Vox Pop

The Prospect's politics blog

How to Raise Americans' Wages

AP Images/Paul Beaty

Once upon a time in a faraway land—the United States following World War II—workers reaped what they sowed. From 1947 through 1973, their income rose in lockstep with increases in productivity. Their median compensation (wages plus benefits) increased by 95 percent as their productivity increased by 97 percent. Then, abruptly, the rewards for greater productivity started going elsewhere—to shareholders, financiers, and top corporate executives. Today, for the vast majority of American workers, the link between their productivity and their compensation no longer exists.

Daily Meme: The Crimean War 2.0

  • Diplomatic hell broke out this weekend when the citizens of Crimea, the southwestern region of Ukraine at the center of a standoff between Russia and the West, voted to secede and join Russia.

Why the GOP Won't Change

Flickr/Rob Chandanais

Exactly one year ago, a committee of Republican party bigwigs issued the report of its "Growth and Opportunity Project," better known as the "autopsy." The idea was to figure out what the party was doing wrong, and how on earth Barack Obama had managed to get re-elected when everybody knows what a big jerk he is. There were some recommendations on things like improving the party's use of technology and its fundraising, but the headline-grabbing message was that the party had to shed its image as a bunch of grumpy old white guys and become more welcoming to young people and racial minorities.

It was always going to be a tricky thing to accomplish, both because the GOP is, in fact, made up in large part of grumpy old white guys, and because "outreach" can only go so far if you aren't willing to change the things you stand for. Mike Huckabee, that clever fellow, used to say, "I'm a conservative, but I'm not angry about it." Which is all well and good, but if, for instance, you say to young people that you don't think their gay friends ought to be allowed to get married, saying it with a smile doesn't really help.

And a year later, it's not just that the Republican party hasn't changed, it's that they don't have much reason to change.

When Death Comes to the Festival

AP Images/Austin American-Statesman/Jay Janner

On Monday, 26 year-old Sandy Le died in the hospital, the third fatality of last week's crash at the SXSW music festival. Another person, 18 year-old DeAndre Tatum, is in critical condition, and seven others remain in the hospital. The incident occurred shortly before 1 a.m. on March 13, when a drunk driver, chased by police, sped into a crowd outside Austin’s Mohawk Bar, on a closed-off section of road, injuring a total of 23 people, and leaving two dead at the scene.

Did the Right Set Obama's Agenda?

AP Images/Pablo Martinez Monsivais

Adolph Reed Jr.'s powerful March Harper's cover story has generated a valuable discussion about the relationship between the left and the Democratic Party. This discussion has been joined at the Prospect, with Harold Meyerson responding to the original essay and Reed countering. While we may be reaching the saturation point for discussion, however, I did want elaborate on a point made by Meyerson about where the Democratic Party is now. A core question posed by Reed's essay is whether the Democrats have continued to shift to right since their retrenchment in the Reagan era, or whether the left's influence is on the increase. Like Meyerson, I'm not persuaded by Reed's argument that the Obama era represents a continuation or worsening of the left's marginalization during the Clinton administration.

The Missing White Poor

A famous white poor person. (photo by Dorothea Lange)

You may have heard about how last week, Paul Ryan made some unfortunate remarks about poverty, blaming it at least partly on, well, lazy black people: "We have got this tailspin of culture, in our inner cities in particular," Ryan said, "of men not working and just generations of men not even thinking about working or learning the value and the culture of work, and so there is a real culture problem here that has to be dealt with." The reason many people got angry about this is that when we talk about poor white people, nobody suggests that it's a product of a pathology that lies within those particular people. Republicans may think persistent poverty in rural areas is a regrettable thing, but they aren't delivering lectures to those people about their "culture." It's kind of a generalized version of the fundamental attribution error—people like me are poor because of conditions outside themselves, while people unlike me are poor because of their inherent nature.

Ryan's words set off a predictable round of "Is Paul Ryan racist?" contemplation (see here, for example), and in response to that we have to remind ourselves that that is always the wrong question. It's impossible to know with certainty whether anyone is racist, because that requires looking into their heart. But much more importantly, it doesn't matter. What matters is what people say and do, not what lurks within their souls. You can say to Paul Ryan, "Here's what's wrong with what you said" without shouting "You're racist!" which not only doesn't convince anyone of anything, it only leads everyone who doesn't already agree with you to shut down and refuse to listen to anything else you have to say. Before we get to today's chart about race and poverty (oh yes, I do have a chart), you should play this classic from Jay Smooth every time you're tempted to call a politician a racist:

Daily Meme: Happy Straight Pride Day!

  • It's not just the scores of 30-somethings who revert to their frat-boy days and fill the streets with their drunken antics on March 17 that have led some in the gay community to call St. Patrick's Day the straight holiday. For a long time running, parades across the country celebrating Ireland's patron saint—including the New York City and Boston's—have refused to allow LGBT groups to join in the festivities.

Daily Meme: The Conspiracy Theorist Inside All of Us

  • In 2014 we are used to stories that have neatly-defined, if contradicting narratives, and which resolve themselves relatively quickly, fading into the ether. Which is what makes the story of the Malaysia Airlines flight that has been missing for a week such an engrossing one. The narratives are muddled, the experts all seem to be at a loss, and no one's quite sure what the exact facts of the case are.
  • Recent developments have thrown things even more into doubt, and into a place of speculation about possible dark motivations behind the plane's disappearance.

The Imagined Reagan Will Live Forever

In 2012, the most popular baby names, according to the Social Security Agency, were Jacob for boys (18,899 little Jacobs) and Sophia for girls (22,158 wee Sophias). But holding on strong in the girl category, still cracking the top 100 at #97, was Reagan. No fewer than 3,072 proud, freedom-loving Americans named their girls after our 40th president that year, nearly a quarter-century after he left office.

Liberals, it need hardly be said, don't go in for that sort of thing. Would you consider naming your kid after a Democratic president? Probably not. I have a friend who named his son Truman, but let's just say that in school when the teacher calls his name, nobody has to ask which of the class' many Trumans she means. I'm sure there are some parents who have named their boys Barack, but even in 2009, at the height of President Obama's popularity, the name Barack didn't crack the top 1,000.

What's interesting about this isn't just the contrast between liberals and conservatives but the fact that even among conservatives, there's no one who even comes close to the kind of quasi-religious worship Reagan gets. It's partly because, depending on your definition of success, he was the most successful Republican president in the lifetime of most living Republicans. But even for people who remember his presidency, the actual details of that presidency have become completely irrelevant. Ronald Reagan now exists as purely as a symbol, an embodiment of every virtue one might admire, whether Reagan himself actually embodied those virtues or not.

Tolerance For the Non-Religious, Here and Around the World

Our chart of the day comes from the Pew Research Center's Global Attitudes project, which asked people in 40 different countries whether it is necessary to believe in god in order to be a moral person. There's a lot going on within that yes-or-no question, and one could see how it could carry different connotations in different cultures. The results aren't just a measure of people's own religious beliefs, but also of the character of the place they're in and the exposure they have to people who aren't like them. If you've always been taught that the nature of right and wrong and the enforcement of those rules comes from the church, and virtually everyone you've ever known believes in god, those who don't would seem like something of an alien species. So for instance, in Ghana, where 96 percent of people in another poll described themselves as religious, it isn't surprising that 99 percent in this poll—or basically everyone in both cases —says you have to believe in god to be moral.

At the other end, if you live in a place where most people don't believe in god, even if you do, you probably know many perfectly nice people who don't, so it would be harder to sustain the belief that they're all inherently amoral psychopaths. For example, in France, where about a third of people describe themselves as religious, only 15 percent say you need to believe in god to be moral. Unlike in Ghana where there are virtually no religious people willing to grant the morality of those who aren't religious, in France over half of religious people are willing to be so generous.

What about the U.S., you ask? Show us the chart already! Here it is:

Daily Meme: Outrage City

  • Washington runs on many things—power, bureaucracy, and the frenzied exchange of business cards, to name a few—but if there's one resource we have more of than any other city in America, it's outrage. True, most of Washington's outrage is utterly insincere, offered up in an attempt to get people angry at one's political opponents over what are usually mundane sins (or no sin at all). But it's still the coal we shovel into the great steam engine of our politics, keeping everything chugging along at a comfortable clip. So who's feeling outraged today?

Tesla, Car Dealers, and Anti-Competitive State Laws

Shoppers at a Tesla showroom in Amsterdam, where such things are legal. (Flickr/harry_nl)

You may not realize it, but car dealers wield an unusual amount of political power in this country. That's partly because they're located in or near pretty much every community everywhere, and also because they're highly organized and clever about using their influence. One of the ways they've done so is get laws passed in state after state making sure that the model under which they operate—one in which independent dealers sell cars, but car companies themselves don't—is the only thing allowed by law. In fact, laws making it difficult or downright illegal for car companies to sell their products directly to customers are on the books in 48 states. This absurd state of affairs hasn't gotten much attention until recently, when Tesla decided it wanted to open its own dealerships to sell people cars.

Among the places it has done this is New Jersey, where the company had opened two stores. But earlier this week, the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission passed a rule requiring that all auto sales be done through franchises, making Tesla's stores illegal. Their option now is to either test the rule in court, or convert the stores to "showrooms," where you can look at a car but not actually buy one.

You'd think that if conservatives really believed all their rhetoric about the value of unfettered free markets, they would be all over this issue, advocating for Tesla's side of the controversy and campaigning to break up the anti-free-enterprise car dealer oligopolies. But of course, we're talking about Tesla, and liberals like electric cars, and therefore conservatives feel obligated to hate electric cars, so that probably won't happen.

SXSWedu: How to Keep Friends and Influence No New People

AP Images/Erich Schlegel

Anyone who survived high school knows just how much blood, sweat, and tears must come before someone gets voted “Best All-Around” in the school yearbook. Being liked is one thing, but to be liked by lots of groups often requires that one always stay on the safe side of every conversation, never fully engaging. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the same is true in education policy, where ideological differences rule the community. The cliques and lunchroom politics are serious business, and the jargon makes it all the worse. EdTech-ers sit at a table near EdReform-ers, while community-schools people sit beside the teachers’ unions. And because no one talks much to each other, it’s easy to affirm your beliefs and vilify your opponents without much challenge.

Thinking Small

Flickr/Kevin Gebhardt

There's a discussion starting to bubble up in some corners, one that will grow in intensity as we approach 2016, asking where the left should go as Barack Obama heads for the exits a couple of years hence. In the latest issue of Harper's, Adolph Reed offers a critique from the left of not just Obama but the liberals who support him. Our own Harold Meyerson offered a typically thoughtful criticism, to which Reed responded, but I'll just add briefly that one of the many things I didn't like about Reed's piece was the way he poses a dichotomy for liberals between investing too much in winning presidential elections even if the Democrat is imperfect (not a complete waste of time, but close) and building a movement (much better), but doesn't say what, specifically, this movement-building should consist of.

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