Vox Pop

The Prospect's politics blog

Contraception, News Coverage, and Identifying Fringe Groups

The story of the day comes from The New York Times , which reports on this study in the New England Journal of Medicine showing the results of a project that provided long-term contraception to teenagers. The results were both stunning and completely predictable (we'll get to that in a second), but I want to raise a small objection to something in the Times story. It concerns how groups should be identified, and when it's necessary to alert readers to the fact that you're quoting somebody on the fringe. But first, the news: it turns out that if you offer long-term contraception (mostly IUDs and implants) to teenagers, they don't get pregnant. Take a look at this graph, which compares teens in the program (called CHOICE) to national data on young women of the same age: As I said, these results are remarkable in that the reductions in pregnancy are so dramatic, but also predictable—birth control works well at controlling birth! If you have a teenage daughter, you should probably think...

Listen Up, Ladies: Republicans Understand You

A lady-type expressing her disgust with the idea of voting Democratic.
Political ads, as a rule, are terrible in every way. Lacking in anything approaching subtlety, creativity or production values, they usually achieve their impact through numbing repetition—you may be skeptical upon hearing that "Candidate Smith doesn't share our values," but once you've heard it 50 or 60 times, the theory goes, it should sink in. But every once in a while, one stands out, as is the case with this little gem trying to tell ladies to vote for Governor Rick Scott of Florida. It's actually one in a cookie-cutter series , with the names of other Republican governors and Democratic candidates substituted in.) The thinking behind it seems to be that if you want to relate to ladies, what you've got to do is talk about wedding dresses. Take a look: It's a takeoff on the reality show Say Yes to the Dress , which I haven't actually seen, but I gather involves wedding dresses, and saying yes to them. While pop culture references are always a good way to grab attention, the...

The War With No Name

Every president, along with the people who work for him, will tell you that they barely ever think about politics and public relations. "Good policy is good politics," they'll say, or "We believe that if we do the right thing, the politics will take care of themselves." Of course, it'll all baloney. Even in the most serious matters, like making war, appearances are never far from their minds. Which is why, every time we get ready to bomb or invade somebody, the military comes up with a super-cool name for the operation. Not only does it give the enterprise the proper triumphal air, it gives the media something to call it, so they can make their jazzy graphics and pick out the right musical accompaniment. So why doesn't our new quasi-war have a name yet? The idea of naming military operations began in World War I, but initially they were secret code names, intended to conceal rather than to boast. Winston Churchill was very concerned with the code names of military operations in World...

Mitt Romney Explains the Politician's Art

Flickr/Austen Hufford
Back when he was running for president, I used to joke that Mitt Romney was a political version of the T-1000 from Terminator 2—if he got close enough, he could morph himself into a copy of you, adopting your likes, your fears, your ideals and your beliefs. Except instead of doing it to kill you off, he was trying to win your vote. Ungenerous on my part? Sure. Nevertheless true? Pretty much. And now comes an interesting admission from Mitt, in a new interview with Mark Leibovich . The topic is the infamous "47 percent" remark that caused him so much grief. While Romney has gone through many explanations for what he said, none of them particularly convincing, this may be the most candid yet: "I was talking to one of my political advisers," Romney continued, "and I said: 'If I had to do this again, I'd insist that you literally had a camera on me at all times" — essentially employing his own tracker, as opposition researchers call them. "I want to be reminded that this is not off the...

Separating the Presidential Wheat from the Chaff

Flickr/Gage Skidmore
Just what does it mean for someone to be qualified to be, or even run for, president? I thought of that question when watching this interview on Fox News Sunday with Ben Carson, who is preparing to be the first member of what we might call the nutball caucus of the 2016 Republican primaries, occupied last time around by Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain, and to a lesser extent (since he was actually briefly competitive) Rick Santorum. I've always found Carson to be a puzzlement. On one hand, he was a highly successful neurosurgeon, and you can't become that without being a relatively smart person. On the other hand, when he talks about politics and policy, it quickly becomes clear that the man is a complete lunatic. In this interview, Wallace asks him, "You said recently that you thought that there might not actually be elections in 2016 because of widespread anarchy. Do you really believe that?" Carson responds, "I hope that that's not going to be the case, but certainly there is that...

When the Next Terrorist Attack Comes, Will We Be Capable of Keeping Our Heads?

(Yui Mok/PA Wire - Press Association via AP Images)
(Yui Mok/PA Wire -Press Association via AP Images) I magine it's six months from now. A 19-year-old man—whom we'll later learn was in communication with members of ISIL in the Middle East—walks on to the Mall in Washington on a weekend afternoon. Groups of tourists are walking about from one monument to another. He takes his backpack off his shoulders, reaches in, and removes the semiautomatic rifle he bought a month before at a gun show in Virginia, where he didn't have to submit to a background check (though it wouldn't have mattered, because his record is clean). He opens fire on the crowd, and before U.S. Park Police are able to reach him and put him down, he has killed six people and wounded eleven others. In his pocket is a note announcing his devotion ISIL, and that he is striking at the United States in retaliation for its illegal war on the true Muslims building a caliphate in Syria and Iraq. Now that we have begun a new military engagement in the Middle East, this event or...

Chart of the Day

Flickr/Rob Chandanais
Our chart of the day comes from this article in Politico Magazine by Doug McAdam and Karina Kloos, about how the contemporary Republican party has its roots in the racial struggles of the 1960s. It's a good overview of that history, even if you may not find any shocking revelations there. But this chart they use is particularly striking, showing the racial makeup of Barack Obama's and Mitt Romney's voters in 2012: I've written a lot about how some people within the Republican Party, and the conservative movement more generally, find political value in fostering white resentment. Sometimes that resentment is directed at specific figures like Barack Obama, and at those times it usually reaches back to the 1960s to prey on white fears of angry black people coming to do you financial and physical harm (the best comment about Eric Holder's resignation yesterday undoubtedly came from Fox News host Andrea Tantaros, who said of Holder, "He ran the DOJ much like the Black Panthers would. That...

Might We Have Mitt Romney to Kick Around Some More?

I've got a secret... (Flickr/davelawrence8)
I often find it hard to get inside the heads of politicians, since the idea of running for office—particularly all that fundraising, glad-handing, and ass-kissing—has about as much appeal for me as spending a year or two eating nothing but live maggots every day. But I can appreciate that running for president, getting your party's nomination, and then losing must be positively tortuous, particularly if you spent your whole life thinking you'd be president one day. By the time you get to the end of the campaign, you've spent untold hours thinking about how your destiny is about to be realized, you will remake the world, people will carve statues of you, plus Air Force One is really cool and you can do stuff like say, "Hey, let's have Stevie Wonder come sing at our house this weekend." Then not only are all those dreams dashed, but a guy you've come to despise takes your place. What's surprising is that the likes of John McCain, John Kerry, and Al Gore don't suffer complete breakdowns...

Why the Culture War Will Never Die

Official Democratic party vehicle. (Flickr/Brett Morrison)
Depending on how you define it, the American culture war between liberals and conservatives can stretch back all the way to the nineteenth century. But I prefer to date its current iteration to the 1960s, when the hippies and the squares gazed across a high school football field at one another and said, "Man, I hate those guys." However the actual 1960s played out, in our memories, the hippies were definitely the good guys, and the winners in the end. (This is in no small part because liberals created all the novels, TV shows, and movies that chronicled the period.) They may have been a little silly, but there's one thing that's undeniably true: They had all the fun. While the squares were getting buzz cuts, convincing themselves that the Vietnam War was a great idea, and nodding along with Richard Nixon's encomiums to the Silent Majority, the hippies were getting high, dancing to cool music, and above all, getting laid . And the squares are still mad about it, even the ones who weren...

Why Are We Afraid of the Returning Expat Terrorist?

This is not the training you get from ISIL. (Flickr/Andres Alvarez Iglesias)
One of the common refrains we hear in the reporting on ISIL is that officials are worried that Americans will go to Syria or Iraq, fight with ISIL, and then return here to launch terrorist attacks on the United States. As a discrete category of terrorist threat, this is something very odd to be afraid of. It isn't that such people might not have the motivation to carry out a terrorist attack. But if they went to fight with ISIL, they probably already had the motivation. Ah, but what about the things they learned there? This morning, I heard a reporter on NPR refer to such returnees employing their "newfound terrorist skills" against the United States. But what skills are we talking about? If you want to learn how to make a bomb, you don't have to go to Syria to acquire the knowledge. There's this thing called "the internet" where it can be found much easier. The way these potential attackers are talked about, you might think that launching a terrorist attack is something you can only...

Missiles and Rebels: What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

(Rex Features via AP Images)
L ast weekend, the New York Times reported on a meeting President Obama had with a group of foreign policy experts and pundits to talk about combatting ISIL, among other topics. "Asked by one of the columnists what he would do if his strategy did not work and he had to escalate further," reporter Peter Baker wrote, "Mr. Obama rejected the premise. 'I'm not going to anticipate failure at this point,' he said." Now of course, this meeting wasn't about soliciting ideas so much as it was about convincing important opinion leaders that the administration is on the right track, so there was naturally going to be some spinning. But now that this military campaign has begun in earnest, there are few more important questions than this one: Is the administration anticipating failure? And what are they doing about it? We've been through this once before. In 2002 and 2003, the Bush administration and its supporters told us that the Iraq War would be a piece of cake. We'd storm into Baghdad, be "...

So Much For the End of the War on Terror

U.S. Navy photo by Carmichael Yepez
Remember when Barack Obama was going to end the War on Terror? Well today, not only did the U.S. launch air strikes within Syria to target ISIL, we also struck against the Khorasan group, a small al-Qaeda offshoot that was purportedly plotting to blow up American airplanes, and the al-Nusra front, an al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria. Back in May of last year, Obama gave a speech meant to signal a break with the prior twelve years, in which he said, "we must define our effort not as a boundless 'global war on terror,' but rather as a series of persistent, targeted efforts to dismantle specific networks of violent extremists that threaten America." One could argue that that's a distinction without a difference, that it's only about rhetoric. You might also say that the War on Terror isn't so much a set of military actions as it is a mindset. It's the state of being terrorized, in which the nation is constantly on the edge of panic, willing to approve almost anything in the name of staying "...

Are We Getting Enough Religion With Our Politics?

Flickr/Harley Pebley
The Pew Research Center's Religion and Public Life Project has a new survey out about the role of religion in politics (among other things), and the headline is that there has been something of an increase in the desire for religion to take a more active political role. So what would that look like? The survey only asks a few questions about that topic in particular, but here are the results: Not surprisingly, it's the religious group that already has the most political power as at least something of a bloc—white evangelical Christians—that is the most eager for more religious involvement on all these scores. But even they oppose church endorsements of candidates (by 54-42), which suggests that the idea of churches becoming real partisan players causes some discomfort. But let's be realistic: we have that already, on both the right and the left. Lots of evangelical churches function as a locus of organizing for the GOP at election time, just as black churches do for Democrats. The...

Does America Have the Greediest Doctors?

Flickr/UCD School of Medicine
Yesterday, The New York Times published a mind-boggling investigation into a way some physicians have found to hit patients with absolutely mind-boggling bills for not just routine procedures, but the involvement of doctors in their care that they neither asked for nor knew about until they got the bill. However widespread a practice this is, I'm going to argue that what we have here is not a few bad apples but a problem of culture. But first, here's an excerpt: In operating rooms and on hospital wards across the country, physicians and other health providers typically help one another in patient care. But in an increasingly common practice that some medical experts call drive-by doctoring, assistants, consultants and other hospital employees are charging patients or their insurers hefty fees. They may be called in when the need for them is questionable. And patients usually do not realize they have been involved or are charging until the bill arrives. The practice increases revenue...

Plagiarism Charges and the Vapidity of Campaign Website 'Plans'

Now that looks like a plan. (Flickr/Camille Rose)
Not one but two major candidates got in trouble this week for having "plans" on their websites that turned out to be cut and pasted from other sources. So how much of a sin is this? Should it affect anyone's vote? The answers are: not a very serious one, and no. To catch you up: the first candidate to get caught was Monica Wehby, the Republican nominee for Senate in Oregon, whose health care "plan" turned out to come from a survey by Karl Rove's Crossroads GPS, and whose economic "plan" was copied from the websites of other candidates. Then last night we learned that Mary Burke, the Democrat challenging Scott Walker for governor in Wisconsin, did the same thing. In both cases, the transgression was blamed on staffers who subsequently resigned (in a nice touch, the Burke campaign said it wasn't "plagiarism" because the staffer himself had written the plans he copied when he worked for those other candidates). Buzzfeed's Andrew Kaczynski broke both these stories, and he deserves some...

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