Vox Pop

The Prospect's politics blog

Oh Good, Another Candidate's Book

Not what will determine the outcome of this election.
Making clear (if it wasn't already) that he'll be running for president in 2016, New York governor Andrew Cuomo has decided to write a book, in which he'll lay out his vision for America. America no doubt awaits with bated breath. Which got me wondering: When was the last time a sitting politician actually wrote a book worth reading? We'll have to consult the historians on whether the answer is "never," but it certainly hasn't happened in a long, long time. Last year, in what I came to think of as a courageous act of public service, I suffered through and then reviewed the campaign books written by Mitt Romney, Tim Pawlenty, Newt Gingrich, Mike Huckabee, and Sarah Palin. The latter two decided not to run in the end, but their homespun wisdom and common sense surely left untold numbers of Americans more optimistic about the future of this great land. These books can occasionally become problematic, as Mitt Romney discovered when the paperback edition of No Apology deleted a line from...

Third Party Planning

Did you hear? The Republican former governor—long anointed as the presumed candidate—officially gained the party's nomination over the weekend. No, I'm not talking about Mitt Romney. Come November, former New Mexico governor Gary Johnson will be on the ballot in all 50 states under the banner of the Libertarian Party. Johnson spent last year running in the Republican primary, but he abandoned his dream of securing the nomination after only making in into two debates and barely registering in the polls. Despite this, Johnson made a bit of a name for himself as a cooler version of Ron Paul—the one who climbs Mount Everest and doesn't look and act like your crazy uncle. Johnson is your typical libertarian: He's pro-pot (which he himself used, though only the medical variety, of course), supports same-sex marriage, and opposes the ongoing war in Afghanistan, but aligns himself with the extreme economic policies of the GOP's Tea Party wing. The Libertarian Party puts a candidate up every...

No One Trust's Obama's Evolution

(Flickr/VJnet)
Few people truly believe Barack Obama when he claims his position on same-sex marriage is "evolving." He first publicly endorsed marriage equality in 1996 while running for the Illinois state senate. At the time, just 27 percent of the population shared his views, according to a Gallup poll. Now, Gallup's tracking numbers from last year have 53 percent of the country favoring SSM. It might have been politically expedient for Obama to position himself against same-sex unions in 2008, but it's impossible to imagine anyone at the vanguard of LGBT civil rights like that young Illinois legislator truly changing his mind. That's why his continuing "evolution" makes no sense. It ticks off liberals and moderates who are convinced that Obama does not have the courage to stand up for his convictions. And it certainly wins him no plaudits from conservatives, who also believe it is a smokescreen to hide his true agenda. To wit, here's RNC Chairman Reince Priebus on MSNBC earlier today: “So we’ve...

It's the Economy, Smartypants

Flickr/DonkeyHotey
Karl Rove's signature contribution to campaign politics was the insight that the most effective way to defeat an opponent was not to attack his greatest weakness, but to attack his greatest strength. (There's some vivid detail from Joshua Green's classic 2004 article on Rove's history as a campaigner. Sample: Your client's opponent volunteers to help abused children? Spread rumors that he's a pedophile!) There's no doubt that at the moment, Mitt Romney's greatest strength is the idea that as a successful businessman, he will do a good job stewarding the American economy. In fact, that may be his only strength. He's stiff and awkward, he has a well-earned reputation for changing his stated beliefs to suit the political moment, he just went through a primary campaign in which he took numerous unpopular positions in order to please an extremist party base, the severe unpopularity of his party in Congress will drag him down, he has nothing particularly compelling to say about foreign...

Obama's Untenable Position on Same-Sex Marriage

(Flickr/Barack Obama)
Oh, good old Joe. The vice president just can’t help himself sometimes, getting juiced up and spouting off whatever comes to his mind rather than staying on message like the Obama campaign would prefer. On yesterday’s Meet the Press , Biden was questioned about his stance on same-sex marriage and seemingly went a step further than the official White House line, perhaps not endorsing marriage equality directly but coming pretty close : David Gregory: You’re comfortable with same-sex marriage now? Biden: Look, I am Vice President of the United States of America. The president sets the policy. I am absolutely comfortable with the fact that men marrying men, women marrying women and heterosexual men marrying women are entitled to the same exact rights. All the civil rights, all the civil liberties. And quite frankly I don’t see much of a distinction beyond that. Of course that’s not the official policy of the Obama campaign, so officials acted quick to walk back Biden’s statement. But the...

Do the Right Thing

(plainwrap/Flickr)
Yesterday, on Meet the Press , Vice President Joe Biden was unusually candid about his feelings on same-sex marriage: “And you’re comfortable with same-sex marriage now,” NBC’s David Gregory asked Biden on Meet the Press. “I am vice president of the United States of America. The president sets the policy,” Biden said by way of a disclaimer, then continued, “I am absolutely comfortable with the fact that men marrying men, women marrying women, and heterosexual men and women marrying another are entitled to the same exact rights, all the civil rights, all the civil liberties. And quite frankly, I don’t see much of a distinction—beyond that.” Almost immediately, this was reported as an endorsement of same-sex marriage by Vice President Biden, which in turn was followed by White House attempts to nix the perception. On Twitter, for example, David Axelrod issued an odd clarifying statement, “What VP said-that all married couples should have exactly the same legal rights-is precisely POTUS’...

Motives, Principles, and Political Leadership

WikiMedia commons
Paul Waldman's post about the uselessness of motives in evaluating politicians reminds me of a question a student asked me this week when assessing the Johnson administration. To paraphrase, my student said that his impression was that while LBJ may have signed two important civil rights bills, his motives for doing so were far from altruistic. My answer was that 1) this is right, but 2) I don't mean that as a criticism of LBJ. One way of thinking about the importance of motives and principles is to consider Lincoln and slavery. While Lincoln was opposed to slavery in principle, the way he considered and dealt with slavery as a public figure was always intertwined with political considerations and compromises with evil. Injecting slavery into national political discourse was, among other things, a brilliant act of political entrepreneurship by the Republican Party. Lincoln was never an abolitionist, and consistently thought that the federal government should not interfere with slavery...

The Problem of Motive Questioning

Divisive? Me?
The questioning of motives is one of the most common and most pernicious of rhetorical habits in political debate. It's pernicious because it encourages people to conclude not that your opponents are wrong about whatever matter it is we're discussing, but that they're bad people . When you question someone's motives you're automatically calling them a liar (since they will have offered an entirely different justification for why they are advocating what they're advocating), and you're also saying they're untrustworthy, cynical, and driven by some nefarious goal. We see this all the time, and I'm not saying I've never questioned anyone's motives, because from time to time I have. But we have to acknowledge that someone can take a different position from the one we do without the disagreement coming from some place of evil. To see what I'm talking about, here's today's column by Charles Krauthammer, probably the most admired columnist on the right. Appalled that President Obama is now...

Look to the Revisions!

(wools/Flickr)
As far as April is concerned, the jobs report is disappointing ; 115,000 new jobs, just enough to keep pace with population growth. Unemployment dropped to 8.1 percent, but labor force participation also declined, which means that joblessness is lower because fewer people are searching for jobs. What’s interesting is that this runs counter to a host of other economic indicators, all of which point to a brighter picture. According to Gallup , for example, economic confidence is a four-year high, consumer spending has edged up, and small-business optimism has risen to its highest levels since the summer of 2008. Why is job growth so sluggish when the economy is looking brighter in other regards? The answer might lie with the revisions contained within the jobs report. Remember, this number isn’t particularly accurate; for almost every month of the last three years, it has been revised (usually upwards) after the fact. This time isn’t any different; according to the Bureau of Labor...

Mitt Romney: Still Afraid

Mitt Romney is apparently terrified of this guy.
The departure of Ric Grenell from the Romney campaign is something that approximately zero undecided voters know or care anything about, but does it tell us anything interesting or useful about Mitt Romney himself? In case you haven't heard, Grenell is a longtime Republican communications professional who was hired by the Romney campaign to be a spokesperson on foreign policy; then liberals started criticizing Grenell for some nasty tweets he had sent, while social conservatives started criticizing him for being gay. The Romney campaign didn't care much about the liberals' criticism, but was apparently quite unnerved by the conservatives' criticism. Even though they knew he was gay before they hired him and had assured him it wasn't a problem, Grenell soon resigned after it became apparent the Romney campaign was going to pretend he didn't actually work for them anyway, sidelining him while they tried to figure out what to do. So what have we learned? The simple answer is that we've...

You Can Eat Your Peas Later

The kickoff of the general-election season has been marked by a series of inconsequential flaps—think caterpillars and hot mics, or the latest outrage over the fictional Julia (see the Daily Meme below). One might prefer more substance, but there's one issue that, thankfully, will be pushed off until after the election: raising the debt ceiling. For a moment it looked like they may have miscalculated. Tax receipts continue to flow in at lower-than-expected levels as the recession lingers, inciting fear that the government will hit a spending roadblock while Barack Obama and Mitt Romney share a debate stage. Romney's general-election campaign remains beholden to the whims of his party's most conservative elements. Would he have the fortitude to stand against the voices in Congress bemoaning any more government borrowing? Luckily, we won't have to put him to the test. The Treasury Department announced yesterday that all was hunky-dory, with the cap settled in place until after the...

Newton Gingrich's Passage to Power

(AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
The existence of the Republican Party has been marked by five incarnations in its century and a half, peaking early with its first president and the country’s greatest, Abraham Lincoln. The second Republican age culminated at the outset of the last century with Theodore Roosevelt; the third age with Dwight Eisenhower; the fourth with Ronald Reagan—whose harbingers were Barry Goldwater and Richard Nixon—and whose coda was George H. W. Bush. The fifth that ultimately would coalesce around the presidency of Bush’s son was inaugurated by Newton Leroy Gingrich of Georgia, and not even W. has better represented the party’s style and substance these past 20 years. It might be natural, then, even to someone less possessed of Gingrich’s megalomania, to believe that it was natural for him to retake command of the Republican forces after the party’s worst presidential loss—not merely in numbers but morale and reason-to-be—since 1964. So enraged was the party at everything and everyone but itself...

By All Means, Politicize the Bin Laden Killing

Pete Souza/The White House
Imagine that you called a carpenter to come repair your deck, and after looking at the rotted timbers and split rails, he said, "Well, I can fix this deck. But the one thing I'm not going to do is come over here and engage in a bunch of carpentry. That would be wrong." You'd probably suspect that the carpenter was insane. Yet politicians and their campaign advisers–people for whom politics is a profession no less than carpentry is the carpenter's profession–are constantly complaining that their opponents are engaged in "politics," or are committing the horrible sin of "politicizing" something that shouldn't be political. So it was when Barack Obama's re-election campaign took the opportunity of the one-year anniversary of the killing of Osama Bin Laden to remind voters who was president when it happened, in the form of an ad retelling the story and questioning whether Mitt Romney would have made the same decision as Obama did were he in the Oval Office at the time. The condemnations...

Chill Out. Romney's Not Picking a VP for a Long Time.

(Flickr/Gage Skimdore)
Are you already sick of the endless series of articles extolling the virtues of various potential Mitt Romney running mates? Are you also sick of the posturing— TV ads , major foreign policy speeches —of wannabe VP candidates? Too bad. If Romney follows precedent it will be quite some time before he selects his partner on the Republican ticket. Geoffrey Skelley analyzed past picks and found a pretty clear trend. Candidates don’t announce their running mates until the last minute before their party’s convention. On average, the vice presidential candidate has been rolled out four days before a convention since 1992, with John Kerry’s selection of John Edwards an outlier at 20 days before the start of the 2004 Democratic convention. Even if Romney tilts toward the earlier end of the selection spectrum, that still means we’ve got months of the Veepstakes remaining. The Republican convention in Tampa doesn’t kickoff until August 27. However Romney is already in the phase of testing out...

The "Catholic Vote" is Tautological

(Catholic Church [England and Wales]/Flickr)
A new survey from Gallup shows an even split among Catholic voters—46 percent support President Obama, and 46 percent support Mitt Romney. If you disaggregate by race, the picture looks very different; only 38 percent of non-Hispanic Catholics support Obama, compared to 70 percent of their Hispanic counterparts. Among white Catholics, if you break the numbers down by religiosity, the most religious and moderately religious support Romney, while the nonreligious support Obama. This data has led the Washington Post to declare that Catholics are the “bellweather” swing vote for the 2012 election. Here’s Chris Cillizza and Rachel Weiner: [I]n the last two presidential contests the Catholic vote has tracked almost exactly with the popular vote. In 2008, President Obama carried Catholics by nine points and beat Arizona Sen. John McCain (R) by seven points nationally. Four years earlier, Bush won the Catholic vote by five points and beat Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry (D) by three points...

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