Vox Pop

The Prospect's politics blog

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...

Is the U.S. Set to Intervene in Syria?

AP Photo/Jim Watson
AP Photo/Jim Watson Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel speaks with reporters after reading a statement on chemical weapon use in Syria. T he chances of U.S. intervention in Syria just got higher. This morning, the White House released identical letters it had sent to Senators Carl Levin, a Democrat from Michigan, and John McCain, Republican of Arizona, both of whom had written to the administration in March urging “more active steps” to stop the killing in Syria, stating that “our intelligence community does assess with varying degrees of confidence that Syrian regime has used chemical weapons on a small scale.” This comes two days after the head of the Israel Defense Forces intelligence research and analysis division said that Syria had used sarin gas against its people. Speaking to reporters about the letter in Abu Dhabi, U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said that the use of such weapons “violates every convention of warfare.” So what happens now? The White House letter was...

The Unending War on Obamacare

Flickr/Fibonacci Blue
I'm not a historian, so maybe there's something I don't know, but it seems to me that there may never have been a piece of legislation that has inspired such partisan venom as the Affordable Care Act. Sure, Republicans hated Medicare. And yes, their rhetoric at the time, particularly Ronald Reagan's famous warning that if it passed, "We are going to spend our sunset years telling our children and our children's children, what it once was like in America when men were free," was very similar to what they now say about Obamacare. But once it passed, their attempts to undermine it ran more to the occasional raid than the ongoing siege. I bring this up because Kevin Drum makes an unsettling point today about the future of Obamacare: No, my biggest concern is what happens after 2014. No big law is ever perfect. But what normally happens is that it gets tweaked over time. Sometimes this is done via agency rules, other times via minor amendments in Congress. It's routine. But Obamacare has...

Black, Brown, and Blue

AP Photo/Seth Wenig, File
AP Photo/Colleen Long W hat Jamaal Vassell describes as one of the most challenging days of his life actually began at night, in 2010. An outgoing and popular presence at his neighborhood community center, Vassell, then 17, had traveled from his home in Canarsie, Brooklyn, to neighboring Brownsville to play basketball by himself at his favorite court. After making a few shots, a few younger boys, around 14 years old, joined in. They were all playing ball together until three New York City Police Department officers stopped them. Vassell was used to it. He had already been stopped twice by NYPD officers—once after popping into a convenience store after school and another time as he walked home from a local recreation center one night. The walk from the rec center ended with the officers handing him a summons for what he calls “smoking and hanging out too late,” two activities he vehemently denies doing. Nonetheless, he was ordered to show up in court. The summons seemed like being sent...

Why Kids Still Can't Have It All

AP Photo/The Hutchinson News, Travis Morisse
AP Photo/The Star, Bill Wilson W hen Anne Marie Slaughter launched the latest battle in the Mommy Wars with her Atlantic cover story “ Why Women Still Can’t Have It All ,” which inspired a barrage of features about retro wives—young, high-achieving professionals leaving their careers to take care of children at home—the subtext was that work often isn’t worth it for women. Not only do women face real barriers to advancement, but their paychecks barely cover the cost of child care. Quality child care costs more in most states than tuition at public universities. In 22 states and D.C., the average cost of infant care in a center was more than the median rent in 2012. For low-income families, the costs are extreme, and the quality of providers is effectively unregulated. In a recent cover story for The New Republic , Jonathan Cohn wrote about an extreme case in which the proprietor of a daycare center in Houston left children at home while food was cooking on the stove; four children...

Are We Finally Achieving Some Sanity on Terrorism?

Flickr/AnubisAbyss
Now that it's been almost an entire week and a half since the Boston bombing, we can look back with some satisfaction, because America handled this pretty well. Sure, you might question whether it was necessary to shut down an entire major metropolitan area for the purpose of catching one guy. And there was (and still is) some predictable buffoonery on the part of conservative politicians and media figures. But on the whole, we seem to have weathered this attack without losing our collective minds. Is it possible that we're now able to look rationally at what kind of a threat terrorism is, and isn't? Are we capable of having a measured reaction to a terrible event? To look toward the future without being driven mad by fear? Holy cow, maybe so! Nobody's cancelling major events because we're terrified. The calls from the right to postpone immigration reform or come up with some new form of ethnic/religious profiling to find and stop the next disgruntled young Chechen immigrant are being...

How Unions Are Getting Their Groove Back

flickr/ Chris Dilts
Yesterday—April 24th — was a red-letter day in the annals of worker mobilization in post-collective-bargaining America. In Chicago, hundreds of fast-food and retail employees who work in the Loop and along the Magnificent Mile called a one-day strike and demonstrated for a raise to $15-an-hour and the right to form a union. At more than 150 Wal-Mart stores across the nation, workers and community activists called on the chain to regularize employees’ work schedules. And under pressure from an AFL-CIO-backed campaign of working-class voters who primarily aren’t union members, the county supervisors of New Mexico’s Bernalillo County voted to raise the local minimum wage. The Chicago demonstration, which began in the dawn’s early light of 5:30 a.m., included workers at McDonald’s, Dunkin’ Donuts, and Subway, as well as Macy’s, Sears, and Victoria’s Secret, all of whom make the state minimum wage ($8.25) or just slightly more. Roughly one-third of the jobs in Chicago are low-wage, and...

Ringside Seat: Cry for Sanford, Argentina

Mark Sanford is getting desperate. At the beginning of this year, the South Carolina Republican looked like a good bet for the congressional seat that was vacated by Tim Scott after he was appointed senator (to replace arch-conservative Jim DeMint). Yes, the primary field was crowded, but he was a former governor who stood a chance at winning back voters alienated by his hike-not on the Appalachian Trail. And while he had a potentially strong Democratic opponent in Elizabeth Colbert-Busch—sister of comedian Stephen Colbert—odds were on his side; suburban South Carolina is tough territory for a Democrat. Sanford won the primary in a run-off earlier this week, which was followed—almost immediately—by the complete unraveling of his campaign. First came the revelation that Sanford was regularly trespassing on the property of his ex-wife Jenny Sanford, in direct violation of their divorce decree. The most recent trespass came in early February, when Sanford was still fighting in a primary...

Are the Koch Brothers Getting in the Newspaper Business?

David Koch, possible future newspaper mogul. (AP photo/Carlo Allegri)
If you ask ten conservatives what they think of The New York Times , seven or eight of them would probably tell you that it's an organization whose primary purpose is advancing a sinister liberal agenda, and journalism just happens to be the tool it uses to accomplish that goal, though they'd be more likely to call it propaganda than journalism. The rest of us think that's nuts, but those conservatives sincerely believe it. So it's not surprising that some of them would dream of creating a conservative version of what they imagine the liberal media to be. Sure, they've got Fox News, and they control most of talk radio, and they have their magazines and websites. But wouldn't it be something to have some real old-fashioned newspapers to advance the cause? And not just ones that are ridiculed like The Washington Times , but papers that already have respected names and large audiences? Sounds like an interesting idea, which is why Charles and David Koch—who, depending on your perspective...

Rhode Island's Bipartisan Gay-Marriage Coup

AP Images
Same-sex marriage advocates have had their eyes on Rhode Island for a long time. Wednesday afternoon, they’ll very likely see the last barrier to marriage equality fall away, as the state Senate is scheduled to vote on a measure legalizing same-sex marriage. It’s already passed the House, receiving vocal support from Governor Lincoln Chafee, and most expect that the Senate has the votes to pass it by a big margin. The Senate has always been the biggest challenge in Rhode Island; the leadership opposes the measure, and two years ago, a similar bill died when it became clear it couldn’t get through the upper chamber. But this year, advocates expect a very different outcome. As if to highlight the shift, on Tuesday, in advance of the bill, the minority caucus in the Senate came out with a unanimous show of support. It’s the first time any caucus in any state has shown such a united front. More surprising? It’s the Republican caucus. Meanwhile it’s been Democratic Senate leadership that’s...

The GOP Still Can't Quit George W. Bush

Tech Sgt. Craig Clapper, USAF
Tech Sgt. Craig Clapper, USAF Former President George W. Bush and his wife Laura Bush give a final farewell wave to the crowd of more than 1,000 people gathered on Andrews Air Force Base, Md., to wish them a fond farewell before their final departure aboard Air Force One. This week, George W. Bush dedicates his presidential library and re-enters public life after a long, quiet hiatus. Not that he was missed. Most Americans have nothing but disdain for the former president. The failures of his administration—including the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the bungled response to Hurricane Katrina, and the 2008 financial crisis—left him with an abysmal approval rating. And as recently as six months ago, a majority of voters viewed him as responsible for the poor economy. If, as suggested by some conservative pundits, America has graded Barack Obama on a curve, it’s almost certainly because he is still dealing with the fallout from eight years of neglect, disinterest, and incompetence. With...

Five Reasons Boston Has Nothing to Do with Immigration Reform

AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite
*/ AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee on immigration reform yesterday. S hortly after Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev detonated bombs near the finish line at the Boston marathon, killing 3 people and injuring over 200, conservatives opposed to immigration reform began exploiting the tragedy. Their goal? Derailing or delaying the 844-page Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013 . The bombings cast a pall over hearings on the immigration bill in the Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday, where Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano fielded questions about the asylum process used by the boys' family to enter the country. Questions were also posed about the Department of Homeland Security's entry-exit system, which tracked the older of the two brothers' six-month trip to Russia, but not his re-entry. Republican senator Rand Paul sent a letter to House...

Banking Regulation: Closed for Business

Flickr/Vittorio Ferrari
T hese are heady times for the bipartisan group of reformers seeking a safer and more manageable U.S. financial system. The leaders of this movement, Senators Sherrod Brown and David Vitter, introduced legislation yesterday to force the biggest banks to foot the bill for their own mistakes by imposing higher capital requirements. The bill would increase equity (either retained earnings or stock) in the financial system by $1.1 trillion and incentivize mega-banks to break themselves up, according to a Goldman Sachs report . Brown and Vitter previewed the legislation earlier this week at the National Press Club, insisting that the new regulations on risky mega-banks would diminish threats to the U.S. economy and prevent taxpayers from having to bail out banks in the future . Vitter also said the legislation would “level the playing field and take away a government policy subsidy, if you will, that exists in the market now favoring size.” With momentum, broadening support, and tangible...

Ringside Seat: Crossfrankly

Turn on cable news at most times of the day, and you can find a "debate" in which a program's host throws questions to two guests, one a conservative and one a liberal, invited on for their ability to slog their way through five soul-deadening minutes of motive-questioning and oft-repeated talking points. If you've ever watched one of these and said to yourself, "Maybe they should just lose the host and have these two yell at each other directly. And extend it to a whole half-hour!", then there might be a job waiting for you at CNN. A couple of weeks ago, we learned that the flagging news network is looking to revive Crossfire , the horror show of partisan bickering that it featured for more than two interminable decades beginning in the early 1980s. When Jon Stewart went on the show in late 2004 and begged the hosts to "stop hurting America," it was as though the veil had been lifted and everyone finally realized how awful it truly was. The show was put out of its considerable misery...

Should You Still Despise George W. Bush?

C'mon, I'm not so bad, am I?
Twitter was alight this morning with mockery of this post from Washington Post conservative blogger Jennifer Rubin, explaining a marginal improvement in George W. Bush's post-presidential approval ratings (from 33 percent when he left office to 47 percent now) by noting that Bush won that ugly Iraq War (who started that again?), gave us a great economy, and pretty much solved the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, among other accomplishments, and also had a "tender, tearful love of country," unlike some people she could mention. I'll leave it to others to respond to the particulars of Rubin's journey to Bizarro World, but if we assume this poll to be accurate, the question is, why might Americans' opinions of Bush be somewhat less dreadful than they used to be? Let's think about it this way: How do you feel about Bush? If you're like me, your contempt for him isn't what it once was. Back in the day, I took a back seat to no one when it came to displeasure with him. But I'll admit that in...

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