Vox Pop

The Prospect's politics blog

Daily Meme: Fans of War Shoot at Straw Men

Official White House Photo by Pete Souza
Yesterday, President Obama gave a speech at West Point outlining his vision for the use of American power in the future. So how did people react? The consensus on the right was that Obama's speech was a litany of arguments against straw men. "In rebutting his many critics, Obama would be more persuasive if [he] seriously engaged their arguments instead of rebutting arguments that no one is making in the real world," wrote Max Boot at Commentary . "Once again, the president caricatures the views of his critics rather than addressing them fairly," wrote Elliot Abrams , whose continued influence within conservative foreign policy circles is an inspiration to convicted criminals everywhere looking for a second chance. The conservative critics weren't completely wrong—Obama may have overstated their lust for American military action in his speech. But if he exaggerated, it wasn't by much, and many Republicans reacted by once again criticizing the President's insufficient enthusiasm for...

Where Terrorists and Assassins Don't Hide

Flickr/Wyn Van Devanter
At the end of last week, I wrote about a report showing how law enforcement authorities reacted to Occupy protests as if they were the advance guard for an al Qaeda invasion of America, on the apparent assumption that unlike non-violent right-wing dissent, non-violent left-wing dissent is likely a prelude to violence and thus must be met with surveillance, infiltration, and ultimately force. On Tuesday, the Supreme Court issued a decision on a case involving the Secret Service that seems to grow from a similar assumption about the connection between dissent and violence. The case was about an incident in 2004 when President George W. Bush stopped at an outdoor restaurant in Oregon. A crowd quickly formed, with some people cheering Bush and some jeering him. The Secret Service forced both groups away from the location, but let the pro-Bush citizens stay closer than the anti-Bush citizens; the plaintiffs charged that this was impermissible viewpoint discrimination. The Court ruled 9-0...

Daily Meme: Joe the Plumber on 'Dead Kids' and His Gun

ronnie44052/Flickr via Wikipedia
Remember Joe the Plumber? During the 2008 presidential race, Samuel Joseph Wurzelbacher, a plumber from Holland, Ohio, vaulted himself into campaign history after telling then-candidate Barack Obama that his proposed tax plan would prevent him from buying a small business. During the presidential campaign debate that followed, John McCain latched on to Wurzelbacher's comments and held up "Joe the Plumber" as the American everyman, his livelihood threatened by Obama's tax plan. When he coined the moniker, McCain inadvertently created a new GOP personality with a penchant for assault weapons. Six years later, Joe the Plumber is still in the headlines. But he's moved way beyond protesting the president's tax plan. Following last weekend's tragic shooting rampage on the campus of the University of California-Santa Barbara, Wurzelbacher took it upon himself to pen an open letter to the victims' families, sensitively informing them that "as harsh as this sounds—your dead kids don't trump my...

The Seductive Allure of "Ideas"

Flickr/Dennis Wilkinson
In 1994, as Republicans were headed for a historic midterm election victory, Newt Gingrich and his compatriots produced the " Contract With America ," a point-by-point description of what they wanted to do should they prove victorious. After the election, there was much talk in the media about how their agenda for change had won the day, but the truth was that barely anybody noticed it. A poll from ABC News and the Washington Post in January of 1995 —that is, after all the press coverage—found 55.6 percent of respondents saying they had never heard of the Contract, and given that people are generally reluctant to express ignorance about anything in polls, the real number was almost certainly higher. The Contract itself was a mixture of minor procedural reforms (eliminate the casting of proxy votes in committee markups!), poll-tested nostrums, and what passed for conservative good-government reforms at the time (term limits, a presidential line-item veto). That few voters knew any of...

Daily Meme: Have My People Call Your People

Today brings news and reminiscing of unlikely meet-ups, past, present, and future. In a Nixon-in-China moment, India’s newly minted prime minister, Narendra Modi (a Hindu nationalist), welcomed Pakistan’s prime minister, Nawaz Sharif (a Muslim nationalist), to New Delhi for the former’s swearing-in ceremony. The two nations have been arch-rivals since Pakistan was carved out of Greater India in 1947, and both possess nuclear weapons. The New York Times reports that the two became emotional when discussing their mothers. Pope Francis, on a return flight from his pilgrimage to the Holy Land, announced plans to meet with a small group of people who survived sexual abuse at the hands of Catholic clergy, according to the Guardian . Joelle Casteix of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests is not impressed, the Times reports , saying it’s all for show. The Vatican has been under extreme pressure ever since a United Nations commission denounced the sexual abuse of children by...

Supreme Court Decides: What is 'Cruel and Unusual Punishment'?

In the 2002 case Atkins v. Virginia , the Supreme Court ruled that executing the mentally impaired violated the Eight Amendment's prohibition on "cruel and unusual punishments." Atkin s, however, did not define what constituted mental impairment, which gave states a potentially easy way of evading the opinion. If left alone to determine their own standards, states that didn't want to comply with the Court's ruling could simply make it enormously difficult or impossible for those sentenced to death to prove that the were mentally impaired. In an important ruling Tuesday, the Supreme Court refused to allow the states unlimited discretion to determine whether defendants had the mental capacity to be legally executed, restoring some teeth to Atkins . In his opinion in Hall v. Florida , Justice Kennedy, joined by the Court's four Democratic nominees, began by reaffirming the rationale of the Court in Atkins . First, "[n]o legitimate penological purpose is served by executing a person with...

How Conservatives Will React to Obama's New Climate Regulations

A mountaintop removal mine in Virginia. (Flickr/Universal Pops)
President Obama is set to announce new rules for carbon emissions today, and what we'll see is a familiar pattern. The administration decides to confront one of the most profound challenges we face. It bends over backward to accommodate the concerns of its opponents, shaping the policy to achieve the goal in ways that Republicans might find palatable. Then not only are its efforts to win support from the other side fruitless, the opposition is so vituperative that it veers into self-parody. That's what happened with the Affordable Care Act; not only was the law not "socialism" as Republicans charged, it was about as far from socialism as you could get and still achieve universal coverage. It involved getting as many people as possible into private insurance plans, where they could see private medical providers. But Republicans who had previously embraced similar market-based ideas decided that once Obama poisoned them with his support, they were were now the height of statist...

American War Dead, By the Numbers

Photo: Melissa Bohan/Arlington National Cemetery
Photo: Melissa Bohan/Arlington National Cemetery Army Staff Sgt. Juan Esparzapalomino, a supply sergeant with the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment, "The Old Guard", inspect the rows of newly-placed flags in Section 27, ensuring the flags are aligned as perfect as possible for the 2013 annual National Memorial Day Observance. T oday is Memorial Day, when we honor those who died in America's wars. It's often said that Americans are increasingly disconnected from the military, since the all-volunteer force, not to mention the limited nature of the wars we've waged since Vietnam, means that most Americans don't serve or even have family members who serve. I thought it might be worthwhile to look at some figures on the number who served and the number who died, to place that change in context. The number of Americans who were in uniform peaked during the national mobilizations of World War I and World War II, particularly the latter, when more than 16 million Americans were in the armed forces:...

Daily Meme: The Immigration Merry-Go-Round

New York City Department of Parks & Recreation
It's been about a year—329 days, to be precise—since the Senate passed a comprehensive immigration-reform bill, but it seems we're no closer to seeing it become law now than we were then. Care to take a ride on the immigration merry-go-round? House Speaker John Boehner swears no one wants to see immigration reform get done more than he does, but Obamacare shows that we can't trust the president. Latino journalist Jorge Ramos, pointing out that immigration has nothing to do with Obamacare, tried to cut through the cant on Thursday: "Why are you blocking immigration reform?" he asked the speaker at a press conference. Boehner's response: "Me? Blocking?" Former Mississippi governor Haley Barbour swears that Boehner is "trying very hard." But Brian Beutler at The New Republic says it's never been more clear Republicans are killing immigration reform. Now they have another excuse not to budge. President Barack Obama unilaterally designated the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks in New Mexico a...

Daily Meme: The Immigration Merry-Go-Round

It's been about a year—329 days, to be precise—since the Senate passed a comprehensive immigration-reform bill, but it seems we're no closer to seeing it become law now than we were then. Care to take a ride on the immigration merry-go-round? House Speaker John Boehner swears no one wants to see immigration reform get done more than he does, but Obamacare shows that we can't trust the president. Latino journalist Jorge Ramos, pointing out that immigration has nothing to do with Obamacare, tried to cut through the cant on Thursday: "Why are you blocking immigration reform?" he asked the speaker at a press conference. Boehner's response: "Me? Blocking?" Former Mississippi governor Haley Barbour swears that Boehner is "trying very hard." But Brian Beutler at The New Republic says it's never been more clear Republicans are killing immigration reform. Now they have another excuse not to budge. Obama unilaterally designated the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks in New Mexico a national monument...

Government Treating Peaceful Left Activists Like Terrorists--Again

Police in Oakland breaking up an Occupy protest. (Flickr/Glenn Halog)
Both liberals and conservatives spend time arguing that the other side contains people who are nutty, highlighting extreme statements in an attempt to convince people that there's something fundamentally troubling about their opponents. There are many differences between the extreme right and the extreme left, perhaps most importantly that the extreme right has a much closer relationship with powerful Republicans than the extreme left has with powerful Democrats. When you find a crazy thing a liberal said, chances are it's an obscure professor somewhere, or a blogger with twelve readers, or a random person at a protest. The crazy people on the right, in contrast, are often influential media figures or even members of Congress, people with real influence and power. There's another critical difference that doesn't get as much attention: the extreme left is, generally speaking, harmless. That's their nature. They're more likely to meditate and form committees than hurt anyone. It's been...

Daily Meme: Who's to Blame for the V.A. Crisis?

When a scandal erupts in Washington, it spawns a circular firing squad. The unfolding drama over new reports of false record-keeping and long waiting lists for treatment within the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs' medical system is proving to be no exception. The facts are bad: Not only is there evidence that veterans died while waiting for care — often simple procedures like colonoscopies—whistleblowers at some VA hospitals claim that officials kept secret lists to cover up the outrageous wait times. You know things have really gotten out of hand when allegations of evidence shredding get tossed around. A doctor who recently retired from a VA hospital in Phoenix says that administrators , seeking to evade the VA policy that requires hospitals to provide care to their patients in a timely manner, shredded soldiers' requests for appointments and told staff not to enter their information into the computer system. Investigative reporters for CNN broke the story in late April (and...

A Few Things to Keep In Mind About the V.A.

Click inside for more charty goodness.
Even though there may be somewhat less demagoguery around the scandal at the Veterans Health Administration than around some other issues, there will no doubt be a certain amount on the way. So here are a few handy things to keep in mind: This scandal isn't about the quality of care . While there are surely some veterans who have gotten poor care, just as there are plenty of patients at private hospitals who get poor care, the V.A. actually has an excellent record on this score. Surveys consistently show most veterans are extremely satisfied with the care they get at V.A. facilities, often more so than private insurance customers. And independent studies from places like the RAND Corporation have found that patients have outcomes as good or better at the V.A. as in private care. The problem around which this scandal revolves is how long vets have to wait to see a doctor, not what happens once they get there. This is an important distinction to make, because there are going to be...

The Good Scandal

Flickr/Adam Fagen
The controversy over whatever might have happened at the Veterans Health Administration, particularly the V.A. facility in Phoenix, is going to get some elevated attention now that President Obama came out before the press to address it. If there has to be an administration scandal, this is a good one to have. Let me explain what I mean. The most important reason is that there is actually a problem at the V.A., or more correctly a series of problems, that need to be solved. If some officials in Phoenix falsifying records to make it seem like veterans were getting care quicker than they actually were is what it takes to generate the will to solve it, then that's a good thing. This is something we sometimes pay lip service to with regard to scandals, but in this case it's genuinely meaningful. For instance, I'm not the only one who has said about Benghazi that if what we get out of the various investigations is a better understanding of how to protect our embassies and consulates...

Daily Meme: Is Same-Sex Marriage Unstoppable?

Marriage is all over the headlines these days. First, an anniversary: Earlier this week, Marcia Hams and Susan Shepherd celebrated ten years of legal marriage . In May 2004, after a years-long legal battle, they were the first and only people in line at City Hall in Cambridge, Massachusetts, ready to to receive a marriage license. At the time, they were worried that a protester would shoot them. Now, gay marriage is legal in 19 states, including the entire Northeast. Court rulings in favor of same-sex marriage have been coming fast and furious. The latest state to jump on the gay-marriage bandwagon is Pennsylvania; on Tuesday, a judge once endorsed by Rick Santorum struck down the state's ban on same-sex unions . On Monday, another federal judge ruled Oregon's same-sex marriage ban unconstitutional . The landscape has changed so quickly that some commentators are wondering whether the movement is "unstoppable." Americans are more and more likely to favor legalizing gay marriage: A...

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