Vox Pop

The Prospect's politics blog

My, What a Long Bill You Have!

A page of the immigration bill, with very few words on it.
Some people imagine that talking points are distributed by some Central Office of Liberalism or Conservative Headquarters, put out each day with instructions for what to say and how to say it. That's not really how it works; sure, there are organizations that email around suggestions on arguments people ought to make, but for the most part, talking points are more viral, spreading from person to person when they find an amenable host. Sometimes a talking point spreads because it is vivid and persuasive, while at other times, it spreads despite being completely ridiculous. So it is with an old chestnut we've heard before on issues like health care, and we're now hearing on immigration reform. The talking point says that a bill currently being debated contains many pages, and therefore must be a bad thing for America . This is almost always offered by Republicans, in part because they generally think government should refrain from tackling complex problems that might require complex...

The GOP's Endless Immigration Infighting

There was a time not long ago when liberals looked at their conservative counterparts with envy. The right was so disciplined, so unified, so well-coordinated, so good at devising and sticking to its talking points, while getting three liberals to agree on anything, much less act in concert, seemed all but impossible. It's amazing, though, how a couple of presidential election losses can rend a movement asunder. These days, the Republican party and the larger conservative movement is tearing itself apart over immigration reform, which, depending on which conservative you ask, is either the last best hope for the GOP to save itself from a slide into irrelevance, or a terrifying threat to America's territorial, legal, and spiritual integrity. Yesterday, Fox News host Bill O'Reilly, who has a long history of fear-mongering on immigration (he has favored the technique of finding a crime some immigrant committed, then giving it repeated coverage to give the impression of an immigrant crime...

The Song of the White House Spokesperson

White House spokesperson Jay Carney, seen here appreciating a reporter's question.
If you asked me who was the most appalling evader/distracter/dissembler among White House spokespeople over the time I've been politically aware, I'd have to say Ari Fleischer, who served in that position for the first couple of years of George W. Bush's administration. I remember often shouting at Fleischer on the TV as he spun some inverted version of the truth to the press, inventing absurd new terms (remember "homicide bombing"?), telling Americans to "watch what they say," and most of all, just shamelessly denying what everyone knew to be true (Jonathan Chait penned the definitive takedown of Fleischer). On the other end of the spectrum I'd have to put Mike McCurry, who did the job under Bill Clinton, including the period covering the impeachment scandal. McCurry wasn't any more forthcoming than anybody else who has held that job, but he had an easy, straightforward manner that seemed to make the interaction between himself and the reporters more of an honest negotiation over...

Americans Disagree and That's OK

Jamelle Bouie/The American Prospect
I’ve written before about the odd focus political pundits have on President Obama’s culpability for the current era of partisan and hyper-polarization, despite the fact of categorical Republican opposition to nearly everything that comes from the White House. John Harwood’s piece on Obama’s travel schedule —there are deep red states the president has never visited—is the latest entry in this genre. In fairness, it’s better than most, since Harwood acknowledges the existence of Republican obstruction. Still, the basic idea—that Obama has contributed to polarization by ignoring certain states—puts far too much weight on the president’s ability to change public opinion (which is limited), and not enough on the reality of genuine disagreement between different groups of Americans. Here’s Harwood in his own words: Mr. Obama has not given North Dakota his time. It is one of six states he has not visited as president, along with South Dakota, Arkansas, Idaho, South Carolina and Utah. He has...

The Republican Reform Problem

Derek Bridges / Flickr
Among many other things, the fight for immigration reform is a test of whether the Republican Party is able to move in the direction of reform. I’m skeptical, and Ed Kilgore captures why with a post at the Washington Monthly that outlines the groups of Republicans who oppose reform for one reason or another. When you add up the different groups, it amounts to most Republicans. As he says, “The surprising thing isn’t that rank-and-file Republicans or most of their representatives in Washington aren’t in lockstep agreement with a move-to-the-center strategy, but that the belief in the chattering classes this is the obvious path ahead for the GOP remains so very strong.” This is the lens through which to understand Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal’s bizarre op-ed earlier this week, in which he launched a vicious attack on the imaginary liberals who—he says—want “red meat to be rationed” and who think “factory-style government is a cool new thing.” There have been a fair number of...

Immigration Reform, Now Surging With Testosterone

Flickr/Donna Burton
According to the latest news , Senators have reached another in an endless series of agreements on the evolving immigration bill, this one providing for doubling the size of the Border Patrol and adding 700 miles of new fencing. The 700 miles of fence was on the table before, but doubling the Border Patrol is a bigger increase than had been discussed up until now. But what to call this proposal? It needs a name, one that says to wavering Republicans that if they support the bill, they're big, strong, virile, manly men whom younger women continue to find sexually compelling. OK, you may say that my interpretation is a bit strained. Maybe it is. But let's take a look: The Senators involved—Republicans John Hoeven and Bob Corker, who have been working with Gang of 8 members Senators Chuck Schumer, Bob Menendez, John McCain, and Lindsey Graham—have dubbed it the "border surge" plan; they're preparing a Thursday announcement. "For people who are concerned about security, once they see what...

Republicans' Immigration Spending Spree

Courtesy of U.S. Customs and Border Protection
Courtesy of U.S. Customs and Border Protection W hen the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released its analysis of the Gang of Eight's immigration bill Tuesday—which showed the legislation would cut the deficit by $197 billion over the next 10 years and by $700 billion over the next 20 thanks to tax revenue from increased economic activity—its opponents pounced. "If there’s one thing Washington knows how to do, it’s to come up with bogus cost estimates," Texas Senator Ted Cruz told right-wing radio host Rush Limbaugh. Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama, who like Cruz sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee and has been a staunch opponent of the bill, assailed the agency for failing to account for spending past the first ten years (the agency typically does not conduct detailed cost projections past ten years given the difficulty of doing so accurately). But despite the ballyhoo over how much the bill will cost U.S. taxpayers, there is one area where money seems to be no...

Why the GOP Rebranding is Doomed, At Least For Now

Rebranding the GOP won't be quite this easy. (Flickr/quinn.anya)
When a company or an organization decides to do a rebranding, it does some research, maybe hires consultants, gets input from key employees, and then makes decisions about what the rebranding is going to consist of. This process can at times be excruciating, all the more so if the organization has some commitment to consensus; if you've ever suffered through a web redesign, you've probably had the experience of wondering, as the debate over the difference between particular shades of blue stretches into its third hour, just how much it would hurt if you plunged a pen through your ear into your brain. But at the end of the process, there's someone in charge who will have the final say. But when a political party decides to do a rebranding, things are a lot more difficult. In fact, it may not even be possible to get everyone to agree that the rebranding will actually take place. And once it begins, it can just go on forever, because the influence over the party's brand is so widely...

The Fox You Rode in On

A few years ago, people joked that Fox new was running a jobs program for has-been, hoping-to-be-again Republican politicians dreaming of defeating Barack Obama in 2012. Among the personalities emploted by the network during Obama's first term were Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum, Mike Huckabee, and of course, Sarah Palin. Palin had the best deal by far: a $1 million a year salary, a studio buily in her house so she wouldn't have to go anywhere, and a schedule of appearances so relaxed that she ended up getting paid more than $15 for every word she uttered on the air. And the thing of it was, she was terrible at it. She's always had some talents, but speaking extemporaneously on current affairs is most assuredly not among them. After one too many halting, inarticulate appearances on Hannity and The O'Reilly Factor , Roger Ailes quite reasonably cut her loose at the beginning of this year. Yet just a few months later, she's back. Fox has rehired Palin, lest the world be deprived of her...

Offensive Photo Spreads and Insincere Apologies

An image from a recent Vice magazine photo spread. That's supposed to be Sylvia Plath, getting ready to put her head in the oven.
Throughout its existence, Vice magazine has attempted to cultivate an image of edgy rebelliousness, with provocative covers and journalism that runs less to "Here are stories you need to know about" and more to "Check out this crazy shit that's happening somewhere!" Which is fine, but it has a definitely male perspective, which is one of the reasons people were shocked when the latest issue of the magazine featured a photo spread of models re-enacting the suicides of famous female writers like Sylvia Plath and Virginia Woolf. The caption below each photo described their method of suicide, along with credit for the clothes the models were wearing. The most disturbing shot was probably that of a model posing as Iris Chang with a gun pointed at her head, but the most tasteless had to be that of the one portraying Taiwanese author Sanmao, who hanged herself with a pair of stockings. They included a fashion credit for the stockings wrapped around the model's neck. After what one might have...

Marco Rubio's Broken English Requirement

AP Photo/Charles Dharapak
*/ AP Photo/Charles Dharapak Senator Marco Rubio, a Republican from Florida, has proposed an amendment to the current Gang of Eight immigration bill requiring English proficiency in order to obtain a green card. M arco Rubio wants immigrants to learn English—and fast. Last week, the Florida Senator introduced an amendment to the Gang of Eight's immigration bill, currently being debated on the floor of the Senate, that would require undocumented immigrants to demonstrate English proficiency before becoming legal permanent residents. Current law already requires English proficiency for naturalization , but the proposal would impose the requirement just to obtain a green card. "I just truly believe that as part of any successful immigration reform, you have to have assimilation," Rubio said in explaining the purpose of the amendment. "And one of the quickest ways for people to assimilate into our culture and into our society is to speak the unifying language of our country, which is...

The Boehner Ultimatum

Sometimes it's hard to tell which Republicans in Congress fear more: immigration reform passing, or immigration reform not passing. They need to help pass reform to show America's Latino voters that, all evidence to the contrary notwithstanding, the Republican party doesn't actually hate them. But their base doesn't actually like the idea of comprehensive reform, particularly if it involves a path to citizenship (even a long and painful one). What to do? In the Senate, where six-year terms allow for a longer view and members represent entire states, immigration reform probably has more than enough votes to pass, even over a filibuster. In the House, however, things are more complicated. It isn't that reform can't get the votes, because it can. But if it did, the majority would be made up of nearly all the Democrats and just some of the Republicans. And that would be a violation of the "Hastert rule," which calls for no bill to be allowed to the floor for a vote unless it has the...

David Brooks and the Anti-Neuroscience Backlash

Flickr/TZA
Neuroscience has come a long way in recent years. Our understanding of the brain is expanding rapidly, even as we grasp more and more just how spectacularly complex the blob in your head is. And as we gain new understanding and new tools to look at what's going on in the brain, like functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), it's not surprising that there are people—both legitimate scientists and hucksters—eager to push the technology where it might not be quite prepared to go. For instance, people are working on turning fMRI machines into lie detectors; there are even companies that claim they can use a brain scan to tell whether you're lying. But there's still disagreement about how reliable these methods are. So it's also not surprising that as neuroscience advances, we're seeing something of an anti-neuroscience backlash. Some of it is perfectly reasonable and measured, but some of it—like today's column by David Brooks of The New York Times —leaps right from criticism of...

Your Guide to the Polls on U.S. Military Involvement in Syria

Flickr/Freedom House
It's obviously a bad idea for the administration to decide whether to jump into a whole new Middle East quagmire based on whether the famously inattentive and uninformed American public thinks it's a good idea. Nevertheless, public opinion is inevitably going to play a role in President Obama's decision-making on this. That isn't to say Obama won't take any particular step unless the polls show the public approves, but any time a politician does something unpopular, he'll always be looking over his shoulder a little bit. So what do the American people think about the prospect of American military involvement in Syria? The first thing to understand is that they're not paying very much attention to the issue, which means few have given it a great deal of thought. According to a new Pew poll , only 15 percent of the public says they're following the story very closely, a figure that has been basically unchanged over the two years of the civil war there. (Another 30 percent say they're...

Oops, Will Perry Do It Again?

Flickr/Gage Skidmore
As soon as Rick Perry uttered his infamous “oops” during the Republican presidential primary, most Americans likely figured the Texas governor’s political career would soon fade to black. Even before he forgot which federal departments he wanted to axe, Perry’s performance had been less than inspiring, and the aftermath only made things worse, culminating with an overtly homophobic ad complaining that “there’s something wrong in this country when gays can serve openly in the military, but our kids can’t openly celebrate Christmas or pray in school.” I’m guessing once Perry finally suspended his campaign, those outside Texas imagined he’d return to Austin and quietly wait out the rest of his gubernatorial term. But his latest decisions—including a string of more than two dozen vetoes—seems to only further confirm what most Texas insiders have been saying for months: Perry is paving the way for a second act and a second bid for the White House. And he’s not moving toward the center. The...

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