Vox Pop

The Prospect's politics blog

Gun Control Moves to the States

Teknorat / Flickr
The United States hasn’t passed significant national gun laws in more than a decade, and despite urging from President Obama and other lawmakers, there’s little sign we’re close to new legislation. A large part of this has to do with the continued influence of the National Rifle Association, which has announced its complete opposition to new gun control laws. As The Washington Post reports , the NRA is now opposed to universal background checks—which it formerly supported—and as well as bans on “straw purchases," which is when someone with a clean record buys a gun for someone who can’t pass a background check. What’s more, later this morning, the NRA will unveil its proposal for putting armed guards in more schools, illustrating the extent to which its position is more guns, everywhere. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t good news on the gun-control front. While Congress remains paralyzed by the grasp of the NRA, various state legislatures have made moves to strengthen their own gun...

It's Not Easy Being Green

Flickr/CREDO Action/
Flickr/Takver A bout a year ago, on March 26, 2012, Sandra Steingraber, an environmental writer and activist against natural-gas fracking, wrote a public letter titled “Breaking Up with the Sierra Club.” Breakups are never easy, and the letter, published on the website of the nature magazine Orion , was brutal from the start: “I’m through with you,” Steingraber began. The proximate cause of the split was the revelation that between 2007 and 2010 the nation’s oldest environmental organization had clandestinely accepted $26 million from individuals or subsidiaries associated with Chesapeake Energy, a major gas firm that has been at the forefront of the fracking boom. “The largest, most venerable environmental organization in the United States secretly aligned with the very company that seeks to occupy our land, turn it inside out, blow it apart, fill it with poison,” Steingraber wrote. “It was as if, on the eve of D-day, the anti-Fascist partisans had discovered that Churchill was...

Ringside Seat: April Fools

Imagine if you visited a foreign country, and the people there told you that on one day every year, everyone tried to expose one another as gullible half-wits. Other holidays might honor historical figures or encourage love and fellowship, but on "You're An Idiot On October 12 th Day," the celebration was all about mean-spirited cons and contempt for your intellectual lessers. Victory goes to those best able to subject others to the humiliation of being exposed as a buffoon. "But it's all in good fun!" the people would tell you, and you'd remind yourself to move your wallet from your back pocket to your front pocket whenever you left the hotel. April Fool's Day, however, seems to be celebrated all over the world. Be careful that your bed has not been short-sheeted today, or cellophane placed carefully under your toilet seat. In politics it was no different than anywhere else: Barack Obama tried to fool the press corps into thinking that he stinks at basketball, Rick Perry tried to...

North Carolina GOP Still Trying to Keep Dems from the Polls

Barack Obama / Flickr
I noted last week that Republicans haven't backed off from their zeal for new voter-identification laws. In just the last three months, 55 new voting restrictions have been introduced in 30 states, with Republican lawmakers leading the charge. North Carolina is one of those states, and there, the GOP hasn't even tried to hide its push to keep Democratic voters from the polls. Chris Fitzsimon of NC Policy Watch explains : House Majority Leader Edgar Starnes has filed legislation that would shorten the length of time for early voting, prohibit voting on Sunday, abolish same-day registration at early voting sites, and end straight-ticket voting. Republican leaders don't have anything close to a legitimate reason for the thinly-veiled attempt to manipulate the state's voting laws for their partisan advantage. They used to claim that voter ID provisions were needed to solve the problem of widespread voter fraud. But House Speaker Thom Tillis all but admitted recently that fraud is not the...

Smart People Believing Stupid Things

So after a brief moment in the spotlight, it appears that Ben Carson will not be this week's Savior of the Republican Party after all. But his quick rise and fall raise an interesting question: Why are some people incredibly smart when it comes to some topics, and incredibly stupid when it comes to others? To bring you up to speed, Carson is a noted neurosurgeon who, among other things, was the first to successfully separate conjoined twins joined at the head. He's also extremely politically conservative (and African-American), which made him a popular, though by no means nationally famous, figure in some conservative circles. Then in February, he gave a speech at the National Prayer Breakfast, in which he took the occasion to sharply criticize President Obama (who was sitting right there) and advocate for a flat tax, which as everyone knows is pleasing unto the Lord. The Wall Street Journal then ran an editorial titled "Ben Carson for President," and he was off to the races, making...

Marriage-Equality Caution

The American Prospect/Jamelle Bouie
When it comes to any issue, it's important to remember that there's no even distribution of support or opposition. A majority of Americans may support same-sex marriage, but that doesn't translate to a majority of people in a majority of states. In Virginia, for example, a new survey from the University of Mary Washington—which polled 1,004 adults living in the state—45 percent of respondents favored marriage equality, while 46 percent were opposed. This is a dramatic shift from seven years ago, when Virginians passed a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, 57 percent to 43 percent. It's worth noting that, in the last two presidential elections, public opinion in Virginia has tracked that for the country writ large. Barack Obama's 2008 margin in the state was just a point smaller than his margin overall, and his 2012 total in Virginia was nearly identical to his national performance. If, because of its demographics, Virginia is a nationally representative state, then this might be...

Why Politicians Aren't Sensitive to Public Opinion on the Economy

Flickr/Alex E. Proimos
Flickr/Alex E. Proimos Who says American politics is gridlocked? A tidal wave of politicians from both sides of the aisle who just a few years ago opposed same-sex marriage are now coming around to support it. Even if the Supreme Court were decide to do nothing about California’s Proposition 8 or DOMA, it would seem only matter of time before both were repealed. A significant number of elected officials who had been against allowing undocumented immigrants to become American citizens is now talking about “charting a path” for them; a bipartisan group of senators is expected to present a draft bill April 8. Even a few who were staunch gun advocates are now sounding more reasonable about background checks. It’s nice to think logic and reason are finally catching up with our elected representatives, but the real explanation for these changes of heart is more prosaic: public opinion. The latest ABC News/Washington Post poll finds support for marriage equality at the highest in the ten...

GOP Outreach to Latinos Has a Healthcare Problem

House GOP Leader / Flickr
So far, Republican outreach efforts have focused on Latino voters and consist of a major push to pass immigration reform. The premise is straightforward, if debatable: To win national elections, Republicans will have to repair their relationship with Latinos, and move away from the anti-immigrant rhetoric of Mitt Romney's presidential campaign. And while comprehensive immigration reform isn't the preferred policy of the GOP, it seems to offer the shortest path to greater credibility with Latino voters. But, as the Los Angeles Times explains , there's far more to GOP problems than just immigration. "As Republican leaders try to woo Latino voters with a new openness to legal status for the nation's illegal immigrants," writes the Times , "the party remains at odds with America's fastest-growing ethnic community on another key issue: healthcare." By a two-to-one margin, Latinos are huge supporters of the Affordable Care Act, President Obama's comprehensive health care law. What's more,...

The People’s Bank

flickr/BismarckPride.com
W hen the financial crisis struck in 2008, nearly every state legislature was left contending with massive revenue shortfalls. Every state legislature, that is, except North Dakota’s. In 2009, while other states were slashing budgets, North Dakota enjoyed its largest surplus. All through the Great Recession, as credit dried up and middle-class Americans lost their homes, the conservative, rural state chugged along with a low foreclosure rate and abundant credit for entrepreneurs looking for loans. Normally one of the overlooked states in flyover country, North Dakota now had the country’s attention. So did an unlikely institution partly responsible for its fiscal health: the Bank of North Dakota. Founded in 1919 by populist farmers who’d gotten tired of big banks and grain companies shortchanging them, the only state-owned bank in America has long supported community banks and helped keep credit flowing. The bank’s $5 billion deposit base comes mostly from state taxes and funds. The...

A Good Old-Fashioned Education

Flickr/Thomas Favre-Bulle
W hen it comes to education policy, inconstancy is the only constant. During the past generation, self-styled reformers have pitched such nostrums as vouchers, charter schools, high-stakes accountability for teachers, and a near-total emphasis on reading and math. Nothing seems to be working, though: American students continue to lag on international tests and racial and ethnic achievement gaps stubbornly persist. Here's the good news: From Houston to Long Beach, Charlotte to Brownsville, school systems across the country—big and small; generously and meagerly funded; mainly Latino, mainly black, or heterogeneous; with elected school boards and mayor-appointed school boards—have figured out how to boost reading and math scores and shrink the achievement gap. The public has never heard about these accomplishments, and it’s easy to see why. Journalists thrive on color, and there’s nothing jazzy to report. Each of these districts has identified a few evidence-based strategies like high-...

What's the Way Forward for the GOP on Same-Sex Marriage?

The American Prospect/Jamelle Bouie
The American Prospect/Jamelle Bouie Yesterday, two different Republicans offered two different views of the party’s future. When asked whether the GOP would move toward the mainstream on same-sex marriage, Ed Gillespie, former chair of the Republican National Committee, told Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace that he doesn’t “see the Republican Party or most Republicans, obviously, changing in terms of believing that marriage is between one man and one woman.” And while he doesn’t oppose legal benefits for gay couples, he continues to oppose same-sex marriage and doesn’t think you’ll ever see the Republican platform change position. On the other end, in an interview on NBC’s Meet the Press , freshman Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona gave the opposite view , predicting that it’s “inevitable” that a Republican presidential nominee will embrace same-sex marriage and that it might be sooner than later. On Flake’s side is the rapid march of public opinion. In just a few years, the public has...

Whither Homo Economicus?

Jamelle Bouie
It's hard out there for a culture warrior. Every time an opponent of same-sex marriage does an interview these days, one of the first questions is, "Isn't your side on this issue doomed to failure?" They're even getting a cold shoulder from their own allies; after years of bashing hippies and wielding "God, guns, and gays" to great electoral effect, the leadership of the GOP would rather talk about anything else. And now it's Democrats who are happy to stoke the cultural fires, secure in the knowledge that the majority is on their side. Not long ago, many in the GOP began to hope that the rise of the Tea Party could transform the culture war into one primarily about economics and the role of government. We could still have just as vigorous a battle between Us and Them, but with the old social issues fading into the background. There would be a new division, one in which our kind of people value free markets, low taxes, and a government that leaves you alone, while those other kind of...

Ringside Seat: The Angry Whites Liquidation Sale

Let it not be said that the GOP doesn't know it has a problem. As Senator Lindsay Graham said last year, "We're not generating enough angry white guys to stay in business for the long term." And in the November election, that became vividly clear. Mitt Romney lost Latino voters by 44 points, Asian-American voters by 47 points, and voters under 30 by 23 points. So in the months since, the Republicans have been racking their brains to come up with ways to appeal to voters who do not happen to be older white men. So how's it going? Well, this week, not so great. First you had Ben Carson, the Baltimore neurosurgeon who, as a black conservative, has become a hero to the right, getting a bit too frank about marriage in an appearance on Fox News. Heterosexual marriage, he said , is "a well-established, fundamental pillar of society and no group, be they gays, be they NAMBLA, be they people who believe in bestiality—it doesn’t matter what they are. They don't get to change the definition."...

Sarah Palin Soldiers On

Flickr/therealbls2002
One of the main reasons so many members of Congress become lobbyists after they leave office is that there just aren't that many high-level opportunities available to them where they can use what they learned in office. After you've spent a bunch of time learning the ins and outs of Congress, and somebody's willing to pay you half a million dollars a year or more to put that knowledge to use, it seems to make a great deal of sense. But what if at the end of your political career, you've become, to most people, a laughingstock? And what if you're not a lawyer, so you can't practice law, and you're known for being erratic, so no one would hire you to run their interest group, and in truth you have no marketable skills at all? Then you're in a quandary, which is where Sarah Palin found herself four years ago. And you have to hand it to her: she fashioned a post-campaign career that manages to continue on no matter what setbacks she encounters, from getting her reality shows cancelled to...

Barack Obama is Not a Supervillain

Flickr
If there’s anything that’s always struck me about the GOP’s response to Barack Obama, it’s the extent to which conservatives have grossly underestimated Obama’s political prowess. It seems obvious to me that the first African American president would be a terribly effective politician, but it’s a lesson Republicans are only beginning to learn—four months after Obama won a second term in the White House. Conservative writer John Podhoretz has a skewed view of Obama’s priorities—he calls the center-left Democrat a “statist” who holds an “anti-exceptionalist” view of America—but he understands the extent to which Barack Obama is a formidable opponent that Republicans underestimate to their peril: Barack Obama is a serious man. Yes, he likes to golf, and yes, he ran a campaign with cutesy Facebook pictures and seemingly inane Flash slideshows like “Life of Julia.” No, he does not seem interested in the mechanics of legislation, nor does he seem adept at negotiation. But the weird...

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