Vox Pop

The Prospect's politics blog

Rand Paul Is a Genius

Flickr/Gage Skidmore
When your party is in power, the lines of authority are very clear. The White House is in charge, and though a certain amount of freelancing is always possible, the media's attention tends to be focused on those at the top. They'll always seek out the White House first as the party's voice, and after that the congressional leadership. But when you're out of power, there's more room for political entrepreneurs to get attention for themselves. Lots of them try—every day in Washington there are a zillion poorly-attended press conferences—but you have to be clever to break through that clutter and get yourself on the evening news. When he first got elected two years ago, Rand Paul wasn't exactly known as the sharpest tool in the shed. An opthamologist with no prior political experience, he seemed to get elected to the Senate almost entirely through a combination of blind luck and because his father is a famous crank. A kind of selective libertarian (he's opposed to most government...

Your Guide to Immigration Reform

Flickr
The chances for real, comprehensive immigration reform to be passed through both houses of Congress and signed by the president, the first such reform in decades, now look greater than ever. This is in no small part because the issue has split conservatives, meaning there will be no united Republican front against it. Republican leaders are eager to show Latino voters that they aren't hostile to them, even as the powerful Heritage Foundation mounts a campaign against reform (their current charge is that reform will be too expensive). Big change on election night, he says, was that the people opposed to legal immigration lost. The Steve Kings and so on aren't even part of this discussion. "I'm in favor of legal immigration, I'm just opposed to illegal immigration" has long been a Republican talking point; it's at last becoming a reality, as the forces within the GOP who are most opposed to any kind of reform that doesn't involve higher fences are becoming marginalized. Even the Chamber...

Ringside Seat: Politicians Just Wanna Have Fun

When you're a politician, you have a finely tuned sense of your public image. Aware that your every word is being heard and your every gesture watched, you can easily become so hyper-vigilant about not saying anything that might get you in trouble that you grow overly calculated, leading voters to conclude you're just another phony looking to pull one over on them. Or so we tend to think. But sometimes, politicians can do things like what Tennessee Congressman Steve Cohen, a liberal Democrat, did the other day. After seeing Cindy Lauper perform at the White House, Cohen tweeted, "@cyndilauper great night,couldn't believe how hot u were.see you again next Tuesday.try a little tenderness." The tweet was quickly deleted, but nothing really disappears these days, and now Cohen is mightily embarrassed . Now, "couldn't believe how hot u were" might show that Cohen still holds on to the crush he had on Lauper back in 1983 when "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun" came out. On the other hand, he could...

California Fights Back

Flickr/ Neon Tommy
Last fall, California voters were confronted with two major and hotly-contested ballot measures—Governor Jerry Brown’s proposal (Proposition 30) to raise taxes on the rich to end the state’s chronic budget shortfalls, and a conservative initiative (Proposition 32) which would have curtailed unions’ ability to spend their treasuries on political campaigns. Proposition 30 passed and Proposition 32 was soundly defeated, but they had to overcome a joint, well-funded campaign by rightwing interests to prevail. As we reported in the January-February issue of the Prospect, the anti-30, pro-32 campaign received an $11 million contribution a few weeks before the election whose source could not be traced. The money came into the campaign from an Arizona-based 501c4—a “social welfare” organization that spends its funds on political campaigns but is not required to list the source of its funding. Under public pressure and in response to a court order, the Arizona group did reveal shortly before...

Left Behind

Phyllis Schlafly (Flickr/Gage Skidmore). If you want to reach out to young people, she's obviously the person to talk to.
Social conservatives are getting awfully worried about this new push in the Republican Party to modernize, sideline the knuckle-draggers who can't help but offer their opinions on the functioning of ladyparts, show minorities that they don't hate them, and find a way to appeal to young people. So how can they respond? The most obvious way is to do what they do after every Republican loss, which is to tell the party's leadership that a) we lost the last election because you didn't listen to us; and b) if you don't start paying us sufficient deference, we'll abandon the GOP. As everybody knows, it's a threat they never follow through on and never will, but the obviously feel like they have no choice but to make it. So all the usual religious right suspects—Gary Bauer, James Dobson, Tony Perkins, Phyllis Schlafly, Lou Sheldon—who have been playing this game at least since the 1980s, sent a letter to RNC chairman Reince Priebus warning him not to abandon them. As tired as this ritual may...

John Kerry's Middle East Mystery Tour

AP Photo/Paul Richards, Pool
AP Photo/Paul J. Richards, Pool T he mysterious Mr. Kerry has come to the Middle East and gone. The secretary of state promises to return soon, but does not tell us exactly when. In Jerusalem and Ramallah, he says, he listened to leaders' suggestions for restarting peace talks. He does not say what those suggestions were. Curiously polite things happen while he in in the neighborhood. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, for instance, postponed his previously announced trip to Gaza, lest he cause Israel grief. Kerry does not explain how he inspires such thoughtfulness. John Kerry is quite open, though, about his motives: He wants to renew Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, right away, soon, to conduct them "in a clear and precise, predetermined manner" toward the agreement that has eluded every previous peace effort. The only mystery here is the one created by broken expectations, which say that Washington should treat Israelis and Palestinians with benign neglect, that the...

Bi-Partisanship We Don’t Need

Flickr/BeckyF
John Boehner, Speaker of the House, revealed why it’s politically naive for the president to offer up cuts in Social Security in the hope of getting Republicans to close some tax loopholes for the rich. “If the President believes these modest entitlement savings are needed to help shore up these programs, there’s no reason they should be held hostage for more tax hikes,” Boehner said in a statement released Friday. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor agreed. He said on CNBC he didn’t understand “why we just don’t see the White House come forward and do the things that we agree on” such as cutting Social Security, without additional tax increases. Get it? The Republican leadership is already salivating over the president’s proposed Social Security cut. They’ve been wanting to cut Social Security for years. But they won’t agree to close tax loopholes for the rich. They’re already characterizing the president’s plan as a way to “save” Social Security—even though the cuts would undermine it...

Closing the Gun Show Loophole: Better Than Nothing?

Flickr/Brittany Randolph
Ah, bipartisan compromise, just what the country is yearning for. We saw some yesterday, as NRA favorite Pat Toomey and NRA favorite Joe Manchin got together to see if they could come up with a plan for universal background checks, which as everyone knows are supported by 90 percent of the public in just about every poll that's been taken on the subject. What they produced, however, wasn't anything like "universal." Is it better than nothing? Sure. Should it be celebrated? Eh. Toomey and Manchin's proposal would close the "gun-show loophole," meaning if you buy a gun at a show you'll have to submit to a background check. It also covers sales over the Internet. What it doesn't cover is private sales between one person and another. You've probably heard the figure that 40 percent of gun sales happen outside licensed dealers, and while the evidence for this figure is thin , nobody really knows if it's too high or too low. Furthermore, nobody knows what proportion of that 40 percent...

On Guns, "Better than Nothing" Doesn't Cut It

An estimated 3,349 lives have ended by American gun violence since 20 children were murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary. We've seen roughly 120,460 years of life wasted since the New Year began. Thousands of lives extinguished. Dozens of communities wounded by fear and grief. And zero new federal laws passed to prevent the slow and deadly attrition of American life at the end of a gun. In the emotional heat of the weeks after December 14, Democrats assembled a coalition of the willing—in other words, those who weren't in danger of losing their seat in 2014—to work on passing an assault-weapons ban. The cry for that legislation has dissipated in the months since, however, as the horror at what transpired in Newtown, Aurora, and Oak Creek grows less pungent, replaced by the less-heady cocktail of electoral fear and Bill of Rights fetishism worn as armor by the right. Any hope of passing that assault-weapons ban, or a limit on the size of ammunition magazines, appears to have vanished for...

President Obama's Budget

President Barack Obama discusses his proposed federal budget. (AP Photo/J. David Ake)
Budget

The President's Morning After

Getty Images/Joe Raedle
Getty Images/Joe Raedle L ast Friday, Judge Edward Korman ruled that the federal government must abide by U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommendations and make emergency contraception available over the counter without age restrictions. Cue the freak-out about girls having unprotected orgies followed by Plan B snorting parties. Emergency contraception, often referred to as “the morning-after pill,” or by its brand name, Plan B, is designed to be taken in, well, emergencies—the condom breaks, you got carried away in the moment and didn’t ever quite get to the birth control, or in cases of sexual assault or coercion in which the victim doesn’t have much choice about contraception. Plan B was first approved by the FDA for prescription use in 1999. But the prescription requirement is onerous for several reasons, not the least of which is that the later emergency contraception is taken, the less effective it is; it loses any reasonable odds of working after about three days...

The NFL's Concussion Problem Hits the Courts

When former Pittsburgh Steelers guard Ralph Wenzel passed away, after a long battle with dementia, he had the brain the size of a one-year-old's. The defensive stars Dave Duerson and Junior Seau , both of whom recently committed suicide, were found to have a severe brain disease associated with repeated blows to the head. These and countless more cases have made the public increasingly aware that the immense profits generated by the National Football League have been made possible by players battering themselves into miserable and premature death. On Tuesday in Philadelphia, more than 4,200 former NFL players brought their case that the NFL should be liable for these injuries before federal judge Anita B. Brody. While the evidence that playing NFL football frequently leads to severe brain injuries and premature death is increasingly strong, the lawsuit faces numerous hurdles if it is to proceed. First, there is a question of individual responsibility. Tackle football is not illegal,...

Jack Lew: Obama’s Austerity Ambassador

AP Images
There is something seriously off about the mission of the new Treasury secretary, Jack Lew, to Europe. Secretary Lew has been visiting European capitals to persuade leaders there to ease up on the austerity. He has not had a good reception. Speaking at a joint press conference with the chagrined Lew in Berlin, Wolfgang Schauble, the German finance minister and uber-austerity enforcer, dressed down Lew thusly: “Nobody in Europe sees this contradiction between fiscal consolidation and growth.” Nobody among the elite, that is. Ordinary people in Greece, where output has declined by nearly 25 percent since the austerity tonic began, surely see the contradiction. So do young people in Spain, where the youth unemployment rate has reached 56 percent. Even if the cure should eventually work—which it won’t—we will have lost a whole generation. Only in the rarified power precincts of Brussels and Berlin is austerity “working.” But Jack Lew doesn’t exactly come to this mission with clean hands...

Today's Ringside Seat: Gun Bill—Bang or Whimper?

At the moment, there are 45 Republicans in the United States Senate, a number sufficient to give them the ability, should they so choose, to filibuster anything and everything. And choose they do, with only the rarest of exceptions. But we may be about to see one of those rare exceptions, on a piece of legislation regulating guns. Maybe. You see, for the legislation to succeed, Democrats must first defeat a Republican filibuster in order to begin debate on the bill, and then they must defeat another Republican filibuster to end debate on the bill and have an actual vote. According to late reports , as many as seven Senate Republicans have said they'll vote to allow debate to begin, though they won't say whether they'll vote to allow it to end. We don't yet know exactly what they'll be debating, if the debate does begin, but chances are it will involve expanded background checks and a crackdown on illegal gun trafficking. You might be asking how anyone could object to any of that, and...

Jindal Agonistes

Flickr/dsb nola
Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal, whom everyone assumes will be running for president in 2016, has had a lot of ups and downs in his relatively short career. Hailed as a wunderkind, he was given a series of influential positions in Republican administrations both state and federal while still in his 20s, eventually winning a seat in the House and then the governorship. Then he had that disastrous State of the Union response in 2009, where he looked almost hilariously awkward and uncomfortable. He recovered from that, though, and things seemed to be going very well when he gave a speech telling Republicans they couldn't be the "stupid party." His bold truth-telling made reporters swoon . But alas, things have turned. Jindal recently proposed a tax plan that would cut taxes on the wealthy and increase them on the poor and middle class, and was shocked to find that people in his state found it less than appealing. He withdrew the plan, but not before his approval rating plunged into the...

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