Vox Pop

The Prospect's politics blog

Just How Big a Threat to the U.S. Is ISIL?

It didn't surprise anyone that most Republicans were displeased with President Obama's speech about ISIS (which he called ISIL, another of its names) last night, and it would be natural to conclude that the key division at work is between a president and party reluctant to use military force abroad, and an opposition party with near-limitless enthusiasm for military adventures. There's plenty of truth there, but there's an even more fundamental divide, even if it's not going to be spoken by President Obama or that many Democrats. The real question is whether ISIL actually constitutes a threat to the United States. For Republicans, it's so obvious that ISIS does threaten us that there isn't any use debating it . ISIL has seized large swaths of territory and picked up weapons left behind by the Iraqi army, they're well-funded thanks to pillaging banks and selling oil on the black market, and they have dreams of a caliphate spanning the entire Middle East. So of course they're a threat...

The Power of Images, Real and Assumed

(Rex Features via AP Images)
In the last couple of weeks we've seen two interesting examples of the power of images to change public discussion in a way facts alone often can't. I'm talking, of course, about the video of Ray Rice punching his fiancee unconscious in an elevator, and the images of journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff just before they were beheaded by ISIS. You can say that images have a unique power, which is true in some ways but often overstated in others. What's indisputable though, and evident in both these cases, is that the dissemination of a powerful image makes powerful people change the decisions they make . And that can be what changes everything. Let's talk about Foley and Sotloff first. There's a narrative developing which says that the American people were tired of war and reluctant to act against ISIS, then they saw the pictures of those two Americans moments before their brutal murders, and that hardened their hearts and gave them the thirst for revenge that fed support for...

Quotes of the Day: On Obama's 'Deep Belief'

Everything this guy said was true, except for the stuff that wasn't, which means nothing. (White House Photo by Eric Draper)
Every once in a while, a politician speaks the truth. Today, that politician is Georgia Republican Jack Kingston, talking about the possibility of Congress voting on a resolution authorizing President Obama to use force in Iraq and possibly Syria against ISIS. Behold : "A lot of people would like to stay on the sideline and say, 'Just bomb the place and tell us about it later,' " said Representative Jack Kingston, Republican of Georgia, who supports having an authorization vote. "It's an election year. A lot of Democrats don't know how it would play in their party, and Republicans don't want to change anything. We like the path we're on now. We can denounce it if it goes bad, and praise it if it goes well and ask what took him so long." Now that is some serious candor. Not that it isn't anything a hundred pundits might observe (because it's true), but it's not often you catch a politician being so forthright, particularly when he's talkiong about his own party. How can such a thing be...

Can Republicans Be Convinced to Help Improve the Affordable Care Act?

Eventually, they may find their way to ignoring this guy. (Flicir/Fibonacci Blue)
When the Affordable Care Act was passed in early 2010, people made lots of predictions about how its implementation would proceed, in both practical and political terms. While the law's opponents all agreed that it would be a disaster from start to finish, the law's supporters were slightly less unanimous, if nevertheless optimistic. Most figured that though there would probably be problems here and there, by and large the law would work as it was intended, enabling millions of uninsured Americans to get coverage and providing all of us a level of health security we hadn't known before. And that's what has happened. But there was one other assumption among the supporters that's worth examining anew, now that most of us agree the law isn't going to be repealed. Like every large and complex piece of social legislation, it was said, the ACA would have to be tweaked and adjusted over time. For instance, when it was passed in 1935, Social Security excluded agricultural and domestic workers...

No, Democrats Can't Win Back the House -- At Least Not Just Yet

Wikimedia Commons
(Photo: Flickr/freshwater2006) A re Republicans going to hold on the House of Representatives forever? That's the question Nate Cohn examines in a piece in Sunday's New York Times called " Why Democrats Can't Win the House ." Cohn's basic argument will be familiar to readers of this blog and many others, because it's been around a while. What it boils down to is that while the post-2010 redistricting dominated by Republicans didn't help Democrats' prospects of taking back the House, the real problem for them lies in the way the two party's voters are distributed throughout the country. Democrats are more concentrated in cities, where many of their votes are essentially surplus; if all it takes to make a district an iron-clad lock for your party is something like a 65 percent majority, having a 90 percent majority doesn't do you any more good. Republicans, on the other hand, are distributed much more efficiently; they have almost no districts with that near-unanimous majority, but lots...

Doomed Jeb Bush Presidential Campaign Moves Closer to Reality

Flickr/Gage Skidmore
The Wall Street Journal tells us today that we shouldn't forget about Jeb: WASHINGTON—Republican strategists and fundraisers say Jeb Bush's closest advisers have been quietly spreading the word that they should avoid committing to other possible presidential candidates until he decides on his own course after the November election. The message from Mr. Bush 's inner circle during the past few months is in part an effort to bat down speculation that the former Florida governor has ruled out a 2016 run, say GOP donors and strategists who have spoken with the Bush camp. The message, as one put it, is: "Before you do anything, let us know." Jim Nicholson, a Bush supporter who served in President George W. Bush's cabinet, said: "I think the chances are better than 50-50 that he runs, and that is based on some conversations I've had with members of the Bush family." Mr. Bush's aides aren't actively making calls but responding to supporters who are fielding inquiries from other potential...

Mitt Romney, the Charles Atlas of International Relations

Ha! Terrific! (Flickr/Gage Skidmore)
In today's Washington Post, one Willard Mitt Romney — you remember him — has penned an op-ed lamenting the fact that the United States military has grown so itty-bitty that it's left us unable to accomplish anything on the world stage. In an epic feat of straw-man construction, Romney boldly takes on those who want to leave America defended by nothing more than a few pea shooters and sling shots, demanding that we vastly increase our defense budget. Let's take a look at some of what he has to say: Russia invades, China bullies, Iran spins centrifuges, the Islamic State (a terrorist threat "beyond anything that we've seen," according to the defense secretary ) threatens — and Washington slashes the military. Reason stares. "Reason stares"? I'll have to confess my ignorance of whatever literary reference Mitt is tossing in here (the Google machine is unhelpful on this score, so I can't be the only one who doesn't know what the hell he's talking about), but is Washington really "slashing...

The Republican Quasi-Isolationists Change Their Tune

Yeah, it's about this guy. (White House photo by Pete Souza)
It looks like the debate over what to do about ISIS has given Republicans one fewer thing to argue about : A roiling national debate over how to deal with the radical Islamic State and other global hot spots has prompted a sudden shift in Republican politics, putting a halt to the anti-interventionist mood that had been gaining credence in the party. The change is evident on the campaign trail ahead of the November midterm elections and in recent appearances by the GOP’s prospective 2016 presidential candidates, with a near-universal embrace of stronger military actions against the group that has beheaded two American journalists. A hawkish tone has become integral to several key Republican Senate campaigns, with a group of candidates running in battleground states calling attention to their ties to veterans and their support for the U.S. military at every turn. The most notable shift has come from Rand Paul, who used to talk a lot about the dangers of interventionism and foreign...

In Horrible Gaffe, Scott Brown Straightforwardly Explains Conservative Philosophy

Scott Brown gives the unvarnished truth.
Former Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown, who is now hoping to return to the Senate from New Hampshire, got caught by the busy little candidate trackers at the Democratic group American Bridge saying what everyone will now acknowledge is a "gaffe" when he said, in response to a question about what he would do to create jobs: "Here's the thing, folks say, what are you going to do to create jobs? I am not going to create one job, it is not my job to create jobs. It's yours. My job is to make sure that government stays out of your way so that you can actually grow and expand." No doubt someone's preparing an ad right now based on the quote: Brown is following in the footsteps of the man he hopes will be his leader come January, Mitch McConnell, who got asked in April what he would do to bring jobs to one particular corner of Kentucky, and responded, "That is not my job. It is the primary responsibility of the state Commerce Cabinet." Since then, McConnell's opponent, Alison Lundergan...

The Limitations of Barack Obama's Rhetorical Repertoire

U.S. Army photo by Spec. Daniel J. Herrera
If there's one thing we can all agree on, it's that Barack Obama is not good enough at making Americans feel angry and afraid. When he first ran for president, we were astounded at his rhetorical gifts, but in retrospect they seem so touchy-feely. He made his listeners feel things like hope, optimism, and inspiration. Which is all well and good, but a country that can't go more than a few years without invading somebody needs a leader who knows how to beat the war drums, get the blood pumping, ride his horse back and forth in front of the assembled troops and shout, " This day, we fight! " Barack Obama is not that leader. He doesn't do anger and fear, probably because he tends not to get angry or afraid. So who can step up to don that mantle? Little Joey Biden, that's who : Vice President Joe Biden used the strongest language to date from the Obama administration in response to the beheading of American journalist Steven Sotloff by ISIS militants. Speaking at the Portsmouth Naval...

Don't Blame Eric Cantor For His New Gig

Richmond, VA, where Eric Cantor will not be living. (Flickr/rvaphotodude)
To no one's real surprise, former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor announced today that because his years representing Virginia's 7th district in Congress had so infused him with the desire to serve others, he'll be spending his post-congressional career passing out blankets for Doctors Without Borders in disaster zones all over the...no, I'm kidding. He'll be joining a boutique investment bank , opening a Washington office from which he'll offer strategic advice to well-heeled clients. Good work, if you can get it. Which you can't, but Eric Cantor can. This makes him a bit different than most people in his position, since they tend to become lobbyists upon leaving Congress, whereas it sounds like Cantor won't have to suffer the indignity of asking his former colleagues for favors. And you can't blame him, since this is a horrible time to be a lobbyist, what with Congress not passing any laws. But Cantor's new gig highlights something I talked about in my column earlier today, about...

The Stupidity of Hating Your Senator for Living Where You've Sent Her to Work

(MSNBC/Morning Joe)
(MSNBC/Morning Joe) T his year, not one, but two, incumbent senators up for re-election have been dogged by the "issue" of the precise location where they rest their heads at the end of a weary day of lawmaking. First it was Republican Pat Roberts, who, we learned in February , lists the home of some friends as his official residence in Kansas; apparently he crashes there when he's in the state. And now it's Democrat Mary Landrieu, whose heretofore unimpeachable Louisiana roots (her father Moon was the mayor of New Orleans in the 1970s, and her brother Mitch holds that office today) are now being questioned. It seems that although Landrieu owns a home in Washington, she's registered to vote in the New Orleans house she grew up in, where her parents still reside (even though it's technically owned by Mary and her eight siblings, all of whose names begin with "M"—make of that what you will). The opposition researchers have certainly been earning their keep. But should the rest of us...

Is Elizabeth Warren Just an Ordinary Politician?

Flickr/Edward Kimmel
Hero-worship is always risky in politics, because if you put all your hopes on one politician, eventually you're sure to be disappointed. And so it has come that Elizabeth Warren, who inspires more dewy-eyed infatuation than any other current Democratic officeholder, may have given her liberal admirers a reason to feel dismayed. This article from the Cape Cod Times is a week old, but it's just now making the rounds, and it shows that on one subject, Warren isn't quite the same strong progressive some might hope her to be. Here's what happened when a constituent criticized her vote to send an additional $225 million to Israel during the recent military conflict in Gaza: Warren told Bangert she appreciated his comments, but "we're going to have to agree to disagree on this one." "I think the vote was right, and I'll tell you why I think the vote was right," she said. "America has a very special relationship with Israel. Israel lives in a very dangerous part of the world, and a part of...

Why Republicans Can't Solve Their Problem With Women Voters

Dangerous radicals who thought women should be able to vote. (1927 photo from the Duke University Archives)
I'll give Republicans credit for this: they keep trying to figure out why their party remains unappealing to large and important groups of voters. They've been mulling over their problem with Latino voters for some time, and now Politico has gotten a hold of a study commissioned by some GOP bigwigs to figure out why women keep giving more of their votes to Democrats: But in Washington, Republican policies have failed to sway women — in fact, they appear to have turned women off. For example, the focus groups and polls found that women "believe that 'enforcing equal pay for equal work' is the policy that would 'help women the most.'" "Republicans who openly deny the legitimacy of the issue will be seen as out of touch with women's life experiences," the report warned, hinting at GOP opposition to pay-equity legislation. It's the policy item independents and Democrats believe will help women the most. The groups suggest a three-pronged approach to turning around their relationship with...

The Difference Between Accuracy and Fairness In Campaign Ads

From a Mark Pryor ad explaining that Tom Cotton may or may not want your children to get Ebola.
Before we get to today's campaign nastiness, a word about that creature known as "opposition research." Most people who are familiar with the term probably think it means something like "digging up dirt" on your opponent, which must involve things like going through the transcripts of his divorce to read about that time his wife came home early to find him doing unspeakable things with a roll of cling wrap, or rooting through his garbage to read his credit card bills. Every once in a while it can, but oppo researchers' biggest job is usually going through every vote the client's opponent ever took to see what sort of hay can be made out of them. Since bills are often complex—particularly budget bills that can have hundreds and hundreds of items in them—it's usually possible to say, "Our opponent voted for this horrible thing," or alternatively, "Our opponent voted against this wonderful thing," whether or not that was the intention of his vote. Even on bills whose provisions are less...

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