Vox Pop

The Prospect's politics blog

The White House Press Corps Is as Mad as Hell: A Reprise

AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster
AP Photo Circumventing the Press 101 When Stephen Colbert gave the keynote address at the 2006 White House Correspondents Dinner, he suggested to President Bush that he ought to hire him. "I think I would have made a fabulous press secretary," Colbert said, looking out at the assembled reporters. "I have nothing but contempt for these people." These days, a lot of people think the Obama administration is even more hostile to reporters and what they do than that of his predecessor. When it comes to the relationship between the White House and the men and women assigned to cover it, there are a few things that have been true in every recent administration. The new president takes office promising to be open, candid, and accessible. Not far into his tenure, he grows terribly frustrated with the media, believing they are too focused on trivia, too quick to assume the worst and focus on his missteps, and uninterested in his accomplishments. His staff works hard to find ways to get its...

Robbing Illinois's Public Employees

I n the span of a few hours on December 3, two Midwestern states changed America’s relationship to its public employees, perhaps irrevocably. If courts approve plans for bankruptcy in Detroit and a new law in Illinois, retirees who worked their careers as sanitation engineers and teachers, firefighters and police officers, public defenders and city clerks, under a promise of pension benefits protected by state constitutions, will not receive their promised share. “This is a bipartisan collection of politicians who essentially don’t respect democracy,” says Steve Kreisberg, director of Research and Collective Bargaining for the public-employee union AFSCME. “They authorized a violation of their own state constitutions.” The implications for the future of public pensions are grave. Michigan and Illinois are two of just seven states with clauses in their state constitutions prohibiting cuts to public pensions. If they can nevertheless slash benefits, cities, and states with less...

Sanctions Hawks Losing the Plot

AP Photo/Mark Wilson, Pool
AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, Pool A new poll of registered voters conducted by Americans United for Change and released last week is the latest to show majority support for the recent agreement in Geneva between the P5+1—the permanent five members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany—and Iran. Among those with an opinion (41 percent said they had none, or hadn’t heard enough about the deal to form an opinion), 57 percent supported the agreement with 37 percent opposed. But the poll also noted that, after hearing a description of the deal—in which Iran will halt its nuclear work and submit to increased inspections in exchange for modest sanctions relief—support went up to 63 percent. As the Washington Examiner pointed out, even those identifying as “strongly pro-Israel” favored the deal by 48 percent to 40 percent. It’s not the first poll that has found such a result. Last week, a Reuters /Ipsos poll found Americans supporting the just-brokered deal by a two to one...

The Vindictiveness of the Vitter Amendment

W ith poverty stuck at a decades-high rate of 15 percent, food stamps have proven to be one of the best ways to stop low-income Americans from slipping deeper into poverty. So it’s under attack, of course. Last week, majority leader John Boehner warned that a deal on the farm bill, through which the food-stamp program is authorized and funded, was not coming together. The House and Senate have passed dramatically different bills and now leaders in both chambers are scrambling to come up with a compromise bill that can pass both chambers and be signed by the president before the current legislation expires at the end of this year. With the House scheduled to adjourn this Friday, time is running out. The biggest fight is over how crop subsidies are calculated and which crops they go to, but there is also disagreement on cutting food stamps. The question isn’t whether food stamps will be cut, but by how much. Food stamps are an entitlement, which means the program grows according to need...

Conservatives Struggle with Mandela Tributes

Nelson Mandela in 1937 (Wikimedia Commons)
If you've been perusing conservative websites, Facebook pages, and the like since Nelson Mandela's death was announced, you would have seen two things: some kind of tribute to Mandela, and a series of comments following that tribute denouncing Mandela as a communist, a terrorist, or worse, and expressing all kinds of vile racist sentiment. It's happening not just at magazines and blogs, but to politicians as well, who are getting denounced by some small minority of their supporters for praising Mandela. That's not their fault; no one is completely responsible for their fans, after all. And as I've read through a few of these threads I've also seen some people pushing back against the racist comments. Even if, say, the National Review was for many years a fierce defender of white supremacy in both South Africa and the United States, if nothing else they're doing their best to claim that they were on the side of the angels all along, which is better than nothing. But I'm wondering about...

Daily Meme: Remembering Nelson Mandela

South African President Jacob Zuma : "We've lost our greatest son." President Barack Obama : "Like so many around the globe, I cannot fully imagine my own life without the example that Nelson Mandela set. And so long as I live, I will do what I can to learn from him." Secretary of State John Kerry : “Nelson Mandela was a stranger to hate. He rejected recrimination in favor of reconciliation and knew the future demands we move beyond the past. He gave everything he had to heal his country and lead it back into the community of nations." Former President Bill Clinton : “His story will remember Nelson Mandela as a champion for human dignity and freedom, for peace and reconciliation. We will remember him as a man of uncommon grace and compassion, for whom abandoning bitterness and embracing adversaries was not just a political strategy but a way of life." Desmond Tutu : "The sun will rise tomorrow, and the next day and the next. ... It may not appear as bright as yesterday, but life will...

Presidential Primaries and Ideological Satisficing

I'm pretty sure she's a Democrat. (Flickr/Philip Marley)
Today I have a piece in Politico Magazine under the grabby but somewhat misleading headline "Left Turn = Dead End?" (So you know, for better or worse, writers don't usually write their own headlines.) My main point is that while economic populism is always good politics for Democrats, it isn't enough to just stake out the leftmost position (on economics or anything else) and hope that can win you the Democratic presidential nomination, just as it isn't enough to be the most conservative candidate in a Republican primary. There will indeed be an ideological debate within the Democratic party in advance of the next presidential election, which is a good thing. As they approach the end of the Obama years, Democrats are going to have to hash out who they are, what they believe, and where they want to go. But the reason being the most liberal candidate is insufficient is that primary voters aren't ideological maximizers, they're ideological satisficers. Satisficing is a term originated in...

Is de Blasio Copping Out Already?

AP Photo/Philip Scott Andrews, File
AP Photo/Seth Wenig I f it’s still rather unclear how Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio intends to govern New York City, his selection of William J. Bratton as police commissioner on Thursday offered precious little in the way of clarifying clues. The former top cop in Boston and Los Angeles, Bratton served as New York Police Department commissioner at the beginning of Rudy Giuliani's administration in the mid 1990s, where his success is credited with popularizing neighborhood-mapping programs like Compstat and the "Broken Windows" theory of crime, which essentially holds that pursuing petty acts of vandalism and maintaining urban environments can prevent more serious crime. What his admirers tend not to mention is that Bratton also ramped up the use of stop and frisk in Los Angeles, and that tactic represents the steepest cost imposed on the poor in the name of Michael Bloomberg's Luxury City—as well as a preferred campaign trail punching bag of de Blasio. But if the Bratton appointment is...

Daily Meme: If at First You Don't Succeed...

Representative Doug Collins , on President Obama: “You got to go up there, and you just impeach him.” Senator James Inhofe , on President Obama: "People may be starting to use the I-word before too long." Former representative Dennis Kucinich , on President Obama: "President Obama moved forward without Congress approving. He didn’t have Congressional authorization, he has gone against the Constitution, and that’s got to be said ... I’m raising the question as to whether or not it’s an impeachable offense. It would appear on its face to be an impeachable offense." Former representative Dennis Kucinich , on President Bush: "I will once again bring a similar privileged resolution of Impeachment to the House. We must not only create an historical record of the misconduct of the Bush Administration but we must make sure that any future Administration is forewarned about the Constitutionally proscribed limits of executive authority and exercise of power contravening the Constitution."...

Over-Interpreting Mundane Poll Results

So disillusioned he's just going to lie here until dinner. (Flickr/Corey Thrace)
Have the young turned on Barack Obama? That's the assertion coming out of a poll from Harvard's Institute of Politics, reported in the National Journal with the breathless headline, "Millenials Abandon Obama and Obamacare." "The results blow a gaping hole in the belief among many Democrats that Obama's two elections signaled a durable grip on the youth vote," writes Ron Fournier. In the poll, approval of the President among those 18-29 has fallen to 41 percent. Sounds terrible. But wait—what's his approval among all voters these days? About 41 percent . So is it possible we don't need a special, youth-oriented explanation of the latest movement in the polls? When there's a change in public opinion, it's tempting to pick out different demographic groups and impose on each of them some unique interpretation of what's happening. Here's what the poll's director told Garance Franke-Ruta: "People are disappointed because they are passionate," Della Volpe said. "They're passionate about...

Rewarding Reduced Crime Rates—Not Mass Incarceration

Flickr/wwarby
An increasing number of people, up to and including the Attorney General of the United States, have condemned mass incarceration in the United States. The effects of having 5 percent of the world's population but nearly 25 percent of its prisoners housed within our borders are profound . It needlessly ruins countless lives, costs enormous sums of money that could go to more useful purposes, and disproportionately affects racial minorities. As the opposition to mass incarceration builds, a new report from the Brennan Center of Justice makes a valuable contribution to the question of how imprisonment rates can be reduced. Legislators on the Hill—from both parties—have made some tentative steps towards prison reform. But, it isn't clear how much these steps can help; most imprisonment in the United States happens under states' watch. The reforms suggested by the Brennan Center report—written by Inimai Chettiar, Lauren-Brooke Eisen, Nicole Fortier, and Timothy Ross—are particularly...

Bishops May Not Be the Crooks This Time

AP Images/Luca Zennaro
T amesha Means was only 18 weeks pregnant on the morning of December 1, 2010, when her water broke. In a haze of pain, she called a friend for a ride to the only hospital in her central Michigan county. She had no idea that the hospital, Mercy Health Partners, was part of a Catholic health system. She just knew she needed help. What happened next, contend the plaintiffs in a new lawsuit filed by the ACLU on Means’s behalf , was not just the fault of a doctor, emergency room staff, or even the hospital. The blame goes right to the top—to the U.S. Catholic bishops. According to the lawsuit, over the course of the next 36 hours, Means was never told that her fetus had little chance of surviving. Nor was she told—as she would have been in a secular hospital—that doctors could induce labor or terminate her pregnancy. Instead, Means was twice sent home with painkillers and told to return only if she was having contractions three to four minutes apart. Unaware of the risks of continuing the...

On Inequality, Obama's Words Aren't Enough

President Obama speaking Wednesday on inequality.
There are times, like the speech Barack Obama gave yesterday on economic inequality, when he reminds liberals of what we found so appealing about him. The address can stand among the most progressive statements of his presidency. Not for the first time, Obama declared inequality "the defining challenge of our time," and articulated an eloquent case, based in American history and values, for the damage it does and why we need to confront it. So why was I left feeling less than enthusiastic? Because over the last five years, Obama has succeeded in doing so little to address the problem. "Making sure our economy works for every American," he said, is "why I ran for president. It was the center of last year's campaign. It drives everything I do in this office." If that's true, then his presidency hasn't been particularly successful. Now granted, it's not as though he hasn't been awfully busy. And he still has some notable achievements in this area, none greater than the Affordable Care...

Daily Meme: The Most Wonderful Time of the Year for Being Angry about Christmas

It's December, which means that the myriad opinions on Obama's leadership style will soon morph into much miffedness over our country's lamentable inability to appreciate Christmas enough. The war might just be celebrating its centennial this year, according to an article from 1913 highlighting the Society for the Prevention of Useless Giving's crusade against Christmas spending. Or was it the Puritans who started the war on Christmas? Or, gasp , the Founding Fathers ?! Regardless of its inception, the war has burst into the 21st century on a glorious wave of brutish, short fuses and Christmas tree taxes. Like the time a Nova Scotia logger who donated a tree to the city of Boston in 2005 said he'd rather shove the glorious conifer in a wood chipper than hear it be called a "holiday tree." Or the time Mark Steyn said, "Perhaps Santa Monica should adopt a less theocratic moniker and change its name to Satan Monica , as its interpretation of the separation of church and state seems to...

With God on His Side

Does my opponent own a bible? Will he shake it at you thusly? I think not.
Mark Pryor has a problem. A Democratic senator in a state Barack Obama lost by 24 points, in a region where party identification is an increasingly rigid tribal marker, Pryor needs to get voters to look beyond the D next to his name if he's going to win re-election next year. So how does he do it? By appealing to an even higher tribal identification. Forget politics, he all but says in his new ad—all you need to know about me is that I'm right with the Lord. Take a look: The ad's first line is, "I'm not ashamed to say that I believe in God and I believe in his Word." In America in general, and in Arkansas in particular, saying "I'm not ashamed to say that I believe in God" is sort of like saying, "I'm not ashamed to say that I love my children." Such courage! But of course, these days the fantasy of persecution is de rigeur among evangelicals, what with the War on Christmas raging, so it makes good political sense for Pryor to tell voters that like them, he feels the sting of...

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