Vox Pop

The Prospect's politics blog

Explaining and Inspiring? Good Luck with That

(AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
When Barack Obama sat down with Charlie Rose recently, he scrutinized his past four years in office and named his failure to give equal weight to policy and narrative—what he termed "explaining, but also inspiring”—the biggest failure of his first term. His self-criticism sounded a melodious chord with the constant complaints the press corps has leveled against his presidency. After the 2010 State of the Union, George Packer called Obama’s inaugural year in the White House a “communications failure,” and Drew Westen, who laments Obama’s failures as a communicator with the fervor of a foreteller of Armageddon, reached his most apocalyptic heights when he wrote of Obama’s inauguration speech, “there was no story—and there has been none since.” Obama has agreed with these complaints before too. In November 2010, Obama went on 60 Minutes and said , “What I didn't effectively, I think, drive home, because we were in such a rush to get this stuff done, is that we were taking these steps not...

No One Actually Knows if the Bain Attacks Are Working

If the latest poll from Gallup and USA Today tells us anything, it’s that for many Americans, Mitt Romney is—on the face of things—a plausible alternative to President Obama. 63 percent of respondents said that Romney’s business background, including his tenure at Bain Capital, would lead him to make good decisions in dealing with the nation’s economic problems—only 29 percent disagreed. As for an overall assessment of the Republican nominee, 54 percent say that he has the personality and leadership qualities a person needs to be president, compared to 57 percent for Obama. USA Today ’s Susan Page suggests that this is a sign the Bain attacks aren’t working: “The findings raise questions about Obama’s strategy of targeting Bain’s record in outsourcing jobs and hammering Romney for refusing to commit to releasing more than two years of his tax returns.” Of course, you have to consider this poll along with others that posed similar questions. In a survey released today by Reuters, 36...

Gun-Shy

Some of us were willing—unlike Michael Bloomberg —to give the presidential candidates a wide berth on Friday, when they eschewed politics to speak soothing words in the aftermath of Aurora. They also eschewed any reference to a root cause of the massacre: the ease with which deranged Americans can acquire a mass-murdering arsenal. Now it’s time. But the closest to a call for gun control we’ve heard from either Mitt Romney or Barack Obama—who have both supported at least some new regulations in the past—came in the mealymouthed form of Jay Carney , the president’s press secretary, who had this to say: "The president's view is that we can take steps to keep guns out of the hands of people who should not have them under existing law.” Gun politics, as we’re freshly reminded, is one of the greatest sicknesses of our system. Extremist gun groups, with an extremist idea endorsed by an extremist judiciary—that the Second Amendment protection for citizen militias means that semi-automatics...

The Power of Shame

Ink-stained wretches at work. (Flickr/thoth92)
Last week, The New York Times revealed that "quote approval" has become standard practice when reporters deal with both the Obama and Romney campaigns as well as with the Obama administration. The way it works is that a reporter interviews an official, then submits the quotes she intends to use in her stories back to the campaign, which only appear if the campaign approves them. Not only that, the campaign often edits the quotes to make them more to their liking. Lo and behold, news organizations are now announcing they will no longer submit quotes for approval. National Journal says it won't . McClatchy says no more. The New York Times is thinking about it . To tell you the truth, I'm a bit surprised. But I guess shame is a powerful thing. The reason I'm surprised is that stuff like this is made possible by the relentless competition between news organizations. If a reporter says what you'd think a reporter would say—"You said what you said, and I'm putting it in my story whether you...

While You Were Distracted, Romney Won the Battle over His Tax Returns

Take that, you insolent peasants! (Flickr/Austen Hufford)
Any time a politician faces pressure to do something he doesn't want to do, there's a calculation involved about the arc of the story and the cumulative effect of the two courses he could take. I can take the slings and arrows of the moment and hold out, in the hopes that the story will go away, or I can succumb and hope that by getting the pain over quickly, the damage will be minimized. The conventional wisdom has become that any time there's damaging information about you, you have to get it all out as soon as possible, and there are certainly plenty of cases in which a politician didn't do so and ended up suffering both from the information itself and his initial stonewalling against releasing it. But that need not always be the case. Mitt Romney may just have bet correctly that he could stand firm against releasing his tax forms from any year before 2010 and get away with it. We need not go over all the possibilities of what might be in them, but suffice to say it's something...

Do We Need a New Voting Rights Act?

(Flickr/Sunset Parkerpix)
On Friday, two counties in Southern states requested that the Supreme Court reconsider a key element of the Voting Rights Act . Both Kinston, North Carolina and Shelby County, Alabama hope the Court will find that Section 5 of the Act—the one that requires states and counties with a history of voter suppression to get permission from the feds before implementing changes to election law—is unconstitutional. The government has previously justified Section 5 under the Fifteenth Amendment, which guarantees the right to vote and prohibits discrimination based on race. The counties—both in states with new voter-ID laws—argue that the provision violates the Tenth Amendment, which gives states the right to regulate elections. Furthermore, they claim it unfairly gives states different levels of sovereignty by treating some differently than others. With voter-ID laws proliferating around the country, the Voting Rights Act has been in the national conversation for months now, and Section 5 has...

Romney Accidentally Makes Liberal Case for Taxation

What? What'd I say? (Flickr/davelawrence8)
Last week, Mitt Romney had some kind of weird brain freeze and accidentally stumbled into agreement with President Obama on the fact that entrepreneurs actually do benefit from the efforts of other people, and even get help from the government. You may have heard about it, as a number of bloggers took note . But there was something else he said that was even more interesting, and I wanted to point it out because we do seem to be having a discussion about the fundamentals of capitalism and government. It sounded extemporaneous, so perhaps Romney didn't think through the full implications of it, but here's what he said: There are a lot of people in government who help us and allow us to have an economy that works and allow entrepreneurs and business leaders of various kinds to start businesses and create jobs. We all recognize that. That's an important thing. Don't forget, by the way, government doesn't invent those people out of thin air. We pay for those people with our taxes! We're...

Yes, We Should Keep Talking about Our Gun Laws

Flickr/Brittany Randolph
When an event like the mass shooting in Colorado happens, it's a fair bet that people on every side will take the opportunity to say, "See? This just reinforces what we've been telling you all along." But that's easier for some than others. I looked around some conservative web sites today to see what their reaction was, and much of it ran to this: Awful liberals are going to use this to push their anti-gun agenda, and they should be ashamed of themselves (see here or here ). But is there really anything wrong with taking the events that occur in our country, even horrible ones, and making the connections to our policy and political choices? Isn't that what people who write about politics are supposed to do? Obviously, making those connections can be done in ways that are crass and inappropriate. But so can a discussion about anything. You can say we should talk about something else out of respect for the victims and their families, but the idea that the families' grief might be...

Your Guide to "Ending Medicare As We Know It"

Paul Ryan is very sincere.
Yesterday, President Obama went to Florida and told seniors that Mitt Romney wants to end Medicare as we know it, and it appears that this argument (and some related ones) will be a central feature of the Obama campaign's message in the coming days. It's entirely possible, as Jonathan Chait has suggested , that all the Obama campaign's attacks on Romney's finances and record at Bain Capital are the first stage of a two-stage strategy that culminates with an attack on the Ryan budget. Since we'll be talking about this a lot soon, I thought it might be worthwhile to refresh our memories on what this is all about, particularly with regard to Medicare, and how it relates to the current campaign. First: Is it fair to tar Mitt Romney with the Ryan plan? No question. While Romney's own policy proposals are quite a bit more vague than the Ryan plan is, they follow the same contours, and when Romney is asked about the Ryan plan he never hesitates to praise it. When asked about it last month,...

Voters of No Confidence

(Flickr/kristen_a)
If Americans don't believe that elections are conducted fairly, or believe that the person who takes office didn't actually win, the implications for the country are pretty scary. But according to one recent survey, distrust in election outcomes is startlingly widespread—and growing. The survey, conducted in March by the Opinion Research Center for information tech firm InfoSENTRY Services, asked respondents to say, "on a scale of 1 to 5," how confident they were that votes were counted accurately in their area. One signified "no confidence," and the scale moved up from there. (Read more about the s urvey's methodology here. ) This year, the number of people who answered one or two—in other words had little to no confidence in the accuracy—was the highest it's been since the survey was first conducted in 2004: 23 percent. You might expect trust to grow in American elections as we get further from the debacle of 2000. After all, if there was a time to wonder if all votes got counted,...

The Rich Really Are Different

Not actually Mitt Romney (image from richkidsofinstagram.tumblr.com)
In the last couple of years, we've occasionally seen stories where Wall Street types justify their enormous compensation packages by saying they work really, really hard. They stay late, they work weekends, they just keep their noses to the grindstone, and that's why they get paid what they do. Sure, $30 million a year is a lot of money. But the hedge fund manager who made it probably worked 1,000 times harder than the electrician who made $30,000. Right? I thought of those Wall Streeters and their rhetoric about hard work when considering the question of Mitt Romney's tax returns. One of the things we've found out in the whole when-did-Romney-leave-Bain controversy is that even after he retired/went on a leave of absence, he was being paid at least $100,000 a year for doing what he swears was absolutely nothing. That's a lot of money for doing nothing, at least to people like you and me, but remember that to Mitt Romney, it's peanuts. According to the information he has released , he...

Don't Like Blacks? You'll Love Voter ID

Wikimedia Commons/Library of Congress
Despite the rhetoric of GOP officials, it’s more than clear that voter ID laws are designed to depress turnout among traditionally Democratic groups. Attorney General Eric Holder has even gone so far as to attack the laws as glorified “ poll taxes ”—one of the mechanisms used during Jim Crow to keep African Americans from voting. Regardless of where you fall politically, it seems like this should be objectionable to everyone. The United States had a long and hard path to universal suffrage, and voter suppression is a direct challenge to the idea that everyone counts and everyone should have a say. Unfortunately, there is a real divide on the desirability of voter ID laws; according to the latest survey from the University of Delaware’s Center for Political Communication, support for voter identification is strongest among those who harbor negative opinions toward African Americans: To assess attitudes toward African Americans, all non-African Americans respondents in the poll were...

In the Beginning Was the Word

Flickr/nofrills
I'm beginning to wonder whether Mitt Romney and all of his supporters weren't linguistics majors in college. After all, the thing you choose to study reflects what you think is important. If you major in physics, it's because the laws and operation of the universe are what you find most important. If you major in economics, it's because you find money to be the prime organizing force of human activity. And linguists, like the Republicans of 2012, believe that language is the key to understanding who we are as humans. Here's what I mean. Let's say you wanted to indict not Barack Obama's handling of the economy, but his beliefs about the economy, to get at the very essence of who he is. How would you do it? Some of us would say, we can determine who he is by looking at his actions. If he's a committed Marxist undertaking the dismantling of capitalism, surely we could find the evidence in what he has done. Did he nationalize the steel industry? Well, no. He (and George W. Bush) kind of...

Presidential Race Tightening in New Mexico

The presidential race appears to be tightening in New Mexico, where Obama's former lead of 15 points has dwindled to 5 points. Polls have shown that if Romney picks Governor Susana Martinez (R-NM) as his running mate, he has a decent shot at winning the state, not to mention gaining more votes among women and Latinos. Martinez has said she doesn't want the job because she has to care for her elderly father and ill sister, but couldn't Romney could offer to hire a team of registered nurses to take care of them full time? Today's Presidential Polls State Obama Romney Start End Pollster New Jersey 49% 38% Jul 09 Jul 15 Quinnipiac U. New Mexico 49% 44% Jul 13 Jul 16 PPP Virginia 47% 46% Jul 16 Jul 17 Rasmussen Today's Senate Polls State Democrat D % Republican R % I I % Start End Pollster New Jersey Bob Menendez 47% Joseph Kyrillos 34% Jul 09 Jul 15 Quinnipiac U.

Wealthy Republican Senate Candidates Picking Up Steam

A number of self-funded Republicans embroiled in bitter primary fights for Senate nominations are getting traction . These include Wil Cardon in Arizona (running against Represenatative Jeff Flake), Eric Hovde in Wisconsin (running against former governor Tommy Thompson and Representative Mark Neumann), John Brunner in Missouri (running against former state Treasurer Sarah Steelman and Representative Todd Akin), and Linda McMahon in Connecticut (running against former representative Chris Shays). None of them have held elective office before, which means they have no record for opposition researchers to pick apart. On the other hand, all of them are Tea Party favorites, and recent history shows that when a Tea Party candidate defeats the establishment favorite in the primary, the Democrats are often able to hang onto a seat they would otherwise have lost (think: Delaware, Colorado, and Nevada in 2010). In all four of the above cases, the late date of the primary makes the problem even...

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