Vox Pop

The Prospect's politics blog

Hillary '16 Campaign Off to Excellent Start

Hillary Clinton campaigning in 2008. (Flickr/pennstatenews)
Breaking news: according to a report in today's Washington Post , Hillary Clinton's chances of winning the presidency in 2016 have increased by approximately a zillion percent, due to the fact that her former chief strategist Mark Penn, quite possibly the most incompetent and generally hackish consultant in U.S. political history, will not be working for her should she run again. Nor will any of her other senior advisers from 2008, which seems just as well. And did you know there's a Hillary Clinton biopic in the works? Not sure how I missed this news (which appears not to be an April Fool's joke), but the New Republic got hold of the screenplay for "Rodham," and it sounds pretty awful. Anyhow, as we enter the long will-she-or-won't-she period, which should last for another year and a half or so, there's one thing we ought to get straight. Back during the 2008 primaries, a lot of Obama supporters argued that despite Clinton's contributions and qualifications, if she became president...

IRS "Scandal" Turning Out to be Less Dastardly than Conservatives Think

kenteegardin/Flickr
Over the weekend, the New York Times published a comprehensive, deeply-reported look at the Internal Revenue Scandal. Far from finding evidence of a White House aiming to undermine its opponents, the Times uncovered a much more banal story—that of an understaffed and under-resourced agency, straining to do its job in difficult circumstances. Here’s the Times with more: Overseen by a revolving cast of midlevel managers, stalled by miscommunication with I.R.S. lawyers and executives in Washington and confused about the rules they were enforcing, the Cincinnati specialists flagged virtually every application with Tea Party in its name. But their review went beyond conservative groups: more than 400 organizations came under scrutiny, including at least two dozen liberal-leaning ones and some that were seemingly apolitical. Over three years, as the office struggled with a growing caseload of advocacy groups seeking tax exemptions, responsibility for the cases moved from one group of...

Face It: You're Crazy (But So Is Everyone Else)

Flickr/Mark Turnauckas, Carling Hale
Flickr/Mark Turnauckas C ommonly referred to as "the DSM," the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders is often referred to as psychiatry's "Bible." If that's the case, imagine the outcry if an overzealous publisher merged the Gospels of Luke and Mark, and you have a pretty good idea of the controversy surrounding the release of the manual's fifth edition. After a six-year revision process—and nearly 20 years since the last edition—the American Psychiatric Association (APA) released the DSM-5 at its annual meeting this weekend, the product of 13 working groups and input from more than 1,500 professionals. Any effort to draw a line between the normal and the abnormal is sure to ignite debate, and it's no surprise that doctors and patients who rely on official diagnoses for health-insurance coverage have scrutinized the new DSM's every word. Among the most controversial changes : Grief following a loved one's death is now classified as a form of major depression;...

Conservatives Shift Gears on IRS

Peggy Noonan is on the case. (Flickr/kylebogucki)
Something odd happened to Barack Obama's approval rating last week: nothing. With a bunch of controversies swirling about the administration, one might think Americans would be thinking less of his performance. Yet the latest polls from Gallup and CNN both show his job approval essentially unchanged, at just at or above 50 percent. So far anyway, these "scandals" are, like most scandals, an almost completely partisan phenomenon. Yes, there are some—Watergate, Iran-Contra—where the facts are so damning and undeniable that even the president's own party can't help but acknowledge them. But Benghazi and the IRS are not Watergate or Iran-Contra. Perhaps they'll turn out to be, if we find out something completely shocking. Perhaps we'll discover that Barack Obama is on tape personally ordering the Cincinnati IRS office to put the screws to Tea Party groups, just as Richard Nixon was on tape ordering his aides to get the IRS to audit his political opponents. But that hasn't happened yet. So...

Virginia GOP Says YOLO, Nominates Most Conservative Ticket Ever

E.W. Jackson for Lieutenant Governor
E.W. Jackson for Lieutenant Governor At the end of their two-day convention on Saturday , Virginia Republicans had nominated the most conservative ticket in the state’s history. At the top, of course, is Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, the Tea Party zealot who has used his office to build a national following among conservative activists. In his three years as attorney general, Cuccinelli has filed suit against the Obama administration (challenging the Affordable Care Act), investigated climate scientists (for allegedly falsifying data), and attacked abortion providers, working to undermine reproductive rights throughout the commonwealth. For attorney general, Republicans chose Mark D. Obenshain, a three-term member of the state senate, and son of Richard Obenshain , a key figure in the history of the Virginia GOP (he died in a plane crash in 1978, just months after receiving the party’s Senate nomination). Like Cuccinelli, Obenshain stands at the right-wing of the Republican Party...

A Devil of a Problem for Labor in the City of Angels

AP Photo/Reed Saxon
AP Photo,File T omorrow, Angelenos go to the polls to select a new mayor. Well, some Angelenos—actually, not a hell of a lot. Indeed, turnout is projected to be so low that the winner may get fewer votes than Fletcher Bowron did in winning the election of 1938 , when Los Angeles was less than half as populous as it is today. The reason for the low turnout is straightforward: Not all that much differentiates the two candidates. Both City Controller Wendy Greuel and Hollywood-area City Councilman Eric Garcetti are mainstream Democrats. Unlike the election, say, of 1993, which pitted Republican businessman Richard Riordan against liberal Democratic Councilman Mike Woo—two candidates with widely divergent views on how to fix the L.A. police in the wake of the Rodney King riots—no great issues separate the two candidates this year. Unlike the election of 2005, in which former California Assembly Speaker Antonio Villaraigosa ousted incumbent Mayor Jim Hahn, this year’s election won’t be a...

The Military's Suicide Scandal

AP Images/Charles Dharapak
What a drag it’s been these past few weeks to watch the military brass—those kings of accountability, at least when it comes to other people ’s behavior—huffing and bluffing and outright lying about what they knew and when they knew it. First we had to endure the sight of them gaping over the news that the sexual-violence crisis they’ve done nothing to squelch since the assault of 83 women and seven men at the Tailhook Air Force convention in 1991 has worsened. Now those same Pentagon officials are shocked, simply shocked, by the military’s spiking suicide rates, despite the fact that those numbers, which have been rising steadily for the past 12 years, come from their own reporting system (and some claim are still an undercount). The only thing worse than the Pentagon’s faux surprise has been the complicity of news organizations willing to echo its talking points. Shame on The New York Times for last week’s “Baffling Rise in Suicides Plagues the U.S. Military.” Disturbing, yes. But...

Ringside Seat: Georgia on Their Mind, Causing an Epic Migraine

In the last couple of days, there have been a number of articles (see here or here ) about how Republicans, having finally gotten something that resembles an Obama administration scandal, are already worried about overplaying their hand. The sober ones are concerned they might make more of things than the facts merit, lest their nuttiest colleagues grab the spotlight, and head down a dangerous road as they did in 1998. But if there's anything we've learned in the last few years, it's that party leaders may exert influence, but only to a degree; a political party is more like a herd of wild animals than a single beast that can be roped and brought to heel. Just witness the clown show that is the Georgia Republican primary for a Senate seat coming up next year due to the retirement of Saxby Chambliss. Today it got one more participant, former Georgia secretary of state Karen Handel, who came to national prominence when she was reported to be behind the Susan G. Komen Foundation's...

Doesn't Anybody Here Know How to Run a Conspiracy?

Victoria Nuland's actual email.
In case you've forgotten, what took Benghazi from "a thing Republicans keep whining about" to "Scandal!!!" was when some emails bouncing around between the White House, the CIA, and the State Department were passed to Jonathan Karl of ABC last Friday. The strange thing about it was that the emails didn't contain anything particularly shocking—no crimes admitted, no malfeasance revealed. It showed 12 different versions of talking points as everybody edited them, but why this made it a "scandal" no one bothered to say. My best explanation is that just the fact of obtaining previously hidden information, regardless of its content, is so exciting to reporters that they just ran with it. They're forever trying to get a glimpse behind the curtain, and when they do, they almost inevitably shout "Aha!" no matter what. But then the problem comes. The White House decided to release a whole batch of emails related to the subject, and when they were examined, it turns out that what was given to...

Pakistan's Industry of Violence

AP Photo/Mohammad Sajjad
AP Photo/Mohammad Sajjad I was at an uncle’s house in Peshawar a couple of months ago when the windows began to rattle. One of my youngest cousins walked towards them, peering out nervously. “It’s an earthquake,” she said almost hopefully. I looked at her father who shook his head slowly, but only when his daughter had turned back to the window. It was as if he wanted her to believe that the quivering earth was the result of a mere natural disaster. And then the windows began to clatter again. The 14-year-old slunk onto the couch beside her father. Her sisters and mother filed in around the TV, scarves draped over their heads, lips moving in prayer. It didn’t take long for live coverage to begin. The site of the attack was the city airport, just a couple miles from where we were. Even more disconcerting, the rockets began to fire where, just a few minutes prior, my aunt had driven on her way home. Once we’d been watching long enough that the news reports had become repetitive—the same...

How to Stop the Next IRS Scandal

Flickr/Adam Fagen
T he root of the recent scandal at the Internal Revenue Service (IRS)—in which the agency admitted to singling out Tea Party groups for special scrutiny—is simple: terrible campaign-finance laws. Here’s the story: The IRS must determine whether organizations applying for 501(c)(4) non-profit status—a classification that exempts you from paying taxes—meet the requirements. As election-law scholar Rick Hasen explains, the central criterion is that “ campaign activity cannot be your primary purpose. ” Unfortunately, the law gives the IRS little guidance in how it should determine whether this is a group’s “primary purpose,” and Congress has given the IRS insufficient staffing to really do the vetting properly. The shortage of resources was only made more dire by the explosion of these types of organizations after the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision. What they apparently did in response to the avalanche of 501(c)(4) applications was to improperly use what seem to be partisan...

Food Stamps Get Licked by Cuts

AP Images/Carolyn Caster
This week, the Senate and House agriculture committees sent bills that would guide farming policy for the next five years to both legislative chambers for a vote. The vast majority of the legislation's outlined spending goes to a program that has proven a rich target for a Washington drunk on spending cuts—the food stamp program. The House bill would cut $20 billion over five years from the program’s $80 billion-a-year budget . The Senate's version would trim $4.4 billion from food stamps. The House bill gets most of its cuts by getting rid of program that allowed states to streamline the ways they provide assistance to the poor; the Senate bill would make changes to the program that would cut some people off food stamps.* In true bureaucratic fashion, the program has an unwieldy name: “Categorical Eligibility.” Conservative lawmakers call it “automatic eligibility” to make it sound as though people who aren’t poor are finding food stamp cards in their mailboxes. In reality, the...

Ringside Seat: NObamacare or Bust

As any parent knows, small children often believe that when you've been denied something you want, repeating your request over and over will eventually produce the result you're after. It works on occasion, if the stakes are low enough, the parents are weak of will, and the child is particularly exasperating. Fortunately, this behavior usually disappears around age eight or nine. Today, President Barack Obama held a joint press conference with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, a short breather from their talks on how to deal with a little problem called Syria. Not, however, if you're the Republican caucus of the House of Representatives, a group of people who are, all evidence to the contrary, full-grown adults. Today, House Republicans cleared their schedule for the eagerly awaited 37th vote to repeal the Affordable Care Act (or 38th vote, by some counts—it's hard to keep track). Was 36 not enough? Heavens, no. As Joshua Green wrote , "At this point, repealing the health...

Virginia Is More Moderate, But It Doesn't Help McAuliffe

Mou-ikkai/Flickr
mou-ikkai/Flickr Here’s the thing about Virginia gubernatorial contests: More so than even midterm elections, they have abysmally low turnout. From 2008 to 2009, for example, more than 46 percent of voters left the electorate, and overwhelmingly, those voters were African Americans, Latinos, and young people. This gives Republicans a built-in advantage, which is why—in most polls of this year’s race—Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli has the lead over his opponent, Democrat Terry McAuliffe. The last several surveys of the race, however, have shown McAuliffe with a small but meaningful lead. In the latest from Quinnipiac University, for example, McAuliffe leads 43 percent to Cuccinelli’s 38 percent, an improvement over the last poll , where he trailed by two points, 40 percent to 38 percent. What’s more, a new Washington Post poll shows a Virginia that has moved closer to the center of American politics, which should advantage McAuliffe, who—if he has an ideology at all—is the gauzy,...

President Obama Will Not Be "Going Bulworth"

Being president is hard, and often downright unpleasant, particularly when there are scandals, legitimate or otherwise, swirling about and distracting your attention from what you'd like to be accomplishing. I'm sure it's particularly frustrating when the opposition party is so intransigent that negotiating with them is pointless. Right now Barack Obama's presidency is at something of a low point, but nevertheless, it was a bit surprising to see this, from a New York Times story this morning: "Yet Mr. Obama also expresses exasperation. In private, he has talked longingly of 'going Bulworth,' a reference to a little-remembered 1998 Warren Beatty movie about a senator who risked it all to say what he really thought. While Mr. Beatty's character had neither the power nor the platform of a president, the metaphor highlights Mr. Obama's desire to be liberated from what he sees as the hindrances on him." This is not, it should be noted, a belief on the president's part that if he just gave...

Pages