Vox Pop

The Prospect's politics blog

Why Moderate Districts Don't Produce Moderate Congressmembers

Flickr/KP Tripathi
As I was writing this piece about the difference between conservative Republicans and liberal Democrats in Congress and why the latter don't act in the same ways as the former, I began thinking about those members who don't represent the ideology of their districts very well. How many of them are there, and how far away are they from their voters? In particular, I thought about the case of Scott Garrett, the congressman who represents the swing district in the northern New Jersey suburbs where I grew up. Romney beat Obama in that district by 3 points in 2012, so you'd think it would be represented by a moderate Republican. And for many years it was (with somewhat different borders prior to the post-2010 redistricting), by Marge Roukema, one of the last of the moderate, pro-choice Republicans. But Garrett votes more like he comes from Alabama than New Jersey. In 2013, he was one of only 15 House Republicans to get the American Conservative Union's "Defenders of Liberty" award for...

Liberal Heroes Miss the Mark in Today's Times Columns

(AP Photo/ Francisco Seco)
New York Times columnist Charles Blow sure blew one this morning and, for good measure, so did Paul Krugman—our two most reliably liberal and intelligent columnists! Blow’s subject was the do-nothing Congress. Ordinarily thoughtful and original, this time Blow fell into the media cliché of assigning symmetrical partisan blame for Congressional inaction, as if the two parties were equally culpable. The piece was full of Blow’s signature: accurate statistics. This Congress has passed only 108 pieces of substantive legislation, the lowest in decades, he reports. It was in session an average of only 28 hours a week. Citing the usual cause of “polarization,” Blow indignantly concluded: “Legislating is only a hobby for members of this Congress. Their full time job is raising hell, raising money and lowering the bar of acceptable behavior.” Excuse me, but the problem is not “Congress.” One party—the Democratic Party— behaves quite normally, seeking to do the public’s business. The other...

Ted Cruz, Legislative Innovator

Who, li'l old me? (Flickr/Gage Skidmore)
C ongress, it is said, is divided into "work horses" and "show horses." The former try to make laws, while the latter worry more about whether they can get on TV. Plenty of members try to be both, but there are a surprising number that don't even bother legislating. And these days, being a show horse offers a much clearer path to one day running for president. It's still technically possible to spend a few decades crafting a legislative record and working your way up the leadership ladder, then eventually get your party's nomination, like Bob Dole did. But it's a hell of a lot easier to inject yourself into a few controversies, make some notable speeches, and take a trip or two to Iowa. Do that, and like Rand Paul or Ted Cruz (or Barack Obama), you can run for president in your first term. Cruz, however, is doing something completely new. He may not bother to introduce any bills, but he is creating a new kind of legislative innovation. Perhaps for the first time in American history—I...

Eric Cantor Shows Why We Need to Get Rid of Special House Elections

So long, suckers! (Flickr/Gage Skidmore)
L ike a high school senior who already has a job lined up for the fall and wonders why he should bother going to school for the last few weeks, former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor apparently can't bear the thought of showing up for work for the remainder of his term after having lost his primary election. So instead of just phoning it in for a few months (or not showing up at all—who'd notice or care?), he has decided to resign his seat as of August 18th. He's asking Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe to hold a special election to coincide with the November 4th election, so his successor could take office immediately. "I want to make sure that the constituents in the 7th District will have a voice in what will be a very consequential lame-duck session," he said. Just not his voice, I guess because he wants to get a jump-start on that lobbying career. I'm not even sure how that would work—would voters cast ballots for one set of candidates to serve from November to January, and...

How Republicans Are Heightening the Contradictions

Republican inspiration Vladimir Lenin. (Wikimedia Commons)
C ongress is going on recess at the end of this week, and they'll be doing it without a bill to address the large number of Central American children showing up at the southern border—John Boehner couldn't even come up with a bill that would pass his house after Ted Cruz convinced House conservatives to oppose it. On that issue, on the Affordable Care Act, and on other issues as well, we may be seeing the rise of a particular strategy on the right—sometimes gripping part of the GOP, and sometimes all of it—that can be traced back to that noted conservative Vladimir Lenin. I speak of "heightening the contradictions," the idea that you have to intentionally make conditions even more miserable than they are, so the people rise up and cast off the illegitimate rulers and replace them with you and your allies. Then the work of building a paradise can begin. In the end, the House GOP leadership wanted a bill that contained a small amount of money to actually address the problem, made a...

Republicans Take Careful Aim At Foot, Blast Away

Flickr/Donkey Hotey
L ast week, I asked how the GOP, whom Democrats used to admire for their strategic acumen, turned into such a bunch of clowns , constantly making political blunders and undermining their long-term goals with temper tantrums. It's a question we might continue to ponder as the House went ahead and voted to sue President Obama last night for his many acts of tyranny and lawlessness. Every Democrat voted in opposition, as did a grand total of five Republicans—but they were opposed only because they wanted to stop pussyfooting around and go right to impeachment. This, truly, is a party that's ready to lead. Since this suit is unprecedented, we don't know for sure how it will be received by the courts. Many legal experts think it will be quickly dismissed on the question of standing; since the House can't show any harm they've incurred because of the President's allegedly appalling behavior, they may not have the right to bring a case against him. On the other hand, we now understand that...

Why Organizing for Action Has Struggled So Much

You can still get the t-shirt.
O rganizing for Action (OfA), the group that evolved out of the 2012 Obama campaign to continue organizing on issues of importance to liberals and has been struggling of late with layoffs and fundraising difficulty, has been having an extended disagreement with Philip Bump of the Washington Post over the organization's fundamental effectiveness, the latest installment of which is this article analyzing the group's activities and results on a range of issues. While I haven't followed every back-and-forth and I'm sure the OfA people would say Bump's article is unfair, what it comes down to is OfA saying "We're super-effective!" and Bump responding, "It doesn't look that way." I'm not going to try to adjudicate that dispute, but suffice to say that what OfA was trying to do is really, really hard, so if their results have been modest, it isn't surprising at all. In fact, I would have been shocked if they had been successful, for a bunch of reasons. To start with, they were trying to turn...

The Problem With Both "Pro-Israel" and "Anti-Israel"

Flickr/Ben Roffer
I n a typically thoughtful piece today, Jonathan Chait explains why he has "grown less pro-Israel over the last decade." I want to push back on this a bit, not because I disagree with any of the particular points Chait makes, but because of the broad framing. The idea of "pro-Israel," like its mirror "anti-Israel," is the enemy of rational thought and debate on this topic. Unless you're talking about whom you're rooting for in the Olympics, talking about who's pro-Israel and who isn't, and to what degree, almost never helps illuminate anything. This is something I brought up a few months ago, but it has a new urgency now, because this conflict is going to cause a lot of people to reevaluate how they feel about Israel. One of the interesting things about Chait's post is that he mentions an emotional connection to the country, but the specifics he brings up are all practical questions, on things like the Netanyahu government's sincerity when it says it's committed to a two-state...

Sarah Palin and Modern Political Entrepreneurialism

I f you were asking yourself, "How can I give Sarah Palin $9.95 a month, or $99.95 a year?" then you're in luck, because she has launched the Sarah Palin Channel , an online TV project with more Palin than you can shake a stick at. One's natural inclination is to just make fun of it, but let's not be too dismissive. Palin is charting a new path of political entrepreneurship, creating a lucrative model of ideological entertainment that could actually be good for everyone. You might think that anyone who would pay more than a Netflix subscription to watch Palin on their computer is a fool, but lots of us pay that much to indulge our hobbies and interests. And it'll probably be great for both Palin and the country. Many public officials turn their time in office into lucrative post-electoral careers, the most common of which is to become a lobbyist. Palin is doing much the same thing; she's just tailoring her offering to a different customer base. The former members of Congress who...

A New Phase In the Marijuana Legalization Debate

Flickr/Brett Levin
O n Sunday, the New York Times editorialized for the first time in favor of a repeal of the federal ban on marijuana, and did so in dramatic fashion, with a statement on the front page of the Sunday Review section and two more pieces going into greater detail. It wasn't particularly surprising, given the generally liberal bent of the Times editorial page and the fact that support for legalization has moved firmly into the mainstream. But it's still important, because the Times remains the most influential news outlet in the country, and they have an unrivaled ability to set the agenda for the rest of the media. There is a shift going on in this debate, and it isn't just that mainstream politicians and newspapers can now support legalization. It's also that the central question of the debate has changed, and changed to what legalization advocates have been asking for a long time. Instead of asking "Is smoking marijuana good or bad?", we're now asking "Is marijuana prohibition better or...

Today's Conservative Obamacare Baloney Debunked

AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, File
If you were perusing the conservative twitter-sphere this morning, you would have witnessed a kind of collective orgasm, as it was discovered that back in 2012, MIT economist Jonathan Gruber gave a talk to a small group in which he seemed to support the analysis of the two judges on the D.C. Circuit who ruled this week in Halbig v. Burwell that the subsidies for buying health insurance under the Affordable Care Act should go only to people who live in states that set up their own insurance exchanges. Since Gruber advised Mitt Romney on the creation of Massachusetts' health reform (which became the model for the ACA) and then advised the White House and Congress during the preparation of the ACA reform, conservatives are now convinced they have their smoking gun: The law, they contend, was always designed to deprive millions of Americans of subsidies, and was in fact never meant to achieve that "universal coverage" that everyone involved said was its goal. Up to the point where the...

How Did the GOP Turn Into Such a Bunch of Clowns?

AP Photo/Joe Marquette
(AP Photo/Joe Marquette) F or a lot of reasons, the current era will probably be seen as unusually consequential in the history of the two parties, particularly the GOP. For Republicans, it has been a time of ideological hardening and bitter infighting. But one aspect of the Republican dilemma hasn't gotten as much attention as those: This is a time of unusual, even stunning, Republican political incompetence. Let me back up for a moment, to put what I'm saying in context. As the 2012 election approached, liberals began to understand just how deluded many conservatives were about empirical reality, and in ways that could do them serious political damage. It's one thing to deny climate change (a denial that may benefit you and your allies), but if you convince yourself that you're going to win when you're actually going to lose, you're hurting no one but yourself. When they began to rally around a guy claiming to " unskew " the 2012 presidential polls that showed Barack Obama heading...

The Worst Excuse for Plagiarism You'll Ever Hear

Office of Senator John Walsh
Yesterday, the New York Times published an article with compelling evidence that Sen. John Walsh, the Montana Democrat who was appointed to fill the seat of Max Baucus when Baucus became ambassador to China, plagiarized most of the master's thesis he wrote at the Army War College. I confess I had no opinion about Walsh before this (he was likely to lose in November anyway, and hasn't done anything of note in his brief time in the Senate), but there are two things I want to point out. You can read Walsh's entire thesis at the Times , and it won't take you that long, because not including footnotes, it's all of 14 pages. And this is my first question: What the hell are the standards at the Army War College that you can write a 14-page paper and get a master's degree? Is it like that at the colleges the other services run? It might be OK if it was 14 pages of dense calculations for a degree in economics or something, but it reads like a paper written by a reasonably bright high school...

On Israel, Looking for Hope In a Sea of Bad Faith and Despair

NASA/Wikimedia Commons
I f you don't have mixed feelings about what's going on in Gaza, there's something seriously wrong with you. As Gershom Gorenberg says in his piece today, in a war, both sides can be wrong, and that's the case now. So how do we find a way to think and talk about this conflict when our natural impulse is to take a side? Complicating things even further is the fact that the people who do think that there's no ambiguity here range from the morally infantile to the unspeakably ghastly, and no matter what you say you'll find yourself on the same side as some of them, if only for a moment . On one hand you've got prominent conservatives trooping to the convention of Christians United For Israel (no fewer than five U.S. senators, plus A-list pundits like Charles Krauthammer and Bill Kristol), where they bow down before the group's leader, the demented pre-millenialist televangelist John Hagee, and proclaim that God smiles every time a bomb falls on Gaza. On the other you've got anti-Semites...

Health Insurance for Millions Threatened; Republicans Celebrate

If this woman looks familiar, your insurance coverage might be at risk.
When news broke this morning of the decision by a three-judge panel from the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals in Halbig v. Burwell , which states that because of a part of one sentence in the Affordable Care Act that was basically a typo, millions of Americans should lose the federal subsidies that allowed them to buy health insurance, I'm pretty sure a similar scene played out all around Washington. As word spread through the offices of conservative think-tanks, advocacy groups, and members of Congress, people gathered around TVs or computer screens, quickly taking in the decision. And there were smiles, laughter, maybe even a few high-fives and fist-pumps. Not long after, a second appeals court handed down an opposite ruling on the same question. (If you feel like you don't understand the issue, the rulings, and the implications, I'd recommend Ian Millhiser's explanation .) We won't know for some time whether the Supreme Court will hear these cases and. if it does, it's hard to predict...

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