Vox Pop

The Prospect's politics blog

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...

Ringside Seat: Lifestyles of the Rich and Offshore

The rich are different from you and me—and how. For instance, you may work hard with your tax software to make sure you haven't overlooked any deductions you can take on your income taxes, but some people—quite a few people, as it turns out—can take advantage of an international web of offshore companies and trusts that enable them to hide assets from their governments. Today, the Center for Public Integrity released a report, " Secrecy For Sale ," based on 2.5 million documents unearthed by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists that show how these secret investment vehicles are exploited by the world's rich and sneaky. Among the investors, the report details, are "middle-class Greek villagers as well as families and associates of long-time despots, Wall Street swindlers, Eastern European and Indonesian billionaires, Russian corporate executives, international arms dealers, and a sham-director-fronted company that the European Union has labeled as a cog in Iran's...

We're All Buzzfeed Now

Not the NRCC web site.
A year or two ago, people would heap scorn on the Huffington Post, since although it employs excellent journalists who do valuable reporting, it also practices a brutal click-driven kind of management, in which celebrity news and grabby headlines are used to pull readers in, leaving some vaguely ashamed they read it in spite of themselves. HuffPo may not have invented the sideboob slideshow, but they brought it to such a high level that they eventually created an entire sideboob section on their web site, which is, not surprisingly, the top result you get on Google when you search the term. The section was created as a joke, but also kind of not. Yet these days, you don't hear many of those complaints about HuffPo anymore. Why? One word: Buzzfeed . One might not have thought that another web site could find gold in the combination of guilty pleasure clickbait and actual journalism that HuffPo pioneered, but Buzzfeed did. Today, if someone is lamenting our short attention spans and the...

It's a Nice Day for a Gay Wedding

flickr / soyoureengayged
Last week's oral arguments in two landmark cases involving same-sex marriage will likely not be followed by opinions until late June. In the interim, there will be a great deal of speculation about what various rulings might mean. With respect to the legal challenge to Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act, speculation about the outcome will be less common because most legal observers (including me) expect a comfortable majority of the Court to strike it down. With respect to the challenge to California's Proposition 8, however, the outcome is less certain. Each outcome will lead to markedly different developments for gay and lesbian rights. For this reason it's worth teasing out the implications of the possible rulings in the challenge to Prop 8. The are three potential outcomes, which I will argue are in ascending order of desirability: Prop 8 Is Upheld This would be the worst-case scenario, a 21st century Bowers v. Hardwick , the 1986 case upholding a Georgia sodomy law. Kennedy...

Why the AFL-CIO Is Embracing Immigration Reform

Flickr/Old Shoe Woman
Flickr/Old Shoe Woman Their agreement is very preliminary and hasn’t yet even been blessed by the so-called Gang of Eight Senators working on immigration reform, but the mere fact that AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka and Chamber of Commerce President Thomas J. Donohue agreed on anything is remarkable. The question is whether it’s a good deal for American workers. It is, and I’ll explain why in a moment. Under the agreement (arrived at last weekend) a limited number of temporary visas would be issued to foreign workers in low-skilled occupations, who could thereafter petition to become American citizens. The agreement is an important step toward a comprehensive immigration reform package to be introduced in the Senate later this month. Disagreement over allowing in low-skilled workers helped derail immigration reform in 2007. The unions don’t want foreign workers to take jobs away from Americans or depress American wages, while business groups obviously want the lowest-priced workers...

Smith's Unsisterly Move

Flickr/Patrick Giblin
Flickr/Patrick Giblin C alliope Wong isn’t woman enough for Smith College. At least that’s what Smith’s admissions office has decided. Wong is a charming, smart teenager with a strong writing voice who calls Smith, an all-women’s college in Northampton, Massachusetts, her “dream college.” She’s also transgender. Last summer, she reached out to Smith to see if her application would be welcome. After some back-and-forth, Smith’s dean of admissions, Debra Shaver, told Wong that she was welcome to apply as long as she checked the “female” box on her application and explained her situation in the Additional Information section of the application. Yet on March 10, Smith returned Wong’s application unconsidered , citing her gender as the reason. If that sounds like an unsisterly way for a women's only college to act, that’s because it is. Feminists have been arguing for decades that neither our genes nor our genitalia should define our lives. Yet Wong has been found wanting in the woman...

Obama Pleads for Empathy on Guns

Throughout his presidency, Barack Obama has portrayed himself as Washington's last reasonable man, pleading that we can find some common ground on almost any issue despite our disagreements if we just listen to each other and open our hearts a little. Republicans complain that it's all just an act—he's just trying to look like the reasonable one, to make his opponents look more intransigent and stubborn and gain the upper hand politically. That may be partly true, even though they don't need his help to look unreasonable; they do a fine job of it all by themselves. The latest narrative on the gun issue is that the prospects for meaningful legislation are slipping away as the tragedy of Newtown fades from our ridiculously short memories and members of Congress feel little of the public pressure required for them to stand up to the NRA. So Obama has been campaigning for his favored legislation, and yesterday he gave a speech in Colorado, the centerpiece of which was a plea to both sides...

Marriage Is What Brings Us Together Today

flickr / arts enthusiast M any conservatives now concede they've lost the argument on same-sex marriage. The question is not if but when full marriage equality will prevail in the United States, and what the effects will be. But as much as we've talked about marriage in recent months, most of the debate has been lacking in context about the state of marriage in America today. We'll get to the data in a moment, but first, a few brief words about the history of marriage. Supporters of "traditional" marriage often express their fear that if gay people are allowed to marry, the institution will be transformed. The truth, however, is that marriage has already been transformed, not just in the United States but around the world. We're now seeing simply the latest phase of a long evolution. When people refer to "traditional" marriage, they're usually talking about developments that occurred only within the last couple of centuries of marriage's history. If you advocate "biblical" marriage,...

Ringside Seat: Greens Catch the Messaging Bug

The Republican Party and the environmental movement, through some strange twist of fate, are suffering from similar strategic snags. The GOP has worked itself into a well-documented rebranding tizzy in the months since November, trying to refashion itself into the “ exciting party that smiles ." The party appears blind to the fact that it's policy , not presentation, that voters outside the base are rejecting. Meanwhile, the environmental effort to combat climate change, a cause championed and led mostly by elite whites, has hit its own dead end in appealing to non-elites. Thirty-seven percent of voters think global warming is a hoax according to a poll from Public Policy Polling this week. Only 33 percent think it's a serious problem , according to another poll this week from Pew. Sixty-six percent are gung-ho for the Keystone pipeline. Opposing the pipeline has been the movement's main public focus of the past few years. So, clearly, something isn't working—even though...

How to Fix Social Security? Make it Bigger

401(K) 2013/Flickr
401(K) 2013/Flickr Many liberals, myself included, are frustrated by the mainstream conversation on entitlement spending, which holds as gospel that we need cuts to our two major retirement programs, Social Security and Medicare. But only one of them–Medicare–faces the prospect of high long-term costs. Social Security, by contrast, is a fairly stable and well-funded program, and needs slight adjustments–at most–to ensure its long-term stability. Insofar that major changes are need, it’s on the other end. America is facing a retirement crisis. Too few people have savings, and defined contribution plans aren’t robust enough for many of the workers who have them. Americans need stable retirement income, and Social Security, as the healthiest leg of our social safety net, is well-positioned to fill the hole. To that end, the New America Foundation has proposed an “ Expanded Social Security ,” funded by new taxes, that would serve as a federal pension program. Here is the basic outline:...

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