Vox Pop

The Prospect's politics blog

Bill Clinton Strikes Again!

(White House/Flickr)

For most of the campaign, the biggest booster of former President Bill Clinton was Mitt Romney. After a year of pandering to the right wing of the Republican Party, Romney needed something that would signal moderation and tap into the broad frustration with President Obama’s administration. Popular at home and abroad, Clinton reminded Americans of better times. And despite the fact that Obama drew heavily from the Clinton administration, Romney used the poor economic conditions to argue that Obama had strayed from the Clinton path.

The Future of Marriage Equality

(Vita Generalova)

If you've ever read an article about a gay marriage ballot initiative, you've almost certainly seen an anti-marriage-equality advocate proclaim confidently that every time the question has been on the ballot, "traditional marriage" has won, and this time will be no different. That isn't precisely true—in 2006, Arizona voters rejected an initiative that would have banned both same-sex marriage and civil unions—but very nearly so. Ballot initiatives have banned same-sex marriage in 32 states over the last 15 years, so the "traditional" marriage side has some reason to gloat. But this fall, that run of success could come to a screeching halt. There are four marriage initiatives on the ballot in November, and at the moment it looks very possible, even likely, that on election night three more states will allow all their citizens to marry. We may well have reached an electoral turning point.

It has been a very good couple of years for advocates of gay rights. The military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy was repealed in 2011 (and the resulting catastrophe of morale predicted by conservatives failed to materialize, to no one's surprise). After a long period of "evolving," President Obama came out in support of marriage equality in May. This year's Democratic Party platform will for the first time include a provision pledging support for marriage equality. Nevertheless, 32 states still have discrimination written into their laws or state constitutions.

Staring into the Void of Mitt Romney

(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

One of the things we’ll learn this presidential election is whether the Republican Party can survive itself. As we’ve seen in the ten days since Governor Mitt Romney picked Congressman Paul Ryan as his running mate, and most acutely in the last 72 hours since the fiasco involving Missouri Republican Senate candidate Todd Akin broke, the party is reaching what may be the most critical moment of its quarter-century-long identity crisis. In the way that Franklin Roosevelt did for Democrats during the 1930s, by sheer force of personality and eloquence Ronald Reagan in the 1980s resolved tensions that had riven the party for years. He could incarnate the party so fully as to invite and absolve fellow travelers who might be suspiciously less than true believers. After Reagan, no one else could do this; even as what now constitutes the conservative wing of the party invokes Reagan’s name with a sobriety that borders on the biblical, that wing has moved considerably to the right of him.

How Can the Republican Party Pressure Akin to Leave the Race?

The entire Republican leadership wants Todd Akin to withdraw from the Missouri Senate race. There are several ways they can make their point to him. First, cut off his money supply. The National Republican Senatorial Committee has canceled a $5 million ad buy for him. Second, Akin is not well known statewide and now no established Republican will campaign with him. Third, they will deny him coveted slots at national events, such as next week's Republican National Convention.

Climate Changes the GOP Convention

August hasn't been too kind to Mitt Romney. He started the month trying to recover from a summer jaunt abroad at the end of July, which was supposed to be an easy string of photo-ops but turned into a Griswoldian comedy of errors. It all might have been forgotten if the running-mate rollout went well. But that didn’t happen, with Paul Ryan receiving the lowest approval rating among voters since Dan Quayle.

Mitt Romney, Sexy Man

Try to contain yourself, ladies.

Prior to 2008, one of the things you could count on in every presidential campaigning was subtle Republican attempts to imply that the Democratic candidate was wimpy, soft, maybe even girly. And if the Democrat was just a little bit light in the loafers then maybe that meant that if you voted for him, you were too.

Then came 2008, when the Republicans were faced with a candidate they couldn't quite make that argument about. Sure, their guy was a war hero, but that was 40 years ago, and now he just seemed like a grumpy old man. The Democrat, on the other hand, was young, black, and famously cool, hanging out with movie stars and almost never caught looking goofy or wearing a silly hat. Women swooned over him (remember "I've Got a Crush On Obama"?). To me, the moment that most exemplified the 2008 campaign was when Obama went to Kuwait to visit the troops, and met a few hundred of them in a gym. Someone brought out a basketball, and Obama, who played on his high school team, walked up to the three-point line and drained it on his first try to the cheers of the crowd. I always pictured the staff in McCain headquarters watching it on TV with pained expressions on their faces, somebody muttering, "Oh for Christ's sake" under his breath.

A lot has happened since then, but the idea that Obama is a cool customer remains endlessly maddening to conservatives, at least judging by the response I've gotten when I've written about this before. Which brings us to a rather remarkable article by Kevin Williamson in the National Review. You think Mitt Romney is an awkward, Ward Cleaver type about whom no one would ever make an "I've Got A Crush On Mitt" video? Au contraire, says Williamson. "What do women want?" he begins by asking. And the answer is, they want them some hot, steaming Mittster...

Why Is Romney Still Behind?

So far in his campaign for the presidency, Mitt Romney has had four big chances to move the needle in his direction. At the beginning, when he won the Republican nomination; during June, when it became clear that the economy was slowing down; last month, when he went abroad; and two weekends ago, when he chose Wisconsin Representative Paul Ryan as his running mate.

Battle of the Romney Plans

(Flickr / caniswolfie)

Consider the Detroit area, including suburbs like Sterling Heights, Grosse Pointe, and Warren, whose segregation presented such challenges to George when he was governor and then housing and urban development secretary.

Thirty percent of students in the Detroit area are now African American and 39 percent are “economically disadvantaged”—that is, eligible for free or subsidized lunches. In Detroit, 88 percent are African American and 85 percent lunch-eligible. Virtually all are from households with income of less than $22,000 a year for a family of four.

Takin' Akin to the Curb

Republicans desperately want Todd Akin to pull an Ayn Rand, go Galt, and drop out of the Missouri Senate race. The National Republican Senatorial Committee has already released a statement threatening to withdraw financial support “if he continues with this misguided campaign.” Mitt Romney, demonstrating his characteristic political courage by echoing every other person in the Republican Party, has called for Akin to leave the race. Despite this, Akin says he's staying in.

Barack Obama's Billionaire Problem

Barack Obama working when he ought to be calling donors. (White House/Pete Souza)

One complaint that has been around privately (and occasionally publicly) since the beginning of the Obama administration is that they haven't paid enough attention to "donor maintenance." Most (not all, but most) big donors are egotistical and self-important, and part of the reason that they give money is to feel important,. They want to know that the candidate, in this case the president, knows them and values their input. It does seem that the administration has fallen down on this score, and as Jane Mayer explains, it's partly a result of Obama's staff not doing the things they should, and partly the fault of Obama himself. Apparently, he just can't stand this part of the job, and that led him to do things like not pose for pictures with donors. "It's as easy as falling off a log!" one fundraiser complained. "They just want a picture of themselves with the President that they can hang on the bathroom wall, so that their friends can see it when they take a piss." I think the President's distaste for this kind of thing speaks quite well of him as a human being, but there are some times when you just have to suck it up.

The resulting question is how much of the fact that Obama is trailing Romney so bad in fundraising can be explained by this sort of thing. I think the answer is, probably not much. Don't forget that Obama has in fact raised a spectacular amount of money for his re-election; according to the Center for Responsive Politics, Obama has raised $348 million for his campaign. That's quite a bit! The problem is that Romney is raising even more; for instance, in July Romney raised $100 million and Obama raised $75 million. And Romney's real advantage will come from the superPACs and 501c(4) organizations, who which rich donors can give unlimited sums. Nevertheless, reading the following passage made me think of an old story that illustrates the politician's art...

The GOP's Crazy Core

The pragmatic Republican establishment (despite the Tea Party, there still is one) is frantic to jettison Representative Todd Akin’s toxic comments on conception and rape, and to quarantine the scientifically-challenged congressman.

Much of the commentary has been about how Akin’s clumsiness connects to Republican vulnerability on other issues important to women. But this raises a larger question: Why is the Republican lunatic position politically toxic only on this particular issue?

The GOP Wants to Make this Todd Akin's World

Yesterday morning, before the GOP completely turned its back on Todd Akin, I noted that—despite their harumphing—few Republicans disagreed with the substance of Akin’s remarks. In Congress and across the country, GOP lawmakers have supported a raft of bills designed to restrict or end abortion, as well as most forms of contraception. Look no further than the Republican platform, which—as CNN reports—will include radical and restrictive language on abortion:

Todd Akin's Place In History

When something like the Todd Akin "legitimate rape" controversy comes up, it can be hard to look at the case objectively and determine if the crime is worthy of the consequences. As a liberal, I found Akin to be a pretty awful character even before yesterday. And his comments were, by any standard you can come up, both spectacularly stupid and morally vile. This kind of thing is where misogyny and anti-intellectualism converge, though my favorite part of his comment is that he began it by saying, "From what I understand from doctors..." as though he came to this conclusion only after consulting with a number of physicians on the question of the ladypart lasers that are presumably activated to zap unwanted sperm when it arrives in those legitimate rape cases. It's the same thing that you hear from Republicans who say, "My reading of the science is that global warming is a giant hoax," as though they've actually been perusing climate journals. Akin later clarified his doctor consulations in an interview with Sean Hannity, saying, "Well, my only point in that was I had heard from medical reports that rape is such a traumatic type of thing that, um, that it, uh, that there is a reaction." He did admit that "that's wrong," but he didn't say if the problem was that he misread the "medical reports," or if the "medical reports" were themselves erroneous, or if maybe the "medical reports" are figments of his imagination.

In any case, as someone who has written a lot about how stupid "gaffe" coverage usually is and how ridiculous it is when partisans say, "Ignore everything else our opponent ever said—this comment is the one that reveals his twisted soul!", I suppose I should try to give Akin the benefit of the doubt. But it's pretty hard...

Democrats' Last Great Hope?

Republicans up for election in 2012—from Mitt Romney down to the most junior member of Congress—don't want to talk about social issues. Their success is predicated upon talking about the economy—and then talking about the economy some more—and making arguments about why they deserve a shot at trying to jump-start the job market. But when a member of Congress says that in instances of "legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down," the narrative is bound to veer wildly off-course.

Romney Escapes Punishment for Lying, Continues Lying

You can't see from this angle, but his pants are actually aflame.

We may be talking a lot about Medicare, but on the airwaves, Mitt Romney is just not giving up on the welfare attack. As you should know by now, over the last couple of weeks Romney has been airing ads featuring an unusually brazen lie about the Obama administration, claiming that Obama has eliminated work requirements from welfare. It's just false, as every fact-checker has attested and anyone who is not actually in Mitt Romney's employ will tell you. Romney has been repeating this lie on the stump as well. Everybody understands the racial subtext underneath the welfare attack, so we needn't dwell on that at the moment. But what's remarkable is that despite the judgment of journalists, Romney just keeps on telling the lie. Here's the third ad his campaign has produced about it: