Vox Pop

The Prospect's politics blog

Did Republicans Lose the Election?

AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
Last November, Democrats seemed to be justified in believing that their party had won a victory of genuine significance. The ideological differences between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney were clear-cut, and Obama was re-elected. Despite the advantage that Republicans initially enjoyed in Senate races, Democrats increased their majority to 55, and that new majority is more liberal than the old one. In races for the House, more voters cast ballots for Democratic than for Republican candidates, though Republicans kept their majority thanks in large part to gerrymandered districts. But if you step back now, look at government as a whole, and think about the likely course of politics in the next several years, things look different. In what was a bad year for Republicans, they emerged with enough power to stymie major Democratic legislative initiatives and to advance key items on their own agenda through the arms of government that they continue to control. In other words, the United States...

ICYMI, Life Isn't a Die Hard Movie

If you had no knowledge of U.S. political debates and were judging the strength of interest groups off of their congressional testimony—admittedly, an odd approach—you’d think the gun lobby was weak and ineffectual. During this afternoon’s Senate hearing on gun control, gun advocates pushed a series of increasingly ridiculous rationales for opposing new gun laws. The National Rifle Association’s Wayne LaPierre began with the reasonable—if erroneous—assertion that background checks make no difference in keeping illegal guns off the streets, but then turned up the heat by claiming that new gun-control laws are futile because “homicidal maniacs” won’t follow them. Next, he pushed to scrap privacy laws and make the records of the mentally ill public and searchable. In other words, we should defend the Constitution by stigmatizing vulnerable people. This was followed by a performance from Senator Lindsay Graham of South Carolina, who argued against gun control by warning of a...

Immigration Catch-22

Yesterday, a bipartisan group of eight senators unveiled a comprehensive immigration-reform plan. Today, Barack Obama gave a speech outlining a very similar plan, causing the four Republicans in that group to disavow their own plan as a socialist plot whose only plausible purpose is to bring a tsunami of radical Kenyan immigrants to our shores so they can marry our women and produce future presidents who will further weaken this great nation. OK, so that's not really what happened. But given recent experience, it wouldn't have been all that surprising if it had. Now that Barack Obama has joined the immigration debate with his own plan (like the bipartisan one, at this point it's not particularly detailed), it will take all the fortitude Republicans can muster to keep from doing a 180, just as they did on the individual health-insurance mandate and cap and trade, once those ideas were infected by contact with Obama. They know that their political future may depend on not screwing up...

Why "Make Them Learn English" Is the Key to Immigration Reform

New Americans taking the oath of citizenship. (Flickr/Grand Canyon NPS)
Among the provisions in the immigration-reform proposal released by a bipartisan group of senators yesterday was a requirement that in order to get on that path to citizenship, undocumented immigrants would have to "learn English and civics." They don't detail exactly how it would happen, but presumably there'd be a test of English proficiency immigrants would have to pass, and perhaps some money appropriated for English classes. There are two things to know about this idea. First, in practical terms it's completely unnecessary. And second, in political terms it's an excellent idea. In fact, it could be the key to passing immigration reform. The reason it's unnecessary is that every wave of immigrants follows basically the same pattern when it comes to English. People who immigrate as adults tend not to learn much beyond the most basic words and phrases, and continue to speak their native language at home. Their children grow up bilingual, speaking one language at home and another at...

Bill Kristol Tells Republicans to Keep On Keeping On

Wikipedia
Writing at the Weekly Standard , William Kristol offers a little advice to the Republican Party as it looks for a path forward. He outlines four steps for the GOP to take, but it’s the second one that stands out: The second step is to recall Bill Buckley’s famous words, at the founding of National Review. The magazine​—​and by implication the conservative movement​—​would “stand athwart history, yelling Stop, at a time when no one is inclined to do so, or to have much patience with those who so urge it.” A little willingness on the part of Republicans to sometimes stand athwart History would also go a long way. Kristol has not just woken up from a four-year coma. But if he had, this advice would make much more sense. After all, he would have missed the GOP’s decision to adopt the mantle of “no,” and oppose the whole of President Obama’s agenda, beginning in January 2009, and continuing—with few exceptions—to the present. Republicans offered near-categorical opposition to the stimulus...

Leave Julia Alone!

Obama campaign
The life of Julia at age 27 In early May, shortly after the peak of the GOP's war-on-women problem, the Obama campaign released a simple online infographic that inspired outrage from conservative commentators. Titled "The Life of Julia," the slideshow followed a hypothetical woman named Julia throughout various stages of her life in order to compare Obama's policies to the ones proposed by Mitt Romney. At age three, toddler Julia plays with a bead maze and enjoys the benefits of Head Start under Obama's America, while the infographic warns that Romney would cut Head Start by 20 percent. By age 27 the adult Julia is a web designer—a knowing wink to the young urban hipsterati loathed by conservatives—whose birth control is covered by her health insurance thanks to Obamacare's reforms, but would have lost those if Romney had his way. It was silly, simple fodder that should have faded quickly amid the deluge of media noise. Except conservatives took it as the symbol of all that is wrong...

In the Schools of Philadelphia

Flickr/It's Our City The Philadelphia School District headquarters in downtown Philadelphia O n December 13, a large group of parents, students, teachers, and activists gathered in front of the headquarters of the School District of Philadelphia—a drab, low-slung building on Broad Street, one of the city’s major arteries. In the numbing cold, the crowd’s mood was bitter: The district had recently announced the 37 schools slated to be closed next fall. Around 17,000 kids will be relocated, mostly to institutions with academic records no better than those they currently attend. Chants of “The Mayor don’t care!” rippled through the crowd as attendees carried gravestone-shaped signs reading “R.I.P Philly Schools.” The protesters—among them Jerry Jordan, president of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers (PFT)—were there to demand a moratorium on school closings, which many fear will further urban blight as school building are vacated and lead to violence as different neighborhood...

New Marijuana Laws: Just a Smokescreen

Flickr/Rupert Ganzer
Flickr/Rupert Ganzer A medical marijuana dispensary across the border in Portland, Oregon. B efore Washington state voters legalized marijuana in the 2012 election, pot was easy enough to access on the black market. Five percent of state residents have used the drug in one form or another while burning through a remarkable 187,000 pounds per year, according to estimates by Washington’s Office of Financial Management. Getting high without getting arrested wasn’t much of a problem, either. Washington decriminalized medical marijuana 15 years ago, and today dozens of dispensaries are operating under protection of state law. In addition, Washington’s biggest city, Seattle, had instructed its police force to treat personal possession of marijuana as the lowest law-enforcement priority. So what’s the big deal about legalization in this already weed-friendly state? The new law doesn’t end the legal battle over marijuana so much as it changes the rules of engagement: Growers and dealers can...

The Only Thing to Fear is Never Getting Elected Again

Ah, bipartisanship. Can you smell it? Well it's in the air again, as a group of eight senators (for the love of god, can we not call them a "gang"?), four Democrats and four Republicans, unveiled a proposal for immigration reform. It includes a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants (an even faster one for seasonal agricultural workers, because what, do you expect native-born Americans to spend 10 hours a day bending over in the hot sun?), measures to improve the legal immigration system, and efforts to attract skilled immigrants. The proposal also stipulates that the path to citizenship would only happen after the implementation of stricter border enforcement, but one of the great unacknowledged developments of recent years is that border enforcement is far more vigorous than it used to be. We've got more Border Patrol agents making more arrests, and Barack Obama has deported people much faster than George W. Bush did (there were more than 400,000 deportations in 2012, a new...

How African Americans View Immigration Reform

Tatishe Nteta
For as much as immigration reform is talked about as an unqualified good for Democrats (who need to protect their standing with Latinos) and Republicans (who need to improve it), it’s not nearly that simple. The GOP relies on high support from working-class whites to win elections. These are the same people who view increased immigration with trepidation—after all, a large influx of low-wage workers means new competitors for jobs, housing, and education. Given the wage stagnation of the last 20 years, there is real fear of increased immigration and its implication for their livelihoods. On the other side are African Americans, who are disproportionately working-class, and more likely to view Latino immigrants as economic competitors. Economic interest suggests strong support for a more restrictionist immigration regime from this group of blacks. And given the role “linked fate” plays in shaping African American public opinion—in short, perceptions of racial group interests serve as...

Why Playwrights Aren't Political Analysts

Flickr/David Shankbone
During last year's presidential campaign, journalist Buzz Bissinger got some attention for writing an opinion piece explaining that he was voting for Mitt Romney because Barack Obama hasn't done enough to end poverty, which is kind of like saying you're switching from salad to Big Macs for lunch because you're trying to lose weight and salad has calories. For people familiar with Bissinger's extraordinary reportage, including books like Friday Night Lights and A Prayer for the City (one of the best books about big-city politics ever written), it was a shock. How could such a great reporter produce something so infantile and bereft of the simplest familiarity with logic? Then people took a look at Bissinger's Twitter feed and discovered that he spews out a puzzling combination of incomprehensibility and general assholishness. (sample tweet: "Romney lost was a suck candidate as it turned out. But every fucking liberal who whines about pro football should be forced to play it." Um,...

Employees? Consumers? Feh!

Flickr/Scott Lenger
Should the Supreme Court uphold it, last Friday’s decision by three Reagan-appointees to the D.C. Circuit Appellate Court appears at first glance to rejigger the balance of power between Congress and the president. The appellate justices struck down three recess appointments that President Obama had made to the five-member National Labor Relations Board during the break between the 2011 and 2012 sessions of Congress partly on the grounds that Congress wasn’t formally in recess, since one and sometimes two Republicans showed up to nominally keep it in session for the sole reason of denying Obama the right to recess appointments. Two of the three justices went further, ruling that the president can’t really make recess appointments at all. It’s not that Obama has made a lot of recess appointments. He’s only made 32—compared to the 171 made by George W. Bush; one of Bush’s appointees was John Bolton to the post of UN ambassador. Presidents have been making recess appointments since the...

Voters to the GOP: It's Not You—It's Your Ideas

Jamelle Bouie / The American Prospect
Over the weekend, conservative activists and politicians got together under the banner of the National Review to discuss the future. How can Republicans recover from 2012 and move the United States away from the liberalism of Barack Obama and the Democratic Party? While some political observers have called for ideological reform—a reorientation of the GOP’s priorities—Republicans themselves are less interested in taking this path. According to GOP insiders, notes Politico in a story on the summit, 2012 had little to do with substance and everything to do with message. If Republicans can change the package—and find someone more engaging than Mitt Romney—they can win: “It’s not the platform of the party that’s the issue,” RNC Chairman Reince Priebus said Friday after being easily reelected to a second, two-year term. “In many cases, it’s how we communicate about it. It is a couple dumb things that people have said.” A slide presented during a closed-press strategy session said that Mitt...

What Democracy Lost in 2012

Illustrations by John Ritter
*/ John Ritter L ast November 7, a syndicated cartoon made the rounds in progressive circles. Drawn by Signe Wilkinson, it showed a battered, bruised, patched-up Uncle Sam defiantly flexing his biceps and flashing the dazed grin of a fighter who’d survived a vicious knockdown and prevailed in 15 rounds. The caption, “Democracy Wins,” became a popular meme amid the liberal euphoria that broke out on election night. President Barack Obama had been re-elected, Karl Rove had been embarrassed on national television, and the Sheldon Adelsons and National Rifle Associations of the world had thrown hundreds of millions of dollars down the toilet. Voter suppression had not kept blacks and Latinos from the polls. Citizens United had not done its worst. Democracy had been tried and tested, and emerged banged up but miraculously intact. Liberals had earned their moment of giddiness. But the assumption that “democracy won” because Obama won and Democrats carried the U.S. Senate is flat wrong...

We'll Miss You, Sarah Palin

It seems like such a long time now, but it was only four and half years ago that America was introduced to Sarah Palin, who came down from the wilds of Alaska to set conservative hearts aquiver. Long after she ceased to be listened to for any other reason than that she said something offensive, Sarah Palin's star has faded so far that even Fox News has no more use for her. Her umbilical cord to influence—the connection between the studio Fox built in her house and the network's headquarters in New York—has been severed, her contract not renewed. Some of Palin's allies anonymously informed reporters that the decision was hers and not the network's, but I don't believe that for a second. Roger Ailes is not a sentimental man, and when necessary he won't hesitate to cut loose an asset whose usefulness is exhausted. And if you've ever seen her talking to Bill O'Reilly or Sean Hannity, you know that she was actually terrible at TV commentary. Neither articulate nor insightful, she stumbled...

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