Vox Pop

The Prospect's politics blog

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: These are good people, mostly older and white, who are unsettled and scared by the pace of social change in America. Same-sex marriage, legalized marijuana, talk of legalized status for undocumented immigrants—that's a lot of change to accept within just a few years. I met some others, too. Consider the liberal Jews of my parents' generation who sense—accurately, I think–that the coming generation of liberal politicians can read from the hymnal but don't sway with the music about Israel the way the generation of 1967 and 1973 once did. It's an irony of recent history...

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...

Refighting the 1950s

Pat McDermott-public relations
Pat McDermott-public relations Ross Douthat says women should be more open to child-rearing, as in this scene from Leave it to Beaver . I t’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 will 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. With that said, if the United States has a distinct advantage over its similarly situated fellow travelers in Europe and elsewhere, it’s due to demographics. Thanks to mass immigration, our birthrate has held...

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 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: "More than a few conservatives say, well, if the voters want to bankrupt our country, let them suffer the consequences," he said. But the real problem, Cruz said, was that "Republicans were curled up in the fetal position, so utterly terrified of the words 'George W. Bush'" -- for whom Cruz once...

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. The White House proposal included only $400 billion in spending cuts over a decade, none of which cut into Social Security or Medicare—details to be filled in later. Obama also proposed a change in the law to eliminate the obstructionist ritual of requiring a congressional vote to periodically increase the debt ceiling. (The debt increase has already been obligated by previous congressional actions, so the debt-ceiling vote is entirely redundant and nothing but an opportunity for mischief.) The Republicans, not surprisingly, dismissed the White House position out of hand. Two things are encouraging about Obama’s...

Explaining the Mortgage Interest Deduction

Biltmore House, where the mortgage is probably paid off by now. (Flickr/Steve and Sara Emry)
Something strange has happened in the past few days as we have approached the Austerity Trap (aka "fiscal cliff"). Suddenly, people are actually talking about the possibility of cutting back on the home interest deduction, a "gift," as Mitt Romney might call it, that dwarfs most others the federal government distributes (among tax expenditures, only the deduction for health insurance costs the government more). I continue to believe that there's just no way Congress is going to touch the MID, cherished as it is by so many. But I could be wrong, and this is a good time to brush up on where the deduction came from and what its consequences are. The mortgage interest deduction came about essentially by accident. When the Constitution was amended in 1913 to allow for an income tax, Congress made all interest payments deductible. Mortgage interest wasn't mentioned specifically, and there was no suggestion that this was something necessary to promote home ownership. But as more Americans...

Jon Huntsman Critiques the Republican Party

Wikipedia Commons
Jamelle Bouie In the Huffington Post yesterday, Jon Huntsman gave his thoughts on the current state of the Republican Party: His sharpest words were directed not to the future of the GOP but at the not-so-distant past. Huntsman described the Republican primary process as corrosive, producing pledge-signing, cookie-cutter candidates more interested in money and publicity than policy. Recalling one particular debate, Huntsman described the sensation he felt observing his fellow White House aspirants. “Some do it professionally. Some were entertainers,” he said of the Republican presidential field. “I looked down the debate stage, and half of them were probably on Fox contracts at one point in their career. You do that. You write some books. You go out and you sell some more. You get a radio gig or a TV gig out of it or something. And it’s like, you say to yourself, the barriers of entry to this game are pretty damn low.” Of course, there’s a certain amount of sour grapes in this...

The Ovaltine Summit in the Oval Office

(AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)
Romney: Thanks for having me here to the Oval Office to bury the hatchet, Mr. President. I know we both care deeply about America and its future. Obama: Really? Because that's not what you said about me during the campaign. You said I didn't understand America and I had foreign ideas. Romney: Oh, that was just campaign stuff! I didn't mean any of that. What is it the kids say? Don't hate the player, hate the game. Obama: You getting a little hip-hop on me there, Mitt? Romney: Well sir, I've long prided myself on my ability to be "down" with young people and their culture. And as I understand it, even many white kids listen to hip-hop these days. Imagine that! Obama: Yeah. Anyway, how's the post-political life treating you? Romney: Not too bad, although I have to admit it's a little slow. I know you're going to say, "Hey, he's rich, he must spend his days literally bathing in cash and gold coins like Scrooge McDuck." Common misconception. My money isn't in cash in a room in my house,...

Grover's World

Flickr/Donkey Hotey
(Flickr/Gage Skidmore) Grover Norquist W ashington is full of advocates and lobbyists, working in organizations both large and small. The ones that we think of as the most powerful, like the AARP or the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, are huge operations with armies of people swarming Capitol Hill and deluging reporters with press releases. Then there's Grover Norquist. One guy (actually a guy with an organization, Americans for Tax Reform), with one issue who has done such a spectacular job of bending Washington to his will that he has become a national figure. In the upcoming Congress, there will be 234 Republicans, 219 of whom have signed The Pledge, the promise never to raise taxes. In the Senate, there will be 45 Republicans, 39 of whom have signed. The Pledge (you can see it here ; it's all of 60 words) commits its signatories not only to "oppose any and all efforts to increase the marginal income tax rates for individuals and/or businesses," but also to "oppose any net reduction or...

This Goes Out to All the Ladies

(Gabriel Arana)
This past election, President Barack Obama made blatant appeals to female voters to great success. Fifty-five percent of women and a jaw-dropping 68 percent of single women voted for the president this round . Feminist and reproductive-rights groups especially campaigned hard, not just to reward him for some significant wins for women in office but because they widely believed that he could do even more in a second term, especially with 18 congressional seats swapping from anti- or mixed-choice to pro-choice . In other words, feminist-leaning women helped usher in Obama’s victory, and now they’re wondering how he intends to show his gratitude. Even though most of 2012 was a lovefest between feminists and the Obama administration, the administration came under plenty of fire from activists who felt he was often too quick to compromise. Some feminist organizations, like the National Organization for Women , denounced the president for signing an executive order barring insurance plans...

Dreaming of a Nonwhite Conservative Base

Republicans might deny most forms of science, but after this past election, they at least recognize polling realities. The demographic trajectory of the country spells doom for the GOP in future national elections, unless they figure out a way to buck the trend and appeal to groups beyond white voters. For now, the new emerging majority strongly favors Democrats. Young voters? Check. Among voters under the age of 30, Obama won 60-37 percent. Hispanics? Voted for Obama 71-27 percent and turned out in record numbers. As South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham described his party's predicament earlier this year, “We’re not generating enough angry white guys to stay in business for the long term.” On Tuesday, Republicans made their most direct overture toward a moderate image of an inclusive party. Three GOP senators trotted out the Achieve Act , essentially a scaled-back version of the DREAM Act, as a peace offering. Admittedly, this is more a return to form than a new direction. Orrin...

The Rewards and Pitfalls of Ideological Dissent

Bruce Bartlett, talking to a bunch of liberals.
At any given time, there will be a few people celebrated among partisans on each side in Washington because they have left their own tribe and come to the other side to assure them that their opponents are just as terrible as they imagined. The apostate promises not only a validation of what you believed, but a thrilling insider perspective on the other side's true nature. Becoming one of these dissidents is surely painful, but it also promises both professional opportunity and intellectual satisfaction, as you may well find yourself lauded more often and more loudly than you had been when you were just one of hundreds of operatives or thinkers on your own side. In the American Conservative , Bruce Bartlett, a longtime conservative who served in the Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations, worked at numerous conservative think-tanks, and was a member in good standing of the right's intellectual elite until he turned on George W. Bush and began rethinking some of his ideas about...

There's No Such Thing as a Free Debt Ceiling. Unless...

It’s gone under the radar, but Politico reported this morning that, after a private request from President Obama to raise the debt ceiling, House Speaker John Boehner responded with a (not so) veiled demand. “There is a price for everything.” Sure, but that doesn’t mean you always have to pay it. Unlike last year, when he needed House Republicans to raise the debt ceiling—lest the United States fall into a second recession—Obama has all the leverage in this situation. If he does nothing, taxes on the rich return to their Clinton-era levels, and Republicans will have to negotiate from an unfavorable baseline. In other words, John Boehner is not in a position to make demands or threats of any kind. But if he decides to try to win some bargaining power by holding the debt ceiling hostage to a deal that favors Republicans, Obama has another option. He can just get rid of the debt ceiling. It’s not as if it makes any sense—why require Congress to authorize payments on debt the United...

Why Obama Won't Be the One to End the War on Drugs

Not this guy.
In New York magazine, Benjamin Wallace-Wells has a long article about the failure of the War on Drugs, in which he says, "Without really acknowledging it, we are beginning to experiment with a negotiated surrender." This is in reference to the recently passed marijuana legalization initiatives in Colorado and Washington, which will likely be followed by other states in upcoming elections. Hanging over these policy changes is the still-to-be-determined reaction of the Obama administration, which hasn't yet said whether it plans to send DEA agents to crack down on the businesses these laws allow for, or the growing operations they'll produce. And I'm beginning to suspect that the administration will try to set some kind of policy course intended to be as low-key and neutral as possible, neither giving the two states the green light to proceed as their new laws envision, nor embarking on some kind of dramatic and visible crackdown. Why? Because that's what Barack Obama appears to want...

The Coming Liberal Wave

Photograph by Scout Tufankjian for Obama for America
Photograph by Scout Tufankjian for Obama for America One of the surprises on Election Day was turnout among young voters. Rather than decline, the youth vote went up as a proportion of the electorate, from 18 percent to 19 percent. The most recent analysis from the Pew Research Center, which looks at the composition of the youth vote, offers a few clues as to why that may have been the case. To wit, there were fewer whites among young voters than among any other age cohort. Here’s the chart: Among those age 18 to 29, whites are 58 percent of all voters. By contrast, the proportion is much higher among those above the age of 30. When you consider the high turnout among blacks and Hispanics, it’s no wonder that youth mobilization was up—they were simply a greater share of young voters this year. It should be said that this does not bode well for the Republican Party. One of the enduring facts of American political life is that partisan preferences tend to solidify in the mid–20s. If you...

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