Vox Pop

The Prospect's politics blog

How Gay Marriage Might Hurt Romney

(WEBN-TV/Flickr)
If same-sex marriage will harm anyone in this election, it’s not President Obama; his position is supported by most Democrats and independents, as well as important portions of his liberal base. By contrast, Mitt Romney is in a serious bind. If he shifts his rhetoric to emphasize opposition to marriage equality, he could energize the conservative base, and deepen his support among evangelicals and other members of the religious right who doubt his commitment to the cause. Already, he’s made steps in that direction. Yesterday afternoon, Romney reiterated his stance on marriage: “You don’t change your positions to try and win the states or certain subgroups of Americans, you have the positions you have,” Romney told Fox News’s Neil Cavuto on Thursday afternoon. “And as you know, for a long time, I think from the beginning of my political career, I’ve made it very clear that I believe marriage should be a relationship between a man and a woman. “ The problem, of course, is that—in the...

“Inspired” But Not Read

(Flickr / Rhubarble)
“I happen to believe that the Constitution was not just brilliant, but probably inspired,” Mitt Romney told a town-hall meeting in Euclid, Ohio, on Monday. It may be that, like many who like to thump sacred texts, he has simply never read it. Media commentary has focused on Romney’s flat-footed refusal, or inability, to talk back to a questioner who suggested that President Obama should be “tried for treason” because he is “operating outside the structure of our Constitution.” But it’s worth taking a moment to note that “treason” is a term Americans seem to take lightly these days (Witness Rick Perry’s remark that Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke, a former George W. Bush staffer, would be “almost treasonous,” and perhaps guest of honor at a Texas necktie party, if he used the Fed’s legal authority to try to prevent the economy from falling back into recession). The Framers didn’t take the term lightly, and their care is reflected in one of the Constitution’s most important, though little-...

Connecting With the People

The President communing with ordinary Americans.
Any speechwriter knows that in constructing persuasive rhetoric it's important to take big, abstract ideas and communicate them through the stories of people. It isn't always easy, and you can't make every speech one long story about your Aunt Gladys, but if your speeches are nothing but facts and figures then they make it very hard for your audience to connect to what you're saying on an emotional level. From what I've seen, Mitt Romney doesn't do this very often when he's on the stump. When he does touch on individuals, it's often vague and brief, the "I met a guy the other day..." who illustrates a point and then is quickly abandoned. This is notable because the whole connecting-with-people thing is something Romney has a bit of a political problem with. And it's certainly something the Obama campaign is emphasizing. Look at this ad the campaign just released discussing the auto bailout: You'll notice, first, that Obama is in shirtsleeves. Then we see him, dressed similarly...

The Big Bully

It was one (fabulous, uplifting, inspiring) thing to watch the president of the United States come out for same-sex marriage on Wednesday. It was whole 'nother to see, within 24 hours of Barack Obama’s revelation, his campaign immediately begin to use Mitt Romney’s opposition to marriage equality against him in an online video. You might have expected the Obama folks to step back after the president’s announcement and say, “We’ve settled that, now let’s get back to talking about jobs and bin Laden.” They’ve done the opposite. “Mitt Romney: Backwards on Equality” is not the most stylish spot you’ll ever behold. But it effectively points out how far right Romney is on the issue, noting that he also opposes far less controversial civil unions—which even George W. Bush supported. The video also flashes a series of uncontroversial protections for gay couples that Romney would disallow. It all plays into a larger context for the campaign, which is working to paint Romney as a hardline...

Is Mitt Romney a Bully?

Students at Mitt Romney's alma mater.
The presidential campaign story of the day is Jason Horowitz's lengthy portrait of Mitt Romney's days as a student at the elite Cranbrook prep school in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. While the story contains a lot of detail that paints the picture of who the youthful Mitt Romney was and what kind of environments he grew up in, the headline-grabbing part is Romney's leading role, corroborated by several witnesses, in a vicious assault on a classmate whom everyone thought was gay. Partisan Democrats are certainly going to use this to make the case that the incident gives us important insight into Romney's character. I'll get to what I think this does and doesn't tell us about him in a moment, but here's the key passage: Mitt Romney returned from a three-week spring break in 1965 to resume his studies as a high school senior at the prestigious Cranbrook School. Back on the handsome campus, studded with Tudor brick buildings and manicured fields, he spotted something he thought did not...

Bring On Less Democracy

(Flickr / afagen)
Is anybody else as depressed as I am about the next four years? No matter who wins, we face the prospect of bitterly divided government, savage partisanship in Congress, and increasing executive desperation. Even if Republicans win the Senate and retain the House, they will not have a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate; even if Obama holds on to the White House, he will face filibusters in the Senate and outright defiance in the House. A Congress that cannot deal with the tiny student-debt problem in orderly fashion is unlikely to be able to tackle big problems at all. The response to legislative paralysis is, of course, executive aggrandizement. Charlie Savage of The New York Times laid out recently the turn by the Obama administration to executive authority as its means of governing the country. It’s entirely predictable; legislative fecklessness has led to presidential power-grabbing for more than a century. And if Mitt Romney becomes president, he is already poised to follow...

Why Obama Won't Be Punished For His "Evolution" On Marriage Equality

President Obama discussing same-sex marriage.
If you were Mitt Romney right now, you'd probably feel like you're the victim of a double-standard. When you have changed your position on an issue in the past, everyone took it as proof that you have no core of beliefs and you'll flip-flop whenever the situation demands. But when Barack Obama does the same thing, he gets to say he has "evolved" and nobody takes it as proof of a character flaw. Surely, Mitt might be saying to himself, Americans will see this for the craven, politically motivated flip-flop it is and punish Obama for it, no matter what they think about gay marriage. I'm afraid Mitt is going to be out of luck on this one. Obama's evolution will be treated differently than Romney's changes in position, for one important reason: because millions of people have gone through a similar evolution in the last few years. Most of us haven't changed our opinions about abortion or cap and trade or gun control recently (if ever), but most Americans have changed the way they think...

Doing the Right Thing Was the Right Thing

WikiMedia Commons
Today is obviously a great and historic moment for President Obama, who decided today to follow the Prospect 's Jamelle Bouie's advice and openly favor same-sex marriage. The effects are primarily symbolic, but it's still a good thing that he decided to match his excellent policy record on LBGT issues with the correct position on a crucial civil-rights issue. One question that is sure to come up is whether this decision will harm President Obama's chance of re-election. I'm sure some members of Obama's political team were urging him to maintain the incoherent mess of a position he nominally took before today. This is, for reasons I discussed in the context of LBJ last week, certainly a serious question. Romney winning the 2012 election would be a disaster for LBGT rights, starting with the fact that this would probably result in Antonin Scalia being to the left of the median Supreme Court justice. Particularly since Obama has done pretty much all that is within his power to advance...

Lies Politicians Tell Children

A candidate delivers some baloney to a group of teenagers, who are appropriately unimpressed.
Massachusetts senator Scott Brown has released his first ad of the fall campaign, and it's a fairly anodyne message about how Brown is independent, since Republicans aren't too popular in the Bay State. But there is something highly objectionable in the ad (it's at the bottom of this post if you want to watch it), which is when we see Brown telling a bunch of teenagers, "There's absolutely nothing in this world that you can't get if you work hard at it." There may be no single piece of advice that politicians deliver to young people more often than this. Democrats, Republicans, Whigs, Tories, no matter who they are, you stick 'em in a room with a bunch of kids and before long they'll deliver the sage insight that anything is possible if you put your mind to it. Well, I'm here to say: bullshit. I'll spare you the disquisition on rising inequality and the imperfections of capitalism. But just as a message delivered from a grown person to a young person, is there anything more...

Hey Dems! Chill Out About the Super PACs.

My morning paper: note the two headlines.
So I open up my dead-tree edition of The New York Times today, and see an article entitled "Liberal Donors' Plan Worries Top Democrats," about how the fact that some rich Democratic donors have decided to put their money into grassroots organizing instead of the kind of super PAC Republicans have, where nearly every penny goes to fund television ads, has got some Democrats fuming. The article quotes exactly one complainer, Harry Reid's chief of staff, who says, "Why go off and build a redundant grass-roots and get-out-the-vote organization that the Obama campaign is clearly invested in?...Why would they rule out this tried-and-true medium?" The Republicans will be investing so much on TV, and Democrats will be outgunned! Right below that story, on the same page of the Times , is a profile of Obama campaign ad guru Jim Margolis, discussing all the groovy ads he's going to create for the Obama campaign to destroy Mitt Romney with. Which is a good reminder that Democrats fretting about...

Mitt Romney's Truth-Free Campaign

(Austan Hufford/Michigan Daily)
If you haven’t already, you should read Ed Kilgore and Greg Sargent on Mitt Romney’s speech yesterday in Michigan, where he tried to clarify and contrast his approach on the economy. The message was typical of Romney’s rhetoric; an attempt to flip an attack and direct it at his opponent. In this case, Romney decried Obama as the purveyor of failed policies, and presented himself as a reform conservative in the mold of Bill Clinton and the New Democrats. As Kilgore argues, the argument is laughable on its face. The Obama administration is staffed with Clintonites. It’s core policies—on health care, especially—were variations on policies pushed during the Clinton years, and Obama’s foreign policy falls well within the approach of the Clinton administration. What’s more, as Greg Sargent points out, there is no way in which Romney is running as a departure from the previous Republican administration. An RNC spokesperson summed this up well—the Romney agenda is the Bush platform, “just...

Tired of War

(Flickr/The US Army)
Obama campaign thinks a general election on foreign policy works toward their favor, as the past few weeks have made clear. The President is trying to stake out a middle ground between the typical hawk and dove divide, highlighting his success in killing Osama bin Laden and engagement in Libya while also recognizing the country’s war-weary sentiment by extracting the country from Iraq and signing an agreement with the Afghanistan government to remove the United States from combat operations by 2014. For a time it looked as if Mitt Romney might not fall under the influence of the neoconservative dogma that dominated the GOP’s foreign policy vision during the last decade. Like many of the other Republican presidential candidates, he expressed hesitance toward an indefinite military force in Afghanistan, recognizing the quagmire of the decade-long war. His tone has changed since he’s dispatched his nomination opponents and has attempted to contrast his views directly with Obama. Perhaps...

May the Most Electable Man Win

Up in Wisconsin, Democrats anointed a centrist to take on Republican Governor Scott Walker in next month’s recall election. Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett clobbered former Dane County executive Kathleen Falk, the preferred candidate of Wisconsin labor and the activists who’d campaigned against Walker’s anti-union jihad, by a resounding 24 percent. Falk had been prominent in last year’s anti-Walker resistance in Madison, and she was the logical candidate to be Walker’s Democratic challenger in next month’s recall. But she plainly wasn’t the strongest candidate—polls showed her trailing Walker by 5 to 10 points, while Barrett was running even with the governor. Labor poured millions into Falk’s campaign, but the polling probably convinced even many unionists that getting rid of Walker and restoring public-sector workers’ collective bargaining rights required a vote for Barrett. Wisconsin unions endorsed Barrett last night wholeheartedly—if they don’t dump Walker next month, it will be a...

Romney Takes Credit for the Auto Bailouts. Again.

(NewsHour/Flickr)
Three years ago, Mitt Romney was a naysayer on the auto bailouts, warning that they would result in the destruction of the American auto industry. But now that President Obama is running on the success of the bailout, Romney has decided that he’s responsible for the revival of auto manufacturing: “I pushed the idea of a managed bankruptcy, and finally when that was done, and help was given, the companies got back on their feet,” Romney told a Cleveland TV station while visiting a local auto plant Monday. “So, I’ll take a lot of credit for the fact that this industry has come back.” On this, Mitt Romney is the Winklevii to Obama’s Zuckerberg; sure, Obama developed and implemented the auto bailouts, but Romney had the same idea and therefore, he should receive the credit. My guess is that this won’t catch fire with voters, or anyone who has experience with the naysayer who claims retroactive credit for success. Romney’s decision to reverse himself on the bailouts—or at least,...

The Difference Between Republican Moderates and Democratic Moderates

Dick Lugar hanging out with some Hollywood liberal. (Flickr/Talk Radio News Service)
Today in Indiana, Senator Richard Lugar will probably be defeated in a Republican primary by State Treasurer Richard Mourdock, three-time failed congressional candidate, and Tea Party favorite. Lugar might be the single most respected member of the Senate, a guy who has been in office for 35 years, has carved out areas of interest and expertise that don't bring with them anything in the way of contributions or votes (foreign affairs, nuclear proliferation), and finds areas where he can work with Democrats. And that, of course, was his undoing. Perhaps Lugar's greatest sin in their eyes was that he maintained a good relationship with Barack Obama (horrors!). The Tea Party may be fading, but it had enough left in its tank to knock Lugar out. So what do we learn? Michael Tomasky argues that we shouldn't shed any tears for Lugar, since he had the chance to confront his party's extremism and chose not to; had he done so, he could have gone out with some more dignity. But he didn't try to...

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