Vox Pop

The Prospect's politics blog

Debating the Chained CPI

Flickr/The Survivor Woman/401(K)
Yesterday, I posted a piece that questioned the political and policy wisdom of President Obama’s latest offer for a budget deal. My qualms were vindicated when Speaker Boehner, rather than taking the widely leaked “progress” as a new common ground, went back to his starting point and offered his own “Plan B”. This left President Obama in just the position that he vowed that he’d be in again—“negotiating against himself.” In the piece, I also criticized the role of my friend Bob Greenstein in lending credence to backdoor cuts in Social Security. Bob is the much revered and tireless advocate for the poor who is the longtime president of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. My piece questioned both his political logic in assuming that Social Security cuts have any place in this budget deal and his assumption that including them will somehow protect programs for the poor. My piece mistakenly described the annual cut as 3 percent rather than 0.3 percent, but it accurately pointed...

Obama's Unwise, Unnecessary Concessions

AP Photo/ Evan Vucci
AP Photo/ Evan Vucci President Barack Obama talks about the fiscal-cliff negotiations during a news conference yesterday. W hy is the president back to making premature and unnecessary concessions to Republicans? Two central issues in the 2012 presidential election were whether the Bush tax cuts should be ended for people earning over $250,000, and whether Social Security and Medicare should be protected from future budget cuts. The president said yes to both. Republicans said no. Obama won. But apparently Obama is now offering to continue to Bush tax cuts for people earning between $250,000 and $400,000, and to cut Social Security by reducing annual cost-of-living adjustments. These concessions aren’t necessary. If the nation goes over the so-called “fiscal cliff” and tax rates return to what they were under Bill Clinton, Democrats can then introduce a tax cut for everyone earning under $250,000 and make it retroactive to the start of the year. They can combine it with a spending...

Where Have You Been?

Barack Obama doesn't do many press conferences, so when he came into the White House briefing room today it was because he had something important to say. Obama announced that Vice President Joe Biden will be heading a task force, or perhaps a working group—whatever you're going to call it, don't call it a commission ("This is not some Washington commission," Obama said)–to figure out just what can be done to reduce gun violence. "I will use all the powers of this office to help advance efforts aimed at preventing more tragedies like this," he said. "We won't prevent them all, but that can't be an excuse not to try." The reporters in the room didn't appear to be particularly interested. The first question Obama got—in fact, the first five questions—were not about Newtown or what kinds of measures on guns he might favor, but on the fiscal-cliff negotiations. As is typical among White House reporters—what they were after was the inside scoop, the low-down, the skinny. "Can you give us a...

Robert Bork, Martyr of Incivility?

AP Photo/Charles Tasnadi
AP Photo/Charles Tasnadi Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee on the first day of his confirmation hearings, September 16, 1987. Robert Bork, the legal scholar and former federal appellate judge whose nomination to the Supreme Court was defeated by the Senate in 1987, passed away today at the age of 85. R.I.P. Subsequent to his failed nomination, Bork took on the mantle of a conservative martyr , someone whose allegedly unfair treatment at the hand of Democrats led to a new area of political incivility. Predictably, in their remembrances a number of conservative writers—including Roger Kimball , Ann Althouse , and John Podhoretz —have focused on the tough speech that Senator Ted Kennedy gave after Bork's nomination was announced. If you look carefully at all the outrage, however, you'll notice a funny thing: None of them decries a single claim made by Kennedy as inaccurate. There's a good reason for that: Kennedy's opposition was based on...

Speaking Ill of the Dead

What do you say when a public figure you find repellent dies? Do you hold your tongue, not speak ill of the dead, and wait some decent interval before saying what you really thought of them? After all, there's no time like their death. Robert Bork died today, and the truth is that in a few months nobody is going to be talking much about his legacy. So now's the time to weigh in, which Jeffrey Toobin does, in a rather unrestrained way : Robert Bork, who died Wednesday, was an unrepentant reactionary who was on the wrong side of every major legal controversy of the twentieth century. The fifty-eight senators who voted against Bork for confirmation to the Supreme Court in 1987 honored themselves, and the Constitution. In the subsequent quarter-century, Bork devoted himself to proving that his critics were right about him all along. Hard to disagree—Bork's philosophy was a particularly nasty one, and he spent much of his public life expressing his boundless contempt for modern America,...

The Fundamentals Were Right!

Drew Linzer / Votamatic
This afternoon, Drew Linzer—whose election forecasting site, Votematic, rivaled Nate Silver’s for accuracy–tweeted two charts showing key election fundamentals: Second quarter GDP growth, and the president’s net approval rating in June. Those presidents with a growing economy and a positive approval rating almost always win, and those with a shrinking economy and a negative approval rating almost always lose. And while Republicans spent the year thinking this wouldn’t be true for President Obama, as Linzer shows, it was. Here’s where 2012 fell on a graph showing 2nd quarter GDP growth and the incumbent party’s share of the two-party vote: And here’s where it fell on a graph showing the incumbent’s vote share and his net approval rating in June: In other words, with just those two data points from the middle of the summer, you could have predicted an Obama win with a small majority of the two-party vote, and that’s exactly what happened. Does that mean the campaign was irrelevant? Not...

The Social Security Conversation We Should Be Having

401K / Flickr
Matthew Yglesias makes an excellent point about an essential tension between Social Security and the demands of “The Market,” in a post called “Why the Powers that Be Hate Social Security”: You’ve got this big scheme to levy taxes on working people who are participating in The Economy and transfer money to people who’ve dropped out of The Economy. They take that money and use it to pay the electricity bill and buy a cookie for their grandkids. If they didn’t get that money, they’d probably have to work longer and spend more years being part of The Economy. And they’d have to spend their working years being thriftier, and amassing more savings that (via the magic of the financial system) finance private sector investments in The Economy. So not only would lower taxes on The Economy spur more growth, but the mere fact of not sending your grandma those checks is good for The Economy. The Economy thrives on incentives (if you work, we’ll give you money) and desperation (if you want money...

Everyone Is a Taker

Pew Research Center
After a year where Republicans—even so-called “moderates,” like Mitt Romney—devoted themselves to dividing the public into “makers” and “takers,” a new survey from the Pew Research Service shows that most Americans—55 percent, in fact—are “dependent on government” in some form. Specifically, Pew found that “most Democrats (60 percent) and Republicans (52 percent) say they have benefited from a major entitlement program at some point in their lives.” Likewise, so have “nearly equal shares of self-identifying conservatives (57 percent), liberals (53 percent) and moderates (53 percent).” In the actual survey, Pew asked about the entire basket of programs we associate with “entitlements”: Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps, welfare, and unemployment benefits. Entitlement use begins early, and grows with age: A third of adults ages 18 to 29 say they have received at least one major entitlement payment, which grows to 45 percent for those ages 30 to 49, 59 percent for those...

Concealed Carry and the Triumph of Fear

Flickr/Of Small Things
Thanks to the tireless efforts of the NRA and the gun manufacturers, 49 states now issue concealed-carry permits to people for whom merely owning guns is not enough. As we focus our attention on military-style rifles and high-capacity magazines, we need to remember that the most important change in recent years isn't in the equipment, but in the spread of a new kind of mentality among many gun owners, one that seeks to make fear the organizing principle of American society. This has been the essential focus of gun advocates' work in recent years: changing laws so that as many people as possible can carry as many guns as possible into as many places as possible. Since the people who want to do so have driven the discussion and the laws on guns, it's important to understand where they're coming from. And frankly, it's an ugly place. Most gun owners don't have concealed carry permits, and there is a profound psychological difference between someone who has a gun in his home and someone...

The Real Barrier to Better Gun-Control Policy

WikiMedia Commons
The horrific mass killing of elementary schoolchildren in Newtown, Connecticut has served as another reminded that the United States is an unusually violent country. And the evidence is overwhelming that lax regulations of private firearms plays a major role in this unnecessarily high rate of violent death. And yet, it is very unlikely that any federal legislation will be passed in response to the Newtown killings, let alone regulations comparable to those in other liberal democracies. To many progressives, the reason for this is clear: the Second Amendment to the Constitution, which must be repealed for any real progress to gun control to take place. But to blame the Second Amendment for terrible American gun control policies is highly misleading. The Bill of Rights is not the primary political barrier to better gun control policies, and in any political universe in which repealing the Second Amendment was even thinkable such a repeal would be superfluous. To understand the relative...

Fixing Obama’s Second Term

AP Photo/Charles Dharapak
(AP Photo/M. Spencer Green) President Barack Obama waves to the crowd at his election night party celebrating his victory over challenger Mitt Romney. I n the president’s first term, a gauntlet of procedural hurdles stood in the way of progressive change. As Majority Leader Harry Reid promises to reform the filibuster—on the magical day when the new Senate convenes and can make new rules—most progressives are wondering whether it’s an end to many of President Barack Obama’s problems. After all, without the constant threat of a filibuster, Senate Democrats wouldn’t have had to scramble for votes from the centrists who watered down health-care legislation and stalled action on climate change in Obama’s first two years, when he had an outright majority in the Senate. But the filibuster was only the most obvious procedural challenge to a more progressive Obama first term. There are other things the president did in his first four years that caused important legislation to sputter and fail...

Chairman Summers? Let’s Hope Not

AP Photo/Shizuo Kambayashi
AP Photo/Shizuo Kambayashi Former U.S. Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers addresses a press conference after attending the Group of Seven finance ministers in Fukuoka, Japan in July 2000. He’s back. Larry Summers is running hard to succeed Ben Bernanke as chairman of the Federal Reserve when Bernanke’s term expires in early 2014. This is not a great idea, for three main reasons. The first is Summers’ famous temperament. The problem is not just that he’s less than sensitive to women. It’s that he’s a bully in general, cocksure of himself, using others as foils and prevailing by controlling the agenda. Through several turns in a career marked by falling upwards, Summers’ chief patron and sponsor, Robert Rubin, keeps assuring people that “Larry has changed.” And Larry keeps not changing. It was the bullying more than the disrespect towards women that finally got him fired as president of Harvard. Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. famously said of Franklin Roosevelt, “a second-rate...

Whither NRA?

There are some serious, perhaps insurmountable obstacles to any new gun-safety measures being passed through Congress. Specifically, the House of Representatives is controlled by Republicans, and nearly all of them have been endorsed by the National Rifle Association. Those endorsements didn't come for nothing; they're an acknowledgement of past service and a warning against future heresy. And as the GOP has grown more Southern and rural in recent years, the NRA's grip has only tightened. Nevertheless, for the first time in over a decade, measures to restrict gun ownership are being seriously discussed. Today, White House spokesman Jay Carney said that President Obama is looking favorably on a bill Senator Dianne Feinstein will soon introduce. It will create a new version of the assault-weapons ban that was in place between 1994 and 2004, not only forbidding the manufacture and sale of certain types of military-style weapons, but also outlawing ammunition magazines that hold more than...

The Uses and Limits of Knowledge About Guns

Flickr/Simonov
We're about to start the portion of this debate where we begin discussing specific actions the government might take to address gun violence. And as we do, particularly when it comes to those measures that concern the guns themselves (as opposed to measures focused on the people who can get them or the conditions of their purchase), it's likely that gun advocates will start complaining that there's a problem with all these effete urban northeastern liberals making laws governing guns they know nothing about. This isn't new; for instance, gun advocates have long hated the term "assault weapon," since it doesn't mean anything in particular (after all, every gun is a weapon designed for assault). We should be very wary of the argument that people who have a lot of experience with guns have some kind of greater moral claim to a voice in this debate (and we should also be wary, as Elsbeth Reeve writes , of coastal urbanite conservatives claiming to speak for "real America" about guns). Yes...

John Kerry, the Most Progressive Pick for the State Department?

AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite
Flickr/U.S Embassy Kabul Afghanistan Senator John Kerry and Afghanistan President Hamid Karzain in Kabul in 2009. T he optics of Susan Rice’s withdrawal from consideration for secretary of State are disheartening. Ruth Marcus of The Washington Post and Representative Marcia Fudge of Ohio attributed racism and sexism to the campaign against Rice, with Marcus writing that “the attack had something to do with Rice’s gender, and her sharp elbows and sometimes sharper tongue,” while Fudge said “[ Republican senators ] have never called a male 'unqualified,' 'not bright,' 'not trustworthy,' …there is a clear sexism and racism that goes with these comments.” Given that foreign policy circles are among the worst in terms of gender diversity, Rice’s withdrawal from consideration is a tough blow for the representation of women and minorities in top leadership positions. Even so, John Kerry may be a better secretary of State for progressives when it comes to philosophical approaches to military...

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