Vox Pop

The Prospect's politics blog

What's Eating the Left's Media?

The liberal media may be in a funk. MSNBC is getting some of its worst ratings in years, and Digby tells us that liberal blogs have experienced serious declines in traffic since the election as well. So why might this be happening? There are two answers, neither of which would give you much solace if your job depended on raising TV ratings or bringing in more ad revenue for your web site. The first is that outside events, in the form of the natural ebb and flow of the political world, have conspired against the liberal media. The second is that the model—liberals talking about politics—is affected by that ebb and flow in a way conservative media aren't. Let's take a quick look at the last decade or so in the life of liberalism. If we go back to the early stages of the Bush administration, we see liberals getting riled up just at a time when the Internet as a source of news and political engagement began to come of age. George Bush started an insane war in 2003, then there was an...

Republicans Land a Solid Blow on the Obama Persona

Intel Photos / Flickr
Intel Photos / Flickr President Obama’s key asset as a politician has always been his personal brand. Most Americans have always held him in high esteem, even as they disapproved of his overall job performance. During the presidential election, for instance, Obama’s approval ratings always lagged behind his favorability. For Republicans, this has been a difficult problem to overcome. The GOP hasn’t had much trouble convincing the public that Obama isn’t up to snuff on his handling of the economy, or his overall ability to get stuff done (although a large chunk of that has to do with the Republican stance of categorical obstruction). Even still, the public hasn’t rejected Obama, for the simple reason that voters like the president, and want him to succeed. Which is why Benghazi and the scandal at the Internal Revenue Service has been such a godsend for the Republican Party. Does the White House have anything to do with the IRS decision to heighten scrutiny for conservative groups...

Regular Order, Meet Schadenfreude

AP Photo/Charles Dharapak
AP Photo/Charles Dharapak R egular order. For the past few months, it’s been a Republican byword, the potential cure to all that ails Washington. “The right process is the regular order,” Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions, the ranking Republican on the Budget Committee, said in a statement this past January. “A second term presents the opportunity to do things differently, and in the Senate that means a return to regular order,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said on the Senate floor earlier this year. “I believe that it’s time to do regular order,” House Speaker John Boehner told ABC News in March. The ceaseless parade of commissions, super committees, and gangs of six and eight could be traced back to the lack of a Democratic budget for these regular-order evangelicals. After all, Senate Democrats hadn't even managed to propose a budget since the first year of Barack Obama's presidency. For the latest issue of the Prospect , Jamelle Bouie and I profiled Patty Murray , the senior...

Michele, Our Belle

AP Photo/Alex Brandon
AP Photo/Eric Gay W hat she knows about the culture of the country she claims to represent wouldn't fill an action toy's gym sock. That's why Michele Bachmann—who announced she was retiring from Congress a couple of days ago—probably has no idea that she was played by one of the greatest actresses in Hollywood history two years before her own birth. I mean, of course, Mercedes McCambridge—the witch-hunting villainess of Nicholas Ray's 1954 Johnny Guitar. In later life, she also voiced Satan in The Exorcist, but let's not stoop to such low-hanging fruit. McCambridge was a formidable performer, and she understood the hysterical roots of Bachmann's political persona better than our own Michele ever will. Frustrated at most ordinary human contact, McCambridge's character comes into her own when she foments a lynch mob. Her shriek of "I'll give ONE HUNDRED DOLLARS!" when her posse balks at the hanging is one of the most indelible line readings in American movies. The closeup of her excited...

Ringside Seat: Virginia Is Not for Governors

There's a plethora of reasons why Democrat Terry McAuliffe’s chances are lousy in Virginia's off-year gubernatorial election. It's not just the fact that demographics and history stand against him . Few people in any state are enthusiastic about voting for dedicated party operators, and McAuliffe is exactly that—a quintessential partisan Democrat with a history in fundraising, the sleaziest part of partisan politics.Which does a lot to account for the latest survey from Democratic polling firm Public Policy Polling, in which only 29 percent of Virginia voters have a favorable opinion of McAuliffe and his candidacy, compared to 33 percent who have a negative one. But here’s the rub: Even more Virginians dislike the Republican nominee, Ken Cuccinelli. Forty-four percent have an unfavorable opinion of the attorney general, and among independents—the crucial demographic in Virginia—that number rises to 51 percent. Only 25 percent of independents have a favorable opinion of Cuccinelli, for...

Michele Bachmann's Powerful Legacy

Jamelle Bouie/The American Prospect
Jamelle Bouie/The American Prospect Michele Bachmann’s retirement from the House of Representatives is an obvious loss for political journalists and their editors, who could guarantee web traffic by just reprinting anything she said, with minimal comment. That was especially true during the Republican presidential primaries. In her short time as a candidate, Bachmann blamed natural disasters on America’s unwillingness to cut non-defense discretionary spending, accused Texas Governor Rick Perry of spreading autism with mandatory vaccinations, warned that Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had plans to bomb the United States with a nuclear weapon, and pushed for a full ban on pornography. The unhinged insanity of all of this is worth noting. But what we should also point out is that none of this disqualified her from consideration as a presidential candidate . Not only did Bachmann win the Iowa straw poll—a symbolic victory, but a victory nonetheless—but at one point, she led her...

Shorting the D.C. Circuit

Wikimedia commons
Flickr/Cliff At least since the Reagan administration, Republicans have taken judicial nominations, especially to the federal circuit courts , much more seriously than Democrats have. As a result, Republican presidents have gotten relatively more nominees confirmed, and their nominees have been younger and more ideologically consistent than their Democratic counterparts. Yesterday, however, there was a sign that this could be changing. As the Prospect 's Paul Waldman noted , Michael Shear of The New York Times reported that President Obama would be simultaneously nominating individuals for all three current vacancies on the D.C. Circuit. This move is clearly intended to make Republican obstructionism a major issue of Obama's second term. And while it's not clear how this bold advance will play out, under any scenario something good will come out of it. As Waldman notes, for now the central Republican argument against the nominations is that Obama is trying to "pack the court." As...

Children of the Great Collapse

AP Photo/Bloomsburg Press Enterprise, Bill Hughes
AP Photo/Kin Cheung Here’s a piece of good news of which you might not be aware: The U.S. safety net performed a lot better than you thought during the recent downturn, which was the deepest since the Depression. Thanks to expansions to the Child Tax Credit, the Earned Income Tax Credit, food stamps, and unemployment insurance—all beefed up by the $840 billion Recovery Act—the safety net almost wholly mitigated the rise in child poverty. Even middle-income households saw most of their income losses substantially offset by tax and transfer policies that sharply ramped up to help them. That’s the good news. The bad news is that most of the Recovery Act’s outlays have now been spent, and pressure to reduce deficits leaves other spending on children and families under assault. While the safety net performed well during the worst phase of the downturn, other trends have been troubling. Families lost trillions of dollars in home equity, the largest source of wealth for working- and middle-...

Ringside Seat: McCain Does Syria

On a spring day six years ago, John McCain and some other members of Congress took a stroll through a Baghdad market, showing Americans how stable and secure life in Iraq had become. Noting that he left his helmet (though not his flak jacket) back in the Humvee, McCain waxed rhapsodic to reporters about how safe he felt. His colleague, then-representative Mike Pence, said it reminded him of a "normal outdoor market in Indiana in the summertime." They didn't mention that they were accompanied by 100 troops, three Blackhawk helicopters, and two Apache gunships, just in case, one supposes, a rambunctious but good-hearted Iraqi street urchin tried to pick their pockets. Well he's at it again, heading to a war zone for a photo op that can't possibly have anything to do with the senator's desire for self-aggrandizement. Apparently feeling that things are not moving precipitously enough in the direction of another Middle Eastern war for America to enter, over the weekend McCain gathered up a...

But Austerity Works So Well!

AP Photo/Menahem Kahana, Pool
AP Photo/Michael Sohn, pool A familiar tale: In a small country on the Mediterranean rim, the government chooses to solve an economic crisis by enacting an austerity budget. Regressive taxes will rise. Aid to families will be cut. Less will be left of the welfare state built decades ago. The novice finance minister promises this will heal the economy. As the people of that unhappy land say: Happy are those who believe. The Mediterranean country in question, this time, is not Spain or Greece, but Israel. It is not facing a looming financial meltdown. The crisis amounts to a ballooning deficit—a danger, but not a collapse. Still, Benjamin Netanyahu's recently formed government has chosen a recipe of austerity. The specific ingredients of the Israeli version were chosen by Finance Minister Yair Lapid, the ex-talk show host whose new Yesh Atid (There Is a Future) party campaigned only a few months ago on fervent Facebook promises to protect the middle class. There are several implications...

Republicans Looking Sheepish On Obama Court Nominees

Flickr/NCinDC
One of the biggest criticisms activist liberals have had of the Obama administration is that they have not moved aggressively to put their stamp on the federal judiciary. While there has certainly been Republican obstruction of Obama nominees, in many cases the administration hasn't even bothered to nominate anyone to open seats. There are currently 82 vacancies on the federal bench, and in 58 of those, the administration has offered no nominee. So it's good news that they have announced that they are about to offer nominations for the three vacancies on the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, widely considered the second most important court in the nation, since it hears many critical cases involving the scope of government power. It looks like the administration is betting that the more nominations they put up at the same time, the more attention the issue will get if Republicans try to block them, and the more attention it gets, the more difficult Republican filibusters will be...

King Obama the Magical

AP Photo/John Bazemore
Brendan Nyhan’s “Green Lantern” theory of presidential politics—the (incorrect) belief that when things don’t turn out how a president wants it was because he didn’t want it deeply enough—has been all over the Internet lately. And, no matter how false that image of the presidency might be, it’s probably not going away. The idea of the president as a Magical King serves everyone’s interests—beginning with man in the Oval Office himself. Political scientists who study the presidency have long contended that the presidency is a relatively weak office : the presidency is the single most influential position in the political system, but the president cannot get very much done just by giving orders. Not only does he have to bargain with Congress—which means 535 individual politicians, all with their own constituencies and interests and preferences, and many of whom have strong partisan reasons for opposing whatever he wants—but he can’t even, in many cases, control the executive branch...

Atheists in Tornadoes and Foxholes

AP Photo/Charlie Riedel
I f you've watched the endless interviews with survivors of natural disasters, you may have noticed that the news media representatives, faced with someone who may be too shocked or nervous before the cameras to offer sufficiently compelling testimony, often do some gentle prompting. "When you saw your home destroyed, were you just devastated?" "You've never seen anything like this before, have you?" "Your whole life changed in that moment, didn't it?" Not everyone who survived a disaster is YouTube clip-ready, so some need to be coached. There was one such interview after the tornado ran through Moore, Oklahoma that got some attention. Interviewing a woman as they stood before the tangled pile of debris that used to be her home and discussed her family's narrow escape, CNN's Wolf Blitzer said , "You guys did a great job. I guess you got to thank the Lord. Right?" When she hesitated, Blitzer pressed on. "Do you thank the Lord for that split-second decision?" She paused for a moment...

Ringside Seat: Arrested Governance

The Internal Revenue Service was closed today, as employees were furloughed due to sequestration's budget cuts. Conservatives found this to be an occasion for side-splitting humor; Sarah Palin, for example, tweeted, "The IRS is closed today, feel free to use your phones." Get it, because the IRS was tapping … um … well, never mind. In any case, today is a reminder that this scandal could be an opportunity for reform that clarifies the law on political and non-political groups, leads to a greater professionalization of the agency, and makes future misconduct less likely. Or it could wind up being just the opposite. As Kevin Drum reminded us yesterday, one of the low moments of the Gingrich years in Congress was a series of hearings meant to expose IRS wrongdoing, in which horror stories of the agency's abuse of taxpayers were told to lawmakers eager to hear them. In response, the IRS's authority was curtailed and its budget slashed. The predictable consequence was less enforcement of...

Republican Overreach, Coming Soon

You can bet hey'll be hearing from these folks. (Flickr/SS&SS)
A number of people have asked whether the Republicans will overreach in their reaction to the current collection of scandal-ish controversies (by the way, someone really needs to come up with a name that encompasses them all). The answer to that question is, of course they will. Try to remember who we're talking about here. Overreaching is their thing. Congress will be going home this weekend, and I'll bet the Republicans are going to come back from their recess reassured that their constituents really, really want them to pursue Barack Obama to the ends of the earth. I'll explain why in a moment, but in the meantime the National Journal has details on their strategy: Congressional Republicans head into next week's Memorial Day recess armed with a strategy designed to keep the controversies that have consumed Washington in the news back home. Both House and Senate Republicans will focus on the Internal Revenue Service targeting conservative groups for extra scrutiny as well as the...

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