Vox Pop

The Prospect's politics blog

Let Them Eat Dignity

Flickr/Gage Skidmore
Flickr/Gage Skidmore Representative Paul Ryan A few days ago, Paul Ryan got caught repeating a little fib in his speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference. It was of a not-uncommon type, in which a vivid anecdote somebody hears from somewhere gets told and retold in a game of political telephone in which the facts get mangled and the story from elsewhere becomes something the speaker claims happened to her. We can forgive Ryan for repeating it, since the falsehood didn't originate with him. But the real power of the story lies in its revelation of the cruelty that underlies the way contemporary American conservatives look at the poor, and the wispy veil they try to pull over that cruelty in the hopes we won't see it for what it is. To start, here's the story Ryan told, about Eloise Anderson, who directs the Wisconsin Department of Children and Families: She once met a young boy from a very poor family, and every day at school, he would get a free lunch from a government...

Can We Make Environmentalism a Centrist Issue?

Flickr/Manos Simonides
Flickr/Manos Simonides F or decades, thinkers on the left have wondered why the working class regularly votes against its own interests, upending what Marx believed would be an inevitable march from democracy to socialism. In his book, What’s the Matter with Kansas? , Thomas Frank argued that social issues obscure economic motives, and indeed the most salient non-economic one has always been race, at least in this country. In America, conservative politicians have exploited racism to their own benefit, first to disempower blacks with Jim Crow, then to undermine the union movement, and more recently to undercut support for welfare programs, as Ian Haney Lopez recently documented in Dog-Whistle Politics . Nixon’s “law and order campaign” played on racial fears, as did Reagan’s denunciation of “welfare queens.” Republicans played at race to win solid majorities for decades while actively working against the interests of the majority of Americans. The left has much to learn about this...

Daily Meme: Three Weeks and Counting

President Obama's plot to turn the United States into a paradise for the proletariate is going precisely as planned. According to a survey conducted by the Gallup organization last month, the percentage of Americans without insurance has dropped to 15.9 percent—the lowest rate since 2008. Left-leaning analysts like The Washington Post 's Greg Sargent are cautioning liberals not to get too excited . According to Gallup's numbers, the rate reached an all-time high of 18 percent in the third quarter of 2013 At Bloomberg , Jonathan Bernstein concludes that "[t]he new data should, at the very least, make us slightly more confident that Obamacare isn't radically increasing the net number of uninsured. I wouldn't go much farther than that." That's certainly a lot of qualifiers. The rate of uninsured African Americans showed the largest drop of any minority group, from 20.9 percent in the first quarter of 2013 to 18.3 today. But results were less promising among Hispanics—the group most...

Daily Meme: Love, Tolerance, and CPAC

For the millions of American reality-show junkies who just can't wait for the return of 2012's most outrageous hit show—the Republican presidential debates—this week's Conservative Political Action Conference has offered a tantalizing sneak preview. Just about every potential 2016 cast member was in D.C.—and everybody had something to prove. For Chris Christie, excluded last year but invited back now that he's being "attacked" by the media—instant conservative cred!—had to show he could get the 'wingers on their feet. Which, Christie being Christie, was a snap, especially with guaranteed-to-please counterfactuals like this one about Democrats: “They’re the party of intolerance. Not us.” (And hey, if you doubt for a second that Republicans are indeed the lonely beacons of open-mindedness in this land, check out the instantly famous photo of the near-empty conference room where they held their minority outreach panel on Thursday .) Bobby Jindal, who's trying to prove that being detested...

Can the Koch Brothers Be a Political Asset for Democrats?

Flickr/Donkey Hotey
For while there, conservatives saw the hand of George Soros behind every conspiracy. It was always a little strange, not because there wasn't a certain truth underneath it—Soros has, in fact, given lots of money to liberal political causes (and he is an actual international Jewish financier, which certainly set a certain type of mind buzzing)—but because the idea of a billionaire using his money to shape America's politics isn't something conservatives object to. Quite the contrary; they think there ought to be a lot more of it. Democrats, on the other hand, are not so friendly to the idea, which is why it's understandable that Charles and David Koch have taken on a larger role in the liberal imagination than Soros had in the conservative one (they've also spent a lot more money on politics than Soros ever did). But can Democrats convince voters who are not already liberals to be mad at the Kochs? That's how they're responding to the brothers' involvement in multiple Senate races this...

CPAC’s Second-Class Gays

AP Photo/Susan Walsh
*/ AP Photo/Susan Walsh Texas governor Rick Perry speaks at the Conservative Political Action Committee's annual conference in National Harbor, Maryland this morning. W atching gay conservatives try to make their way in the GOP is like having a friend in an emotionally abusive relationship. Despite the victim's best attempts to placate the abuser, tensions mount until there's a big blowup. Your friend denounces the guy, packs their bags, and resolves to leave. But next you hear, suddenly everything's fine; the abuser has apologized—he's been under a lot of stress lately—and getting out was a bad idea anyway. At this week's Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), gays and the GOP are in another one of their reconciliation phases. After raising hell for being knocked off the list of sponsors in 2011, the leadership of gay Republican group GOProud is back to keeping up appearances. "The relationship between GOProud and the American Conservative Union has been frayed in the past...

The Mythological "Cold-Blooded" Killer

Not a real person.
In the wake of Debo Adegbile's rejection by the Senate and the sudden reemergence of the Mumia Abu-Jamal case, there's an interesting piece of rhetoric I wanted to draw attention to, because it's so common yet at such odds with reality. As Adegbile's nomination was discussed, one of the things his opponents would say is that he should be rejected because his organization filed an amicus brief in Mumia's case, and Mumia is a "cold-blooded killer." Delaware senator Chris Coons, for instance, explained his vote against Adegbile by saying that Abu-Jamal is "a heinous, cold-blooded killer." An op-ed in the Philadelphia Daily News described Abu-Jamal's victim being "gunned down in cold blood." Another Philadelphia writer said Abu-Jamal "murdered a cop in cold blood." The Philadelphia D.A. called Abu-Jamal a "cold-blooded murderer." We even heard Senator Tom Harkin, speaking in support of Adegbile's nomination, bring up the fact that Chief Justice John Roberts once defended "someone who...

Dealing with Iran's Two Faces

AP Images
I srael’s announcement on Wednesday that its naval commandoes had seized a civilian ship laden with Iranian rockets bound for militant groups in Hamas-ruled Gaza came a day late to be included in the bill of particulars against Iran in Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s annual conference. But it did come in time for a briefing of the House Foreign Affairs Committee by Israeli Intelligence Minister Yuval Steinitz, who used it to bolster the argument that Iran’s only true face is the terrorist one. “You see on the one hand there is this charm offensive” from Iranian President Hassan Rohani and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, Steinitz told The Daily Beast . “And now you discover underneath the mask of this charm offensive, that Iran is still the same Iran.” Make no mistake, this is bad news, the latest exhibit in a sizable portfolio demonstrating again Iran’s destabilizing support for violent extremist groups in the...

The Disgraceful Rejection of Debo Adegbile

AP Images/J. Scott Applewhite
Debo Adegbile, President Obama's nominee to head the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice, was rejected by the Senate earlier this week. This is a dismaying vote, a combination of Republicans increasingly hostile to civil rights and a small but crucial number of Democratic senators too timorous to stand up to Republican smear campaigns. The primary ostensible basis for the rejection of the eminently qualified Adegbile was his small role in the legal defense of Mumia Abu-Jamal. Abu-Jamal was convicted for the 1981 murder of a Philadelphia police officer, and as Michael McGough says it's fair to say that Abu-Jamal has been "the beneficiary of uncritical adulation and a form of 'radical chic'" from some activists and celebrities both home and abroad. Certainly, Abu-Jamal is not my idea of a hero, but this is all irrelevant to Adegbile. He wasn't spending his time leading "Free Mumia" rallies or defending the murder of police officers. He simply part of the team at the NAACP...

Daily Meme: "Free Mumia" Backfires Once Again

For some time, a few liberals (like yours truly), and many more conservatives, have used the "Free Mumia" cause as a shorthand for a kind of ineffectual yet harmless activism that always exists in some corners of the left. Whatever the merits of Mumia Abu-Jamal's case, if you brought a "Free Mumia" sign to an anti-war rally in 2003 (as some people actually did), you weren't doing anybody any good. But over three decades after his conviction for killing police officer Daniel Faulkner in 1981 as the officer conducted a traffic stop of his brother, Mumia Abu-Jamal's case continues to exert power, most particularly the power to strike fear and rage in the hearts of certain people. So yesterday, the United States Senate voted down the nomination of Debo Adegbile to lead the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division, the reason cited by all being that when Adegbile was head of the NAACP's Legal Defense and Education Fund, the Fund filed an amicus brief in support of Abu-Jamal's appeal of...

Conservatives Have All the Best Talismans

Gaze upon me holding this fire stick, you easily mollified rubes.
Mitch McConnell is the GOP's shrewdest politician, but he's not exactly beloved by the party's base; he's got a Tea Party challenger in his re-election race this year, and he's regularly pilloried by hard-right conservatives as an establishment sellout. So he'll take whatever opportunity he can to do a little strategic outreach to that great grumbling mass that is, to paraphrase Howard Dean, the Republican wing of the Republican party. Fortunately, that yearly ritual of spittle-flecked rage, breathtaking extremism, and passionate theological debates about how many Reagans can dance on the head of a pin known as the Conservative Political Action Conference is going on right now. And when it was his turn to speak, Mitch made quite an entrance. Check this out: OK, so he doesn't exactly look like a rough 'n ready cowboy. But I'm sure the display was greeted with many chuffs and snorts of approval. Which got me thinking: Liberals really lack any talismanic physical objects they can display...

A Confederacy of Dunces

President Obama is not afraid of this man. (Flickr/Gage Skidmore)
You probably saw a news item about a hearing yesterday of the House Government Oversight Committee. The reason you saw it is that it ended with some shouting, which is a relatively rare occurrence on Capitol Hill, and therefore that became an irresistible piece of news. But what really mattered about that hearing wasn't Darrell Issa cutting off Elijah Cummings' mike, causing Cummings to get extremely angry. It was that the hearing was happening at all. I'm not sure if there's ever been an opposition party more thoroughly convinced of a president's corruption yet so utterly incapable of doing anything about what they see as his crimes. You might think that's because Barack Obama is not particularly corrupt, and that's part of the story. But the Republicans' buffoonery—and Issa's in particular—when it comes to making Obama pay for his alleged misdeeds seems to know no bounds. If I were a Republican, I'd really be wondering right now whether Issa can tie his own shoes, much less whether...

The Last Rural Abortion Clinics in Texas Just Shut Down

AP Images/Pat Sullivan
S ince November, the last abortion clinics in East Texas and the Rio Grande Valley, some of the poorest and most remote parts of the state, have been hanging on by their fingernails. The two clinics, both outposts of a network of abortion providers called Whole Woman’s Health, stayed open with slimmed-down staffs while their owner, Amy Hagstrom Miller, struggled to comply with the first chunk of HB2—the voluminous anti-choice law passed by the Texas legislature last summer—which requires abortion doctors to obtain admitting privileges at a local hospital. Today, after weeks of failed negotiations with nearby hospitals, Hagstrom Miller announced that both clinics are closing their doors. The clinics in Beaumont, about an hour east of Houston, and McAllen, just north of the Mexico border in the Rio Grande Valley, were the last rural abortion providers left in Texas. Between July, when HB2 passed, and November, when the admitting privileges requirement went into effect, nearly half of...

Daily Meme: Vladimir Putin is Delusional Like a Fox

In the wee hours of yesterday morning, while you were still blissfully asleep, Russia's president and tiger-fighter-in-chief , Vladimir Putin, gave a strange, rambling press conference. In it, he insisted to reporters that there were no Russian troops on the ground in Crimea , and likened U.S. foreign policy to a dark science experiment. "They sit there across the pond as if in a lab running all kinds of experiments on the rats," he said. “Why would they do it? No one can explain it.” The strange remarks prompted immediate speculation about the state of Putin's mental health. A few days ago, the New York Times reported that Angela Merkel had tried—and failed—to talk sense into Putin, concluding that the world leader is "in another world. " Julia Ioffe says that Merkel is right—Putin has lost his marbles . But is dealing with Putin really, as Mark Halperin claims, like "playing Russian roulette" ? Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates is "amused" by the headlines. Putin, he says, isn't...

Time to Dump "Pro-Israel"

An Israel Day parade in New York. (Flickr/Johnk85)
There have been a lot of angry debates recently about Israel, complete with the requisite accusations of anti-Semitism hurled at just about anyone whose opinions about the country's history and policies contain any complexity whatsoever. Which means that this month is pretty much like any other. So let me make a proposal: Isn't it about time we just banished the very ideas of "pro-Israel" and "anti-Israel" once and for all? Think about it this way: When was the last time you heard the designation "pro-Israel" or "anti-Israel" and found it a useful distinction that added to rather than subtracted from the discussion at hand? Ever? Instead, the terms are used almost exclusively as ad hominem , a way of shutting down debate by proclaiming that someone's intentions are sinister and therefore their arguments can be dismissed out of hand without addressing their substance. There's no other country in the world we talk about in this way. No one asks if you're "pro-Canada" or "anti-Costa Rica...

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