Vox Pop

The Prospect's politics blog

On Immigration, Gay Community Should Take One for the Team

Flickr/Phil Davis
In July of 2010, Russ Feingold did the principled thing. After weeks of markup and debate, the liberal Wisconsin senator voted against Dodd-Frank. "My test for the financial-regulatory reform bill is whether it will prevent another crisis," Feingold said at the time. "[The bill] fails that test." Ironically, Feingold's fortitude only served to further weaken the legislation . In order to break a filibuster, Dodd-Frank's sponsors had to appease conservative Massachusetts senator Scott Brown, who opposed a "bank tax" that would have made financial institutions pay for the new regulatory regime. The provision was stripped from the legislation, costing taxpayers $19 billion. Gay-rights advocates should keep this scenario in mind as the Gang of Eight tries to push immigration reform through the Senate. Given that more than a quarter million undocumented immigrants are LGBT , the movement has a broad interest in seeing comprehensive reform with a path to citizenship succeed. But gay-rights...

FDA's Plan B on Plan B Is Still Not Good Enough

Wikimedia commons
Last month, federal judge Edward Korman held that the Obama administration's override of the FDA's recommendation for over-the-counter emergency contraception was illegal. The "compromise" of making Plan B available without a prescription only to women over 17, Korman persuasively argued, was "arbitrary and capricious" and hence exceeded the power of the secretary of health and human services. Yesterday, the Obama administration responded by modifying the policy . The new policy is better, but still not nearly good enough and still not in compliance with the requirements of Korman's decision. Under the new policy, Plan B would be made—at least on paper—available over-the-counter to all women aged 15 or over. Making emergency contraception available to the vast majority of women who might become pregnant is certainly an improvement compared to five years ago. But the age limit—even if lower—remains completely irrational. There is no scientific evidence that emergency contraception is...

The Frankenstein Foreign-Policy Crisis

AP Images
The last week has been not so much a case of national déjà vu as a Philip K. Dickian time-slip where the past bleeds into the present and transforms it. Syria is potentially the frankenstein of foreign-policy crises, made up of the parts of dead blunders: Vietnam, where we learned that firepower won’t overcome the unquantifiables that make for a quagmire; Iraq, where we learned that intelligence may be faulty or manipulated; Libya, where we learned both the combat possibilities and limitations of no-fly zones; Afghanistan, where a quarter-century ago we armed freedom-fighters who became accomplices in the murder of 3,000 citizens on American soil; Kosovo and Rwanda, where we ignored mass slaughter at the cost of our collective conscience; and Somalia, where we answered the call of conscience to disastrous end. Syria surpasses them all. With a warring population becoming ever more kaleidoscopically sectarian, and an air-defense system as sophisticated as any in the non-Israeli Middle...

Who's the Next John Kerry?

AP Photo/Harry Hamburg
Yesterday Massachusetts held a primary for the June special election to fill new Secretary of State John Kerry's senate seat. Roughly four people turned out to vote in my district, with a total of 153 voters statewide. Okay, that’s an exaggeration. There were four people in my polling place when I went in to vote, at 5:30 pm—a time when, were it a presidential election, the line would be down the block. As I write this, The Boston Globe is reporting an estimated 10 percent turnout. My guess is that that the number of people who were aware of the fact that the primary was yesterday, compared to the number of Massachusetts residents aware of the first names of both marathon bombers, was roughly 1:100. We’ve had a rough few weeks here in Boston, as I know you’ve heard. While the rest of the country has—rightly—moved on to the next public event, we’re going to be stuck on this one for some time. But even were this the most neutral of times, a special-election primary is a pretty sleepy...

Why the Fight over Obamacare May Never End

Since the Affordable Care Act was passed in early 2010, I've held more than one opinion on just how the American public will feel about it as time goes by. Initially, perhaps influenced by the momentousness of the Act's passage, I wrote that once it was implemented, it would be much harder for Republicans to attack. They would no longer be able to frighten people with phantoms of death panels, and instead would have to talk about reality. Since people would have their own experience with the law to judge from as opposed to some hypothetical future, the attacks would lose their potency, Republicans would back off, and the law would rise or fall in public esteem on its own merits. Then I began to have second thoughts. One of the biggest problems, which I wrote about a few months later, is that Obamacare isn't a single program like Medicare that people can come to love. It's a whole bunch of pilot programs and new regulations, many of which involve private insurance or existing programs...

Thanks for Nothing, Sandra Day O'Connor

Want to receive our daily political roundup in your inbox? Sign up for Ringside Seat by creating an account at the Prospect here and ticking off "Ringside Seat" in the Newsletter-subscription options. For many—most?—liberals, the aftermath of the 2000 election is like an old injury that won't heal. Most of the time you don't think about it, but if someone touches it, the old pain flares up again. Despite Antonin Scalia's frequent admonition to "Get over it!", doing so is awfully hard. Had George W. Bush been a run-of-the-mill Republican president, it might have been easier. But he wasn't; he was an epically awful president whose ability to cut such a far-reaching path of destruction made him exceptional. Which is why so many of us were unimpressed when Sandra Day O'Connor, after years of defending the Supreme Court's intervention in Bush v. Gore , told the Chicago Tribune , "Maybe the court should have said, 'We're not going to take it, goodbye,'" since the case "gave the Court a less...

Whither Bob McDonnell?

Jamelle Bouie/The American Prospect
Jamelle Bouie / The American Prospect Just last year, Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell was touted as a top-tier candidate for national office. Successful and well-liked in the Commonwealth, he could sell conservatism as a reasonable, pragmatic approach to solving the nation’s problems. In just the last few months, however, things have just collapsed for the Virginia governor, who is limited to a single term by state law. First, in throwing his remaining political capital behind an overhaul of Virginia’s transportation infrastructure, he alienated conservative activists—in the state, and nationwide—for his support of new taxes to pay for road improvements and other measures. And now, over the last few weeks, he’s been embroiled in a controversy—and FBI investigation—over his relationship with the chief executive of Star Scientific, a major donor to his campaign. The short story is that the executive, Jonnie R. Williams Sr., gave $15,000 to pay for the wedding of McDonnell’s daughter...

Barack Obama Asks Press to Maybe, Possibly Hold Republicans Responsible Sometime

Wikipedia
During this morning’s press conference , President Obama got a question from ABC News’ Jonathan Karl on whether he still has “the juice” to get the rest of his agenda through Congress. Obama’s response came in two parts. First, he noted the extent to which Republicans are unwilling to play ball. On sequestration, for example, the GOP has adopted two, mutually exclusive positions: That it isn’t a big deal, and that it’s causing terrible pain to ordinary Americans. As Obama points out, this allows Republicans to reject any effort at replacing the sequester—citing their opposition to new revenues or higher taxes—and it gives them a hammer with which to hit the administration. He didn’t say it, but he was clearly exasperated—how, exactly, is he supposed to deal with this behavior? His answer is that he can’t, and moreover, that it’s not his responsibility : [Y]ou know, Jonathan, you seem to suggest that somehow, these folks over there have no responsibilities and that my job is to somehow...

Are Gay Guys Checking You Out in the Locker Room?

AP Photo/Eric Gay
AP Photo/Eric Gay NBA player Jason Collins, left, in 2009. Collins recently came out as gay in a Sports Illustrated op-ed, the first active player in a major-league sport to do so. A s the first active member of one of the major sports leagues to come out as gay, NBA player Jason Collins’s announcement yesterday has generated praise from gay-rights supporters. Predictably, it has also prompted dire warnings about gays in the locker room from homophobes like the Family Research Council’s Brian Fischer: I will guarantee you ... if the ownership of whatever team is thinking about bringing him back, or thinking about trading for him, and they go to the players on that team and they say 'How do you feel about an out active homosexual being in the same locker room, sharing the same shower facilities with you?' they'll say no way. I don't want that. I do not want some guy, a teammate, eyeballing me in the shower. This seems to be a concern primarily among men—women, for whatever reason, aren...

Young People Are Now Pessimistic Like the Rest of Us

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For the last few years, the Harvard Institute of Politics has been running detailed surveys of 18 to 29 year olds—the so-called “Millennial” generation—designed to uncover and describe their political beliefs. The latest survey , released this morning, shows a striking result—a growing number of young people are pessimistic about the quality and competence of our institutions, and skeptical that politics can solve problems. According to Harvard, 81 percent of 18 to 29 year olds rarely or never trust Congress to do the right thing. Fifty-eight percent say the same of the Supreme Court, 60 percent of the presidency, and 77 percent of the federal government overall. The only institution that comes in for positive marks is the military—54 percent say they trust it to do the right thing most of the time. As for political participation, only 35 percent say that running for office is an “honorable thing to do,” 47 percent say that politics are no longer to meet the challenges “our country is...

Is It Too Late for the GOP to Save Itself with Latinos?

Outreach!
Since the 2012 election, there's a story we've heard over and over about Republicans and the Latino vote. After spending years bashing immigrants, the party got hammered among this increasingly vital demographic group this election cycle, whereupon the party's more pragmatic elements woke up and realized if they don't convince Latinos the GOP isn't hostile to them, they could make it impossible to win presidential elections. They've got one shot on immigration reform. Pass it, and they can stanch the bleeding. Kill it, and they lock in their dreadful performance among Latinos for generations. This story is mostly true. But I'm beginning to wonder if it isn't already too late for the GOP to win Latinos over. It's going a little far to suggest that Latinos could become the equivalent of African Americans, giving 90 percent or more of their votes to Democrats in every election. But is it possible that so much damage has already been done that even if immigration reform passes,...

The Sequester v. The Sixth Amendment

Flickr/David Baron/Mark Fischer
Fifty years ago, the Supreme Court famously declared in Gideon v. Wainwright that the government was required to supply counsel to defendants who cannot afford it. The noble ideals of the Bill of Rights, Justice Hugo Black wrote in that case, "cannot be realized if the poor man charged with crime has to face his accusers without a lawyer to assist him." Unfortunately, as journalist Karen Houppert demonstrates in exhaustive detail in her terrific new book, Chasing Gideon , in practice the requirements of Gideon have often been flouted by governments. This week provides two excellent examples of the way in which the dysfunctions of American government have translated into inadequate legal representation for those accused of crimes. First of all, the sequester that resulted from Republican hostage-taking in 2011 is undermining both public safety and the rights of defendants. Because of the sequester, people working in the federal public defender's office in Boston will face furloughs—...

Ringside Seat: "I'm Black and I'm Gay"

In recent weeks, rumors have been swirling around the sports world that a currently active male athlete from one of the four major sports—baseball, football, basketball, and hockey—was about to come out as gay. Today, we found out who it is: NBA center Jason Collins, in an upcoming cover story for Sports Illustrated , reveals his sexuality to the world. Collins, a journeyman who has played for six teams, is at the tail end of his career—he's 34—and is what is referred to as a "defensive specialist," meaning he doesn't score very much. Nevertheless, this is a significant moment. There have been retired players from all four of those sports who have come out in the past, but Collins is the first to do so while still playing. It was without doubt a courageous thing to do. But as Collins is lauded, we should acknowledge that gay athletes from earlier times whose sexuality became public—voluntarily or otherwise—faced much more difficult roads than Collins likely will. For example, in 1981...

Public Debt and Economic Growth

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In the election of 1952 my father voted for Dwight Eisenhower. When I asked him why he explained that “FDR’s debt” was still burdening the economy—and that I and my children and my grandchildren would be paying it down for as long as we lived. I was only six years old and had no idea what a “debt” was, let alone FDR’s. But I had nightmares about it for weeks. Yet as the years went by my father stopped talking about “FDR’s debt,” and since I was old enough to know something about economics I never worried about it. My children have never once mentioned FDR’s debt. My four-year-old grandchild hasn’t uttered a single word about it. By the end of World War II, the national debt was 120 percent of the entire economy. But by the mid-1950s, it was half that. Why did it shrink? Not because the nation stopped spending. We had a Korean War, a Cold War, we rebuilt Germany and Japan, sent our GI’s to college and helped them buy homes, expanded education at all levels, and began constructing the...

Conservatives Try to Rewrite Civil Rights History (Again)

Wikipedia
Wikipedia Rand Paul’s unsuccessful speech at Howard University—where he tried, and failed, to paint the Republican Party as the true home for African American voters—didn’t happen in a vacuum. It drew from a heavily revisionist history of American politics, in which the GOP never wavered in its commitment to black rights, and the Democratic Party embraced its role as a haven for segregationists. In this telling of history, black support for Democrats is a function of liberal demagoguery and crude identity politics. If African Americans truly understood their interests, the argument goes, they’d have never left the Republican Party. Conservative writer Kevin Williamson offered a version of this history in a large feature for the National Review last year, and this week, he’s back with a smaller take— highlighting Barry Goldwater’s contributions to a local civil rights fight in Arizona —that comes to the same conclusion: Democrats were never on the right side of civil rights. Here’s...

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