Vox Pop

The Prospect's politics blog

All Local Politics Are National

After what seems like forever, it’s finally Wisconsin Recall Eve. Regardless of what happens tomorrow, one thing’s certain: If you’ve had any doubts about the growing nationalization of elections, wash them away now. All politics may be local, but people in D.C.—whether journalists, politicians, or billionaire dilettantes—have found that they can have an outsized influence on the national stage by investing in state and local races. The recall election has proved to be the most expensive in Wisconsin’s history— $30.5 million coming from outside groups—and although locals have insisted time and time again that “It's a Wisconsin-specific moment, not a national referendum,” 80 percent (rough approximation) of news coverage on Monday will focus on the national implications of the race—even though this is not a referendum on President Obama. There is one real big-picture implication. The Wisconsin recall election’s transmogrification into a national circus over the past year will affect...

Are Donors Less Enthusiastic About Obama?

Are Obama donors less enthusiastic than they were in 2012? Writing for Buzzfeed , Ben Smith says yes : In 2008, more than 550,000 gave more than $200 to Barack Obama, entering their names in the longest list of individual donors ever seen in American politics. […] But now, as Obama struggles to keep pace with his 2008 fundraising clip, that list offers a cross-section of Democratic disappointment and alienation. According to a BuzzFeed analysis of campaign finance data, 88% of the people who gave $200 or more in 2008 — 537,806 people — have not yet given that sum this year. And this drop-off isn’t simply an artifact of timing. A full 87% of the people who gave $200 — the sum that triggers an itemized report to the Federal Elections Commission — through April of 2008, 182,078 people, had not contributed by the end of last month. It’s absolutely true that donations have dropped off from 2008, and while Smith has mustered plenty of quotes from dissatisfied Democrats, it’s not clear that...

Why Obama Can't Be Hopey-Changey This Time Around

Flickr/Will Merydith
It's sometimes said that the most optimistic presidential candidate is inevitably the one who wins. If that's true, Barack Obama is a shoe-in, considering what he said on Friday about the "fever" of Republican intransigence. "I believe that if we're successful in this election," the President mused, "that the fever may break, because there's a tradition in the Republican Party of more common sense than that. My hope, my expectation, is that after the election, now that it turns out that the goal of beating Obama doesn't make sense because I'm not running again, that we can start getting some cooperation again." And if you believe that, I've got some mortgage-backed securities you might be interested in. But Obama doesn't have much choice. He can't exactly come out and say, "If I'm re-elected, it'll be pretty much the same excruciating, maddening, ridiculous partisan thunderdome we had in my first term, with every accomplishment coming only at the tail end of a horrific legislative...

"We've Heard it All Before"

(Wikipedia)
The latest Obama campaign ad—which will air mainly in swing states—continues the attack on Mitt Romney’s record in Massachusetts: This attack goes directly to the heart of Romney’s presidential campaign. The Republican nominee has based his entire on argument on the claim that—by dint of his business experience—he is uniquely qualified to lead the country into a more robust recovery. Indeed, private sector experience has totemic properties in Romney’s narrative; Obama is a failure because he’s “ never met a payroll ” and “doesn’t understand the economy,” while Romney sees business as the most important qualification a president can have. But, with a quote from Romney’s gubernatorial campaign—“I know how jobs are created”—the Obama campaign raises a basic question: When Romney ran for governor of Massachusetts he used his business experience as proof he could create jobs for Massachusetts, instead, he led the state to the bottom of the pack for job creation. Now, running for president...

Letting the Right People Vote

(Flickr/Bettina Neufeind)
For some years, the Republican party has tried to convince Americans that they have put their ugly legacy on issues of race behind them, that Richard Nixon's "Southern Strategy" and Willie Horton have no relationship to the GOP of today. They call themselves the "party of Lincoln," hoping people will forget that the Republican and Democratic parties were very different in 1864 than they are today. (Consider: If the likes of John Boehner, Mitch McConnell, Rush Limbaugh, Sarah Palin, and the rest of the leading lights of the GOP had been alive 150 years ago, which side would they have been on? The answer seems pretty obvious.) Sometimes, they may even go as far as the National Review did recently, publishing an unintentionally hilarious cover article claiming that Republicans are the real civil-rights heroes, because the Democratic party was once home to white Southern segregationists, so there! Never mind that those folks, like Strom Thurmond and Jesse Helms, eventually found their...

As Wisconsin Goes...

Only five more days till the Wisconsin recall, and surprisingly—given Governor Scott Walker’s advantage thus far on the money and polling front—it looks like it’s going to be a tight match. But as exciting as the race will be, that doesn’t mean it’s time to crown it the Great Predictor of the 2012 Presidential Election. This isn’t a referendum on President Obama, and the petri dish of local politics on display in Wisconsin isn’t translatable to the national level in the way political journalists and commentators want it to be. However, there is one way the Wisconsin recall can be seen as the pre-party to November. If Democrat Tom Barrett squeaks out a victory, there’s a persuasive argument to be made that all the big money being funneled into conservative super PACs and groups by Mary Poppins-pocketed billionaires doesn't necessarily determine the outcome. Democrats have been scared by the prospect of being outspent on races all across the board thanks to the heavy lifting of Karl...

Mitt Romney's Howard Dean Strategy

Flickr/John P. Hoke
In March 2003, a then fairly obscure former Vermont governor and presidential candidate named Howard Dean stood up in front of a meeting of the California Democratic Party, opened his speech by criticizing the timidity and fearfulness of Democrats in Washington, and said to hearty cheers, "I'm Howard Dean, and I'm here to represent the Democratic wing of the Democratic party!" Rank-and-file Democrats were amazed and excited. Dean perfectly captured their frustration with national leaders whom they felt were wimps and capitulators, failing to stand up to a Republican president whom they disliked more than any other in their lifetimes. In short order Dean became the candidate of the most partisan Democrats, and the news media portrayed him as some kind of wild-eyed liberal busting into the race from the extreme fringe. But the truth was that Dean was actually a moderate Democrat. He had opposed the Iraq War from the start, that was true. But he had also been endorsed by the National...

Mitt Romney's Personal Is Not Political

Flickr/Donkey Hotey
Conservatives used to say that a conservative was a liberal who had been mugged. In other words, your abstract political ideology has to shift when it bumps up against unpleasant reality. Something similar can happen with politicians—not that they undergo wholesale ideological shifts, but many have some issue on which they have personal experience that leads them away from their ideology. For instance, Alan Simpson, a staunch conservative in almost every way, has advocated against harsh sentences for minors who commit crimes, because he himself grew beyond his run-ins with the law as a teenager. As you've probably heard, Ann Romney suffers from multiple sclerosis. In a new video on the Romney campaign's web site, the Romneys talk about how they've dealt with the disease, and encourage people to donate to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. Which is good, but when you run for president, your own personal life is necessarily political. It's important to be sensitive in how we talk...

Oh, the Humanity!

(Recuerdos de Pandora/Flickr)
For the past two years, there has been a pattern to the country’s job growth: the economy speeds up in the winter, cruises through the spring, and slows down as summer approaches. For 2012, it seems that we’re on track for the same ride. The strong gains of January and February gave way to the moderate gains of March and April, which have completely dissipated with the latest jobs report . In May, the economy created 69,000 jobs, and unemployment rose slightly to 8.2 percent. This bleak picture becomes much worse when you include revisions. The Bureau of Labor Statistics revised March job growth from 154,000 to 143,000, and April growth from 115,000 to 77,000. Altogether then, the economy grew by a scant 20,000 jobs in May. On Twitter yesterday, New York Times writer David Leonhardt said that it would be “disappointing” to see job growth below 150,000. This jobs report is beyond disappointing—it’s a disaster. Obviously, this has political implications, and none of them are good for...

Odd Couple

When George W. Bush came back to his former home in Washington today to unveil his and his wife's official paintings, reporters were quick to note how much of an odd couple Obama and Dubya prove. AP's Ben Feller wrote that it seemed "a little awkward that Obama is about to preside as Bush's image and legacy are enshrined forever," given that "Obama is still bad-mouthing Bush's time in office.” Roger Runningen at Businessweek noted that Obama “rarely passes up a chance to highlight the 'mess' he inherited when he took office." But both politicians were perfectly civil as they shared the spotlight this afternoon, cracking jokes and leaving the election on the trail. Obama even thanked his predecessor: “You also left me a really good TV sports package. I use it.” As strange as it may seem to see the former president and the man who won by running against his legacy enjoy each other’s company, a Romney and Bush joint-event is an even bigger stretch of the imagination. First of all, the...

Working the Refs Continues to Work

Egad.
For the last 40 years or so, conservatives have undertaken a carefully planned and sustained campaign to "work the refs," complaining constantly about "liberal media bias" in an attempt to bully reporters and obtain more favorable coverage for their side. That isn't to say they don't sincerely believe that the establishment media is biased against them—they do—but they also understand that the complaints, no matter how silly they are in a particular instance, keep pressure on reporters and have them constantly bending over backwards to show that they're not biased. And when it works really well, you get stories like this one from POLITICO honchos Jim VandeHei and Mike Allen. "To GOP, blatant bias in vetting," reads the headline. Apparently, Republicans are angry that Mitt Romney's life is being investigated by reporters, while Barack Obama, who has been president for almost four years and went through all this in 2008 , isn't getting precisely the same scrutiny in precisely the same...

How the Attack on Massachusetts Could Backfire

This morning, the Obama campaign released its first video on Mitt Romney’s tenure as governor of Massachusetts: There are a few obvious problems with this line of attack. Even with its fiscal problems and slow job growth, Massachusetts wasn’t a terrible place to live under the Romney administration. The point is to show that Romney is offering the same “robotic” line to voters, but how does that resonate when few people associate Massachusetts with “bad governance?” The big problem for this attack is health care reform. Not only was Romney’s health care bill the signature accomplishment of his administration, but it formed the basis for the Affordable Care Act, which may become the signature accomplishment of President Obama’s administration. Romneycare remains popular with Massachusetts voters, and it’s a genuine achievement for the Republican nominee, even if he can’t present it as an asset in his campaign. By attacking Romney’s tenure, the Obama campaign could put itself in the odd...

It's Hard Out There For a Billionaire

Not an actual billionaire. (Flickr/Rainforest Action Network)
Is there a group of people you can think of who have thinner skin than America's multi-millionaires and billionaires? Wall Street titans have been whining for a couple of years now about the horror of people in politics criticizing ineffective banking regulations and the favorable tax treatment so many wealthy people receive (you may remember the time when hedge fund billionaire Steven Schwarzman said that President Obama suggesting that we eliminate the "carried interest loophole," which allows hedge fund managers to pay taxes at only the 15 percent capital gains rate instead of standard income tax rates, was "like when Hitler invaded Poland in 1939"). America's barons feel assaulted, victimized, wounded in ways that not even a bracing ride to your Hamptons estate in your new Porsche 911 can salve. And now that the presidential campaign is in full swing, their tender feelings are being hurt left and right. David Weigel points us to this remarkable video , in which someone at the...

Mythical Backlashes and Specious Explanations

Barack Obama's favorability ratings over the last year, from pollster.com.
One of the most dangerous temptations of the political reporter is over-interpretation of polls, the need to explain every apparent movement in this week's poll with reference to events that just happened. The result is a whole lot of utterly unsubstantiated claims explaining things lots of reporters don't even understand or that may not actually have occurred at all. Only coverage of the stock market, where every news report confidently explains even the tiniest movement in share prices ("Apple shares fell one-tenth of a point today, with investors expressing concern after Billy Wilson of Saginaw, Michigan decided to buy a Droid to replace the iPhone he dropped in the toilet"), comes close. There are two reasons why: the first is that most reporters don't understand, or willfully ignore, what a "margin of error" represents (meaning they talk about movement within the margin of error as though it represents something real, when it isn't). The second is that when you have to write...

Health Care Play-Acting

GOP.gov
I've written many times, by way of explaining congressional Republicans' actions on the issue of health care, that it just isn't something that conservatives as a group care very much about. They have other interests, like taxes and the military, that they'd much rather spend their time on. This may strike some as unfair, but I think it's pretty clear from everything that's happened over the last couple of decades that it's true. There are a few conservative health wonks, but not nearly as many as there are on the liberal side. I can't think of any conservative journalists who are deeply conversant with the policy challenges and details of the health care system, while on the liberal side we have a number of such people, like Ezra Klein and Jonathan Cohn. Liberals have organizations dedicated to reforming the health system and achieving universal coverage; conservatives have organizations dedicated to stopping liberals from reforming the health system and achieving universal coverage...

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