Vox Pop

The Prospect's politics blog

The Dead End That Is Public Opinion

If you want to produce change, make politicians as terrified as this sandwich. (Flickr/Sakurako Kitsa)
As the effort to enact new gun legislation hobbles along, liberals have noted over and over that in polls, 90 percent or so of the public favors universal background checks. In speaking about this yesterday, President Obama said, "Nothing is more powerful than millions of voices calling for change." Then Jonathan Bernstein explained that opinion doesn't get political results, what gets results is action. I'd take this one step farther: what gets results is not action per se, but action that produces fear . I'll explain in a moment, but here's part of Bernstein's argument: See, the problem here is equating "90 percent in the polls" with "calling for change." Sure, 90 percent of citizens, or registered voters, or whoever it is will answer in the affirmative if they're asked by a pollster about this policy. But that's not at all the same as "calling for change." It's more like...well, it is receiving a call. Not calling. Those people who have been pushing for marriage equality? They were...

Here's One Way to Attract Minority Voters

KCIvey / Flickr
Buzzfeed’s McKay Coppins has a great examination of the Republican Party’s renewed attempt to reach out to minority voters. In short, it’s not just that the GOP needs to recruit nonwhite candidates—it also needs “to overcome is own overwhelming whiteness” as an organization. “There is not a single racial minority among the 20 most senior officials who run the Republican National Committee, National Republican Congressional Committee, and National Republican Senatorial Committee,” writes Coppins. And absent any connection to nonwhite communities, it’s difficult to make genuine inroads. Coppins is focused on the Republican Party’s image, but there’s also the question of policy, and more broadly, respect. It’s not just that nonwhite voters disagree with Republican priorities on the economy—it’s that the GOP gives little indication that it respects the interests of blacks, Latinos, and other minorities. To wit, Republican lawmakers continue to push voter identification laws that...

Should 16-Year-Olds Vote?

flickr/Barack Obama campaign
flickr/Barack Obama campaign The very first people to be protected by the 26th Amendment, which guaranteed 18-year-olds the right to vote, will be 62 by the next presidential election. It’s time to extend the franchise again. Takoma Park, Maryland, may just be on the frontier of that expanded democracy. The Washington, D.C., suburb is apparently considering lowering the voting age to 16. That proposal would only apply to local elections, but there’s no constitutional prohibition stopping any state from lowering the voting age for state or federal elections as well (the Constitution prohibits raising the age, but not lowering it). A handful of similar efforts have been floated in recent years, although the only successes have been allowing 17-year-olds who will be 18 the next November to vote in primary elections occurring before their birthdays. The case for teenage voting can be boiled down to three points: It’s consistent with other ways the law and politics treat teenagers; teens...

Gay-Marriage Opponents, Left Behind

The American Prospect/Jamelle Bouie
The American Prospect/Jamelle Bouie O utside of the Supreme Court this week—where the nine justices were hearing oral arguments about the constitutionality of California's ban on same-sex marriage—a young woman and an old woman were arguing. "If you put all the gay people on an island," began the older woman, who looked to be in her fifties. "See, this is why people think you guys are like the KKK!" interjected the young woman. "You're talking about rounding us all up—" "Let me finish! If you put all the gay people on an island, in a generation there would be no gay people. They would die out." "That's not a realistic scenario. We all live in this country together." The older woman was nonplussed. After fielding a few more hypotheticals—How would you feel if your son or daughter were gay? What about the separation of church and state?—it became clear she was not going home convinced, and the two parted ways. America, on the other hand, has gone home convinced. The about-face in public...

Bluegrass Bummer

In the 1930s and '40s, George Murphy appeared in a number of movie musicals. He later became involved in politics, first as president of the Screen Actors Guild, then as chairman of the California Republican Party, and finally as a U.S. Senator. When Murphy took office, the idea of an entertainer serving in the Senate was outlandish enough that satirist Tom Lehrer wrote a song about it. "Oh gee it's great," Lehrer sang, "at last we've got a senator who can really sing and dance!" A year later, Ronald Reagan was elected governor of California, and suddenly it wasn't so funny anymore. Bono, Fred "Gopher" Grandy, Ben "Cooter" Jones) to the gruff (Fred Thompson) to the gun-totin' (Clint Eastwood, Arnold Schwarzenegger). But for some reason there aren't any women on that list. We'll have to keep waiting, it appears, because Ashley Judd announced yesterday that after seriously considering a bid to unseat Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, she's decided not to run after all. It's...

Not Fun to Visit, and You Wouldn't Want to Live There. But the Taxes Are Low!

North Dakota. Can you smell the freedom? (Flickr/Gadi Golan)
The Mercatus Center, an independently funded free-market think tank housed at George Mason University, just released its annual "Freedom in the 50 States" rankings, and the results, showing whether you live in a Randian paradise or a soul-crushing statist hellhole, are getting a lot of ridicule on Twitter. Liberals may laugh that this kind of thing is pretty silly, but it's conservatives who ought to find the results deeply unsettling. Because if "freedom" as conservatives define it determines the quality of one's existence, then they all ought to be packing their bags to move to the most free of all the states. Which, according to the Mercatus Center, is North Dakota. You can see the problem here. The folks at Mercatus have done their best to be comprehensive in coming up with the scores, and a look at their standards shows a basically libertarian index; in other words, the vast majority of the criteria are things any contemporary conservative would agree with, plus a few of the...

Falling Through the Looking Glass

Flickr/majunznk
Flickr/majunznk Protestors make their case before yesterday's DOMA hearing at the Supreme Court. A s I sat in the press gallery off to the side of the Supreme Court yesterday morning, waiting for the justices to file in and begin hearing arguments about the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), I had that sickly excited feeling that you get when the roller-coaster car is climbing the first hill. The day before was easier for me: I didn’t want the Court to take Perry , the Prop 8 case, to begin with. I was relieved when very quickly we all could hear that the justices had no appetite for a broad ruling. But the DOMA case—and here please let me confess that I’m terribly human—the DOMA case is about my marriage. As regular readers will know, I’m married to my wife in Massachusetts, but because DOMA bars the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages performed in the states, I’m not married in the United States. The justices were going to discuss whether to...

States' Rights > Gay Rights

AP Photo/Dana Verkouteren
AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster B y now you've heard from the various news sources that, in this week’s Supreme Court arguments on California's Proposition 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act, a majority of justices expressed skepticism over both. So it's imaginable—even probable, if you believe the news—that we will find ourselves at the end of June with DOMA in the junk pile and marriage equality back on the books in California. But don't put the pink champagne on ice just yet. In both days of argument, the justices spent an extraordinary amount of time dealing with knotty procedural issues. Both cases are complicated by the fact that the executive officers who usually defend laws in court (the governor and state attorney general for Prop. 8, the president and U.S. attorney general for DOMA) have no stomach for such defense, since they think the laws they’d be defending are unconstitutional. So as the nation anticipated a debate over the importance and meaning of marriage, the Court had a...

Ringside Seat: Huckabee Puts on His Dick Morris Hat

Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee—who at the moment is a talk radio host—gave an exclusive interview to Newsmax TV where he warned of doom (and gnashing of teeth, presumably) if Republicans back away from their opposition to same-sex marriage. When asked if he thought the GOP might pivot away from opposition to marriage equality, he said, “They might. And if they do, they’re going to lose a large part of their base because evangelicals will take a walk." He later elaborated, explaining that “Politicians have an obligation to be thermostats, not just thermometers. They’re not simply to reflect the temperature of the room, or the culture, as it were.” For that reason, Republicans must continue their opposition, lest they cease to “set standards” for “what’s right” and “what’s wrong.” As a representative of sorts from the social conservative wing of the Republican Party, Huckabee has every reason to oppose a general move to support—or quietly ignore—same-sex marriage. But if...

Oppressed Christians and Second-Class Citizenship

A gay lion prepares to set upon a group of Christians.
With all this talk of gay people marrying one another, some people on the right are starting to bleat about how they're being oppressed for their Christian beliefs—so oppressed, in fact, that they're starting to feel like "second-class citizens." Here's CBN's David Brody lamenting the sorrows of Kirk Cameron and Tim Tebow. Here's Red State's Erik Erikson predicting the coming pogrom ("Within a year or two we will see Christian schools attacked for refusing to admit students whose parents are gay. We will see churches suffer the loss of their tax exempt status for refusing to hold gay weddings. We will see private businesses shut down because they refuse to treat as legitimate that which perverts God’s own established plan."). Here's Fox News commentator Todd Starnes on the oppression that has already begun ("it’s as if we’re second-class citizens now because we support the traditional, Biblical definition of marriage"). And how is this second-class citizenship being thrust upon them...

Government Monopolies Even Liberals Can't Love

Flickr/billytechkid
In a post yesterday, I said that it would be absurd for the federal government to produce its own brand of cola, not because doing so would make us all less free, but because there's just no need. Well lo and behold, today I find out that the state of Pennsylvania, where I used to live, has its own brand of mediocre wine, called Table Leaf. It's manufactured by a winery in California, but sold through state-owned Pennsylvania liquor stores. Does that seem nuts? Well, it starts to make sense when you recall that in Pennsylvania, the state has a virtual monopoly on liquor sales through the stores run by the Liquor Control Board. So in addition to making it incredibly inconvenient for you to buy a bottle of wine or other booze, they also are able to market their own house brand (at apparently inflated prices). In the decade I lived in the state, I never met a single person who thought the state monopoly wasn't ridiculous ( polls show support for privatization to be strong, albeit not...

Republicans Still Oppose Abortion and Same-Sex Marriage, Democrats Still Support Them

Talking Points Memo
Here's a contrast: At the same time the Supreme Court held oral arguments on a case that could legalize same-sex marriage, North Dakota lawmakers passed one of the most restrictive abortion bans in the nation. It's a sign, argues Sarah Kliff in The Washington Post , that the two have decoupled as issues of controversy, "Younger Americans have become increasingly supportive of gay marriage in a way that hasn’t necessarily happened for abortion rights." On the whole, "Millennials" are just as ambivalent on abortion rights as their older counterparts. To wit, only 50 percent of Americans under the age of thirty believe abortion should be legal in all or some cases, compared to 54 percent of Americans in their 30s and 40s, and 55 percent of Americans in their 50s and 60s. But is this evidence of a "decoupling" of the two issues? In terms of public opinion, the information is clear—it is. But polls aren't the same as political coalitions, and it's harder to say the parties have changed...

Dissecting Donglegate

Flickr/Chuckumentary
Flickr/Chuckumentary When is a dick joke not just a dick joke? That’s the question at the heart of what’s being called “Donglegate,” the latest tech-industry skirmish in the ongoing battle over the sector's rampant sexism. The answer: When it's scientifically proven to impair a woman's ability to do her job. First, the basics: Tech professional Adria Richards was attending an industry conference called PyCon. Earlier that day, a fellow (male) attendee had made a joke to her about looking up women's skirts. She knew that such sexual comments were against PyCon's explicit community standards and tried to address it with him, to no avail. Later, when she heard some men sitting behind her cracking jokes about the size of their "dongles," she tried a different approach. She snapped a photo of the men and tweeted it, along with her location in the hall and a complaint about their behavior, to the attention of conference organizers. To their credit, PyCon officials took her tweet seriously...

Asked and Answered

Flickr/Ted Eytan
Flickr/Ted Eytan The scene outside the Supreme Court yesterday I t’s a strange thing, living on the cusp of social change—miraculous and dizzying. Ten years ago to the day, on March 26, 2003, I sat in the tiny hallway that functions as the Supreme Court’s press gallery, off to the justices’ right, trying to hear the oral arguments in Lawrence v. Texas, the case in which the Supreme Court—years after the rest of the developed world—knocked down the country’s 13 remaining anti-sodomy laws. Yesterday morning, I sat there again to hear the justices consider the constitutionality of California’s ban on same-sex marriage, written into the state constitution by Proposition 8. I’ve spent my adult life writing about LGBT issues; back in the mid-1990s, I was the first lesbian to write broadly in favor of same-sex marriage, and in 1999 I published a book explaining how same-sex couples fit into marriage’s shifting historical definition. I'm going to ask you—especially if you’re not gay—to...

Ringside Seat: To Rule or Not to Rule?

It's always dangerous to read too much into oral arguments at the Supreme Court. You can certainly get a general sense of which way the justices are leaning by the tone of their questions, but it's also easy to be misled, particularly when the case in question affords them a number of options for a ruling. So it was in today's case testing the constitutionality of Proposition 8, the California initiative banning same-sex marriage in the state. Justice Anthony Kennedy, the presumed swing vote, spoke in rather emotional terms about the "40,000 children in California that live with same-sex parents, and they want their parents to have full recognition and full status. The voice of those children is important in this case, don't you think?" Does that mean he'll join with the Court's liberals to vote to strike down the law? Who knows, particularly when striking down the law would be an undeniably radical step, invalidating laws against marriage equality in dozens of states. For that matter...

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