Vox Pop

The Prospect's politics blog

Justice, Retained

(Flickr/sundee.forsyth)
Two years ago, amid the shellacking of congressional Democrats in the midterm elections, three Iowa Supreme Court justices—Marsha Ternus, David Baker, and Michael Streit—lost their seats after conservative activists launched a campaign against all the judges who joined the unanimous 2009 Varnum v. Brien , which legalized gay marriage in the state. Iowans shifted gears Tuesday, retaining David Wiggins, another of the Varnum judges that conservatives had sought to oust. Wiggins was the only judge up for a retention vote this go-around, which Supreme Court justices in the state face every eight years. What changed? The liberal network of pro-judge groups that failed in 2010 learned from their mistakes. Two years ago, the campaign led by prominent conservative activist Bob Vander Plaats took progressives by surprise. Liberal voters paid little attention to the retention vote, believing that Vander Plaats posed no real challenge—after all, retention votes were on the backside of the ballot...

Democrats Make Gains in Statehouses, but Republicans Still Dominate

(Flickr/Jim Bowen)
After the Republicans swept to power in state legislatures across the country in 2010, the situation for state-level Democrats couldn't get much worse. The Grand Old Party won control of 21 house and senate chambers, and gained supermajorities in several states. Progressive and independent-leaning states like Maine and Minnesota were suddenly dominated by conservative legislators. Democrats had little power to stop the wave of cuts to public education, health care, and other social services that the new Tea Party lawmakers pushed for—decisions with long-term costs, particularly to marginalized populations . And when the new Census results came in, it was those Republican majorities that redrew political districts to favor their own party. In spite of partisan redistricting, Democrats fared much better in the states this year—though not nearly as well as the party did in federal elections. Democrats retook seven chambers, including both house and senate in Minnesota and Maine (where...

A New Side of Barack Obama

Forty years ago, the campaign of Senator Ed Muskie, until then the presumed nominee of the Democratic party, effectively ended on a snowy day in Manchester, New Hampshire. Angered by the attacks on him and his wife by the conservative Manchester Union-Leader , Muskie held a press conference outside the paper's offices to denounce them. Reporters at the scene thought that Muskie was crying, though he later said the wetness on his face was only melting snow. But David Broder's story in the Washington Post about the press conference began, "With tears streaming down his face and his voice choked with emotion ... " He was obviously not presidential material. Eight years later, a different kind of president was elected, one who understood intimately how to convey emotions through television. Ronald Reagan wasn't afraid to get choked up at appropriate moments—when lauding the heroism of an ordinary person called to do something extraordinary, or just when speaking about how great America is...

The America in the Next Seat

(Flickr/Jake Mates)
(Flickr/Jake Mates) I ’ve told this story before in one venue or another, but I think that—72 hours after the election—it’s good for one last recounting before I retire it. Two and a half years ago I was on a flight from Los Angeles to New York when the woman in the next seat picked a fight with me about the Affordable Care Act, which was on the verge of passing the Senate. She and I had gotten along well enough until then, though our interaction mostly entailed me helping her find the outlet to plug in her laptop; peering over my shoulder, however, she surmised (not incorrectly, it should be acknowledged) what my position was based on the website I was looking at, and she wanted to set me straight. “You know what the difference is between us?” she finally concluded about 15 futile minutes later. “I’m a responsible person and you’re not.” I confess I didn’t know what to say to this other than what I didn’t ask, which was whether she had children, who rather exponentially up the...

Karl Rove's Money Trouble

After declaring a new national post-election holiday yesterday—Liberal Schadenfreude Day—we’re starting to think it should be a week-long celebration. So much to gloat over after all these years of despair! Our favorite gloat-worthy item on Thursday came courtesy of the Sunlight Foundation. The money-in-politics watchdog did a nifty calculation of the returns that 2012’s big spenders got for their money. It’s not complicated math: Sunlight simply calculated how much outside groups (super PACs, non-profits, and political committees) spent per “desired result” in Tuesday’s elections—supporting candidates who won, in other words, or opposing candidates who lost. The two groups that fared the worst? Coming in dead last, in terms of “desired results,” was the National Rifle Association’s optimistically named National Political Victory Fund, which spent $11 million for a success rate of less than one percent . But the biggest money-waster of all, you will be eternally gratified to hear, was...

Why Republicans Can't Move Left on Immigration

Wikipedia
Writing at The American Conservative , Michael Brendan Dougherty makes a few smart points about how the GOP can move forward. He contends that there is no reason for Republicans give up social conservatism—abortion will always be a contentious issue in American politics, and social conservatism is still prevalent. And he argues that there is no way to reconcile less restrictionist immigration policy with the GOP base, which consists of people who feel most threatened by mass immigration: The working-class white vote that created the modern Republican majority is precisely the subset of voters that feels most threatened by mass immigration, culturally and economically. They revolted when Bush tried to force it on them. They will revolt again. Conservative parties as a rule have constituents that resist the kind of social change brought on by mass immigration. You can be a conservative party or a mass immigration party, not both. Further, your ideas for middle-class entitlements also...

Who's to Blame for the "Fiscal Cliff" Misnomer?

Flickr/su-lin
Now that the election is over, the next big item on the government's agenda is dealing with two sets of changes that are scheduled to begin at the start of 2013. The first involves changes to the tax code: The Bush income tax cuts will expire, bringing rates back to where they were during the Clinton years, and so will the payroll tax cuts enacted as part of the 2009 stimulus package and later extended. The second set of changes is the "sequester," under which a series of rather dramatic cuts to government spending will take place. Collectively, these events are being referred to by everybody as the "fiscal cliff," a term that is both misleading and dangerous. Which got me wondering: Where did it come from? And whose fault is it? I'll keep you in suspense on that for a moment, but here's a good brief explanation from Jonathan Chait about why the term "fiscal cliff" is such a misnomer: But here is a case where a bad metaphor has caused everybody to think about the matter in exactly the...

When It Comes to Lady Politicians, We've Got a Long Way to Go

(Flickr/Leader Nancy Pelosi)
(AP Photo/Michael Dwyer) Democrat Elizabeth Warren takes the stage after defeating incumbent GOP Senator Scott Brown in the Massachusetts Senate race, during an election night rally at the Fairmont Copley Plaza hotel in Boston, Tuesday, November 6, 2012. I t's made for a great narrative: Tuesday night, female candidates prevailed in nearly all the tightest, most-watched Senate races around the country. A historic number of women will now serve in the upper chamber, once the boysiest of boys' clubs. If that wasn't enough to prompt some girl-power cheering, there was the news out of New Hampshire that, with the election of Maggie Hassan to the state's top executive spot, the governor, senators, and congressional representatives now all carry XX chromosomes. Several commentators have noted there's still a long way to go. But perhaps, more notably, there's little evidence that these wins are part of a wider trend for female candidates. The political gains were most notable in the Senate,...

The Long Shadow of George W. Bush

Wikipedia
At this point, there’s wide agreement that the GOP faces a profound demographic problem—its longtime coalition of middle-aged whites is not enough to win national elections. Rush Limbaugh’s lament is correct: Republicans are (increasingly) outnumbered. President Barack Obama won the overwhelming majority of African Americans, Asian Americans, and Latinos; overall, his nonwhite share of the electorate was larger than any winning presidential candidate in history, and it contributed to his wins in Florida, Virginia, Colorado, and Nevada. It’s easy to focus on these demographic problems as the core challenge facing the GOP, but in reality, they’re only part of the problem. The larger issue—by far—is the extent to which Republicans have yet to reckon with the failures of the Bush years. Not one of the GOP candidates for president this year—including Mitt Romney—made a significant break with Bushism. Each, especially Romney, doubled down on the Bush agenda of belligerence abroad and fiscal...

Are Conservative Media Only Hurting Conservatives?

Liberals like me have spent a lot of time in recent years mocking conservatives for the silliness of their media, wherein Steve Doocy is a star, Sean Hannity is an insightful analyst, and Rush Limbaugh is a brave crusader for truth. Beyond the jokes, we've talked a lot about the pathologies produced by the self-reinforcing worldviews propagated in the conservative media ether. One of the key features of those media, and what differentiates them from partisan left media, is the way they talk about the rest of the media. Liberals may like to watch MSNBC, but if you watch MSNBC you won't be reminded ten times an hour that everything you see in your newspaper or on another television station is a vicious lie concocted by conservatives to deceive you as part of their plan to destroy the country you love. But that is what you'll get if you watch Fox, listen to Rush Limbaugh, or consume many other kinds of conservative media. It's not just a diet of information congenial to your beliefs; it'...

Why Obama Needs to Restart the Conversation on the Economy Now

When the applause among Democrats and recriminations among Republicans begin to quiet down—probably within the next few days—the President will have to make some big decisions. The biggest is on the economy. His victory and the pending “fiscal cliff” give him an opportunity to recast the economic debate. Our central challenge, he should say, is not to reduce the budget deficit. It’s to create more good jobs, grow the economy, and widen the circle of prosperity. The deficit is a problem only in proportion to the overall size of the economy. If the economy grows faster than its current 2 percent annualized rate, the deficit shrinks in proportion. Tax receipts grow, and the deficit becomes more manageable. But if economic growth slows—as it will, if taxes are raised on the middle class and if government spending is reduced when unemployment is still high—the deficit becomes larger in proportion. That’s the austerity trap Europe finds itself in. We don’t want to go there. This is why...

The Dangers of Our Budget-Deficit Minuet

(Flickr/Austen Hufford)
The day after Barack Obama was re-elected, the Dow Jones lost 312.96 points. It wasn’t just that investors were hoping for the lower taxes and further deregulation that would have come with a Romney win. The news from Europe was bad, and pundits were obsessively focused on the “fiscal cliff” of mandatory budget cuts that will drive the economy into a new recession unless Congress jumps off its own budgetary cliff first. For once, the markets are right. But the news from Europe entirely contradicts conventional assumptions about the fiscal cliff. Greece, which has dutifully cut its budget as demanded by the leaders of the European Union and the European Central Bank, is deeper in depression than ever. The latest reports show that its economy has shrunk by more than 20 percent over four years and that the more that it cuts its deficit, the more its national debt grows. How can that be? Budget cutting in a depression just deepens the depression. The deeper the depression, the less...

The Future of the White Man's Party

(AP Photo/Nick Ut)
(AP Photo/Nick Ut) Former California governor Pete Wilson with his wife Gayle in 1995. During his tenure, Wilson promoted Proposition 187, which would have denied all public services to undocumented immigrants—a move that is credited with turning Latinos in the state against the GOP. O ver the past 15 years, California’s electorate has changed so dramatically and so quickly that Democrats have often won victories they weren’t even anticipating. In 1998, no one expected Gray Davis to win the governor’s office by 20 percentage points, and the tightly wound Davis, who had no life outside politics, was plainly bewildered by his own emotions during his victory speech on the night of the landslide. This week, no one expected the Democrats to win two-thirds of the seats in the state Assembly (they did expect to win that many in the state Senate, which they did), yet the Democrats won those seats going away. As California law requires a two-thirds vote in both legislative houses to raise any...

Happy Liberal Schadenfreude Day

How long has it been since America’s long-suffering liberals had an Election Night like Tuesday? The answer is 1964, folks. So enjoy your schadenfreude and revel in the spectacle of the right wing dealing with the combination of dismay and cluelessness that has regularly, like clockwork, beset liberals after elections for decades now. Only if Michele Bachmann had lost her seat in Congress—which damn near happened—could last night have been sweeter. Because this was no mere Democratic victory, and no mere Obama victory. It was the triumph, as I wrote this morning , of America’s emerging liberal majority—the most diverse political coalition ever assembled in this country. It wouldn’t have been possible without labor organizing a savvy and relentless ground game, without African Americans and Latinos refusing to let their vote be taken away, without women insisting on their economic and reproductive rights, or without young people and highly educated white folks being hell-bent on...

Governors' Races: No Silver Lining for GOP

(Flickr/Joelk75)
Given how little Republicans have to celebrate today, it might be tempting for the more enthusiastic conservatives to sip at least a little champagne over gubernatorial dominance. While races for the top state job in Montana and Washington remain too close to call, Republicans successfully captured North Carolina’s governor’s mansion. That means of the 50 state governors, at least 30 will be Republicans next year; only 18 will be Democrats. It’s a remarkably high number—but it sure ain’t as high as the Grand Old Party was hoping. Of the 11 states with governor’s races this year, Democrats were playing defense in eight, and GOP operatives figured this was their chance to make huge gains. It seemed likely early on that North Carolina was going to go red—the state’s current Democratic governor, Bev Purdue has done wonders to hurt her party’s brand—but there were a ton of other seemingly close races. In West Virginia, the incumbent blue dog Earl Ray Tomblin had to do his best to distance...

Pages