Vox Pop

The Prospect's politics blog

Lucky Obama

Yesterday, surveying the Romney ruins in the aftermath of the Libya fiasco and the 47 percent flap, Nick Gillespie at Reason led his post by declaring, “President Barack Obama is one lucky bastard .” In a very narrow sense, he’s right: Obama has certainly been fortunate to draw two general-election opponents whose political savvy is no match for his. He was lucky in 2004, too, to end up running for U.S. Senate against the unhinged Alan Keyes. But these are the strokes of happy fortune—and propitious timing—that any politician needs to ascend to White House heights. The idea that Obama’s astonishing political rise has been characterized mostly by luck is patently absurd—and it’s this very absurdity that may end up dooming the Republicans’ chances of unseating him in November. The “Lucky Obama” myth has dominated conservatives’ view of the president from the git-go. Either the guy had to have gotten a ridiculous number of long-shot breaks to become president, their thinking goes, or (in...

The Right's Nonsensical Attack on "Redistribution"

In response to public furor over Mitt Romney’s "47 percent" remarks, conservatives have seized on audio from 1998 where Barack Obama gives his support for redistribution. Listen: The relevant quote comes at the end: “I believe in redistribution, at least a certain level, to make sure that everybody has got a shot.” If you listened carefully, you’ll notice that this is preceded by a fair amount of skepticism about government’s ability to help the poor, and acknowledgement that there’s truth to conservative attacks on the welfare state: “Some of it has been deserved. The Chicago Housing Authority has not been a model of good policymaking. And neither necessarily have been the Chicago public schools.” Obama is also concerned with designing programs that work well, so that—presumably—they maintain the trust and support of their beneficiaries and the wider public. These are sensible and mainstream views. They’re held by the bulk of the Democratic Party, and the large majority of our...

Romney’s Bigger Lie

Lots of Republican conservatives, Paul Ryan and Bill O’Reilly among them, have taken the position that even if Mitt Romney’s rhetoric was clumsy, his point was basically right. Some Americans pay taxes; others collect benefits. But his basic claim was total baloney. When you count income taxes, payroll taxes, excise taxes, and highly regressive state and local taxes, the typical lower income working American pays about one-fifth of his or her income in taxes—more than Mitt Romney! According to a study by Citizens for Tax Justice, the bottom fifth of the income distribution paid 17.4 percent of their income in state and local taxes. The second-poorest fifth paid 21.2 percent. There are in fact about 18 percent of Americans who pay neither federal payroll nor income taxes. They are overwhelmingly the unemployed and the low-income elderly, neither of whom pay payroll taxes. As pollster Celinda Lake observes, Romney’s big lie is very important to refute. Even if voters reacted negatively...

Mitt Versus the Middle East

(AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
(AP Photo/Bernat Armangue) A Palestinian woman walks past a section of Israel's separation barrier to cross a checkpoint on their way to pray for the holy fasting month of Ramadan at the Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem's Old City, in the West Bank town of Bethlehem, Friday, Sept. 19, 2008. T ake a breath and think carefully. Was Mitt Romney's candid-camera comment on how he'd handle the Israeli-Palestinian conflict really as awful as it sounds at first? Actually, yes. In fact, it's even worse, especially if you are listening to it in Israel, or the Palestinian territories, or anywhere else in the Middle East. The man who would be president of the United States has said that he would throw the entire region under the bus. "The pathway to peace is almost unthinkable to accomplish," Romney says in the now-famous video of his May 17 campaign event, uncovered by Mother Jones . Put aside the candidate's struggle with English diction, and forget the ignorance of geography that allows him to...

We Are the 47 Percent

(AP Photo/Mary Schwalm)
(AP Photo/Mary Schwalm) The former Massachusetts governor speaks to delegates at the New Hampshire Republican Convention in Concord, N.H Saturday. Mitt Romney is the gift that keeps on giving to Democrats. The ancient Greeks had word for it—a phrase, actually: Character is Fate. In one misstep after another, Mitt keeps revealing his true character. What we’re learning about him is that he is another rich guy who is disdainful of ordinary people; that he can’t speak off the cuff without blundering; and that he is clueless when it comes to foreign policy—not to mention ordinary diplomacy. A lovely pattern has set in. Mitt says something truly dumb and alienating to ordinary Americans. The campaign goes into panic mode, and can’t decide whether to walk it back or double down. Meanwhile, some militant conservatives insist that their clueless candidate had it exactly right, as Bill O’Reilly tried to do on Fox News last night. Romney was statistically correct, O’Reilly insisted. 47 percent...

In Pennsylvania, a Victory for Voting Rights—Sorta

(Flickr/whiteafrican)
It's a lot easier to talk about a law—and pass one—than to implement it. Just ask Pennsylvania lawmakers—and Pennsylvania citizens, and judges, and voting-rights activists. The state's voter ID law, passed by Republican lawmakers in March, is best known for threatening to disenfranchise more voters than laws in any other stae. But in mid-August, Pennsylvania Judge Robert Simpson refused to grant an injunction to stop the state from implementing the law in November. The judge said that he believed state officials' assurances that they had plans in place (though some were still not in action) to prevent widespread disenfranchisement. Those promises are not enough for the state supreme court. On Tuesday, in a 4-2 decision, the court vacated Simpson's decision. The justices sent the case back to the commonwealth court judge, requiring him to use a much higher bar than the one the state had to meet in his courtroom the last time around. Simpson originally ruled that the burden fell to the...

Wed, Sep. 19 Electoral Vote Predictor

Romney Gets Three Pinocchios for 47% Remark The Fact Checker has carefully examined Mitt Romney's statement that 47% of the population is "dependent on government" and awarded it three Pinocchios, meaning it is a "Significant factual error and/or obvious contradictions." The worst possible rating is four Pinocchios. In a very literal sense, everyone is dependent on government. Without the police--a government function--America would be Sudan, with roving bands of criminals stealing and marauding in broad daylight. But Romney was not talking about police protection or roads built by the government. He has often said there are two kinds of people: makers and takers and he was implying that 47% of the population are takers, essentially mooching on the other 53%. The number, 47%, is the number of people who pay no federal income tax for various reasons. It includes elderly people who live entirely on social security, students who earn too little to pay, and multimillionaires whose income...

Romney in Wonderland

The world has rarely seen a more fiercely determined smile than the one that stayed fixed on Mitt Romney’s face throughout his Tuesday-afternoon interview with Fox News’s Neil Cavuto. Scrambling furiously to rescue his already-floundering campaign after Mother Jones’ s release of the mother of all secret campaign tapes , the beleaguered candidate must have figured that ten minutes on Fox, his more-or-less official propaganda network, was the safest (or only) option. Instead, the segment with Cavuto provided irrefutable evidence that there is no safe ground for Romney right now. He could not, would not, so much as attempt to directly answer any of the host’s gently prodding questions about his catastrophic remarks to a $50,000-dollar-a-plate group in Boca Raton. You know, the ones about those shiftless no-hopers who just happen to make up half of the country he’s running to lead. The surest sign that Romney has truly got nothing— nothing —with which to counter the perception he’s now...

How Can Romney Bounce Back?

National Review editor Rich Lowry is not kind to Mitt Romney’s instantly infamous comments from a private gathering with fundraisers: “The overall impression of Romney at this event is of someone who overhead some conservative cocktail chatter and maybe read a conservative blog or two, and is thoughtlessly repeating back what he heard and read.” On that note, I’m increasingly convinced that the Romney campaign is beset by a clueless overconfidence about the election. How else do you explain a campaign that did nothing to sell its candidate as a positive figure, and is unable to respond to new attacks or crises? They have the skill, but it’s obvious they don’t see the necessity. After all, their operating assumption has been that, once voters tune in to the election, they’ll flock to Romney on account of the poor economy. When the campaign continues to insist that “the reality of the Obama economy will reassert itself as the ultimate downfall of the Obama Presidency, and Mitt Romney...

What Mitt Romney Was Really Saying

Whenever we get a glimpse of a candidate speaking in a place where he didn't know he was being recorded, there's a powerful temptation to conclude that the "real" person has been revealed. After all, campaigning is almost all artifice, and every other moment at which we see the candidate, he's acutely aware that he is on stage, with people watching his every expression and listening to his every word. This is how many people are interpreting Mitt Romney's "47 percent" comments we learned about yesterday, even though Mitt was certainly on stage, even if he didn't know he was being recorded. For instance, Jonathan Chait says , "the video exposes an authentic Romney as a far more sinister character than I had imagined. Here is the sneering plutocrat, fully in thrall to a series of pernicious myths that are at the heart of the mania that has seized his party." McKay Coppins reaches the same conclusion, that "Romney seemed to give the closest thing to a candid description of his worldview...

Tue, Sep. 18 Electoral Vote Predictor

Romney: 47 Percent Dependent on Government In 2008, then-candidate Barack Obama said people had been so beaten down by the (Bush) economy that they "get bitter and they cling to guns or religion," not realizing that it was being recorded. He took a tremendous amount of flack for that. Now it appears to be Romney's turn. Yesterday it came out that earlier this year he said : "47% of Americans are dependent on government." He added that there was no way he could win those votes and wouldn't try. He also said they "believe they are victims." Obama's campaign manager, Jim Messina, reacted immediately with: "It is hard to serve as President for all Americans when you've disdainfully written off half the nation." Romney made his comments openly to a group of wealthy donors, probably most of whom agreed with him. What he didn't realize, of course, was that someone in the audience was recording it. The video is now online . When it became clear this was going to be the dominant news story...

"Cling to Guns" vs. "the 47 Percent"

Quite a few commentators have compared Mitt Romney’s remarks to a private fundraiser—where he accused Americans who don’t pay income tax of not “taking responsibility for their lives”—to then-Senator Barack Obama’s comments on voters who “cling to their guns and religion.” The argument is straightforward—if Obama can escape damage for his comments, then Romney can make it through his. But the only thing these statements have in common is the fact that they were made to private audiences. Outside of that, there are crucial differences. Obama made his remarks before the primaries were over, before the public was familiar with him, and before the general election kicked into gear. What’s more, his eventual opponent—John McCain—saw no reason to capitalize on the remarks. After a brief flare, things calmed down and Obama escaped unscathed. There’s one other thing that kept Obama’s remarks from blowing up in his face. Here's the full text of his comment: But the truth is, is that, our...

Pilgrims in an Unholy Land

Audience members pray before the start of the Values Voters Summit in Washington, Friday, Sept. 14, 2012. (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)
The Omni Shoreham, in the Woodley Park neighborhood of Washington D.C., is one of those hotels with décor that makes you feel like, as Holly Golightly said of a certain iconic jewelry store in Breakfast at Tiffany’s , “nothing very bad could happen to you there.” The chandeliers are crystal, the carpets are plush, the glow is golden. The wallpaper isn’t even wallpaper—it’s some kind of delicately brocaded fabric. One half expects Audrey Hepburn’s rendition of “Moon River” to pipe into the lobby; instead, there’s a constant stream of big band numbers. La Belle Epoche with an American twist—emphasis on the American, at least this past weekend, when the hotel bedecked with stars and stripes, played host to the Values Voter Summit, a yearly gathering of conservatives spotlighting social issues that is sponsored by, among others, The Heritage Foundation, the Family Research Council, and Liberty University. Like any good conference, the Summit had oodles of speakers, and Friday morning’s...

The Real (Awful) Romney

If you thought Mitt Romney had a rotten summer—failing to project a more appealing image of himself and his policies, failing to pin the country’s economic woes on the president, failing to get even the tiniest bounce from his convention—the home stretch is shaping up even worse. Fast on the heels of his aggressively wrong-headed response to the embassy attack in Libya (which gets terrible reviews from most Americans), Mother Jones today released a bombshell video of Romney speaking way too candidly to a small group of well-heeled campaign contributors. This is must-see footage—and even if you don’t want to see it, you won’t be able to help it over the next few days. These are words that will haunt Romney for the rest of the campaign—and the rest of his political career. He jokes that he’d have a better chance of being elected if he were of Mexican lineage; he insults Obama voters (and 47 percent of the country) in the most stereotypical and racially-tinged terms possible; he brags...

Mitt "Ayn Rand" Romney

Jamelle has already blogged about the devastating video of Mitt Romney speaking to a fundraising event that Mother Jones’s invaluable David Corn posted today . For those of you who may have missed it, here’s a partial text of what Mitt said in answer to a question about Obama voters: There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it. That that’s an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what…These are people who pay no income tax. […] [M]y job is is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives. The only thing I’d add to Jamelle’s observations...

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