Vox Pop

The Prospect's politics blog

Conservatives Get Glum

Flickr/Kristina Alexanderson
A look around the web today makes clear that the crisis of American conservatism in general, and conservatives' relationship to the media in particular, is clearly our topic. First, none other than William Kristol, the very axis about whom the Republican establishment spins, is extremely worried about what has become of his movement: And the conservative movement​—​a bulwark of American strength for the last several decades​—​is in deep disarray. Reading about some conservative organizations and Republican campaigns these days, one is reminded of Eric Hoffer’s remark, “Every great cause begins as a movement, becomes a business, and eventually degenerates into a racket.” It may be that major parts of American conservatism have become such a racket that a kind of refounding of the movement as a cause is necessary. A reinvigoration of the Republican party also seems desirable, based on a new generation of leaders, perhaps coming​—​as did Ike and Reagan​—​from outside the normal channels...

No Need for New Ideas

Gage Skidmore / Flickr
Gage Skidmore / Flickr Senator Jim DeMint of South Carolina speaking at the 2012 Liberty Political Action Conference in Chantilly, Virginia. One way to read Jim DeMint’s departure from the Senate is as representative of a split between Tea Party Republicans—who hated Mitt Romney and insist on a return to absolute intransigence—and their more establishment-minded counterparts, who have begun to resign themselves to the fact that President Obama has leverage and political capital on his side. I think this is a little exaggerated—there’s still plenty of synergy between the two wings of the party—but there is truth in the analysis. Writing at Rolling Stone , Matt Taibbi uses this take to make a smart point about where the Republican Party currently stands, it where it could go: [T]he Democrats were facing a similarly bitter split not too long ago, when their party’s mainstream unforgivably backed Bush’s idiotic Iraq invasion and then saddled us with a war-waffling presidential candidate...

Political Punishment as Policy

AP Photo/Paul Sancya
Michigan is about to become a right-to-work state and according to Republicans, labor brought it on itself. That’s because on the November ballot, labor groups put a measure to enshrine collective-bargaining rights into the state Constitution. The measure failed, but for daring to wage the campaign, the unions need to be punished, it seems. Governor Rick Snyder previously avoided right-to-work legislation. "One of my concerns was about raising the whole profile of the discussion about labor issues," Snyder said in an interview with MLive . “I said it could stir up the whole topic that we're discussing right now—right to work—or freedom to choose is the way I prefer to look at it.” Greg McNeilly, who runs the pro-right to work PAC Michigan Freedom Fund, put it even more bluntly. “Bob King put this on the agenda,” he told The Washington Post , referencing the president of the state’s most powerful union, the United Auto Workers. “He threatened this state [with the constitutional...

The Obama Administration Plays Hardball On Medicaid

President Obama signing the Affordable Care Act.
When the Supreme Court upheld the Affordable Care Act, it also gave Republican states a gift by saying they could opt out of what may be the ACA's most important part, the dramatic expansion of Medicaid that will give insurance to millions of people who don't now have it. While right now each state decides on eligibility rules—meaning that if you live in a state governed by Republicans, if you make enough to have a roof over your head and give your kids one or two meals a day, you're probably considered too rich for Medicaid and are ineligible—starting in 2014 anyone at up to 133 percent of the federal poverty level will be eligible. That means an individual earning up to $14,856 or a family of four earning up to $30,657 could get Medicaid. Republican governors and legislatures don't like the Medicaid expansion, which is why nine states—South Dakota, plus the Southern states running from South Carolina through Texas—have said they'll refuse to expand Medicaid (many other states have...

The Fiscal Cliff Proxy War

Flickr/Talk Radio News Service
(AP Photo/Paul Sancya) President Barack Obama speaks to workers about the economy during a visit to Daimler Detroit Diesel in Redford, Michigan yesterday. W ashington has a way of focusing the nation’s attention on tactical games. We almost never get to debate or even discuss the big problems because the tactical games overwhelm everything else. The debate over the fiscal cliff, for example, is really about tactical maneuvers preceding a negotiation about how best to reduce the federal budget deficit. This, in turn, is a fragment of a bigger debate over whether we should be embracing austerity economics and reducing the budget deficit in the next few years or, alternatively, using public spending and investing to grow the economy and increase the number of jobs. Even this larger debate is just one part of what should be the central debate of our time—why median wages continue to drop and poverty to increase at the same time income and wealth are becoming ever more concentrated at the...

The Price of Boehner's Speakership

A fiscal cliff deal hasn't even begun to take shape and John Boehner's speakership already might be in jeopardy over capitulations to Democrats. Conservatives were initially disquieted last week when a string of right-wing ideologues in the House who had voted against the party line during the last session were purged from plum committee assignments by the current speaker. Now they're also warning against potential deals to avert the fiscal cliff. National Review 's Robert Costa interviewed Georgia Representative Tom Price, who unloaded scorn on Boehner's leadership of the Republican caucus. "My concern is that within our conference, conservatives, who are a majority, don’t have a proper platform,” Price said. “That’s true at the leadership table and on the steering committee." Costa interpreted that as a hint that Price might to run against Boehner as House Speaker, a rumor reinforced by anonymous Republicans. For what it's worth, Price's office dismissed such speculation Monday...

Bill Clinton: The Drug War "Hasn't Worked"

World Economic Forum / Flickr
World Economic Forum / Flickr Noted marijuana user Bill Clinton doesn't think the drug war is working. This isn't as radical sounding as it looks—Bill Clinton is only expressing regret about a particular set of operations run by his administration—but it's still a noteworthy change of sentiment from a president who greatly expanded the war on drugs: “What I tried to do was to focus on every aspect of the problem. I tried to empower the Colombians for example to do more militarily and police-wise because I thought that they had to. Thirty percent of their country was in the hands of the narcotraffickers,” Clinton says in the film, which is available free online. […] Clinton later says: “Well obviously, if the expected results was that we would eliminate serious drug use in America and eliminate the narcotrafficking networks — it hasn’t worked.” At the moment, of course, there are serious, state-based efforts to end the government's prohibition on marijuana. Both Washington state and...

What Raising the Medicare Eligibility Age Means

President Johnson signing Medicare into law in 1965.
After a campaign in which Republicans attempted to pillory Barack Obama for finding $716 billion in savings from Medicare (via cuts in payments to insurance companies and providers but not cuts to benefits), those same Republicans now seem to be demanding that Obama agree to cuts in Medicare benefits as the price of saving the country from the Austerity Trap, a.k.a. fiscal cliff. Oh, the irony! You'd almost think that they weren't really the stalwart defenders of Medicare they pretended to be. And there are some hints that the Obama administration is seriously considering agreeing to raise the Medicare eligibility age from 65 to 67 as part of this deal. It's a dreadful idea, and as we discuss this possibility, there's one really important thing to keep in mind: Medicare is the least expensive way to insure these people. Or anybody, for that matter. In all this talk of the bloated entitlement system, you'd be forgiven for thinking Medicare was some kind of inefficient, overpriced big...

Disaster Relief, Dot-Com Style

T wo days after Hurricane Sandy made landfall in New York City, one of many desperate pleas across the city went out: "We have over 50 seniors located at 80 Rutgers Street who are without electricity, cannot go down stairs, and are running low on food supplies." Within an hour, volunteers were rushing over with supplies. But it was not a 911 dispatcher or a FEMA representative who had heeded the call for help. It was members of the Lower East Side community responding to a message on recovers.org, an online hub that helps communities direct resources and volunteers where they're needed in an emergency. In the wake of Superstorm Sandy, four microsites sprung up on the system for the Lower East Side, Astoria, Red Hook, and Staten Island to connect victims in New York City neighborhoods with volunteers and supplies. A fifth sprung up for Hoboken, New Jersey. In the chaos following a disaster, information becomes one of the most precious—and scant—resources. Any large-scale catastrophe...

It's All About the Tax Brackets

Google
Google More and higher tax brackets might have stopped the shiny suit era from happening. Conservatives might think otherwise, but the liberal focus on repealing the upper-income Bush tax cuts has less to do with higher taxes for their own sake, and more to do with revenue—we need it—and basic distributional concerns: The rich have been well-served by the broad economic trends of the last thirty years, taking a huge percentage of all income produced since 1979 . Higher taxes are a way of adding more progressivity into the system—funds raised by a large tax burden on the rich are then funneled into more and better public services for ordinary people. But progressives ought to have another concern on top of this. One of the great conservative wins of the last thirty years was flattening of tax brackets. In 1960, there were 17 brackets above $35,000—roughly $250,000 in today's dollars—going up to $400,000 in annual income, or $3 million, adjusted for inflation. The tax-reform package of...

Down with DOMA, Up with Prop. 8

Flickr/Brian Kusler
Flickr/Renee Rivers Demonstrators against Propsition 8 at the California Supreme Court building A shrinking violet the Roberts Court is not. Since the chief justice was confirmed in 2005 promising to call “balls and strikes,” the Court unleashed super PACs in its 2010 Citizens United decision, injected itself into the middle of a presidential campaign by taking on the Affordable Care Act earlier this year, and recently heard a case giving it the chance to cut back or end affirmative action. Under Roberts, the Court has a bit of a swagger. Bill Clinton might say they have some brass. True to form, last Friday the Court agreed to hear two cases that could decide the central civil-rights issue of our day: gay marriage. One of the cases concerns the constitutionality of Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which defines marriage for purposes of federal law as between one man and one woman. The second focuses on the constitutionality of Proposition 8, the 2008 California...

This Is Not Wisconsin. It's Worse.

Sheldon Dick/Farm Security Administration
Sheldon Dick/Farm Security Administration Strikers guarding window entrance to Fisher body plant number three in Flint, Michigan (1937) L et’s clear one thing up. “Right to work” laws, which permit employees working at a unionized workplace to refuse to join the union or to pay the union the cost of representing the worker, are designed to weaken the economic and political power of organized labor and, by extension, wage workers. Full stop. They allow workers to “free ride” all the benefits of a collective-bargaining agreement (increased wages, benefits, rights to adjudicate a dispute with a supervisor, safety and health requirement beyond those mandated by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, etc.) negotiated by the union without paying any of the union dues their fellow employees pay. The vaunted libertarian argument in support of right to work would be far more convincing if libertarians supported the rights of employees to reject at their discretion the countless...

Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid: SCOTUS Takes on Same-Sex Marriage

Flickr/Jamison Weiser
Tonight, you’ll hear on the news that the Supreme Court has agreed to hear the "gay marriage cases.” Much of the mainstream ( i.e. , straight) media will be treating the two cases they’ve taken—a challenge to California's ban on same-sex marriage, Proposition 8, and a challenge to DOMA, the federal law that prohibits the government from recognizing same-sex marriages performed in the states—as essentially the same. Don’t be fooled. The cases are very different. The fact that SCOTUS has taken both has a lot of us very worried. Let’s start with the more famous one: the Prop. 8 case. This is the one we did not want the Court to take. At its simplest, the lawsuit—brought by star lawyer team Ted Olsen and David Boies—is asking the Court to consider whether Prop. 8 is constitutional; it’s about whether there’s a fundamental right for same-sex couples to marry. When the California electorate passed Prop. 8 in 2008, you may recall, it overturned the state supreme court’s decision to allow...

Friday, Friday, Gotta Get Unemployment Down on Friday

The first Friday morning of the first 11 months of 2012 brought exciting news for political journalists. At exactly 8:30 a.m. the Bureau of Labor Statistics would upload the latest jobs report to the Internet. The agency's website would often crash as journalists rushed to pore over the figures. Cable news spent hours parsing through the shifts in the inevitable topline figure: whether the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate went up or down. Were they examining these reports to assess the state of the economy, trying to discern the next best steps for the government to correct our path out of the recession? Of course not. These speculations focused on how the new set of numbers might swing the presidential election. This once-monthly ritual of political reporters anxiously refreshing Twitter on the edge of their seats had a little less oomph today. The normal economic wonks pushed out the numbers, but beyond that the press corps noted the slight drop in the unemployment rate (it...

How Will SCOTUS Rule on Prop. 8 and DOMA?

WikiMedia Commons
The Supreme Court has announced that it will be hearing both of the major gay-rights cases it was considering this term. Facing constitutional scrutiny are key provisions of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which prohibits the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages performed in the states, and California's Proposition 8, which banned same-sex marriage in the state. When combined with the major affirmative-action and voting-rights cases the court will also be handing down this term, this could be the most consequential Supreme Court term in decades. The two gay-rights cases face slightly different prospects. As I've said before, the argument that DOMA infringes on states' rights is likely to appeal to both Justice Anthony Kennedy's sympathy for gay rights and his skepticism of federal power. I would not even be shocked if Justice Clarence Thomas joined an opinion striking down the heart of the law, Section 3, and at least 5 votes seem very likely. The Prop. 8 case...

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