Vox Pop

The Prospect's politics blog

Why Do the Sunday Shows Suck So Much?

I know you're dying to know what these two have to say.
In the American media landscape, there is no single forum more prestigious than the Sunday shows—particularly the three network programs, and to a slightly lesser extent "Fox News Sunday" and CNN's "State of the Union." The Sunday shows are where "newsmakers" face the music, where Washington's most important people are validated for their importance, where issues are probed in depth. So, why do they suck so much? I live and breathe politics, yet I find these programs absolutely unwatchable, and I can't be the only one. On a typical episode, there is nothing to learn, no insight to be gained, no interesting perspective on offer, nothing but an endless spew of talking points and squabbling. Let's take, for instance, yesterday's installment of "This Week With George Stephanopoulos." We start off with dueling interviews with Obama adviser Robert Gibbs and Romney adviser Ed Gillespie. Were you expecting some candid talk from these two political veterans? Of course you weren't. "If you're...

Romney Versus the People

(AP Photo/Scott Applewhite)
(AP Photo/Pool, Charles Dharapak) Democratic presidential candidate Senator Barack Obama and Republican presidential candidate Senator John McCain, wave to the audience after a presidential debate at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y., Wednesday, October 15, 2008. T here's no question that Mitt Romney did very well in his first debate with Barack Obama. Indeed, it couldn't have gone much better, so much so that almost any performance in their meeting next week will seem like a let-down. But the second debate poses real dangers for Romney, and an opportunity for Obama to wipe away the memory of his poor performance in the first. Next week's will be a "town hall"-style debate, and that format plays right into Romney's weaknesses. The town hall debate will be challenging for Romney for two reasons, both of which have to do with the fact that it will feature not journalists or a moderator asking questions, but ordinary people. Before I explain why, let's take a look at what town hall...

Mitt Romney Finally Gets a Bounce

(Jamelle Bouie)
This weekend, the questions for everyone tracking the election was straightforward: Has Mitt Romney received a bounce in the polls on the strength of his debate performance? And has it turned the race into a toss-up? The national pollsters have yet to release their live-interviewer surveys from the last several days, but swing-state polls show signs of improvement for the former Massachusetts governor. October 5–7 Pollster Date State LV/RV Obama Romney Margin Gallup 10/06 USA RV 49 46 O+3 Rasmussen 10/07 USA LV 47 49 R+2 Rasmussen 10/05 Florida LV 47 49 R+2 We Ask America 10/05 Florida LV 46 49 R+3 Rasmussen 10/05 Virginia LV 48 49 R+1 We Ask America 10/05 Virginia LV 46 49 R+3 Rasmussen 10/05 Ohio LV 50 49 O+1 We Ask America 10/05 Ohio LV 46 47 R+1 McLaughlin/ACU 10/05 Colorado LV 46 50 R+4 Gravis Marketing 10/05 Nevada LV 49 48 O+1 Public Policy Polling 10/06 Wisconsin LV 49 47 O+2 University of Denver 10/06 Colorado LV 47 43 O+4 Gravis Marketing 10/06 Colorado LV 46 49 R+3 With the...

Sun, Oct. 07 Electoral Vote Predictor

Obama Raises $181 Million in September The Obama campaign has announced that it raised the eye-popping sum of $181 million in September. This is the largest monthly haul of either campaign this year. A total of 1.8 million people donated, so the average donation was $100. Romney's campaign has not released its total for September yet, but observers expect it to be lower. All in all, the Republicans have more money because their superPACS have raised much more than the Democratic ones. However, not all dollars are equivalent. Actual campaigns get a lower advertising rate from television stations than others do, so a campaign dollar is worth more than a superPAC dollar. Also, the campaigns have more control when it is their own money. For example, a campaign might decide that spending money on he get-out-the-vote operation is more important than advertising, but it is against the law for the campaign to tell this to an outside group (although proving there was coordination is virtually...

Sat, Oct. 06 Electoral Vote Predictor

Early Voting Reinstated in Ohio A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit has reinstated early voting for the weekend just before election day for all voters. The Ohio Secretary of State, Jon Husted, a Republican, had earlier decided that only military families could vote on the three days before election day. This was a more-or-less naked attempt to suppress Democratic votes since he knew very well that many Democrats, especially minorities and poorer voters, could not take time off from work on election day and thus preferred voting during the weekend before. The panel said that there was no compelling reason to allow one group of voters to vote during the weekend and prohibit other voters from doing the same thing. Click here for full story .

Mighty Morphin Mitt

The oddest thing happened after Mitt Romney finally, emphatically, Etch A Sketched himself from flinty-hearted Ayn Randian into the spitting image of "compassionate conservative" George W. Bush in Wednesday’s debate: The right wing didn’t squeal one bit. Au contraire ! The same folks who celebrated Romney’s vicious "47 percent" rant, the ones who’ve been policing his every syllable to check for apostasies, the ones who’ve spent years howling at Bush for betraying conservative principles—these same people reacted to the reemergence of “moderate Mitt” like Baby Boomers at a Springsteen show. None other than Pat Buchanan hailed “the finest debate performance of any candidate of either party in the 52 years.” It was, gushed National Review ’s Rich Lowry, “the Mitt Romney we’ve been waiting for.” What could possibly explain this sudden cessation of demands that Romney pledge allegiance to right-wing extremism? Surely it’s not a sign that the 'wingers have decided that they’re happy to...

Why Can't Candidates Bring Notes to the Debates?

(AP/Charlie Neibergall)
(AP/Charlie Neibergall) No, there's nothing fishy going on here. Apparently, there are a few liberals out there concerned (or maybe just bored) that Mitt Romney brought some kind of a cheat sheet to the debate the other night, because he was seen taking something out of his pocket and putting it on his podium. The participants aren't supposed to bring any notes with them, but his campaign assures us that it was just a handkerchief. I'm not even going to get into the George W. Bush suit bulge affair, because I wouldn't want to encourage any tedious Zapruder-style analysis, but here's my question: Why the hell shouldn't they be allowed to bring notes? Presidential debates shouldn't be a memorization contest. I'm fairly sure that Mitt Romney would win that hands down; I marveled during the primaries at his ability to say things like, "The answer is yes, Jim, and there are eight reasons why," then rattle off exactly eight things. But that doesn't necessarily mean he'd make a better...

Obama's Other War

What’s weighing President Obama down? In a brilliant essay, Garance Franke-Ruta of The Atlantic (and a Prospect alumna) argues that the emotional toll of his job—particularly, of presiding over two wars and having to reckon with their casualties—has emotionally “shut down” the president. “Running a drone war that kills innocent civilians, ordering the death of militants, overseeing a policy that’s led to an increase in American casualties in Afghanistan, and delivering funereal remarks at a ceremony honoring the returning remains of a slain American diplomat,” she writes, have taken a toll on the “easy swagger and rambunctiously playful enthusiasm” that he displayed in his 2008 campaign. I think my friend Garance is on to something serious here, but I want to broaden the diagnosis. Every night, we know, Obama reads ten of the multitude of letters that Americans send him to let him know what their lives are like, to ask him for some kind of help. At a time when the American middle...

The Sound of Crickets: Conservative Sites Silent about GOP Voter-Registration Fraud

(Flickr/ Schristia)
What began last week as a trickle— a report from the Palm Beach Post that the Florida Republican Party was cutting ties with a firm that turned in "questionable" voter-registration forms in one county—has now grown into a pretty ugly flood. Turns out the Florida GOP paid the firm, Strategic Allied Consulting, to do voter registration, while the Republican National Committee paid the same firm millions to register voters in four other battleground states: Virginia, North Carolina, Nevada, and Colorado. The group allegedly submitted forms with dead voters' information and fake information—and in some cases, may have changed voters' party affiliations to Republican without alerting the voters. More disturbing, the firm the Republicans were paying, Strategic Allied Consulting, is one of several that GOP consultant Nathan Sproul has run over the last decade. Along the way, Sproul's companies have been accused of everything from refusing to register Democratic voters to shredding the voter-...

We're All Values Voters

(AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
As recently as last month’s convention, Democrats were getting their narrative back. They were uniformly praised for their message discipline and for laying out an inspiring vision for the country, reflected in a string of rousing speeches that told a story and signaled (instead of concealed) their values. After last night’s debate, Dems risk falling back into the lost decades when the party could offer only a grab bag of policy goodies to its fragile coalition instead of a coherent governing philosophy. If Barack Obama’s debate performance is any indication, they seem poised to forget a key lesson from the last three elections: We’re all “values voters.” Yes, we in the commentariat always clamor for more specifics. But policies mean little if they’re not communicated as part of a larger narrative that speaks to voters’ values. I don’t mean gay marriage and abortion, per se, but the belated understanding by Dems (decades after the GOP) that voters make choices based on whether a...

David Brooks, the World's Most Gullible Man

Flickr/Newshour
A couple of weeks ago, New York Times columnist David Brooks wrote a scathing piece about Mitt Romney's "47 percent" video, saying "It suggests that Romney doesn't know much about the culture of America." But now that Romney has moved to the center , not only is Brooks back on board, he's here to testify that this new moderate Mitt is the "authentic" one. I kid you not: But, on Wednesday night, Romney finally emerged from the fog. He broke with the stereotypes of his party and, at long last, began the process of offering a more authentic version of himself... Most important, Romney did something no other mainstream Republican has had the guts to do. Either out of conviction or political desperation, he broke with Tea Party orthodoxy and began to redefine the Republican identity. And, having taken this step, he's broken the spell. Conservatives loved it! They loved that it was effective, and it was effective because Romney could more authentically be the man who (I think) he truly is...

Fri, Oct. 05 Electoral Vote Predictor

Obama Approval Reaches 3-Year High While President Obama turned in a lackluster debate performance that was panned by Republicans and Democrats alike, he got some good news yesterday: According to a new Gallup poll , his approval rating now stands at 54 percent—the highest it has been in three years. Historically, presidents with an approval rating above 50 percent have been re-elected while those under 50 percent have struggled and often lost. Click here for full story

A Day Late, A Debate Short

Today in Denver, 13 hours after he slumped off stage in inglorious defeat while conservatives set off rhetorical bonfires of celebration across the land, President Obama finally decided it was time to begin debating his opponent. At a post-debate rally that was more of a postmortem, Obama told dispirited Democrats that the previous evening "I met this very spirited fellow who claimed to be Mitt Romney. But it couldn't have been Mitt Romney,” because the real one “has been running around the country for the last year promising $5 trillion in tax cuts that favor the wealthy. The fellow on stage last night said he didn't know anything about that." The president also delivered a line that could have partially rescued his unaccountably listless performance on Wednesday night: "Governor Romney may dance around his positions, but if you want to be president, you owe the American people the truth.” The truth was not exactly a challenge for Romney in the Denver debate; it was a theoretical...

B Is for Bad Moderator

(AP Photo/Matt Sayles, File)
(AP Photo/Pool-Michael Reynolds) President Barack Obama answers a question of moderator Jim Lehrer during the first presidential debate at the University of Denver, Wednesday, October 3, 2012, in Denver. A ll spinning aside—and if I read the term "rope-a-dope" one more time, I may lose it—Wednesday's debate was a bummer for Obama's partisans and a lift for Mitt Romney's. But let's not slight the night's one great contribution to American unity. Who among us can forget the thrill of realizing we were all fed up with Jim Lehrer? From blue, red, and even purple throats alike, a roar of "Put a sock in it, you dweeb" rang through the land. Beware the man whose signature boast is his modesty. The comedy got underway when Monday's New York Times reported that the crypt-keeper of PBS's Newshour was "seething" over complaints that he might not be the hippest cat to moderate Denver's mano a mano. It's not unknown in Washington that Lehrer can be awfully prickly whenever anybody doubts his bland...

Obama the Apologetic

Obama and Romney, yukking it up.
As I read over the transcript of the debate, a couple of things struck me. First, on the page it doesn't look nearly as bad for Obama as a lot of people are saying. Of course, the debate doesn't exist for most people on the page, but what I found frustrating wasn't so much that Obama said things that were bad in and of themselves, but that he let so many opportunities pass by. And what a lot of it comes down to is his seeming inability to use direct language. We heard leading up to the debate that his advisers were encouraging him to make his answers shorter, but length isn't his problem. It's that he uses passive constructions and language that hedges when he should be speaking more clearly. To show what I mean, here are a few of the things he said during the debate when he was criticizing Romney, and how they might have been put more clearly. Here's something he said about Romney's tax plan: Now, Governor Romney's proposal that he has been promoting for 18 months calls for a $5...

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