Vox Pop

The Prospect's politics blog

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,...

There is No Spending Crisis

AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite
Most GOP rhetoric centers on the notion the United States is facing a “spending crisis” that will ruin its fiscal solvency. Setting aside the fact that this is impossible —a country with fiat currency (held in reserve by most of the world) can’t “run out” of money, and can’t have a “debt crisis”—it’s also true that the government just isn’t spending as much as Republicans think. Economic stimulus aside, Obama has presided over modest growth in federal outlays. Here’s Bloomberg with more: Federal outlays over the past three years grew at their slowest pace since 1953–56, when Dwight D. Eisenhower was president. Expenditures as a share of the economy sank last year to 22.8 percent, their lowest level since 2008, according to Congressional Budget Office data. That’s down from 24.1 percent in 2011 and a 64-year high of 25.2 percent in 2009, when Obama pushed through an $831 billion stimulus package. “If you strip out the stimulus, discretionary spending over the last few years has been...

How Old Is Too Old?

AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
Just how old can a politician be before he's too old to do his job effectively? This is a question that a number of politicians are going to be grappling with soon. For starters, Vice President Joe Biden is making some noises suggesting the possibility of a run for president in 2016. Before we get to the question of his age, let's get this out of the way: Of course Biden wants to be president. That's not a guarantee that he'll run, but he ran twice before so he has obviously wanted it for a long time, his profile has never been higher, he probably feels like he saved his boss's bacon in his debate with Paul Ryan, he's plainly having a great time as a highly influential VP working on a broad range of issues both foreign and domestic, and like any reasonably successful politician, he no doubt thinks he'd be great at the job. But Biden will turn 74 in 2016, which would make him the oldest president in American history. Ronald Reagan was just shy of 74 when he took the oath for his second...

Republicans are Seriously Considering a Plan to Rig the Electoral System

Gage Skidmore / Flickr
If Virginia, Ohio, Florida, and other states had gone in a different direction on November 7th, yesterday would have been the first day of President Mitt Romney’s term, and Republicans would have been on the road to repealing Obamacare, approving the Keystone pipeline, sanctioning China, and implementing the Ryan plan. As it stands, the combination of changing demographics and a good-enough economy gave President Obama a solid win, and another four years in the White House. For some Republicans, this defeat is an opportunity to reevaluate the party’s message and better appeal to key demographics like Latinos and women. Others have taken a different approach. Instead of changing their posture or reevaluating their policies, these Republicans are making a push to change the rules , so they can have their cake (win the next election) and eat it too (keep their Tea Party policies). Here’s the Associated Press with more : From Wisconsin to Pennsylvania, GOP officials who control...

Freedom to Choose, Freedom to Marry

Is sex evil unless it leads directly to babies? Is marriage only legitimate if it fosters offspring, or is it also for intimacy? The U.S. Supreme Court issued three decisions between June 7, 1965 and Jan. 22, 1973 that collectively give the answer: No. Roe , the last of them, can be thought of as the exclamation mark. As we reflect on the 40th anniversary of that decision, there's another group that has Roe to thank for the rights it enjoys today: LGBT Americans. While many of us in the LGBT community see parallels between the gay and women's rights movements, we often overlook the direct role of Roe in establishing a right to same-sex marriage: If women are permitted to have sex without offspring—even if their contraception fails and those little cells start dividing inside them—then it must also be okay for women and women, or men and men, to have sex without the possibility of fertility. Reproductive freedom and LGBT freedom are two sides of the same idea. To explain, let me take...

Invisible Workers, Global Struggles

Flickr/Janinsanfran
Flickr/Janansanfran L ike countless other migrant girls toiling far from home, her life was invisible—except for the chilling way it ended. Earlier this month, Rizana Nafeek, a young Sri Lankan migrant in Saudi Arabia, was executed after being convicted of killing a baby in her care. The case drew international condemnation not only because of the severe punishment and opacity of the legal proceedings—she was reportedly just 17 at the time, not 23 as her falsified passport indicated, and advocates said her confession had been coerced—but also because the girl’s brief life exposed the consequences of the invisible struggles facing domestic workers in the Middle East and beyond. Nafeek's case symbolized the severe treatment of migrants in Saudi Arabia (human-rights watchdogs report that numerous other domestic workers have faced the death penalty after unfair accusations—sometimes stemming from cases of self-defense against abusers—pushed them into a biased and abuse-ridden legal system...

Worst Inauguration Ever!

Many a president has felt obligated to begin his inaugural address by noting how wonderful it is that in America, the transition of power from one leader to another is accomplished not by force of arms but with a peaceful ceremony, albeit one requiring thousands of people to stand in the cold for hours, for which they are rewarded with a patriotic number from the likes of Kelly Clarkson. There are a few notes any inaugural address will hit: America is terrific, and its people are darn special; these are important times; we have come far, yet many challenges lie ahead. But to hear Republicans talk today, you'd think that after he got all that out of the way, Barack Obama took off his glove, smacked John Boehner across the face with it, then set fire to a photo of Saint Ronnie of Rancho del Cielo. The folks complaining today (see below) are the same people who on the evening of Obama's inauguration four years ago held a dinner at which it was decided that they should proceed into this...

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