Vox Pop

The Prospect's politics blog

Meet Trey Gowdy, GOP Benghazi Attack Dog

AP Photo/Cliff Owen
AP Photo/Cliff Owen Rep. Trey Gowdy of South Carolina Since House Speaker John Boehner announced the creation of a select committee to investigate the Benghazi affair, Republicans have been saying it will be a serious investigation, while Democrats have been saying it will be a partisan circus. To get a sense of who might be right, I spent some time watching YouTube videos of Rep. Trey Gowdy, the heretofore obscure second-term Tea Party congressman from South Carolina whom Boehner named to lead the committee. There are a lot of these videos of Gowdy in congressional hearings, posted by conservatives, with titles like "Gowdy DESTROYS Obama Admin Stooge!" He's obviously very popular among the base. To call Gowdy prosecutorial would be an understatement. Uniformly angry and outraged, these videos show Gowdy always seemingly on the verge of shouting, he's so damn mad. Like any good lawyer, he never asks a question to which he doesn't already know the answer. But when a witness gives him...

Daily Meme: Desperate Times, Desperate Measures

AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster
Our theme today is desperation, which seems to be gripping our nation's capital. Last night the House of Representatives voted to hold former IRS official Lois Lerner in contempt of Congress because she asserted her right not to answer their questions, a final desperate attempt to get people angry about yet another scandal that didn't turn out nearly as scandalous as they had hoped. Republicans may carry around copies of the Constitution in their pockets, but that Fifth Amendment can be awfully annoying. Republicans are also desperate for America to understand that their select committee on Benghazi will not just be a bunch of grandstanding and feigned outrage, producing nothi ng . "The goal here will be to select serious, sober-minded members who will make this about finding answers to some troubling questions and will not make this a partisan shouting match," an anonymous aide told Politico . "We’re not going to convene a kangaroo court." What would ever have made people think such...

Why Republicans Should Go Ahead and Raise Money Off Benghazi

Are you outraged?
Let it not be said that Democrats are incapable of meeting umbrage with umbrage. Yesterday, it came out that the National Republican Congressional Committee sent out a fundraising email touting the new select committee on Benghazi; once you click through, you're told, "You're now a Benghazi Watchdog. Let's go after Obama & Hillary Clinton." Democrats got faux-outraged, and Rep. Trey Gowdy, who will be heading the committee, said he would never do any such thing: "I have never sought to raise a single penny on the backs of four murdered Americans." Now John Boehner's being hounded at press conferences about the propriety of such shameless politicization of a tragedy. Everybody get a grip. This is Washington. Everything is political. Are you telling me that as long as nobody used Benghazi to raise money, it would remain somehow outside the messiness of politics? Politics is all it's about, and all it has been about from the beginning. The unstated assumption is that there's some...

Daily Meme: You Probably Should Check Your Privilege

Screen shot of Tal Fortgang via Fox News
Sometimes, in the wilds of the internet, all it takes to get people's blood boiling is a screed from one college freshman. Such is the saga of Tal Fortgang, a Princeton first-year who wrote an inflammatory essay in the campus conservative magazine about being told to "check his privilege."If you're not familiar with the phrase ( described by the New York Times as "conversational kryptonite"), it's often used to remind those who may not be aware of their elite status (including, but not limited to, white male Princeton students) of their personal social advantages. Fortgang wrote that "check your privilege" has become a kind of liberal policing mechanism. "The phrase, handed down by my moral superiors, descends recklessly, like an Obama-sanctioned drone, and aims laser-like at my pinkish-peach complexion, my maleness, and the nerve I displayed in offering an opinion rooted in a personal Weltanschauung." (Extra points here for his exceptional use of jargon.) In other words: This...

Clinton Derangement Syndrome Will Soon Be Back

This drives some people to distraction. (White House photo)
There was a time when I thought that the heights of derangement to which Barack Obama drove his political opponents were even greater than what we saw during the Clinton years. The dark warnings of socialism, the inability to accept that he is actually a U.S. citizen, the musings from prominent Republican figures about his "Kenyan anti-colonial behavior," the conspiracies sketched out on Glenn Beck's chalkboard , the "unskewed" polls, the fifty Obamacare repeal votes (and counting), the tricorner hats, the whole mad chaotic mess of the last five years—surely these people were nuttier than they had ever been. But now, as the possibility of a Hillary Clinton presidential campaign, and thus of a Hillary Clinton presidency, becomes real, I'm beginning to wonder. There are some things you just can't compare with any precision—what's crazier, believing that Barack Obama's parents planted a false birth announcement in Hawaii newspapers when he was born so that one day he could illegitimately...

In Defense of Star Wars

Flickr/tzotzil
The new Star Wars movie is in production , and this has occasioned a round of revisionist writing on the film, with lots of people saying, "Wait a minute— Star Wars sucks!" As the resident Gen-Xer here, I feel it is my duty to address this matter, and offer some thoughts about why Star Wars had the cultural power it did, and maintains so much of it to this day. In some ways, it did suck. The dialogue was awful, the acting was mediocre at best (Carrie Fisher's intermittent British accent is just one of the many sins), and there are some glaring plot holes. We can debate whether its ultimate influence was positive or malign, but even with its weaknesses, the film's success, and its persistence, were no accident. It has to be understood in the context of the moment at which it arrived. The first reason Star Wars made such an impact when it was released in 1977 was that it just looked so spectacular. Even though today we might see the special effects as primitive and some of the creatures...

Daily Meme: Monica Lewinsky Tells All (Again)

Online editors and traffic-watchers across the country jumped for joy today when Vanity Fair published a teaser of Monica Lewinsky's tell-all piece in its latest issue, due out later this week. Here's the money quote: “Sure, my boss took advantage of me, but I will always remain firm on this point: it was a consensual relationship. Any ‘abuse’ came in the aftermath, when I was made a scapegoat in order to protect his powerful position.” Now, let the scandal-reminiscing and chattering begin! The timing—just as Hillary Clinton toys with another presidential run—is uncanny, writes Doug Mataconis at Outside the Beltway. Maybe, says CNN's Ashley Banfield, but this isn't the first time Hillary has run for president. At least Republicans may finally have something to obsess about besides the faux Benghazi scandal . (Already, Rand Paul is galavanting around the TV circuit saying the Clinton affair shows that Democrats are the ones with the real war on women.) Is this Lewinsky's last-ditch...

What a Real Propaganda Campaign Looks Like

U.S. Navy photo by Photographer's Mate 3rd Class Tyler J. Clements
Unfortunately, I have the sense that I'll be writing quite a bit about Benghazi in the coming months, since Republicans are cranking up their scandal calliope and the news media will eventually turn its bored gaze to the noise and fireworks. As we should keep in mind, the alleged misdeed at the heart of this matter has been downgraded from "the administration allowed four Americans to be killed" to "the administration tried to spin the story to make sure they didn't look bad." That is, quite literally, the terrible crime Republicans now believe the Obama administration committed, and the thing about which we're all supposed to be outraged. That's it. They spun. And how can we get to the bottom of this spinning without a select committee, and hour upon hour of hearings, complete with a blizzard of feigned outrage, to pile on top of the hour upon hour of hearings we've already had? Last night, the Daily Show gave us a little reminder of what a real propaganda campaign looks like: The...

The Difference Between Liberal Justices and Conservative Justices

You don't like it? Tough luck. (Flickr/Stephen Masker)
Liberals have for some time believed that all of conservatives' high-falutin' talk about "original intent" and judges who will "interpret the Constitution, not make laws" is just a crock. Rather, what they want is judges who will give them the results they want, whatever the Constitution may happen to say. "Original intent" is a particularly flexible, and therefore fundamentally bogus, rationale, since it's usually impossible to apply 18th century ideals to 21st century legal questions and arrive at a judgment based solely on your impression of what was in James Madison's mind, and therefore no matter what your preferred outcome is, you can justify it on the basis of original intent. And no one is more guilty of flinging that kind of baloney than Antonin Scalia. But conservatives respond that liberals do the same thing, pretending to believe in abstract principles when they really just want the people they like to prevail in every case that comes before the courts. Resolving the...

Daily Meme: Separation, Schleparation

The Supreme Court of the United States took a bold stand today for the invocation of somebody’s God at official government functions. It may not be your God--hey, maybe you don’t even have a God. (Wait, is that even legal in America?) At Religion Dispatches, Sarah Posner writes that ”advocates of church-state separation are warning that the 5-4 decision could lead to the marginalizing of religious minorities in localities across the country.” At issue in the case decided today is the practice of beginning government meetings in the town of Greece, New York, with a Christian prayer, a tradition that Justice Anthony Kennedy described, in the majority opinion, “a benign acknowledgment of religion's role in society.” Justice Elana Kagan penned the dissent, noting a great many prayers offered in Jesus’s name at Greece town meetings. You don’t have a problem with J.C., now do you? In the meantime, Ralph Reed (remember him?), now chairman of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, promised, Posner...

Why Cultural Affinity Isn't Enough

As you travel the political web today, you'll probably be seeing this ad a lot, the latest from Iowa Senate candidate Joni Ernst. Like many a candidate (mostly Republicans) before her, Ernst wants voters to know that, like them, she enjoys firearms. And she'll prove it by shooting one, while the narrator says, "Once she sets her sights on Obamacare, Joni's gonna unload" over the sound of her bullets travelling freedom's path on their way to rip through the guts of tyranny: And if you go to Ernst's web site today, you'll see this ad under a huge headline reading "Give Joni a Shot," with the "o" in "shot" made into a target. In other words: "Vote for me because gunsgunsguns!" If you're a Republican and you want to send a signal of cultural affinity, there's no easier way to do it than by firing a gun . Guns have carried symbolic weight for a long time, but never more so than now. They send a message both about conservatives and about liberals; not only "I'm one of you," but also, "...

Daily Meme: The Gun That Didn't Smoke

Sometimes reading the news can induce a distinct sensation of déjà vu . Why, for example, is Benghazi suddenly in the headlines--again? This particular trip down memory lane comes courtesy of a batch of freshly-released e-mails . The revelation? A White House aide gave advice to Susan Rice , then the U.N. ambassador, about how to present the unfolding tragedy on national television. The magnitude of these revelations depends, invariably, upon your preferred source of news and outrage. Sean Hannity , Lindsay Graham , and Darrell Issa all say the emails are a "smoking gun." The main conservative talking point? The White House put "politics ahead of truth." For Republicans, the e-mails give new credence to their much-beloved theory that the fallout from the September 11, 2012, attack in Benghazi, Libya, was evidence of a Watergate-esque cover-up . Issa said the failure to turn over the e-mails was "in violation of any reasonable transparency or historic precedent at least since Richard...

Guillotine Revival Movement Gains Momentum

Flickr/The Tedster
When things began to go terribly wrong with Clayton Lockett's execution in Oklahoma the other day—when instead of drifting gently off into unconsciousness and death, Lockett began to moan and buck on the gurney—one of the first things the officials did was lower the blinds over the window through which observers peered into the death chamber. Because after all, people shouldn't have to witness a man suffer as the state is killing him, right? Lockett's execution was hardly the first botched one we've had, particularly with lethal injection, a process prison officials seem extraordinarily incompetent at implementing properly. But for whatever reason, it has brought about a more substantial debate about the death penalty than we've had in some time. And as part of that, it looks like my semi-serious advocacy for the return of the guillotine is finally gaining momentum. It already has endorsements from Conor Friedersdorf and Sonny Bunch , with more sure to follow. Frankly, I've never...

Daily Meme: The Demise of the Viral Obamacare Victim Story

The political ground on the Affordable Care Act seems to be shifting—perhaps enough to help Democrats in the fall, perhaps not. But as more and more information about the law's operation comes in, Republicans are having a harder time arguing that all those people getting insurance is a terrible thing. Yesterday, we learned that health care spending spiked in the first quarter of 2014. Even before Republicans could open their mouths, Jonathan Chait (among other people) informed them that this was exactly what everyone knew would happen . Because when you give millions of people coverage, they go to the doctor. Simon Malloy of Salon notes that "we seem to be past the era of the viral Obamacare victim story." And after that, what can Republican candidates say? Because weirdly, "It turns out that Americans really, really like having access to affordable healthcare, and when they finally get it, they use it." So Republicans are trying a new tack. They've released a report claiming that...

Could a Clinton Candidacy Give Us a Healthy Debate About Sexism?

Yeah, there'll be more of this.
Hillary Clinton has had, let's say, a difficult relationship with the media. It isn't too surprising for someone who's been in the national spotlight for over two decades; outside of John McCain, I can't think of many politicians who love the press and feel like they always get a fair shake. But there's a piece in Politico today by Glenn Thrush and Maggie Haberman that goes into some interesting detail about Clinton's feelings on this topic, particularly about some of the sexism she's had to endure. "Look, she hates you. Period. That's never going to change," says one anonymous Clinton ally, referring to the media. Here's more: If Clinton says yes, she'll have access to a bottomless pool of Democratic political talent and cash to match all those hyperbolic pronouncements about her inevitability. If she doesn't run, the single biggest factor holding her back will be the media, according to an informal survey of three dozen friends, allies and former aides interviewed for this article...

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