Vox Pop

The Prospect's politics blog

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:...

Red States Getting Redder

Stacy Lynn Baum / Flickr
Last week, I noted the extent to which opposition to same-sex marriage and opposition to abortion are still linked tightly together. With its new anti-abortion law—and long-standing ban on gay marriage—Alabama is the latest state to prove the point : Alabama lawmakers late Tuesday gave final passage to a measure placing stricter regulations on clinics that provide abortions. […] The bill requires abortion clinics to use doctors who have approval to admit patients to hospitals in the same city. Some clinics now use doctors from other cities that don’t have local hospital privileges. A similar law in Mississippi is threatening to close that state’s only abortion clinic, which is challenging the law in court. The bill also sets stricter building requirements, including wider halls and doors and better fire suppression systems. The state Department of Public Health, which regulates Alabama’s five abortion clinics, reports that most will not meet the stricter standards. These laws are...

Americans Want a Path to Citizenship

Jens Schott Knudsen/Flickr
Jens Schott Knudsen/Flickr Sign in favor of immigration reform are on display outside Judson Memorial Church on West 4th Street in New York CIty on June 5th, 2010. The most important takeaway from the latest Washington Post poll is its news on immigration. Among all adults, 57 percent support a path to citizenship for unauthorized immigrants, one of the most contentious elements of the framework for comprehensive immigration reform. Forty percent are opposed, and of those, 24 percent have a “strong” opposition to the measure (on the other side, 31 percent are strongly supportive). Among registered voters, the spread is smaller but the result is the same; 54 percent support a path to citizenship while 43 percent are opposed. Indeed, support for a path to citizenship holds strong across income groups (55 percent of voters with incomes under $100,000, and 65 percent of voters with incomes over, are supportive), gender (men and women are equally in favor), race (51 percent of whites and...

The Gun Debate's Inconvenient Truths

Flickr/Brett Weinstein
T he current yelling match about guns is distinguished by two truths disconcerting to each side. As loony as the argument sounds after a history of 224 years, the faction that opposes any oversight or management of gun rights is correct about one thing. The Second Amendment doesn’t exist to protect people’s right to hunt. It doesn’t exist to protect people’s right to shoot a thief or intruder. Derived from a similar stipulation in the English Bill of Rights of the 1600s, the Second Amendment exists for the same reason as the rest of the Bill of Rights—to further define the relationship between individual freedom and state power, and in this case to prohibit the state from unilaterally disarming the citizenry. It’s an important principle of human freedom, however fueled it may be in this day and age by the paranoia and derangement of a social fringe. The left focuses obsessively on the Second Amendment’s language about maintaining a militia because the Second Amendment is the one...

Ringside Seat: Braaaaaaains for Freedom

As big-government liberals, we're always heartened when the federal government undertakes ambitious projects to solve fundamental problems and better Americans' lives. Today, President Obama announced the BRAIN initiative, and no, it doesn't have anything to do with preparation for the inevitable zombie apocalypse, during which our precious gray matter will become food for the undead. It stands for Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies, and it's a proposed $100 million project, funded through DARPA, the NIH, and the National Science Foundation, in partnership with a number of private foundations. We actually know very little about how the brain works, and the goal of the project is to fund basic science and help foster new discoveries that will lead to new therapies for diseases and applications no one has even thought of yet. In the context of a federal budget that runs into the trillions, this is a small amount of money. But it could have a large impact. As...

The AP Gives Up "Illegal Immigrant"

Flickr/Emilio Labrador
The Associated Press, whose stylebook is used by lots of different publications, has announced that it will no longer use the term "illegal immigrant." This essentially accepts the argument that advocates for immigrants have been making for some time, namely that the fact that someone immigrated illegally doesn't make them an illegal person, any more than the fact that you got a speeding ticket means you should be labelled an "illegal driver," despite your violation of the law. Unsurprisingly, conservatives were contemptuous of the AP. On the right, however (and in the conservative media), even the term "illegal immigrants" is considered unduly generous, the preferred terms being "illegal aliens" or just "illegals." The AP also doesn't like "undocumented immigrant," which is preferred by immigration activists, "because it is not precise. A person may have plenty of documents, just not the ones required for legal residence." That seems kind of silly; if you refer to someone as an...

Bobby Jindal Is Not a Popular Guy

Derek Bridges / Flickr
Derek Bridges / Flickr Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal. If you are a governor with presidential ambitions, it helps to be popular in your state. Few politicians have managed to win higher offices—much less the presidency—without building a good reputation with their constituents. Which is why Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal should be worried about this new poll , that shows him with a 38 percent approval rating among the state’s voters. Sixty percent disapprove. According to the survey, conducted by Southern Media & Opinion Research, Jindal’s falling approval ratings are a function of his tax plan, which would end corporate and income taxes while raising sales taxes and other fees, burdening lower-income Louisianans in order to fund large tax cuts their upper-income counterparts. Overall, 63 percent opposed the plan to abolish personal and corporate income taxes and raise state sales taxes, while only 27 percent supported it. Likewise, 60 percent opposed further spending cuts to...

The Pointlessness of Contrarianism for Its Own Sake

Contrarianism!
When you write for a magazine with a particular ideological bent, it's natural to wonder whether you're being too soft on "your" side. This question comes up more when your side is in power, since they're the ones who are implementing policies and making decisions; when the other side is in charge, most of your time is spent documenting and analyzing all the harmful and dangerous things they're doing, and your side is occupied with fighting the ruling party and waiting for its turn. Obviously, politics is a neverending conflict, and that conflict can produce a certain siege mentality. For instance, when a Democratic president proposes a plan for universal health coverage and Republicans attack it with a campaign of mind-boggling hysteria and dishonesty (death panels!), it's natural to spend a good deal of time correcting the record and defending it, even if you think that plan is less than ideal. There are some people (like Glenn Greenwald) who write largely about one set of issues,...

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...

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