Vox Pop

The Prospect's politics blog

Why Republicans Can't Destroy Obama

Flickr/Gage Skidmore
Over the past few years, liberals like me have pointed out countless times that the Republican party was being (or would be soon, as the case might have been) terribly damaged by the ideological extremism and general nuttiness of the faction that took over the party between 2009 and 2010. But we have to be honest and acknowledge that it didn't always work out that way. They were able to win a number of tangible victories despite the fact that the public doesn't look favorably on the things they wanted to do. In many cases, an extremist Republican ousted a perfectly conservative Republican in a primary, and now the extremist Republican is in possession of a safe seat. And of course, they won a huge victory in the 2010 elections. For all the fun we've had at the expense of people like Michele Bachmann, the damage they did to the GOP wasn't always as serious as we thought it would be. But I think we're seeing the limits that the House Republicans' extremism imposes on their ability to...

Ringside Seat: With Young Voters, GOP Pedals Backward

When a party suffers electoral losses, it often engages in a particular kind of internal debate. On one side are those who say, "We have to come up with some new policies to appeal to the voters who are rejecting us." On the other side are those who say, "The policies aren't the problem—we need to communicate better." Maybe it's the substance, or maybe it's the packaging. But what if it's both ? What if voters dislike you not only because of what you're advocating, but of how you talk to them and who you are to boot? That may be what Republicans are facing. The Winston Group, a prominent GOP polling firm, just released a focus group study of millennial voters to see what they think about issues and how they view Republicans. "The young 'winnable' Obama voters were asked to say what words came to mind when they heard 'Republican Party.' The responses were brutal: closed-minded, racist, rigid, old-fashioned," the report said. Not exactly a shock, but nor is it something Republicans will...

Scalia Gets It Right

AP Images/Charles Rex Arbogast
The collection of DNA evidence is a powerful crime-control tool, but it also has the potential to lead to greater invasions of privacy. Today, a bare majority of the Supreme Court held in Maryland v. King that the former considerations should outweigh the latter. The Court's ruling both creates important Fourth Amendment law and illustrates some important facts about the personnel on the Court. The question at issue in Maryland v. King is whether DNA information could be collected (via a cheek swab) from someone arrested for—but not convicted of—an offense. The facts of the case certainly make a superficially compelling argument for permitting the practice, as DNA evidence collected from Alonzo King was used to identify him as a suspect in a rape case. But the fact that the policy "worked" in this particular case is not, in itself, an argument that the practice of collecting DNA information from people who haven't been convicted of a crime is a "reasonable" search and seizure under...

Senator Frank Lautenberg Dies

Flickr/Talk Radio News Service
Senator Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey died today. He wasn't the most charismatic guy around, and his record of legislation may not rival Ted Kennedy's, but he worked hard on a few issues that were important to him, particularly environmental protection and containing the spread of guns, and he was a reliable advocate for liberal values and programs over a long career spanning two tours in the Senate. A World War II veteran and one of the founders of payroll giant ADP, Lautenberg made millions in business, but unlike many others who take their wealth into politics, he didn't believe people should be punished for being poor. In the last year he made news mostly for some spats with Newark Mayor Cory Booker, the fellow Democrat who announced his bid for Senate before Lautenberg announced he wouldn't run, and for spurring some debate on when a politician becomes too old to serve. But now Governor Chris Christie, of whom Lautenberg was none too fond, will be appointing his temporary...

The Gay Recruiting Myth Dies a Quiet Death

Flickr/CT Senate Democrats
Flickr/CT Senate Democrats U nless you live in Connecticut or read the right-leaning press, you probably haven’t heard this story. Two men in Glastonbury, Connecticut, a couple who adopted nine children and lived in a fabulous remote Victorian, are accused of abusing at least two (and maybe more ) of their boys. Let me get this on the record: If true, this is nothing less than horrifying. I’ve written enough, here and elsewhere , against the sexual abuse of children that I hope I can leave that reaction as is, for now. Instead, I want to write my relief that—for the most part—this has not been used to indict gay men at large. In fact, I first heard about this story from a social conservative who got in touch to ask what I thought—and who wanted to be careful not to say anything, publicly, that could be accused of being “homophobic.” (I put it in quotes because I don’t use that word.) That’s an enormous advance. As recently as a decade ago, the fundamental libel against lesbians and...

Ringside Seat: Worthwhile Canadian Scandal

We Americans tend to think of Canadians as almost exactly like us, except less interesting. They're polite and considerate, they don't start wars, and though they can be rather brutal if you put them on ice and give them a hockey stick, on the whole, Canada is sort of the Ned Flanders of North America. There's a reason many believe that the most boring headline ever to appear in an American newspaper is "Worthwhile Canadian Initiative," which adorned a 1986 New York Times column by Flora Lewis. But that was before we met Rob Ford, the mayor of Toronto. Ford is currently embroiled in a scandal that makes our own piddling controversies look about as dull as that headline. Ford was already a somewhat volatile politician who bears a remarkable physical resemblance to the late comedian Chris Farley (or perhaps John Candy, who was himself Canadian). Then reports emerged that there was a video of Ford smoking crack, which he denied, although there are now-famous pictures of Ford posing with...

Your Next Car Will Be Part Robot

One of Google's self-driving cars. (Flickr/Guillermo Esteves)
Futurists have been predicting self-driving cars for decades, but for a long time it wasn't because the idea was a natural extrapolation of existing technology. Instead, from the standpoint of the 1950s or so, it just seemed like something we'd have in The Future, along with robot maids, vacations on the moon, and a spectacular network of vacuum tubes in every home. Today, almost all the technology necessary to allow cars to drive themselves is either already in existence or in the development process, and Google has already allowed its driverless cars to go hundreds of thousands of miles on their own. So the Department of Transportation has issued a policy statement laying out some of the issues that are likely to be confronted as these technologies develop, and establishing its research agenda to address the questions they'll need to answer in order to properly regulate driverless cars. The end point many people envision is that not only will all cars be self-driving, but you won't...

Cable News Is a Third of a Century Old

A snapshot from CNN's first hour on the air.
This Saturday marks one-third of a century since CNN debuted as the world's first 24-hour news channel in 1980 (if you're looking to get them a gift, the traditional 33rd anniversary gift is amethyst). Prospect intern/sleuth Eric Garcia came across this video of the network's first hour on the air, which begins with Ted Turner giving a speech about the new era of global understanding they're launching. He makes special note of the fact that he's standing under three flags: the U.S. flag, the Georgia flag (its old confederate version, which was adopted in 1956 as a protest to Brown v. Board of Education or to honor the nobility of the Confederacy, depending on your perspective), and ... the flag of the United Nations ! Cue conservative spit takes. Back in those days, of course, the UN was considered a well-intentioned if often ineffectual organization, and not a sinister black helicopter-wielding global conspiracy to take your guns and impose a one-world government with George Soros as...

Get Your Hands Off My War on Terror!

AP Images/Holly Ramer
AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth, File P resident Barack Obama’s speech at the National Defense University last week represented the latest and probably most significant rhetorical shift away from the “war on terror” since he took office in January 2009. “Our systematic effort to dismantle terrorist organizations must continue,” he said in one of the speech’s key passages. “But this war, like all wars, must end. That’s what history advises. That’s what our democracy demands.” “Core al-Qaeda is a shell of its former self,” the president said. “ Groups like AQAP [Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula] must be dealt with, but in the years to come, not every collection of thugs that label themselves al-Qaeda will pose a credible threat to the United States.” Time will tell whether Obama puts real weight behind some of the changes articulated in the speech. There’s no question that it marked another important turn toward a more nuanced assessment of the threat posed by Islamic terrorism. But like...

Not Too Shabby So Far: Obama's Judicial Legacy

flickr/The Library of Congress
Flickr/Cliff E arlier this week, the White House announced that President Barack Obama would name nominees to fill three vacant seats on the D.C. Circuit Court, touching off a new battle between the White House and Republicans over filibusters and presidential privileges. Despite the fact that appointing judges is one of the powers given to every president by the Constitution, some Republicans reacted as though Obama were doing something horrible by fulfilling this obligation. (You'd almost think they didn't accept the legitimacy of his presidency.) In any case, this argument is likely to heat up over the next few weeks, so we might benefit from some context as charges and counter-charges start flying. To begin with, some background. The nominations at issue here are those to the circuit courts—also known as the courts of appeals—and to the district courts. There are 13 circuit courts with a total of 179 seats, and 89 district courts with a total of 677 seats. The circuit court seats...

Ringside Seat: There's a Reason It's the "First" Amendment

Of all the scandalettes currently limping around Washington, the one about the Obama administration's aggressive pursuit of leakers, which some argue has led to a near-criminalization of certain kinds of news gathering, has the distinction of being the least compelling to the public and the most compelling to journalists. When Quinnipiac asked respondents which of the three controversies was most important, only 15 percent picked the seizure of journalists' phone records. Not surprisingly, reporters think it's quite important, yet not all that surprising, given how aggressive the Obama administration has been in prosecuting leakers. Subpoenaing reporters' phone records and tracking their movements was not what people imagined the Obama administration would do when it came into office in 2009 promising a new era of transparency. So Attorney General Eric Holder is trying to mend fences by inviting some elite news organizations to come talk with him about how the Justice Department...

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...

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