Vox Pop

The Prospect's politics blog

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...

Let's Hear Less About Massachusetts, More About Bush

(Wikipedia)
Earlier this week, I argued that the Obama campaign would soon bolster their attacks on Bain Capital with attacks on Mitt Romney’s record in Massachusetts. Well, this morning, ABC News’ Jake Tapper reports that the campaign will do just that, and open a new front in its war on the Republican nominee: Team Obama will point to Romney’s rhetoric on job creation, size of government, education, deficits and taxes during the 2002 gubernatorial campaign and draw parallels with his presidential stump speeches of 2012. The goal is to illustrate that Romney has made the same promises before with unimpressive results, officials say. […] “He sold the same hooey in MA ten years ago, and then turned in one of the worst performances of any gov in the USA. 47th in job creation,” senior Obama strategist David Axelrod tweeted last week, hinting at the direction of the attacks to come. Tapper calls this a “shifting of gears” away from the assault on Bain, but I think that’s mistaken. For now, the Obama...

Let Obama Be Obama

The New York Times ' big story today, detailing President Obama’s role in the country’s counterterrorism efforts, should ignite a slow burn of new coverage and heated questions in the upcoming weeks. The scene, which presents Obama looking through Al Qaeda members' biographies and making the final life-or-death call of which suspects make their way onto what the Times calls "macabre 'baseball cards' of an unconventional war," feels ripped right from the third episode of The West Wing , "Proportional Response," where President Jed Bartlet struggles with the difficult decisions of war, in a cinematically presidential way. This image (and the 2008 national security campaign literature trumpeting the phrase “Pragmatism over ideology,” which was regurgitated in the piece) captures the ultimate truth of the Obama presidency—something that will be overlooked in the inevitable columns that will challenge Obama on the civil-liberties shortcomings presented in the Times piece. Obama never ran...

Texas GOP Holds Hispanics in Check

(Flickr/jmtimages)
Last week Scott offered a great defense of the Voting Rights Act, arguing that Section Five—a clause that requires southern states to receive preclearance before changing any voting procedures—is a necessary correction to the limits of the Fifteenth Amendment. That provision was recently overturned by the D.C. Circuit, setting up a hearing in the Supreme Court that could possibly strike down the landmark civil rights legislation. Given the recent conservative tilt of the Supreme Court, some legal experts are predicting that the circuit court's decision will be upheld, with the majority arguing that the act was crafted during circumstances no longer relevant to the political climate. The recent spate of voter suppression laws tell another story and are often trotted out by liberals as the best evidence to highlight the continued need for Section Five. However today's primaries in Texas also offer a good test case for why the Voting Rights Act needs to be strengthened rather than...

Why Democrats Support the Drug War Status Quo

Medical marijuana for sale in California. (Flickr/Dank Depot)
Later today, I'll have a post up at MSNBC's Lean Forward blog explaining why the "Choom Gang" revelations from David Maraniss' new biography of Barack Obama didn't seem to make anybody mad (with the exception of libertarians who took the opportunity to make the entirely accurate point that Obama's Justice Department is vigorously prosecuting people for doing pretty much the same thing Obama did as a teenager, and if he had been caught he might have gone to jail and certainly wouldn't have grown up to be president). Briefly, it comes down to a couple of things: Obama had already admitted he smoked pot "frequently," so it wasn't much of a revelation; and around half of American adults have too, meaning they weren't going to be outraged. Furthermore, most of the reporters who would write about the story are probably in the pot-smoking half, making them less likely to treat it as something scandalous. But this raises a question, one posed by Jonathan Bernstein: Why do Democratic...

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