Jamelle Bouie

Obama's Biggest Blemish

White House / Flickr
Yesterday, I complained that political media presents debt reduction as a no-brainer—something we must do, for the sake of our solvency—and not as a choice that may or may not be warranted in the current environment (hint: it’s not). There’s no mystery as to why that’s the case; the major mainstream news outlets are heavily influenced by elite opinion, and elite opinion is dominated by the views of successful businesspeople. Businesspeople, among other things, want lower taxes (to keep more of their income), fewer protections for labor (to spend less on workers), less spending (again, taxes), aggressive debt reduction (to avoid higher interest rates), and price stability (to avoid inflation). What’s more, they tend to be less concerned with joblessness—full employment diminishes the flexibility and power of people who own businesses. Because these things are treated as self-evidently good, mainstream media outlets tend to heap praise on politicians who commit to this agenda. The...

Republicans Against ... the Violence Against Women Act?

Wikipedia
Every so often, Congress has to tackle “no-brainer” legislation. These are bills that, for the most part, are broadly supported by both parties and don’t require much in the way of time, negotation, or effort to resolve and pass. One of them is the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), which provides funding for shelters and other services, and targets resources toward prosecution of violent crimes against women. The law has come up for reauthorization twice before—in 2000 and 2005—and in both cases passed without substantial opposition. The current bill to reauthorize the VAWA extends the laws’ protections to same-sex couples and Native Americans living on reservations, as well as allow battered undocumented immigrants to obtain temporary visas. It was crafted by Senators Patty Murray, a Democrat from Washington, and Mike Crapo, a Republican from Idaho. It was voted out of the Senate by a 68 to 31 vote, and was expected to pass the House by a similarly large margin. Of course, this...

What Do You Mean, "Both Sides?"

NBC News
Of the many frustrating things about political punditry, one of the most frustrating is the extent to which many writers choose to ignore core facts about our political world and instead rely on generalities, intuition, and lazy conventional wisdom. For one great (terrible?) example of this, look no further than the most recent column from Gerald Seib of the Wall Street Journal , in which he blames the near-collapse of the fiscal-cliff deal on “both sides”: There are multiple reasons that even what seems easy is hard in Washington right now. The problems start, of course, with the basic polarization of not just Congress but the country. America is in an unusual political state, in which the two parties are quite evenly divided in power, but far apart ideologically. […] In the House, there is almost no middle ground, and the vote there Monday night was far more divided along partisan lines. Most members come from such reliably Democratic or Republican districts that they simply feel no...

We Need More Spending

401(K) 2012 / Flickr
401(K) 2012 / Flickr This passage from Politico’s write-up of the fiscal cliff deal, on the supposed inadequacy of the agreement, stuck out to me for it’s sheer wrongness : “The pact also does little to reduce trillion-dollar-plus deficits, shore up entitlement programs, overhaul the tax code or stimulate the U.S. economy — the casualty of a polarized political culture that scorns compromise.” What’s striking is the matter-of-fact tone, as if to say that of course our chief concern should be spending cuts and lower deficits. And it’s echoed by President Obama’s belt-tightening rhetoric, which at this point is par for the course: “The deficit needs to be reduced in a way that is balanced. Everyone pays their fair share. Everyone does their part. That is how our economy works best. That is how we grow.” Except that’s not how we grow at all. As Stephanie Kelto explains in a great and helpful column for the Los Angeles Times , the economy grows when we—governments, businesses, individuals...

The Republican Party Is the Problem

Gage Skidmore / Flickr
Gage Skidmore / Flickr After weeks of negotiating, we have a deal on the fiscal cliff, which—in true, congressional fashion—passed hours after the government went “over” the cliff. The details of the deal are straightforward: Tax rates will rise permanently to Clinton-era levels for families with income over $450,000 and individuals with income over $400,000. For everyone below that ceiling, taxes will remain at Bush-era levels. Likewise, for families and individuals at that income threshold, the taxes on capital gains will rise to 20 percent, while staying at 15 percent for everyone else. Given the financial situation of most Americans—who don’t earn much, if anything, from investments—this is a good move, considering the circumstances. Estate taxes will rise to 40 percent, but Republicans were able to win a key concession—estates up to $5 million are exempt from the tax, which amounts to a large tax giveaway for a small number of wealthy families. The deal also reinstated the phase-...

Obama Appoints Scott Brown as Senator from Massachusetts

Flickr/U.S Embassy Kabul Afghanistan
Flickr/U.S Embassy Kabul Afghanistan Senator John Kerry and Afghanistan President Hamid Karzain in Kabul in 2009. The Washington Post reports that President Obama has nominated Massachusetts Senator John Kerry to be the next Secretary of State. This doesn’t come as a surprise; he was on the short list behind Hillary Clinton, and has been a stalwart defender of the administration’s foreign policy choices over the last four years. Clinton is a hard act to follow, but there’s little doubt Kerry will perform well in the position. If there’s a problem, it’s that Kerry’s departure from the Senate leaves an open seat in Massachusetts, and as it happens, there’s a former Republican senator—Scott Brown—itching to get back into the game. It helps that he’s still well liked by most Massachusetts voters; a recent poll from MassINC Polling Group shows Brown with high favorability—58 percent, compared to 28 percent who view him unfavorably. The New York Times ’ Nate Silver isn’t so sure that Brown...

There's No Wizard Behind the NRA's Curtain

Google
Google The difference is that LaPierre did this to himself. The National Rifle Association has been in a tough spot since the shootings in Newtown, Connecticut. As an advocacy group for gun manufactuers and a particular set of gun enthusiasts, it has no interest in new gun-control regulations. But as a powerful political force, it has to say something—otherwise, it’s vulnerable to continued criticism. This morning, NRA president Wayne LaPierre held a press conference —occasionally interrupted by protesters—in which he explained where the organization stood in light of last week’s violence. But rather than stand behind the modest gun-regulation efforts brewing in Congress or even offer a simple message of condolence, LaPierre decided to go on the offensive, blaming everything from video games, movies ,and music— Natural Born Killers , a 20-year-old film, received a shoutout—to Obama’s budget for the proliferation of mass shooters. In fact, the media came in for wide criticism: “A child...

How House Republicans Neutered Themselves

Gage Skidmore / Flickr
Gage Skidmore / Flickr Last night witnessed the implosion of John Boehner’s efforts to pass a Republican-crafted fiscal-cliff proposal, otherwise known as “Plan B.” Unlike the floated compromise, Boehner's proposal would extend the Bush tax cuts for everyone earning under $1 million, preserve a high estate-tax cut-off, and slash spending on tax credits for working-class Americans (in addition to cutting Obamacare and repealing key mechanisms of Dodd-Frank). The idea was to build leverage in negotiations with the White House by passing a bill that could serve as an alternative to any deal that doesn’t give substantive weight to conservative interests. If, for example, the White House refused to concede further entitlement cuts, Boehner could send Plan B to the Senate, and force a vote, thus presenting himself as a sensible negotiator, pace President Obama’s partisan demands. If House Republicans had basic tactical skills, this might have worked. Instead, the right-wing fringe of the...

The Fundamentals Were Right!

Drew Linzer / Votamatic
This afternoon, Drew Linzer—whose election forecasting site, Votematic, rivaled Nate Silver’s for accuracy–tweeted two charts showing key election fundamentals: Second quarter GDP growth, and the president’s net approval rating in June. Those presidents with a growing economy and a positive approval rating almost always win, and those with a shrinking economy and a negative approval rating almost always lose. And while Republicans spent the year thinking this wouldn’t be true for President Obama, as Linzer shows, it was. Here’s where 2012 fell on a graph showing 2nd quarter GDP growth and the incumbent party’s share of the two-party vote: And here’s where it fell on a graph showing the incumbent’s vote share and his net approval rating in June: In other words, with just those two data points from the middle of the summer, you could have predicted an Obama win with a small majority of the two-party vote, and that’s exactly what happened. Does that mean the campaign was irrelevant? Not...

The Social Security Conversation We Should Be Having

401K / Flickr
Matthew Yglesias makes an excellent point about an essential tension between Social Security and the demands of “The Market,” in a post called “Why the Powers that Be Hate Social Security”: You’ve got this big scheme to levy taxes on working people who are participating in The Economy and transfer money to people who’ve dropped out of The Economy. They take that money and use it to pay the electricity bill and buy a cookie for their grandkids. If they didn’t get that money, they’d probably have to work longer and spend more years being part of The Economy. And they’d have to spend their working years being thriftier, and amassing more savings that (via the magic of the financial system) finance private sector investments in The Economy. So not only would lower taxes on The Economy spur more growth, but the mere fact of not sending your grandma those checks is good for The Economy. The Economy thrives on incentives (if you work, we’ll give you money) and desperation (if you want money...

Everyone Is a Taker

Pew Research Center
After a year where Republicans—even so-called “moderates,” like Mitt Romney—devoted themselves to dividing the public into “makers” and “takers,” a new survey from the Pew Research Service shows that most Americans—55 percent, in fact—are “dependent on government” in some form. Specifically, Pew found that “most Democrats (60 percent) and Republicans (52 percent) say they have benefited from a major entitlement program at some point in their lives.” Likewise, so have “nearly equal shares of self-identifying conservatives (57 percent), liberals (53 percent) and moderates (53 percent).” In the actual survey, Pew asked about the entire basket of programs we associate with “entitlements”: Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps, welfare, and unemployment benefits. Entitlement use begins early, and grows with age: A third of adults ages 18 to 29 say they have received at least one major entitlement payment, which grows to 45 percent for those ages 30 to 49, 59 percent for those...

Still No Strong Links Between Video Games and Violence

Videogamer.com
Videogamer.com A screenshot from Call of Duty 2: Black Ops. Yesterday, on Fox News Sunday, outgoing senator Joe Lieberman floated the recurring—and wrong—idea that violent video games play a part in mass shootings: “The violence in the entertainment culture – particularly, with the extraordinary realism to video games, movies now, et cetera – does cause vulnerable young men to be more violent,” Lieberman insisted. “Doesn’t make everybody more violent, but it’s a causative factor in some cases.” “We ought to ask the entertainment community, what are you going to do to tone that down,” Lieberman said of policymakers in Washington. I don’t know of any mass shooting where video games were a “causative” factor. What I do know, however, is that the available evidence provides only a tenuous link between playing violent video games and committing violent acts. Existing studies on the subject are all over the place: Some show an increase in the physiological signs of aggression when play...

Republicans Float Plan to Make Electoral College More Unfair

Google
Google Republicans decide to go the dastardly route. Since their across-the-board defeat in November, Republicans have talked a great game about reform and outreach, with presidential hopefuls Paul Ryan, Marco Rubio, and Bobby Jindal leading the charge. But the actual actions of the GOP belie this stated commitment to change. According to National Journal , for example, Republicans are planning a big push to change how states distribute their electoral votes. Currently, most states have a winner-take-all arrangement—if you win the majority of votes, you take all of the electoral votes. For all but voters in deep red or dark blue states, this is unfair—the 48 percent of North Carolina voters who supported Barack Obama in this year’s election are all but irrelevant, since their votes play no part in the Electoral College distribution. Some reformers want to solve this problem with a national popular vote, others with nationwide proportional distribution of electoral votes. Republicans,...

Gun Control, No Longer the Dems' Electoral Kryptonite

Lawrence Jackson / White House
The most notable thing to come out of President Obama’s speech last night—eulogizing the tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut—was his unambiguous commitment to pursuing new gun regulations in the coming weeks. Granted, he didn’t use the word “gun,” but the implications were clear: If there’s even one step we can take to save another child or another parent or another town from the grief that’s visited Tucson and Aurora and Oak Creek and Newtown and communities from Columbine to Blacksburg before that, then surely we have an obligation to try. In the coming weeks, I’ll use whatever power this office holds to engage my fellow citizens, from law enforcement, to mental health professionals, to parents and educators, in an effort aimed at preventing more tragedies like this, because what choice do we have? We can’t accept events like this as routine. Are we really prepared to say that we’re powerless in the face of such carnage, that the politics are too hard? Are we prepared to say that such...

Republicans (Probably) Don't Have to Reform on Immigration

Jens Schott Knudsen / Flickr
Jens Schott Knudsen / Flickr Here’s why I don’t expect Republicans to sign on to comprehensive immigration reform, even as they understand a need to better appeal to Latino voters and other immigrant groups: A poll released Wednesday by Resurgent Republic, a GOP research group, of Hispanic voters in Florida, Colorado, New Mexico and Nevada—all important swing states in presidential elections—found overwhelming support for a range of policies that are expected to be part of immigration legislation. Policy aside, some Republicans worry that offering citizenship would create millions of new Democratic voters , said John Feehery, a Republican consultant, who doesn’t subscribe to that view. [Emphasis added] The simple truth about Latino voter is that—by and large—they lean Democratic on most issues. They support more government spending on education, infrastructure, and social welfare, and they support a larger federal role in the economy. Even if Republicans had taken a strategy of...

Pages