions of dollars, Romney would have to have labored hard to convince voters he wouldn't just be a representative of his class, perhaps in the way George W. Bush did 12 years before (though buying a ranch, putting on a cowboy hat, and clearing brush might not have worked as well for Romney). Instead, he did just the opposite, again and again drawing attention to the fact that he was a rich guy representing a party of rich guys ("Corporations are people, my friends," "47 percent"). Combine that with the current argument over upper-income tax cuts, and Republicans are going to have a particularly difficult time in the near future convincing voters they have their interests at heart.

Not that this is a new problem. As John Sides explains, "Party images do not change quickly or easily. They reflect the accretion of political agendas and actions—big and small, symbolic and substantive." Nevertheless, over the years the GOP has successfully widened its electoral appeal to include some lower- and middle-class voters, but those are almost entirely white voters, and mostly in the South and lower Midwest (contrary to popular belief, Barack Obama performed perfectly well with white voters everywhere but in the South). They did it with a combination of racial and cultural appeals, some of which were more defensible than others. But their problem is that there just aren't enough voters who respond to those appeals about snooty coastal latte-sippers and parasitic welfare recipients to make a majority. Some thoughtful Republicans are trying to grapple with this issue, but the fact is that Republicans are always going to struggle with their image as the party of, by, and for the wealthy.

The reason that won't change is pretty simple: That's who they are.

Refighting the 1950s

Pat McDermott-public relations

It’s hard to overstate the role of demographics in shaping the challenges that face the United States over the next few decades. To use one prominent example, the rush to reform entitlements and the focus on restraining health-care costs owe themselves to demographics—an unusually large cohort of people are due to retire from the workforce and begin to strain our social insurance programs. Likewise, efforts to prepare for this inevitability—such as the Affordable Care Act—are hampered by, again, demographics; as we saw in the 2010 midterm elections, older voters are loath to sign on to anything that looks like a change to the status quo.

Ongoing Conservative Delusions

Ted Cruz, the future of the Republican party. (Flickr/Gage Skidmore)

There's a phenomenon I've long noticed among liberals dissatisfied with Barack Obama, whereby they'll say, "He's never said X!", with X being some kind of defense of liberal values or articulation of the liberal position on a particular issue. But if you actually look through his speeches and comments, you'll find that just about every time, he has in fact said whatever it is he's being blamed for never saying. Maybe he hasn't said it often enough for your liking, but the real problem is probably that saying it didn't have the effect you wanted.

I thought of that reading this article by Molly Ball about a gathering of conservatives yesterday at which new senator Ted Cruz of Texas was the headliner:

A New, Tougher Obama?

(AP Photo)

In response to pushback from Congress and progressive activists following a report in Thursday’s Wall Street Journal that Obama had offered to be “flexible” on tax-rate hikes for the very richest, the White House formally unveiled a tough bargaining stance: $1.6 billion in tax increases over a decade, all on the top two brackets, and no tax hikes for the bottom 98 percent.

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