Vox Pop

The Prospect's politics blog

Heroes "Without Rank or Wealth or Title or Fame"

President Obama's speech at the event marking the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington will almost certainly be remembered as one of his most important. Presidents only get so many opportunities to speak at events like this one, laden with the trappings of civil religion and what we might think of as a contested consensus. That's a contradiction, I know, but I think it fits. The civil-rights struggle of the 1960s was among the most divisive controversies in American history, yet today there's no more argument about who was right. Even the National Review , at the time a vigorous defender of the privilege of the white South to continue oppressing black people ( see here for some details) today claims Martin Luther King, Jr. as one of their own: "The civil-rights revolution, like the American revolution, was in a crucial sense conservative," they write, and they're not the only ones on the right trying to make the same case. That's both consensus and contestation right there, the...

Daily Meme: Remembering a Dream, 50 Years Later

On August 28, 1963, more than 200,000 people assembled on the National Mall to argue for an end to the economic and racial disparities that have been one of the worst legacies of our country's history. Today, people are assembling once more, not only to remember the people who made that summer day possible, but to examine how far we've come toward achieving the march's goals . Who are the people we should remember? Well, there's Bayard Rustin , who was the architect of the March, and A. Philip Randolph , longtime labor organizer. There's Simeon Booker, the first black reporter at The Washington Post. D.C.'s (nonvoting) House delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton was a 26-year-old law student when she came to Washington in '63. And, there's John Lewis , the only speaker today to give remarks at the original march. Martin Luther King, Jr. is, of course, in the foreground of today's entire celebration. If you do nothing else to remember the March on Washington, you should at least give "I Have...

It's Alive!

This is not exactly what a vital political movement looks like. (Flickr/Jeffrey Scism)
Back in what if memory serves was early 2011, I ran into a former Prospect writer and now semi-famous person in the lobby of a building near the Capitol where a bunch of TV stations have studios. We began chatting about the Tea Party, and I suggested that once the Republican presidential primary campaign got underway in earnest in a few months time, all those tricorner hats would be put away as the Republican activists who made up the movement turned their attention to the race to pick their party's standard-bearer, and the Tea Party would peter out. He agreed, and we parted ways, satisfied with our sage prediction that all that unpleasantness would soon be over and the country would return to its prior, more manageable level of political silliness. OK, so it didn't exactly work out that way. What happened to the Tea Party was more a slow dissipation than a rapid fizzling out, and it still persists. Sure, they aren't organizing any well-attended protests, and the hundreds of Tea Party...

Nikki Giovanni Remembers 1963 with a New Poem

AP Photo/Jim Wells
AP Photo/Steve Helber Nikki Giovanni is one of America’s most famous poets. She is a New York Times bestseller, a one-time Woman of the Year winner from Mademoiselle and Ebony magazines, a recipient of the first Rosa L. Parks Woman of Courage Award, and a holder of a Langston Hughes Medal. She wrote that “writing is … what I do to justify the air I breathe.” Below is a poem she penned for the Prospect , reflecting on the March on Washington 50 years later. We, too I was home In Lincoln Heights Named for Abraham As many other small black Communities are Only 20 years old Not cowardly I had picketed Rich’s Department Store in Knoxville I sat in with Fisk University In Nashville But not all that Brave Mommy didn’t want Me to go Neither did my father and I wondered Would it matter 50 years later I know It did We watched We prayed We, too, were inspired I didn’t go I stayed home And reminded myself: We also serve Who sit And Wait Jenny Warburg Nikki Giovanni, currently an English professor...

Not That There's Anything Wrong with That

New Jersey Senate candidate Steve Lonegan, a man's man. (Flickr/Nick Step)
Any time a politician gets past his or her 20s without getting married, the rumors about him or her being gay start to bubble up. That's certainly true of Cory Booker, and has been for some time; I happen to know a friend of a relative who knows a guy who swears he had a serious relationship with Booker. The most common response from the politician is to laugh at the rumors to show how secure he is, but make sure everyone knows that he is, in fact, straight. Which was why it was somewhat refreshing to see Booker say this in a profile in yesterday's Washington Post : "And people who think I'm gay, some part of me thinks it's wonderful. Because I want to challenge people on their homophobia. I love seeing on Twitter when someone says I'm gay, and I say, 'So what does it matter if I am? So be it. I hope you are not voting for me because you are making the presumption that I'm straight.' " But the really interesting thing was how Booker's opponent reacted. That opponent is a testosterone-...

Daily Meme: Solving a Problem Like Syria

John Kerry gave an address yesterday that strongly condemned the Assad regime's use of chemical weapons against Syrian rebels, and hinted at a potential U.S.-led military strike in the near future. Syria's government, in turn, has accused the secretary of state of lying. Kerry's words were pointed. "As a father, I can’t get the image out of my head of a man who held up his dead child, wailing while chaos swirled around him, the images of entire families dead in their beds without a drop of blood or even a visible wound, bodies contorting in spasms, human suffering that we can never ignore or forget. Anyone who could claim that an attack of this staggering scale could be contrived or fabricated needs to check their conscience and their own moral compass. What is before us today is real, and it is compelling. Since the war in Syria began over two years ago, more than 100,000 people have died, and more than 1.7 million people have been left refugees. This speech came after sniper attacks...

Bill Kristol Is Getting the Band Back Together

We haven't started a new war in years, but Bill Kristol knows what to do about that. (Flickr/Gage Skidmore)
Back when George W. Bush was president, William Kristol—editor of the Weekly Standard , former Dan Quayle chief of staff, and general conservative man-about-town—co-founded something called the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq, whose purpose was to beat the war drums until the American government and public saw the wisdom of an invasion. Kristol was eventually mocked not only for his status as a "chickenhawk"—like nearly all the war's most visible boosters, he was eager to send other people to fight and die, but had avoided military service during the Vietnam War—but for his confidently offered yet comically wrong predictions about Iraq, like "This is going to be a two-month war" or his immortal assertion that there was no reason to think there'd be any conflict between Sunnis and Shias since "Iraq's always been very secular." In the end, Kristol and his allies got what they wanted, and that Iraq thing turned out great for everybody involved. And now, in case you were on the fence...

The Chemical-Weapon Taboo and America's Next War

A Canadian World War I soldier with mustard gas burns. (Wikimedia Commons)
Back in December, when the White House first declared that any use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government would constitute a "red line" whose crossing would produce some kind of response (they never said what kind), I wondered why the taboo against chemical weapons exists. Now that it looks like we're about to start bombing Syria , it's worth revisiting the question of what lies behind the taboo and how it is guiding our feelings and actions. Why do we have this international consensus saying that while it's bad for someone like Assad to bomb a neighborhood full of civilians and kill all the men, women, and children therein, it's worse for him to kill that same number of civilians by means of poison gas than by means of "conventional" munitions that merely tear their bodies to pieces? Indeed, we act as though killing, say, a hundred people with poison gas is worse than killing a thousand or ten thousand people with conventional weapons. After all, the Obama administration (not...

Freedom Fighters—the Next Generation

AP Images/Phil Sears
AP Images/Phil Sears The 50th anniversary of the March on Washington is synonymous with Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. As a leader of mass movements, King was surpassed by few, and in high school textbooks he is treated as the personification of the civil-rights movement. King and other movement leaders, however, made up only one strand of the 1960s civil-rights struggle. Grassroots organizers—many now forgotten—helping African Americans in the South register to vote even as King spoke in front of the Lincoln Memorial, made up the other. The spirit of those people and the groups they belonged to, such as the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee or SNCC (pronounced “snick”), can be found today in the dozens of grassroots groups across the country, that work to protect voting rights or expand access to a quality public education. Phillip Agnew, the 28-year-old executive director of the Florida civil-rights group the Dream Defenders, is, at the moment, probably...

No Sushi for You, Pregnant Lady

Zippaparazza/Flickr
For pregnant women, a trip to the pregnancy-advice section of their local bookstore can be an overwhelming experience. The shelves are stacked high with suggestions and prohibitions for expectant mothers in a nine-month period when everything they do seems to matter. Using hair dye, drinking alcohol or coffee, gardening without gloves, or riding a bike are just a few no-nos on a long list. If women slip up, the consequences seem immense. “You’ve got nine months of meals and snacks with which to give your baby the best possible start in life,” the authors of What to Expect When You’re Expecting write. “Try to make them count. As you raise fork to mouth, consider: ‘Is this a bite that will benefit my baby?’” The problem is, pregnancy-advice books often contradict each other. (Is fish a pregnancy superfood, or a mercury-laced toxin? Is peanut butter a delicious, protein-filled snack or a guarantee that your child will have peanut allergies?) Many aren’t written by experts— What to Expect...

Brian Sims Wants to Fix Pennsylvania

AP Photo
AP Photo Representative Brian Sims, a Democrat, is blocked from speaking on the floor of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives by a colleague citing "God's law." S ince he beat longtime incumbent Babette Josephs in the race to represent Philadelphia’s Center City, Brian Sims has made a name for himself as a strong supporter of LGBT rights. As one of the first openly gay representatives in the state—shortly after he was elected to office, Republican Mike Fleck also came out—he has introduced legislation to legalize same-sex marriage as well as an employment nondiscrimination bill protecting LGBT workers in the state. But Sims is also a strong progressive across the board: He’s voted against privatizing the state’s liquor industry , which he says would kill “good union jobs,” spoken against Republican efforts to restrict access to abortion, and fiercely criticized current Governor Tom Corbett’s massive cuts to education spending. He most recently made headlines after a scuffle on...

Rights, Obligations, and Ignorant Libertarians

Flickr/Gage Skidmore
Oh, Rand Paul. What are we going to do with you? I'll tell you in a moment what I'm referring to. But first: One of the principal functions parties serve is that they act as a heuristic, or cognitive shortcut, for voters. If you have to vote for someone to serve on your city council and you know nothing about the candidates, you can use party as a proxy and you'll be right almost all the time. You can also look to your party to see where you should come down on issues. It doesn't necessarily make you lazy; sometimes it's just efficient to look to others with values similar to yours for cues about what policies are worthwhile. We can't all be experts on everything. In a similar way, parties give people who run for office a set of policy positions they can adopt without having to know everything about anything a lawmaker might have to address. But if you call yourself a libertarian, you're saying that parties aren't enough for you, even if you're a Republican. Instead, you're motivated...

Daily Meme: Bills, Bills, College Bills

College is expensive. So expensive that the cost of getting a degree has surged 500 percent since 1985. Last week, President Obama announced a series of proposals that seek to finally put a dent in crazy high tuition, like rating schools by how much graduates earn and how many low-income students attend ... and basing federal financial aid on said rankings. The idea is similar to the one that governs the Affordable Care Act. Colleges, in turn, are worried by this development . Says one economics professor, "'You have to think about the consequences of your shame list. They have to be really careful that they don't provide perverse incentives for schools to discriminate against the kinds of students' they are trying to help." Others think this plan could make things more complicated for students receiving aid. Bryce Covert at ThinkProgress has some ideas for other ways the federal government might want to think about helping tamp down college costs. A blogger at Forbes has a few other...

In Defense of Cory Booker

Flickr/Steve Bernacki
Liberals, at least some of them, have a problem with Cory Booker, the next senator from the great state of New Jersey. I've certainly heard it privately, and any number of them have written pieces criticizing him (see here or here for good examples). As Molly Ball points out at The Atlantic , this antipathy doesn't seem to come from the positions Booker takes or a critique of his record as mayor of Newark. "Most of his policy stances are conventional liberal ones: pro-choice, pro-gay marriage, in favor of raising taxes on the rich and increasing government spending on welfare and infrastructure programs." He's perhaps uncomfortably close to Wall Street and Silicon Valley, but that makes him a mainstream Democrat; Booker may be no Paul Wellstone, but he's hardly Joe Lieberman, either. So what's going on? Beyond the Wall Street connection, the critiques of Booker usually end up amounting to: he's just too slick, and he isn't the populist progressive we'd like him to be. Which is true as...

Prison Reform: No Longer Politically Toxic?

AP Images/Rich Pedroncelli
AP Images/Rich Pedroncelli I n the two weeks since Attorney General Eric Holder announced the Justice Department would no longer charge low-level drug offenders with crimes that carry mandatory minimum sentences—and would consider releasing some elderly, nonviolent prisoners early—something remarkable has happened. There’s been no major outcry from the right. While the attorney general certainly has no shortage of outspoken detractors in the Republican ranks, the initiative hasn’t prompted any major voices to decry him as “soft on crime.” In fact, in plenty of conservative circles, he’s earned praise —or something close to it. “Eric Holder gets something marginally right,” wrote the Daily Caller . Not long ago, the lack of a right-wing furor would have been unthinkable. So would Holder’s initiative; criminal-justice reform has long been politically toxic for Democrats as well as Republicans. But in 2013, even with an administration whose policy proposals almost always prompt pushback...

Pages