Vox Pop

The Prospect's politics blog

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...

The Utter Irrelevance of "Personal Charm"

President Obama exercising his charm, to no avail. (White House photo)
You'd think that if you're an experienced political reporter for The Washington Post , after a while you would have acquired a sense of how things happen in the nation's capital these days—how legislation gets passed, how the different power centers in town relate to each other, and what factors do and don't matter in determining the outcome of events. Yet for some unfathomable reason, we're still talking about whether Barack Obama can exercise his "personal charm" or "powers of persuasion" on members of the Republican party, convincing them to vote for things they're otherwise inclined against. Here's an article from today's Post : There was little time to mingle Tuesday night at the White House. Five minutes after greeting them, President Obama ushered 20 female senators into the State Dining Room and invited each to offer her thoughts on the issues of the day. And that was about it. That took up our entire two hours, to go around the table, Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), recalled...

In 2012, Black Turnout at an All-Time High

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NathanF/Flickr It’s official —in 2012, African Americans voted at a higher rate than any other racial group in the United States, including whites. And it’s that turnout which delivered key states like Virginia, Ohio, and Florida, thus giving President Obama another four years in the Oval Office. Overall, while blacks made up 12 percent of eligible voters in last year’s election, they represented 13 percent of total votes, a consequence of African American enthusiasm and lower turnout among white voters. Here’s the Associated Press with more: The 2012 data suggest Romney was a particularly weak GOP candidate, unable to motivate white voters let alone attract significant black or Latino support. Obama’s personal appeal and the slowly improving economy helped overcome doubts and spur record levels of minority voters in a way that may not be easily replicated for Democrats soon. Romney would have erased Obama’s nearly 5 million-vote victory margin and narrowly won the popular vote if...

Don't Give Up on Green Tech Yet

flickr/Chris Wevers
W hen in 2008 George W. Bush signed the law creating the Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing Loan Program (ATVM), which gives loans to car companies investing in green tech, conservatives were outraged. They took to talk radio to express their dismay, they introduced bills to dismantle the program, they poured contempt on Bush for trying to "pick winners and losers" with a bunch of hippie-mobiles running on patchouli and idealistic delusions. I'm just kidding, of course. Conservatives didn't actually do those things. It was only when Barack Obama took office in 2009 that they discovered their antipathy to the ATVM (though their dislike of electric cars was evident long before). The program got some scrutiny last week when the House Oversight Committee held a hearing on the dire straits of Fisker Automotive, the recipient of a Department of Energy loan. Despite the fact that a number of the Republicans on the committee, including chairman Darrel Issa, had previously requested...

Are Democrats Moving Away from "Debt Crisis" Rhetoric?

Jamelle Bouie/The American Prospect
Jamelle Bouie/The American Prospect Deficit reduction has been Washington’s obsession for the past two years, and the main approach of both parties is austerity—any combination of policies that raises government revenue and reduces its expenditures. On one side is the Republican Party, which wants to lower the debt and, eventually, balance the budget with large cuts to existing social services, from Medicaid—a health-care program for the poor—to food stamps, unemployment insurance, and other key services for low-income Americans. If this is full austerity, then you could call the Democratic approach austerity “light.” Like Republicans, most Democrats—including President Obama—want cuts to federal spending. But they reduce spending with cuts to Medicare—through adjusted payments to hospitals, manufacturers, and doctors—and defense spending. In addition, Democrats want higher taxes on the wealthiest Americans to “balance” these cuts and spread the burden across income groups. New taxes...

Equality's Nor'easter

AP Photo/Steven Senne
AP Photo/Steven Senne Rhode Island state senator Donna Nesselbush, a Democrat from Pawtucket, reacts seconds after the state senate passed a same-sex marriage bill. A t this point, it’s almost a yawn: The last and most Catholic New England state, tiny Rhode Island, population just over one million, passed marriage equality last week. Just nine years after Massachusetts set off moral panic nationwide and triggered the final wave of state constitutional amendments banning same-sex marriage, all of New England has now followed the Bay State’s lead. Rhode Island has recognized same-sex marriages performed in other states since 2010; nowhere were you more than an hour’s drive from a state where you could marry—the Ocean State is bordered by Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New York, all equal-marriage states. What does it mean that the most socially tolerant region in the country—New England, which, had it not fostered the American revolution, could easily fit in as a Canadian province—has...

Three New Facts about the Tea Party

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For a movement that’s helped to reshape the Republican Party—and by extension, reshape American politics—we know shockingly little about the people who make up the Tea Party. While some in the GOP once hoped to co-opt the movement, it’s increasingly unclear which group—the Tea Party or establishment Republicans—is running the show. Politicians have largely relied on conjecture and assumption to determine the positions and priorities of Tea Party activists. Until now. The results of the first political science survey of Tea Party activists show that the constituency isn’t going away any time soon—and Republicans hoping the activists will begin to moderate their stances should prepare for disappointment. Based out of the College of William and Mary, the report surveyed more than 11,000 members of FreedomWorks, one of the largest and most influential Tea Party groups. The political scientists also relied on a separate survey of registered voters through the YouGov firm to compare those...

Ringside Seat: D.C. Rager

So if you want to get all the scuttlebutt from the dinner, you'll have to check in with Vanity Fair or CNN. But chances are you won't miss much if you don't bother. There hasn't been an interesting Correspondents' Dinner since Stephen Colbert ridiculed the press in 2006, saying, "Here's how it works. The President makes decisions. He's the decider. The press secretary announces those decisions, and you people of the press type those decisions down. Make, announce, type. Just put 'em through a spellcheck and go home. Get to know your family again. Make love to your wife. Write that novel you got kicking around in your head. You know, the one about the intrepid Washington reporter with the courage to stand up to the administration? You know, fiction!" Awkward chuckles ensued. A lesson was learned, and in subsequent years the jokes have been just biting enough to be moderately funny without genuinely indicting anyone's sense of themselves. And as one of the few times during the year when...

A Lesson in Who Actually Matters to Washington

Jamelle Bouie/The American Prospect
Jamelle Bouie Last night, after just several days of complaints from flyers—who had to deal with airline delays—the Senate rushed to pass the Reducing Flight Delays Act of 2013, which give the Federal Aviation Administration the power to avoid sequestration by shifting money and avoiding furloughs for air traffic controllers. The House did the same today . Given the number of flights, and the time lost from delays, it’s a decent solution to a real problem. It’s also incredibly frustrating. The sequester has been a disaster. The indiscriminate cuts to discretionary spending have harmed kids in Head Start, workers on unemployment benefits, and families in Section 8 housing. It’s on track to remove tens of billions from the economy, both in spending cuts and in lost output, as people lose jobs and cut back on their consumption. But none of this has moved Congress to act. Instead, Republicans continue to use the sequester as a political tool, attacking Obama for cutting spending they like...

Is Washington the Worst Place on Earth?

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Today we learn that New York Times Magazine reporter Mark Leibovich has penned a book called This Town: The Way It Works in Suck Up City , exposing all the awfulness of our nation's capital. As Politico reports , "Two people familiar with the book said it opens with a long, biting take on [Tim] Russert's 2008 funeral, where Washington's self-obsession—and lack of self-awareness—was on full display. The book argues that all of Washington's worst virtues were exposed, with over-the-top coverage of his death, jockeying for good seats at a funeral and Washington insiders transacting business at the event." Sounds about right. In the past, I've offered Washington some gentle ribbing, employing colorful phrases like "moral sewer" and "festering cauldron of corruption." In truth, D.C. is a complicated place, and like any city it has its virtues and flaws. But you don't find many other cities where the inhabitants regularly write about how despicable the place is. Obviously, there's "...

The Xenophobe Party

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The xenophobia has already begun. Senator Rand Paul in a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid today urged him to reconsider immigration legislation because of the bombings in Boston. “The facts emerging in the Boston Marathon bombing have exposed a weakness in our current system,” Paul writes. “If we don’t use this debate as an opportunity to fix flaws in our current system, flaws made even more evident last week, then we will not be doing our jobs.” Senator Chuck Grassley, senior Republican senator on the Senate Judiciary Committee, which is responsible for an immigration reform bill, is using much the same language—suggesting that the investigation of two alleged Boston attackers will “help shed light on the weaknesses of our system.” Can we just get a grip? Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is a naturalized American citizen. He came to the United States when he was nine years old. He attended the public schools of Cambridge, Massachusetts, not far from where I once lived. Immigration reform...

The Scouts Ask: Gay or Nay?

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Last week, the Boy Scout leadership did something very smart: It announced its policy change on gays in Scouts during an overwhelming news week, when almost no one would pay attention. Now let’s give it the ridicule it deserves. The Scouts say they will propose to the voting members of the Boy Scouts of America’s national council—nearly 1,500 of them who will meet in Texas the week of May 20—that the organization allow openly gay Scouts. But that openness will last only until a Boy Scout is 21. Openly gay adults will still be banned as Scout leaders. Various different ideologies could underlie this “compromise.” One is the blood libel that has long been levied against gay folks: that because we can’t “reproduce naturally,” we recruit by luring children into our ranks via molestation or temptation, and that allowing us near children is like inviting drug dealers to hang out on school playgrounds. Another is the idea that we are faultily gendered: that gay men are insufficiently manly,...

Meet the Stalkers

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AP Photo/Fareed Khan E very day, without even knowing it, you share intimate personal details about your life with people you’ve never met. The medical symptoms you search online follow you: first to the pharmacy where you pick up a prescription, then to a database of specialists looking to add you as a patient, or to an insurance company creating a risk pool. The car you’ve researched on the Web has been broadcast to your local dealerships before you’ve even left the house. When you walk in the door, the salesman already knows which color you want—as well as your salary and driving history—and pulls the shiny new car of your dreams around front. Americans worship privacy, railing when our favorite websites alter their terms of service to collect just a bit more information about us. Yet from the moment you swipe your rewards card at CVS or update Facebook, there are companies you don’t even know exist—often referred to as “data brokers”—watching, taking notes, and connecting the dots...

Ringside Seat: Bush League

"In the end," George W. Bush said in his speech at the opening of his presidential library today, "leaders are defined by the convictions they hold. And my deepest conviction, the guiding principle of the administration, is that the United States of America must strive to expand the reach of freedom." We don't mean to begrudge Bush his special day, but that's not just poppycock, it shows that he really has learned nothing since he left office. Unless, of course, he's happy with the conclusion of history on his presidency being, "George W. Bush: He meant well." Given the alternatives, he might be quite happy with that. The trouble is, presidents aren't defined by their convictions, they're defined by what they do . During his tenure, Bush was positively brimming with convictions, all born from his "gut," where he sought counsel whenever an important decision loomed. His conviction was that the Iraq War would turn out great. His conviction was that installing a policy of torturing...

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