Vox Pop

The Prospect's politics blog

Obama's Failed Second Term?

Jamelle Bouie/The American Prospect
At the moment, President Obama is juggling three different legislative priorities—a gun control bill, a budget agreement, and comprehensive immigration reform. Of the three, only the latter has any chance at passing Congress, and that depends on whether Republicans see themselves as winning any advantage from agreeing to the legislation. At Bloomberg View , Ramesh Ponnuru looks at the situation , and—based on the scant odds for success in each case—concludes that Obama’s second term has already failed. He argues that “liberal policy gains have been sparse,” and that while liberals can “celebrate the rapidly increasing support for same-sex marriage,” it doesn’t have much to do with Obama. Ultimately, concludes Ponnuru, “It doesn’t look like he’s going to do much to advance” the “ambitious liberal agenda” presented in his inaugural and State of the Union addresses. All of this is correct on the facts, but it strikes me as a narrow view of Obama’s second term goals. Yes, the White House...

The Return of Herman Cain

Jamelle Bouie/The American Prospect
Jamelle Bouie/The American Prospect Herman Cain, the Georgia-based talk show host who used the Republican presidential primaries to propel himself to national fame, has returned to the public stage with a new organization of black conservatives—the appropriately named American Black Conservatives. Here’s The Washington Post : His news conference is held in a room named for progressive Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis. In attendance: three cameramen and three reporters, including one from the conservative publication NewsMax and another from CNN who is visibly disappointed when told that Carson had skipped the Monday event. Beneath a gilded chandelier, Cain explains the rationale behind the ABCs. “When black conservatives are attacked, they sometimes are more viciously attacked than white conservatives,” Cain says. “One of the themes of this meeting is: We will not be silenced; if anything, our voice collectively will be stronger.” Of course, no one is trying to silence black...

The Trouble with Scoops

Flickr/Aaron Tang
It seems that every time there's a dramatic breaking story like yesterday's bombing in Boston, media organizations end up passing on unconfirmed information that turns out to be false. This happens, of course, because in a chaotic situation where many people are involved in some way and the causes and results of some event are not initially clear, it can be hard to separate actual facts from what somebody thought or heard or believed. News organizations trying to cover it have an incredibly difficult job to do, and we should acknowledge the ones who do it well, even heroically, in the face of those challenges. For instance, The Boston Globe will deserve all the accolades and awards they get for their coverage of this event. And yet, the news media seem to get so much wrong when something like this happens. Why? I'd argue that the reason is that in the frenzy of this kind of happening, they fail to realize something important: Scoops are beside the point . When Americans are looking to...

The Curse of the Small Stuff

Flickr/Wally Gobetz/Katherine Hala
We can stop a plot. Get a group of would-be terrorists meeting with each other and our agents can infiltrate it. Get them meeting in Yemen and we can send in the drones. Let North Korea threaten the South and we can threaten them, completely plausibly, with obliteration. Scale is our friend—we know how to detect enemies who go to scale, and we detect so well in these post-9-11 years that it doesn’t take much to go to scale. It’s the small stuff that we can’t stop. The loners, the solo operators, the guys who march to their own deranged drummers. Be they bombers for some cause or shooters without one, whether we call them terrorists or just mass killers, they’re the ones most likely to slip our grasp. You can’t penetrate the social networks of the asocial. The unibombers of this world live inside their heads, coming out only in the acts of rage through which we meet them—too late. As I write, we don’t know if the Boston Marathon bombings were the act of one contorted soul or several,...

Ringside Seat: Fear Itself

Much of what we hear in the immediate aftermath of events like today's tragedy in Boston turns out to be wrong. You may remember, for instance, that just after the Oklahoma City bombing 18 years ago, initial media reports included copious baseless speculation that the culprits might be Arab terrorists. The press obviously has a difficult job to do when something like this happens, attempting to gather information quickly in a chaotic situation and, particularly on television and radio, explain events in real time when so little can be confirmed. So one can have some understanding when they get some things wrong, as they certainly will. In the coming days we'll learn what really happened in Boston and, we hope, find the terrorists responsible. Meanwhile, we should remember what terrorists' goal is: quite simply, to terrorize us. To make us live in fear, so that we make our own lives more difficult and unpleasant. When we do so we aren't merely making the only appropriate response, we'...

Reminder: Mass Unemployment is Terrible

wools/Flickr
This line from David Brooks’ most recent column has stuck with me since I read it: “Right now, America faces two giant problems: social unraveling today and cataclysmic debt tomorrow.” Reasonable people can disagree about the long-term problem of debt, but it’s hard to argue that we haven’t seen some form of “social unraveling” over the last decade. As Brooks notes: We’re living in a country where 53 percent of children born to women under 30 are born out of wedlock, according to government data. Millions of people, especially men, are dropping out of the labor force. Nearly half the students who begin college are unable to graduate within six years. The social fabric for people without college degrees is in shambles What’s frustrating about this diagnosis is that, like most elite discussion, it ignores the huge elephant looming over all areas of American life—mass unemployment. If you lived on a diet of Beltway pundits, you’d have no idea that we’re facing an crisis of joblessness,...

Has Obama Forgotten that Republicans Want to Shrink Government?

Jamelle Bouie/The American Prospect
Jamelle Bouie / The American Prospect He still doesn't care about poor people. The lead Politico story today is on President Obama’s rhetoric of “class warfare” and its implications for showdowns on guns, immigration, and budget politics. Politico takes an odd tone throughout, treating Obama’s push for higher taxes on “millionaires and billionaires” as opportunistic rhetoric, and not as a (half-hearted) response to yawning income inequality and tax policies skewed to favor the wealthiest Americans. More interesting than that, however, is a line from David Axelrod, Obama confidante and senior strategist for the president’s reelection campaign. Responding to liberal discontent over Obama’s proposed cuts to Social Security (and to a lesser extent, Medicare), Axelrod offers a choice—liberals can accept mild cuts from a Democratic administration, or fight deep, destructive cuts from a Republican one: “There’s no doubt that there are some members of Congress who see Medicare and Social...

The Gosnell Case and the Two Kinds of Media Criticism

Fox is on it.
As you might have heard, conservatives are up in arms that the trial of Kermit Gosnell, the Philadelphia abortion doctor charged with multiple murder counts, hasn't gotten more coverage. They claim that the media have ignored the story because of their pro-choice bias. You should read Scott Lemieux's five lessons of the case, but a lot of liberals have been shaking their heads over conservatives' complaints, because the right's argument about the case is wrong in almost every one of its particulars. The truth is that though there hasn't been a lot of coverage in the mainstream media until now, many feminist writers have written about the case at length. And what allowed this horror to happen is exactly what conservatives want more of: a system where there are few (or no) legitimate abortion providers, sending poor women with few options to the back alleys, where they can be preyed upon by people like Gosnell. But I want to talk about the media angle to all this. As Kevin Drum points...

What Does "Balance the Budget" Even Mean?

Flickr/ferntech
This is a story about the deficit scolds who substitute attitude for argument and how they use the public’s ignorance about the federal budget to their advantage. It comes from sparring over the House Republican budget, which Republicans claim will achieve a balanced budget within ten years, and Barack Obama’s budget, which he will be submitting to Congress this week. Neither gets us to a zero deficit. The White House spin has been that balancing the budget isn’t an important goal by itself—deficits, surpluses, or balance are only means to the end of a growing economy or creating jobs. In line with that thinking, last week White House spokesman Dan Pfeiffer said, “You don’t want to balance the budget for the purposes of just balancing the budget.” As Slate’s Matt Yglesias points out , the White House is correct: There's no magic economic reason to run a balanced budget every year. Reducing the debt really is only a good idea if it is done in the service of some other goal. Less debt...

I Want Your Tax

Flickr/soukup
Today is tax day, the yearly opportunity for millions of Americans to shake their fists at the government and declare their contempt for the ideas of mutual concern and collective responsibility. So on this most practical of days, it's good to remind ourselves of some realities. First, the taxes we pay are, by international standards, fairly modest. Second, despite what some would have you believe, the wealthy are not crushed by the burden of taxation. And third, though nobody particularly enjoys giving part of their income to the government, taxes are the price we pay for having an advanced, democratic society. If you like living in a place where you aren't afraid of foreign invasion, if you like knowing that when you retire you'll get Medicare and Social Security, if you like living in a country with parks and roads and police and air traffic controllers and a legal system and food inspectors and water and sewage systems and schools and a thousand things you weren't thinking about...

Marco Rubio Commits to Immigration Reform

Gage Skidmore/Flickr
Florida Senator Marco Rubio has been involved with immigration-reform talks since the beginning of the year, but there’s always been a question of his commitment—does Rubio want to pass a bill, or does he just want the political benefits of advocacy without the substantive trouble of legislating? If this sounds cynical, recall that—at almost every turn over the last few months—Rubio has threatened to derail talks over a series of non-issues, accusing Democrats of supporting amnesty and rushing negotiations, though neither has happened. But with the announcement of a bill from the Senate “Gang of Eight,” Rubio has moved from wavering critic to straightforward ally. As Pema Levy reports for Talking Points Memo , Rubio took center stage on several talk shows yesterday, making a full-throated pitch to his fellow Republicans on the need for a comprehensive bill, and the advantages of the one on the table: To Sen. Lee’s preference for a piecemeal approach, Rubio argued that the...

Five Lessons from the Gosnell Abortion-Clinic Controversy

WikiMedia Commons
The hot conservative story of late last week, starting with a USA Today op-ed by Kristen Powers, was the failure of the mainstream media to cover the horrifying case of Kermit Gosnell, a Philadelphia doctor accused of committing infanticide, and maiming and, in some cases, killing his patients (most of them poor women) in an unsanitary abortion clinic. Perhaps the story does deserve more coverage than it has received, but the lessons to be drawn from it are different from the conclusions conservatives are making. Here are five points currently being overlooked in the coverage of the controversy. Feminists Were on It Whether the mainstream national media has given adequate attention to the Gosnell case is a matter of judgment, although claims that it's been entirely ignored are incorrect. (Consider, for example, Sabrina Tavernise's lengthy New York Times story from 2011.) But it should be remembered who hasn't been ignoring the story: feminist writers . Many prominent feminists, for...

Mr. Brooks’s Planet

Josh Haner/The New York Times
Since New York Times columnist David Brooks is the very model of the sentient conservative, his acknowledgements of social reality are often more than just personal—they signal that a particular state of affairs has become incontestable to all but the epistemically shuttered. Writing today on President Obama’s new budget, Brooks applauds the president for proposing to reduce Social Security and Medicare payments, and wishes he’d boost spending on discretionary spending programs that might stem the collapse of working- (and much of middle-) class America. Conservatives generally—over to you, Charles Murray—now acknowledge that the American working class, very much including the white working class, is imploding, citing the decline in marriage rates and out-of-wedlock births. They note as well that incomes and labor force participation are tanking, too. But they usually resist the idea that there’s a causal link between the lack of economic opportunity and the decline in the number of “...

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...

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