Vox Pop

The Prospect's politics blog

Free Speech Weirdness from Overseas

The Bill of Rights, nothing but trouble.

Today, Philip Bump at Grist passed along this interesting story about a shock jock in Australia who, after spewing some false nonsense about climate change on the air, "has been ordered to undergo 'factual accuracy' training, and to use fact-checkers." Obviously, the government has no such powers here in America, but it's a good reminder that America's particular version of free speech wasn't handed down from above, or even by the Founders. The words in the First Amendment ("Congress shall make no law...abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press") are very general; the contours and details of that freedom have been given shape over the decades by a succession of Supreme Court cases. James Madison didn't have an opinion about whether it was OK for Rush Limbaugh to go on the air and call Sandra Fluke a "slut" and a "prostitute," so we had to figure out later how to handle that, and we chose, for some good reasons, to let it slide (legally speaking).

Salad Days for the Gun Industry

Time to stock up! (Flickr/ElCapitanBSC)

This week's town hall debate featured only one really surprising question, on gun violence. In any other election one might have expected a question about this topic, but both Barack Obama and Mitt Romney have been completely silent on the issue, so in all likelihood neither one of them expected it. And they gave answers that should have warmed the heart of any gun advocate. Obama, whose action on guns has consisted of signing two laws expanding gun rights (you can now take your guns into national parks and on Amtrak), said that "what I'm trying to do is to get a broader conversation about how do we reduce the violence generally." When his turn came, Romney gave his nod to the standard pro-gun line, "I'm not in favor of new pieces of legislation on guns," and went on to say that the real problem is single-parent homes.

Georgia's Bitter Charter Battle

(Flickr/hpeguk)

The fourth in a Prospect series on the 174 initiatives and referendums up for a vote this November.

In March, the Georgia Department of Education released an in-depth report showing that students in the state's charter schools perform worse than those in traditional schools. You might have thought such a conclusion would prompt lawmakers to at least pause on a constitutional amendment creating a new state agency specifically to create new charters. Instead, a week later, the Georgia Senate passed it with the required two-thirds majority. Voters will determine the amendment's fate this November, deciding whether charter schools should be drastically expanded at the expense of the traditional districts.

Gallup Gulp

Undoubtedly, there are some liberals panicking over the latest Gallup tracking poll, which shows Mitt Romney with a seven-point lead over President Obama, 51 percent to 44 percent.

Before confining themselves to despair, however, liberals should remember a few things:

First, individual polls aren’t accurate measures of the state of the race. As more and more polls are released—and there is more and more noise—it’s important to pay attention to averages. Even something as crude as the Real Clear Politics average—which brings together the most recent polls—is useful in reducing the influence of outliers.

And On to the Next Pseudo-Issue We Go

He's ready to deliver. (Flickr/Just a Prarie Boy)

So remember how the question of whether Barack Obama said the right words at the right time about the Benghazi attack was the most important thing happening in the world and a burgeoning scandal that we absolutely had to get to the bottom of lest Americans' faith in our democratic system be destroyed? Eh, not so much:

What Mitt Romney Will Actually Do On Abortion

Flickr/OZinOh

During Tuesday's debate, Mitt Romney did a sneaky little pivot on the issue of contraception coverage that surely went over the head of most of the people watching. What Romney supports is a Republican bill, the Blunt amendment, that would allow any employer to refuse to include coverage for contraception in employees' health insurance. For many women, that would mean they would be shut out of getting contraception through the plans that, we should note, they paid for themselves (insurance coverage isn't a favor your employer does for you, it's part of your compensation that you get in return for your labor, which means you paid for it). But when it came up in the debate, Romney said this:

"I don't believe that bureaucrats in Washington should tell someone whether they can use contraceptives or not. And I don't believe employers should tell someone whether they could have contraceptive care of not. Every woman in America should have access to contraceptives. And -- and the -- and the president's statement of my policy is completely and totally wrong."

See what he did there? Instead of answering the actual question of whether your boss should be able to take your coverage for contraception away, he answered a question nobody ever asked, which is whether the government should ban contraception, or whether your boss should be able to literally come to your doctor's office during your appointment and grab the prescription for birth control pills out of your hand. In other words, Romney thinks your boss should be able to cancel your coverage for contraception, but he generously acknowledges that your boss shouldn't actually tell you whether you can use contraception or not. You're welcome, ladies.

"Don't Worry, He's Lying!"

Yesterday, I did an online debate with Buzz Bissinger, author of Friday Night Lights, for New York magazine. We went through a wide range of topics, but one thing we stuck on—for a while—was the issue of Mitt Romney’s political commitments. Bissinger refused to believe that Romney is the conservative he’s campaigned as for the last 18 months, and he insisted Romney would be more moderate than he’s appeared if elected president. Here’s the nut of his argument:

[T]ake a look at Romney’s record as Mass governor. He was not some crazoid conservative. He crossed party lines. He provided the template for Obamacare, for God’s sake.

Voting While Trans

(AP Photo/Stephan Savoia)

Here’s the thing I loved about talking with Mara Keisling this week: her flat-out declaration that transpeople are winning their civil rights and cultural acceptance battles. I’m crazily Tiggerish on lesbian and gay issues: we’ve come so far so unbelievably fast, over my lifetime, that some days I bounce with glee. But given that the trans part of the LGBT coalition got started about 15 years later and has had very different challenges, I was still an Eeyore about their efforts. So it made my day to hear Keisling, the National Center for Transgender Equality executive director, declare a coming victory. “Science is on our side, first of all,” she explained. “Common sense is on our side. Decency is on our side. When you get that combination, you win every time.”

12 Million Jobs and a Unicorn!

(Bluegal)

Mitt Romney’s entire presidential campaign is premised on the idea that—as a former businessman—he is best qualified to fix the economy. It went unnoticed, but while talking tax reform, President Obama pushed against that with an effective attack on the shaky numbers behind Romney’s tax plan:

Now, Governor Romney was a very successful investor. If somebody came to you, Governor, with a plan that said, here, I want to spend $7 or $8 trillion, and then we’re going to pay for it, but we can’t tell you until maybe after the election how we’re going to do it, you wouldn’t take such a sketchy deal and neither should you, the American people, because the math doesn’t add up.

Jen Rubin: The Beltway's Waldorf and Statler

Secretary Hillary Clinton took responsibility for the situation in Benghazi on Monday, noting to the press that the “president and the vice-president wouldn't be knowledgeable about specific decisions that are made by security professionals.” There are a number of appropriate reactions this statement. One could assume it’s a bit of politicking during election season, an attempt to take the heat off the president and help his re-election bid. One could see it as a diplomatic move, aimed at quelling tensions in the Middle East. One could take it at face value. Or, one could lose her ever-loving mind and accuse Clinton of betraying feminism.

The Big Finish

All across America on Tuesday night, a little after 10:30, Democrats were leaning forward in their seats, rubbing their hands in eager anticipation while Republicans covered their eyes and winced over what was about to happen. Mitt Romney, after spending the night treating his opponent, the moderator, and the truth with ugly contempt, had just done the nicest thing you could imagine: He’d offered President Obama a kind invitation to close the festivities by invoking the Republican’s most devastating blunder of the campaign, his “47 percent” remarks at a fundraiser in Boca Raton last May. Not once, but twice, Romney had used his own closing moments to claim that he cares about “100 percent” of Americans. 

It's All In the Words

Flickr/Pierre Metivier

When Barack Obama and Mitt Romney got into their little back-and-forth over Benghazi last night, I tweeted that it would probably going to get more press attention than anything that happened in the debate, yet of all the topics they addressed, it may be the least relevant to which of these two would make a better president. And here we are. Think about this: the argument isn't about what sort of policy we should be pursuing toward Libya, or how we can address anti-Americanism or terrorism, or what sort of security our embassies and consulates should have. Instead, it's about which words Obama said on which day. Seriously. And you wonder why people are cynical about politics.

All along, Republicans have been acting as though within hours of the attack, had Obama said, "This was a terroristic terror attack, full of terrorizing terror," then...what, exactly? The perpetrators would have turned themselves in? Potential al-Qaeda recruits would have said, "Hold on—this is a terrorist organization you want me to join? No thanks, buddy"?

And now that we've all been reminded that Obama did indeed use the word "terror" the day after the attacks, are we any closer to understanding what happened and what should have been done differently? Of course not.

No, Candy Crowley Did Not Show Any Favoritism

Candy Crowley questions President Obama during last night's debate

Before last night's debate, both the Obama and Romney camps expressed their concern that moderator Candy Crowley might go rogue and act like something resembling a journalist, not merely keeping time and introducing questioners but interjecting to get clarifications and ask follow-ups. Once the debate was over, it was only conservatives complaining about her. Some found her biased from start to finish, but all criticized her for her intervention on the somewhat absurd question of what words President Obama used and when to describe the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi. But a close look at what went on in the debate reveals that Crowley was actually judiciously even-handed, and if anything, may have done more favors for Romney. Before we discuss how, here are some of the reactions from the right:

Romney Decides to Make Stuff Up on Abortion

Mitt Romney is no stranger to shifting positions on reproductive rights, but even for him, his latest move is audacious. In an ad released today, he simply denies that he’s ever held conservative positions on contraception and abortion:

If you can’t watch videos, here’s what the narrator says:

“You know, those ads saying Mitt Romney would ban all abortions and contraceptions seemed a bit extreme, so I looked into it. Turns out, Romney doesn’t oppose contraception at all. In fact, he thinks abortion should be an option in cases of rape, incest, and to save a mother’s life.”

Obama Said Knock You Out

(Sipa via AP Images)

What made the first presidential debate so shocking—and what sent liberals into complete panic—was the fact that, for the first time in four years, President Obama had to face an equal—and he didn’t seem to know how to respond. He looked less like the president, and more like another politician, who might not be ready for another four years on the job.

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