Vox Pop

The Prospect's politics blog

Mitt Romney, Language Cop

Mitt Romney, saying things.

There were a number of strange moments in last night debate, the most substantively meaningful of which was almost certainly Mitt Romney's declaration that "when I’m president, we'll make sure we bring our troops out [of Afghanistan] by the end of 2014." For the last year, Romney has been criticizing Barack Obama for having precisely this position, saying that we can't tell the enemy when we're leaving and our departure has to be determined by events on the ground. In the foreign policy version of Moderate Mitt, that apparently is no longer operative. But the oddest thing Romney said had to be this: "I'd make sure that Ahmadinejad is indicted under the Genocide Convention. His words amount to genocide incitation. I would indict him for it."

As I've observed before, Romney's critique of Obama on foreign policy has always been primarily linguistic. He takes issue not with what the President has done, but what he has said. He apologizes for America! He didn't use the word "terror"! He isn't strong and resolute! But forced for the first time to actually have his foreign policy arguments probed and criticized, all of Romney's attacks on Obama fell away, and he ended up saying over and over that he agreed with Obama's policies.

So Romney's pledge about Ahmadinejad was perfectly in keeping with his language obsession

A Good Debate, But Will Voters Notice?

(AP Photo/David Goldman)

Obama did very well in the foreign-policy debate, but it remains to be seen if his success will change the trajectory of the race, which has been trending toward Romney.

Several things about this debate were a surprise. The most surprising thing was the emergence of Mild Mitt. Romney sounded almost as if he were on downers. His campaign must have decided that he was coming across as too ferocious or two bellicose. But his performance tonight was underwhelming.

Obama, by contrast, took the debate to Romney right from the first exchange. He was almost too aggressive, calling the former Massachusetts governor on his inconsistencies and policy recommendations that would have backfired. “Every time you’ve offered an opinion, you’ve been wrong,” the president said.

Horses and Bayonets and GIFs, Oh My!

The candidates agree we should build economies abroad.

 

The candidates agree we should educate women.

 

The candidates agree on how to handle Syria.

 

The candidates agree we should build our economy at home.

 

Like, they reeeeallly agree that the domestic economy is important.

 

Obama's Total Knockout

(AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

(AP Photo/Pool-Win McNamee)

Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama answer a question during the third presidential debate at Lynn University, Monday, October 22, 2012, in Boca Raton, Florida.

Calm Down and Do the Math

Is President Obama ahead or tied in Ohio? If you look at the poll released this morning, from Quinnipiac University, the clear answer is that Obama has a solid lead—five points, as a matter of fact. But if you tuned in this afternoon and saw the poll from Suffolk University—which shows a tie between Obama and Mitt Romney—you’ll either be panicked (if you’re a Democrat) or thrilled (if you’re a Republican). 

You Are Me and We Are All Together

I've written often in the past about appeals to tribalism, and the "He's not one of us" argument is something that 1) you almost always hear from Republicans, not Democrats, and 2) you hear much more often in the South than anywhere else. You're much more likely to see an ad saying that a candidate has "South Carolina values" or "Oklahoma values" than one saying a candidate has "Oregon values" or "New York values." Perhaps that will change as people from places dominated by liberals get a more clearly defined tribal identity linked to their geography, but in the past it's been the South where the lines between "us" and "them" are clearest. It's not necessarily racial in the strict sense that whites are part of "us" and blacks are part of "them," but race is almost always implicated. Someone who's a little too Northern in their history or their sympathies is part of "them" in part because they're too solicitous of the interests of blacks.

All that notwithstanding, identity is a complex thing that can be wielded in the service of any ideology. To wit:

The Third Debate: New Topic, Same Empty Taste

(AP Photo/Mario Tama, Pool)

(AP Photo/David Goldman, File)

President Barack Obama and Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney exchange views during the second presidential debate at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York. 

In Minnesota, Voting Blind on Voter ID

(AP Photo/The The Hutchinson News, Travis Morisse, File)

The fifth in a Prospect series on the 174 ballot measures up for a vote this November.

Across the country, most voter-ID wars have unfolded in legislative chambers and courtrooms. But in Minnesota, a whole new battleground has opened as voters decide whether to put a photo ID-requirement into the state constitution.

The constitutional amendment passed through the Republican-controlled legislature, but was foiled by a veto from Democratic Governor Mark Dayton. Now, it's up to voters to decide whether they want to put new burdens on themselves and fellow voters.

White Democrats Disappear from the Deep South

"These are my guns now, and ain't nobody gon' take 'em away."

John Barrow is fighting for his life. The Georgia congressman is that most politically endangered of species, a white Democrat in the Deep South. When the state's Republicans redrew the district lines, they not only made his district more Republican, they also made sure his own home was outside his new district, just to stick it to him. Barrow was always conservative—the National Journal rates him as the eighth-most conservative Democrat in the House—but in this election, he's got to really turn on the juice if he's going to survive. And what better way than with some belligerent paranoia on guns? After proudly showing off his father's and grandfather's guns (and snapping the bolt back and forth on the latter to provide the very sound of freedom), Barrow says in this ad, "I approved this message because these are my guns now. And ain't nobody gon' take 'em away." Well that's a relief.

Will 2000 Happen Again?

In the last week or so, conventional wisdom has begun to settle on the possibility of an Electoral College/popular vote split. The situation is straightforward: Thanks to a persistent lead in Ohio, Obama ekes out a victory in the Electoral College, but Romney wins a bare majority of the popular vote.

The Mile-High Question

(Flickr/Snap Man)

Greg Archuleta lives in Golden, Colorado, where he worked for the Coors brewery for 34 years until he retired in 1999. Archuleta, who is 73, volunteers for the Democratic Party in the larger Jefferson County area, 778 square miles of suburbs just west of Denver that holds half a million people. On a recent Saturday drive, Archuleta was worried. For the past few months, he’s been asking property owners with backyards facing the highway if they would hang giant signs for President Barack Obama and the local congressman, Democrat Ed Perlutter, who’s in a tough battle for re-election. Now, some of the Obama signs had come down; more and more signs for Mitt Romney were up. Archuleta drove between shopping malls and new condos and subdivisions, investigating the grassy tracts between road and neighborhood. “There it is!” he’d shout when he spotted one.

There’s a good reason Archuleta is counting the signs. Jefferson County is one of a handful of districts in the nation with the power to swing a swing state, and thereby determine the outcome of the national election. Colorado’s District 7 is a swing district by design. A judge created it after the 2000 census gave Colorado a new seat in Congress and the state legislature couldn’t agree on its boundaries. The judge made it a snapshot of the state economically and politically: The population was divided into even thirds of Democrats, Republicans, and independents. In the decade that followed, the district began to tilt Democratic until it was redrawn after the 2010 census, after which it split some areas with neighboring District 6, which leaned more Republican, making both more competitive.

Too Close for Comfort

This was supposed to be about a six-point race in Obama's favor. That's sure how it looked on the eve of the first debate. But now it's dead even.

What happened? 

First, of course, Romney cleaned Obama's clock in the first debate. Obama came back strong in debate number two, but evidently a lot of swing voters formed their impressions in that deadly first encounter.

But there is a more fundamental problem here. The narrative of the past four years should have revolved around free-market ideology, Wall Street plunder, Republican rule, and the fact that Republicans first crashed the economy and then blocked a recovery.

Four Notes on George McGovern

(AP Photo/Doug Dreyer, File)

During Senator George McGovern’s 1972 presidential race, just out of college and back in my hometown of Los Angeles, I worked at the campaign’s Fairfax Avenue office, which was in the epicenter of L.A.’s Jewish community. Someone there (I don’t remember who) got the idea to print up a leaflet that proclaimed, in bold letters, “Nixon is Treyf”—treyf being the Yiddish word for not kosher, filthy, you shouldn’t eat it. The leaflet then went on to list reasons why President Nixon wasn’t good for the Jews. (We didn’t know at the time that Nixon had ordered a purge of Jewish economists from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, or that would have headed the list.)

Obama's Missing Bounce

Wait a minute: Wasn’t President Obama supposed to get a generous boost in the polls from his masterly comeback performance on Tuesday night? A counter-bounce to the one Romney got from Round One? If so, it’s been awfully slow in coming. The main polling headline in recent days  sent Democrats right back into a depressive spiral: Gallup’s weekly tracking poll, out on Thursday, showed the Republican leading nationally by his biggest margin yet—seven points. The swing states remain much the same, with Obama clinging to narrow leads in most. So what gives? 

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