Vox Pop

The Prospect's politics blog

We're Wasting $750 Billion a Year on Health Care

Institute of Medicine
The Institute of Medicine just came out with a report showing that the American health care system wastes an astonishing $750 billion dollars a year, one out of every three health care dollars spent. As Sarah Kliff explains , "So much wasteful spending leaves a lot of space for fixes. The Institute of Medicine recommends a number of solutions and many boil down to a pretty simple idea: Health care should be better-coordinated." There are a lot of ways to do that, but one particularly thorny problem is that doctors don't want anyone telling them what to do. I remember as a kid watching "St. Elsewhere," and there was a scene in which a hospital administrator angrily chewed out a doctor over something or other. My mother, who spent most of her career as a hospital administrator, said ruefully, "Oh please. No administrator would ever get away with talking to a doctor like that." Part of the reason is that doctors are trained to believe that they're better and more important than ordinary...

Part Two of the Blue-Collar Offensive

There aren’t many Democratic politicians who can connect with white, working-class voters. But Bill Clinton, born and raised in Arkansas, and Average Amtrak Joe have the bona fide red, white and blue credentials and oratorical ease that makes them gifted salesmen of the Democrats’ vision. Wednesday night, it was Bill Clinton’s job to present a logical argument for why blue collar Americans should re-elect Obama. Last night, it was Joe Biden’s job to steal the hearts of these same voters, and although his efforts suffered from following in the footsteps of Bubba, Biden’s remarks were moving. Together, these two speeches serve as a potent argument for four more years. The crux of Biden’s argument can be summed up in the slogan plastered across banners and posters in the convention hall: “Osama Bin Laden is dead, and General Motors is alive.” These two accomplishments are concrete in a way that statistic-heavy economic arguments supporting Obama’s first term cannot be (unless wielded by...

Grading the Dems' 2016 Arithmetic

(Flickr/NewsHour)
Elizabeth Warren walks offstage after addressing the 2012 Democratic National Convention (Photo by Jared Soares for PBS NewsHour) W ow. That was some humdinger of a speech, huh? Clears up a lot about the upcoming election! No, I’m not talking about Barack Obama's closing address. Sure, the conventions serve as the unofficial kickoff for the final leg of the presidential campaign. But there’s always another story: Who’ll be the nominee next time? Up-and-coming pols have always used conventions as launching pads for future runs; they hobnob in hotel corridors with the Richie Riches who can fund their early ads in Florida. They make small talk with the New Hampshire county chair in the crazy hat. And they aren't always so subtle; many of the 2016 wannabes schlepped over this week to offer presentations to the Iowa delegation . But more than anything, primetime speaking slots on the main arena stage present an unusual opportunity to introduce oneself to a national audience. As everyone...

Third Night of the DNC: TV & Twitter Review

So the DNC gave us a week that got more and more sober as it went on. By last night, we were down and dirty with tough choices and grim policies. Foreign policy dominated the early part of the evening, with a salute to military veterans that had many in my Twitter feed commenting on how strange it was that the parties have switched places. The Republicans hadn’t even mentioned the wars or the veterans; as conservative Ramesh Ponnuru tweeted , “Really was malpractice, and wrong, for Romney not to mention troops in Iraq, Afghanistan in convention speech.” And so for a night the Democrats became the party of LBJ again, the party of a strong military and uncompromising attack. By the time Joe Biden trotted out his bumper sticker line, “Osama bin Laden is dead and General Motors is alive!” the crowd chanted it with him. How strange was that: a crowd of Democrats cheering for someone’s head on a plate, and for a business bailout? Don’t get me wrong; I understand that both absolutely had to...

Five Takeaways from the DNC

CHARLOTTE, NORTH CAROLINA —Now that the Democratic National Convention is over, both parties will move to take positions in the final phase of the 2012 election. Republicans have already launched their opening salvo, with a massive advertising buy of 15 spots in 8 states. Indeed, now that Mitt Romney is the official nominee, his campaign is finally free to spend a large chunk of the money it raised over the last four months. With the help of a poor August jobs report, the Republicans will continue to hammer President Obama over the weak economy, and try to drive undecided voters to their side. As for Democrats, they’re banking on a few things to carry them to November and a second term for President Obama—while avoiding one major issue they need to tackle. Here are five big takeaways from the convention: Context, context, context When I asked one member of the New Mexico delegation how she would sell Obama’s first term to a skeptical voter, she paused and gave an answer I’ve heard...

A Good Convention, a Bad Jobs Report

The August jobs report of the Labor Department is not great news either for the U.S. economy or for the Obama campaign. The headline drop on the measured unemployment rate, from 8.3 to 8.1 percent, conceals deeper weaknesses. The economy generated only 96,000 jobs in August, far lower than the monthly average of around 200,000 in the spring. The nominal unemployment rate declined only because more people have given up looking for work. The ratio of employment to population declined by 0.2 percent. The Labor Department also revised the July and August monthly jobs numbers downward by about 20,000 each, leaving the 2012 job-creation performance below that of 2011. Average wages also declined. An important report released last week by the National Employment Law Project showed that the majority of new jobs being added pay less than $13.83 an hour, and that while low-wage jobs accounted for only 21 percent of jobs lost in the recession, they are 58 percent of jobs gained in the recovery...

The Limits of Incumbency and the Politics of Spectatorship

Flickr/Scout Tufankjian
At times, Barack Obama's speech last night felt like a State of the Union address—a lengthy recitation of issues, one after another, during which you could imagine pundits writing "Booooring!" in their notes, and then you'd find out the next day that the public loved it. But the limitations of the speech demonstrated the difficulty Obama has as an incumbent. The expectations are high any time he gives a major speech, but last night's was a reminder that a large part of what made Obama such an effective orator in 2008 was particular to the role of challenger, and something that simply can't be duplicated now. To put last night in context, we have to go back to 2008. In the last election, Obama's speeches had not just a second-person perspective but an active second-person perspective, talking not only about who you are but what you are doing. This was absolutely critical to giving his campaign that feeling of history in the making, and history as something participatory. It tapped into...

Trading Places

(AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite) President Barack Obama stands on stage after addressing the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina. CHARLOTTE, NORTH CAROLINA —When the economy is poor, an incumbent president has few options for reelection. If he looks back, he reminds voters of hardship. If he looks forward, he seems like he’s ignoring the problem. His only choice is to defend his record, and hit the other side for unfair attacks. It’s not an effective approach—voters don’t like it when the president pleads for fairness. Challengers have an easier task. As long as they can identify hardship and propose a plan that looks effective, voters will join their cause. Yes, the economy is poor, but this is not the scenario faced by President Obama. It’s been four years since the most serious economic collapse in eighty years, and the economy is growing. We’re creating jobs at a steady clip, and the stock market has bounced back. But, as Bill Clinton pointed out last night,...

On Mom-in-Chief

There’s oh so many reasons to hate the phrase “mom-in-chief," the highly criticized phrase that cropped up in the end of Michelle Obama’s otherwise well-received speech Tuesday night. Let’s start with the most obvious, which is it’s yet another reminder that even amongst liberals in the 21st century, women still have to reassure the public that just because they’re independent doesn’t mean they don’t love their children. It’s also another example of how women are still expected to define themselves not by their accomplishments in the world, but by their relationships to other people, in a way men are never expected to do. As Kerry Howley at XX Factor noted , “mom-in-chief” invokes the image of Michelle Obama as “ready to lead legions of subservient moms to do battle against producers of unhealthy snacks.” It adds an extra layer of insult to women’s dignity: Apparently, mother sounds too powerful for sensitive ears, and has to be softened up with mom. If this ship doesn’t get turned...

Convention Sweeps and Blowouts

(AP Photo)
(AP Photo/Kevork Djansezian) Barack Obama tours the convention floor at the FleetCenter in Boston, Sunday, July 25, 2004, a day before the start of the Democratic National Convention and his big career-changing keynote address. A t this year's Republican convention, the speeches were largely competent but uninspiring. Do you remember anything Marco Rubio said? It was only a week ago. No, none of their speeches will stand for the ages. The Democrats seem to be faring better, with Michelle Obama's terrific speech on Tuesday night and former President Bill Clinton's wonktastic 90s throwback address on Wednesday. In advance of President Obama's speech tonight, here's a review of some of the most notable speeches (for better and, occasionally, for worse) of the last 80 years. FDR Until 1932, the nominee himself wouldn't come to the convention to formally accept his party's nomination. Franklin Roosevelt broke with that tradition, travelling to Chicago to tell the delegates, "I pledge you,...

Why Partisans and Election Law Shouldn't Mix: See Ohio

(AP Photo/Jim Mone)
Last June, Ohio’s Republican state legislators sought to pass an extremely strict voter ID law, with deeply disturbing implications for minority voters. It would have been among the strictest in the nation, requiring voters to show a government-issued ID with virtually no recourse for those lacking the necessary documents. But the opposition came from an unexpected place—Ohio’s Republican Secretary of State Jon Husted. "I want to be perfectly clear, when I began working with the General Assembly to improve Ohio’s elections system it was never my intent to reject valid votes," he said. "I would rather have no bill than one with a rigid photo identification provision that does little to protect against fraud and excludes legally registered voters' ballots from counting." Husted's opposition played a big role in killing the bill. It was an exciting moment. The secretary had positioned himself as a new kind of Ohio elections official; in a state with a history of messy and unfair...

Jerusalem Syndrome

(Flickr/Synne Tonidas)
When I first read that the Democratic platform said nothing about Jerusalem, I was quite impressed. Quietly, by omission, the party had brought a moment of honesty to the fantasy-ridden American political discussion about Israel. Alas, honesty is ephemeral. Republican attacks, news editors eager for a daily controversy, and Democratic wimpishness have defeated it. In Wednesday night's voice vote, the Democrats added some words to the platform: "Jerusalem is and will remain the capital of Israel ... It should remain an undivided city accessible to people of all faiths." The first part is an implied promise that after re-election, Barack Obama will officially recognize Jerusalem's status as capital and move the U.S. embassy there. The second piece pretends that Jerusalem is presently united and accessible to all. This is hallucinatory for at least three reasons: First, Jerusalem is Israel's capital, independent of what is or isn't written in American party platforms. Second, no American...

America Loves Bill Clinton

Bill Clinton's approval ratings.
We don't yet know how many people watched Bill Clinton's speech last night, but since on the first night of the Democratic convention ratings were a bit higher than for the Republican convention, it's fair to assume we're talking about something in the vicinity of 30 million viewers. Which is fine, but it isn't anything close to a majority of the electorate. But even if most voters didn't actually see Clinton's speech, just the fact that everyone is aware that he's out there vouching for Barack Obama can have an impact. Because the basic question of the campaign—should we keep this guy and his people in charge, or turn it over to that other guy and his people?—will be answered in a context created by people's memories of recent history. Republicans may not like to be reminded, but after all the energy they spent trying to take down Bill Clinton, he left office with spectacular approval ratings. In the final Gallup poll of his presidency, he was at 66 percent approval, which was around...

Holy Rollers

(AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
(Jesse Lenz) T he Sisters of Saint Joseph are waiting for a bus, glistening ever so slightly as they stand in the near-100-degree heat of a late June afternoon, huddled under a couple of pine trees that border an asphalt parking lot in Langhorne, Pennsylvania. The blocky, charmless building the lot services is home to the district office of Congressman Mike Fitzpatrick, a Tea Party Republican, and the bus the sisters are waiting for isn’t any old municipal four-wheeler. The Nuns on the Bus are coming to town. Spotlight: Nuns on the Bus Clare Malone on liberal American Catholics. Earlier in the month, a rotating cast of nuns led by Sister Simone Campbell, executive director of a social-justice lobbying group called Network, set out on a two-week, nine-state tour of the country to protest the radical cuts to social services included in Republican Congressman Paul Ryan’s budget, approved by the GOP-led House and supported by his soon-to-be running mate, Mitt Romney. The tour is something...

Big Dog, Unleashed

CHARLOTTE —For the last month, Team Romney has been playing a dangerous game with the Democratic Party. With its false attacks on the administration’s welfare waivers and its constant invocation of his policies, Team Romney has tried to present their candidate as the true heir to Bill Clinton. In something that resembles a “good Democrat/bad Democrat” routine, the Romney campaign has consistently attacked President Obama for returning to the unpopular liberalism of the 1970s and betraying Clinton’s legacy of reform. Yesterday, Romney surrogate John Sununu attacked President Obama for having the gall to mention Clinton at all. “[W]hile President Obama and his allies would love to be able to borrow credibility from the nation’s forty-second President, the contrast between Bill Clinton and Barack Obama—particularly when it comes to economic and fiscal issues—couldn’t be greater.” But there’s always been one glaring problem with this strategy: Bill Clinton is still alive. In fact, he’s...

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