Vox Pop

The Prospect's politics blog

Where's the Change?

AP Photo/Lauren Victoria Burke
AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File T he Democratic Party’s long-term prospects have dramatically improved since the November election. They will control the White House for another four years. The Republicans, who lost the total vote for the House of Representatives, remain captive of an unpopular reactionary right wing. The “Obama Coalition” of minorities and single women is growing faster than the GOP’s white male base. If demography is destiny, Democrats—and the progressive interests that they are supposed represent in the two-party system—are the wave of the future. But the American dream is about upward mobility. Ultimately, “The economy, Stupid” trumps identity politics. If the Democrats are not the champions of expanding jobs and incomes for the majority of voters who work for a living—whatever their gender, color, or sexual orientation—their claim to being the natural majority party will amount to little. So it made political sense that Barack Obama began his 2013 State of the Union...

Why Are Lists So Irresistible?

Flickr/atibens
Yesterday I gave a talk at my grad school alma mater—the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania—about what journalists and scholars can teach each other. Interestingly enough, the academics in attendance all nodded their heads when I went on a little rant about how awful most academic writing is, and made the case that just because it has always been that way it doesn't have to continue to be that way. (Though when I quoted Elaine Benes—"People love interesting writing!"—the students looked at me blankly, obviously having no idea whom I was referring to. Kids today.) The abysmal quality of academic prose is something that every grad student complains about and every professor acknowledges, but nobody seems to have the gumption to do anything about. That's a topic I'll return to later, but in discussing the current state of the media, I described how the most-read piece on The American Prospect 's web site in 2012 was "My So-Called Ex-Gay Life," Gabriel...

On Abortion, the GOP Tacks Right

Flickr/Paul Weaver
In March of 2012, Virginia governor Bob McDonnell was in trouble. The Republican-dominated state legislature had passed a measure that would require women seeking abortions in the early stages of pregnancy to have a transvaginal sonogram—a procedure in which a wand is inserted into the vagina. Pro-choice activists jumped on the bill, calling it “state-sanctioned rape.” The outrage went national, and the conservative governor with aspirations to higher office backed off. A version of the sonogram bill did make it into law, but it does not specifically require transvaginal sonograms, just the better-known “jelly on the belly” type. The debacle was only the beginning of Republicans’ problem with women voters. Two Senate candidates—most famously Todd Akin of Missouri—aired shockingly unscientific views about how pregnancy worked, generating a strong backlash from voters. Elsewhere, cuts defunding Planned Parenthood and women’s health programs only made the perception that Republicans are...

The New Deal That Could Have Been

Courtesy W. W. Norton and Company
I nvoking “dysfunction” is now the basic black of punditry about American politics. As the British political theorist David Runciman recently observed in the London Review of Books , “Commentators find it almost impossible to write about American democracy these days without reaching for the word ‘dysfunctional.’” Consider the lowlights of our political culture in just the past 15 years: a puerile impeachment; the subsequent president elected via a Supreme Court filled with political allies; a radicalized Republican Party, convinced that taxation and domestic government spending are a form of socialism; a failure by bipartisan elites even to prioritize, let alone tackle, continued high unemployment and the looming catastrophe of climate change. As Runciman’s editors titled his own essay on America’s lumbering democracy, “How can it work?” Courtesy of W. W. Nortn and Company It is one measure of the power of Ira Katznelson’s important, overstuffed new book, Fear Itself: The New Deal...

Ringside Seat: Jindal's Tarnished Brand

If presidential politics is a game of luck as well as skill, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal is doing it wrong. Very, very wrong. Four years ago, at the beginning of President Obama’s term, he was touted as a new hope for the Republican Party. A skilled, competent, conservative analogue to Obama—or even Bill Clinton. But that was before he gave the Republican response to Obama's first State of the Union. The problem wasn’t content—though there’s something off about mocking government investment in the face of a terrible recession—as much as it was style . Jindal came across like an overgrown Kenneth the Page from the show 30 Rock . The fiasco dimmed his political star considerably. Wisely, it seemed, Jindal responded by removing himself from the national limelight and focusing on his job as governor of Louisiana. The thinking was straightforward: If he can improve his state and build a strong political platform, then he can make a credible bid for the White House. Now, four years...

Did Obama Lose Votes Because of His Race?

Jamelle Bouie/The American Prospect
Most observers, with the exception of those who fervently believe in a “colorblind” America, accept the role race plays in perceptions of Barack Obama. His blackness influences supporters—generating enthusiasm for his candidacy—and detractors, from right-wing provocateurs like Rush Limbaugh. to left-wing critics like Cornel West. If there’s still an open question, it’s to what extent has Obama’s race played a part in his vote share . Presidential voting is influenced by a wide range of factors, from partisanship and economic conditions, to ideology and wealth. And since Obama won a majority of the vote in both of his elections, it seems like a stretch to say he somehow lost votes as a result of his race—he’s the first Democrat since Franklin Roosevelt to win two terms with a majority of the popular vote. Who else could he have lost? Two years ago, Seth Stephens-Davidowitz—a Harvard economist—tried to answer this question. Of course, quantifying racial bias—to say nothing of its...

Why Is it So Hard for Obama to Implement His Agenda?

Jamelle Bouie/The American Prospect
Intel Photos / Flickr So far, there are three items on President Obama’s second-term agenda: Gun control, immigration reform, and a “grand bargain” on debt and deficits. And so far, Obama has yet to make real headway on either one, despite winning a solid victory in last year’s elections, and gaining allies in the Senate. This raises the question: What—if anything—can he do to press his agenda forward? One answer, floated earlier this year by centrist pundits, is for Obama to build better relationships with lawmakers on the Hill. Unfortunately, as Jackie Calmes notes for The New York Times , it’s not that simple: Members of both parties say Mr. Obama faces a conundrum with his legislative approach to a deeply polarized Congress. In the past, when he has stayed aloof from legislative action, Republicans and others have accused him of a lack of leadership; when he has gotten involved, they have complained that they could not support any bill so closely identified with Mr. Obama without...

A Government That Can't Govern

Everything's going according to plan... (Flickr/Gage Skidmore)
Over the weekend, our friend Jonathan Bernstein wrote an interesting post discussing the point, not uncommon on the left but nonetheless true, that the problem with our politics today isn't "polarization" or "Washington" but the Republican Party. His argument is basically that the GOP is caught in a series of overlapping vicious cycles that not only make governing impossible for everyone, but become extraordinarily difficult to break out of. As the base grows more extreme, it demands more ideological purity from primary candidates, leading to more ideological officeholders for whom obstruction of governance is an end in itself, marginalizing moderates and leaving no one with clout in the party to argue for a more sensible course, and in each subsequent election those demanding more and more purity become the loudest voices, and on and on. John Hunstman would probably tell you that he would have had a better chance of beating Barack Obama than Mitt Romney (who spent so much time...

Over-the-Counter Plan B Strikes Back

WikiMedia Commons
One of the low points of Obama's first term was his administration's decision to overrule FDA experts and refuse to make over-the-counter emergency contraception—like Plan B—available to women under 17. Last Friday, a federal judge held that the action was not merely wrong on the merits, but illegal. If the decision is not overturned on appeal, women under 17 will (as they should) have the same access to emergency contraception that women over 17 have. The deplorable policy implications of the Obama administration's response does not, in itself, constitute an argument that it was illegal. The opinion by Reagan-appointed District Court judge Edward Korman, however, makes a compelling legal case that the override of the FDA was illegal. The crucial factor underlying Korman's opinion is the question of whether the executive branch followed the appropriate procedures. Congress, for better or worse, has the broad authority to regulate the availability of drugs. If it chose to ignore the...

No, Margaret Thatcher Wouldn't Have Been a Liberal Now

Williams, U.S. Military
Williams, U.S. Military Margaret Thatcher bids farewell after a visit to the United States. Since Obama entered office, liberals have developed a rhetorical trick meant to highlight the extremism of his opponents. When Mitch McConnell or John Boehner or anyone else comes out against a policy or approach—new taxes, Keynesian spending—liberals will note these policies weren’t always anathema to conservatives. “Reagan raised taxes 11 times and gave amnesty to unauthorized immigrants!” “Nixon created the Environmental Protection Agency!” “Bob Dole had a plan for universal health insurance !” The point, always, is to present today’s Republicans as unreasonable and—implicitly—to position Obama at the center of American politics. After all, if habitual tax raiser Ronald Reagan is a conservative, what does that make Obama, who has cut taxes far more than he’s raised them? With the passing of former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher, you see this playing out again. Conservatives claim...

Is Gun Control Out for the Count?

Flickr/HellerDK
Crashmaster0007/Flickr I mmediately after the shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, the conventional wisdom was that Congress would act to pass new gun-control laws. How else, after all, would you respond to the massacre of 20 children? But while Sandy Hook galvanized gun-control supporters—including President Barack Obama—to act, it didn’t dissolve opposition. The National Rifle Association (NRA) and its allies in Congress have had great success in intimidating lawmakers and weakening proposed regulations. It’s because of the NRA that an assault-weapons ban is off the table, as are proposals that would place limits on magazine sizes. As of yet, however, the NRA hasn’t been able to kill a proposal for universal background checks. It’s the centerpiece of the Obama administration’s push for gun control, and the main point of the president's activism on the issue. What’s more, as reported yesterday by The Washington Post , several lawmakers are working on a deal to move forward with the...

Ringside Seat: Obama's Imaginary Washington

Having won re-election comfortably and with poll after poll showing majority support for most parts of his agenda, President Obama will soon submit a budget to Congress that features significant cuts to Social Security and Medicare. Why? Well, they are "entitlements," and all right-thinking people in Washington agree that "entitlements" simply must be scaled back. Naturally, when news broke, Speaker of the House John Boehner responded by saying, "We're glad that President Obama has agreed to our demand for cuts to the safety net, and we will now demonstrate our goodwill by agreeing to some upper-income tax increases." Kidding! As anyone who has been even vaguely aware of the progression of national politics over the last four years could have predicted, what Boehner actually did was reject Obama's offer outright, since it also included some tax increases. Did Obama expect anything different? He couldn't have, given that he appears to have a functioning brain. So where does that leave...

Destroying the Economy and the Democrats

AP Photo/Susan Walsh
AP Photo/Susan Walsh President Barack Obama speaks at the Police Academy in Denver yesterday. J ob creation slowed to just 88,000 in March, signaling a sluggish economy. And President Obama, with unerring timing, picked this moment to put out an authorized leak that he is willing to put Social Security and Medicare on the block as part of a grand budget bargain that will only slow the economy further. The deterioration in economic performance was all too predictable, given the combined lead weights of the March 1 $85 billion of budget cuts in the sequester and the January deal to raise payroll taxes by about $120 billion. (The tax hike on working people was almost double the much-hyped tax increase on the top one percent, which totaled a little over $60 billion.) Taken together, these twin deflationary deals cut the deficit by around $270 billion dollars this year. That’s close to two percent of GDP. And according to the Congressional Budget Office, this combined contractionary...

Martin Luther King and Today's Gun Advocates

Photo from the Library of Congress/Dick DeMarsico
Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated 45 years ago yesterday, and one of the interesting little sidelights to the debate over guns that you might not be aware of is that gun advocates claim King as one of their own. You see, King had armed guards protect his family, and at one point applied for a permit in Alabama to carry a concealed weapon himself. He was turned down, since in the Jim Crow days the state of Alabama wasn't about to let black men carry guns. You can find references to these facts on all kinds of pro-gun web sites, as nonsensical as it may seem. Gun advocates want to claim King as part of their cause, but also want to completely repudiate everything he believed about the power of nonviolence, which is kind of like Exxon saying John Muir would have favored drilling for oil in Yosemite because he sometimes rode in cars. The reason Martin Luther King sought armed protection was there were significant numbers of people who wanted to kill him, and eventually one of them...

Sunday Shows Continue Long Tradition of Suckage

Oo, fascinating!
The Sunday political talk shows—your "Meet the Press," your "This Week," your "Face the Nation"—embody just about everything that's wrong with American politics, with Washington, D.C, and with the media. Every Sunday, you can flip between them and watch one party hack or another mindlessly deliver talking points, then watch the host try fruitlessly to trap said hack in some piece of hypocritical position-switching, then watch a bunch of "party strategists" bicker through the delivery of more talking points. I can understand why people who aren't interested in politics would find them unbearable, but even I can't stand them, and I'm someone who listens to C-SPAN radio in the car. (If you're interested in the depths of my disgust, you can read more here ). But there's no doubt they play an important role in Washington's political life, through the twin powers of agenda-setting and status conferral. The topics discussed on the Sunday shows are considered important topics, and the people...

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