Vox Pop

The Prospect's politics blog

Liberals Need to Get a Grip

Do not let these people make you anxious.
As a liberal who writes about politics for a living, I've spent the last few days talking to increasingly panicked Democrats, who have begun to overreact to the fact that President Obama had a poor debate performance, which then produced a movement in some polls toward Mitt Romney. I think David Weigel put it well yesterday: "The first presidential debate has come to remind me of Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace . Democrats walked out of the theater/turned off the TV saying 'huh, well, I wanted it to be better.' After a few days of talking to friends, it changes from a disappointment into the worst piece of crap in human history." Andrew Sullivan kind of went nuclear after seeing the Pew poll I discussed yesterday, writing a post titled, "Did Obama Just Throw the Entire Election Away?" I can answer that: No. For many years, psychologists and sociologists have known that in small groups, a uniformity of opinion can push opinion to the extremes. For instance, if you get a group...

The Worst Debate Performance Ever, Really?

(AP Photo)
Twenty minutes into the debate between the president and his challenger last week, I sent a friend an email: “Romney is winning this thing.” So I’m quite literally on the record as agreeing with the consensus view about the debate before I knew there was a consensus. Or rather, I should say that I did agree with the consensus—that Barack Obama didn’t do well—as it existed so long ago (six days) that now it seems like the Dawn of Man. The current conclusion, to the extent I can keep up with it, is that it was the worst debate performance in the history of rhetoric. In a fashion typically frenzied when it comes to politics, the consensus has fed on itself and gotten worse by the moment, helped along in no small part by people who claim to be the president’s partisans. Some of the most bitter language I’ve heard about Obama in five years has been muttered in the last five days by Obama supporters, who you would think might have ire left over for a Republican nominee as audacious as...

Putting Mitt's Footnotes on the Obama Doctrine

(AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)
(AP Photo/ Evan Vucci) Cadets at Virginia Military Institute listen to Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney give a foreign policy, Monday, October 8, 2012, in Lexington, Virginia. Yesterday, standing in front of the flags of all five military branches at the Virginia Military Institute, Mitt Romney offered his “vision for a freer, more prosperous, and more peaceful world.” He didn’t stray far from his expected talking points: get closer to Israel, get tougher on Iran, lead the Middle East, fight the perpetual war on terror, spend more money, and sign more free-trade agreements. It's your basic neoconservative vision for ushering in another “American century,” one that pits the “torch” of America’s exceptional and “proud history of strong, confident, principled global leadership” against the “dark ideology” of terrorists. The Republican presidential candidate suggested we are at a special moment in time, a “struggle that is now shaking the entire...

No, There's No Poll Trutherism On the Left

Ahhh! Panic panic panic!
Today, the Pew Research Center released a poll showing Mitt Romney rocketing ahead of Barack Obama to a four-point lead among likely voters. Needless to say, this is pretty remarkable. Is it true? Well ... maybe, maybe not. Just a few weeks ago Pew showed Obama ahead by eight points among likely voters, and I'm sure I wasn't the only one who found that unlikely. But referencing the recent "poll truther" insanity on the right, Slate tech writer Farhad Manjoo tweeted , "Watch for liberals to start questioning Pew's methodology/sampling/etc in 3, 2, 1...." Well, you can keep waiting. I have seen some liberals express the belief that these results may be inaccurate, particularly since they show the two candidates tied among women. I don't even think Ann Romney thinks her husband is going to be tied among women. But there aren't any liberals, as far as I can tell, questioning Pew's methodology or intentions. And that's the difference. Whenever any of us see a poll with results we don't...

Better Know a Ballot Measure

(Flickr/radarxlove and jamelah e.)
When Oregon voted on the nation’s first ballot initiative in 1904, the idea—as high-school civics teachers have told students ever since—was to take power away from the industries that ran the state legislature through bribes and corruption and return it to the people. In those days, corporate interests dominated and corrupted state politics all across the United States. Mining and railroad companies loomed particularly large, buying off entire legislative chambers and putting lawmakers on their payroll. The emerging progressive movement thought it had found a way to fight back: Give citizens the ability to create their own legislation and put it up for a popular vote—a process known as the initiative. There was also the referendum, a tool citizens could use to veto laws at the ballot box. These ballot measures offered a way for the grassroots to make their voices heard. As your civics teacher might have told you, several states would soon join Oregon in using the new power of “direct...

Obama and Romney's Proxy Debaters Take the Stage

Saturday’s “Rumble 2012” debate between Jon Stewart and Bill O’Reilly shared one key feature with last Wednesday’s presidential debate: a bipartisan meta-loser. While Wednesday’s title went to moderator Jim Lehrer, Rumble 2012’s was Nox Solutions LLC, a third-party venue hired to host the streaming website, which failed miserably. However, that was pretty much where the similarities ended. Young or uninformed voters who may have tuned in to Wednesday night’s presidential debate looking for a crash course on the policy differences between the two candidates were likely disappointed. The debate dissolved into bickering—not to mention flat-out lies—before most people could make any sense of it. Not helping matters was President Barack Obama, who looked like he’d rather be anywhere else. Contrast that against Saturday night’s spectacle. Both debaters were clearly happy to be there—O’Reilly even brought cute little cards to illustrate his points—though it was unclear if he were trying to...

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-...

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