Jamelle Bouie

2004 All Over Again

(Wikipedia)
Two historical analogues have been bounced around with regards to this election. Conservatives say we’re looking at another 1980, where a weak incumbent is felled by a resurgent Republican Party in a decisive victory. Liberals, with much less optimism, say that this is another 2004, where an embattled incumbent ekes out a small victory against a hapless and unpopular challenger. At the Wall Street Journal , Gerald Seib presents the case for both, but chooses not to take a side; at most, he invites his readers to speculate: There are important differences between today’s situation and these precedents. This time, there is no third-party candidate as there was in 1980, when John Anderson’s presence muddled the picture. And in 2004, Mr. Bush’s problem was a war in Iraq that was seen as his own choice, whereas Mr. Obama is more seen as somebody who inherited his problem, an economic crisis. Still, the precedents are intriguing: Will it be an incumbent who hangs on through adversity, or...

Obama a Descendent of the First Slave

Is President Obama a descendent of the first American slave? According to a team of geneologists, working with Ancestory.com, Obama is an 11th generation descendent of John Punch, an African indentured servant sentenced to slavery. Moreover, these roots come by way of his mother , a white Kansan whose roots contain at least one African forebearer. The New York Times explains : The Ancestry.com team used DNA analysis to make the connection, and it also combed through marriage and property records to trace Mr. Obama’s maternal ancestry to the time and place where Mr. Punch lived. The company said records suggested that Mr. Punch fathered children with a white woman, who passed her free status on to those children, giving rise to a family of a slightly different name, the Bunches, that ultimately spawned Mr. Obama’s mother, Stanley Ann Dunham. […] The Ancestry.com group traced two major Bunch family branches, one that lived as white and stayed in Virginia for generations and another that...

Is Obama Misreading the Public?

In a new poll, Gallup asks voters to rank their priorities for the next president. Unsurprisingly, the top answer is “jobs,” followed by “reducing corruption in the federal government,” and “reducing the federal budget deficit.” Here are the full results: Writing at the Washington Examiner , Byron York cites this as evidence that the Obama campaign is out of step with the public: The point is that Americans prioritize what they want their political leaders to do, and right now, the things that are on top of the voters’ list — creating jobs, reducing corruption, and cutting the deficit — are issues that Mitt Romney and Republicans in Congress have been stressing every day. And the goals the president has been stressing are simply not at the top of voters’ concerns. This might be true for reducing corruption, which is a key theme for Mitt Romney. But I’m not sure if it’s accurate to say that voters are genuinely concerned with cutting the deficit, and it’s simply wrong to claim that...

Teflon Don?

Responding to arguments that Mitt Romney is stronger than he looks, The New Republic ’s Nate Cohn notes the degree to which Romney’s resiliency—in the face of attacks and gaffes—is a natural consequence of polarization in the electorate. In other words, it doesn’t actually tell us anything about the direction of the election: If Romney was above 50 percent and withstood a month of bad press, that would be a real sign of resilience. But Romney’s not at 50 percent; he’s at 45 percent. And that essentially means that Romney holds the reliably Republican vote, and not very much more. The polls tell us that nearly all of these voters disapprove of Obama’s performance and that most are Republicans or Republican-leaning independents. History suggests that they have voted for Republicans in recent elections—for instance, in 2008, McCain won 45.9 percent of the vote in a hostile political climate. So 45 percent is a logical floor for Romney, given the intensity of Republican opposition to...

You Can't Beat Voter ID with Facts

(Ted Polumbaum Collection / Newseum)
The most recent episode of the Prospect podcast is a conversation with my colleague Abby Rapoport on voter-identification laws. One thing that we begin to talk about, but don’t spend enough time on, is the normative argument against voter identification. So far, liberals have devoted their time to showing the rarity of in-person voter fraud—the kind ostensibly prevented by voter ID—and the low likelihood that it would affect the outcome of an election. Tactically, this makes a lot of sense. The push for voter ID includes stories of massive voter fraud that play on public distrust toward government. If you can counter those stories with facts, you can make people think twice about implementing an additional burden to voting. Strategically, however, it’s a weak approach. Conservatives benefit from the the fact that their position sounds reasonable—if identification is required to buy beer and drive cars, then why isn’t it required for elections? Everyone agrees that voting is one of the...

Romney's Disastrous Trip Abroad

At the beginning of this week, I argued that Mitt Romney had nothing to gain from going abroad. If voters put him into the Oval Office, it will be because of discontent with the country's economy. Few people, especially undecided voters, are interested in what Romney has to say about foreign policy. Insofar as they even have opinions on it, they are most likely to agree with President Obama’s approach. For Romney, I argued, a foreign trip was high risk, low reward. So far, everything in Romney’s trip has confirmed that assessment. In less than 72 hours, Romney and his team have offended British prime minister David Cameron over the country’s Olympics preparations, lied about or revealed confidential conversations with the Australian foreign minister, confused Russia with the “Soviet Union,” attacked President Obama with an oddly racialized criticism, and suffered the ridicule of 60,000 Britons. The Romney team began this trip with hopes that Romney would emerge as the picture of a...

Sluggish Growth Makes Obama a Slight Favorite

(Barack Obama/Flickr)
I mentioned in the previous post that GDP growth was anemic; the economy increased by 1.5 percent in the second quarter, down from 2 percent in the first. Altogether, the economy has grown by 1.75 percent this year, which is nowhere close to where we need to be if we want a serious recovery from the Great Recession. As far as the election is concerned, this isn’t great news for President Obama, but it isn’t terrible news either. Even slow growth is growth, and it’s unusual for incumbent presidents to lose reelection while presiding over forward economic movement. Of the three presidents who lost reelection in the post-war era, only two did so when the economy was growing. Gerald Ford lost despite average growth of 4.8 percent—blame Watergate—and George H.W. Bush lost despite presiding over 4.2 percent growth in 1992. Unfortunately for Bush, economic growth was mitigated by voter discontent over rising unemployment. In most election models, 1.5 percent growth is enough to make Obama a...

The Enthusiasm Question

Yet another poll shows President Obama with a commanding lead among Latino voters. According to a survey commissioned by NBC News, the Wall Street Journal and Telemundo, Obama leads Romney 67 percent to 23 percent among Latino registered voters. Romney’s favorability with Latinos is incredibly negative, with 22 percent saying they have a positive view of the former Massachusetts governor, and 44 percent saying they have a negative view. Moreover, Romney hasn’t convinced Latinos that he would be effective on the economy; 53 percent say that Obama has better ideas to improve the economy, compared to 22 percent for Romney. Overall, 58 percent of Latinos approve of Obama’s handling of the economy. It should be said that this has the virtue of being true; Romney’s plan for the economy—a series of small bore measures to increase energy production and bolster trade relationships—would have a small affect on the short-term economy. And his tax plan, which ends several stimulus related tax...

How Do We Make Elections More Competitive?

(Flickr/Truthout)
This year’s presidential election is guaranteed to be exciting. Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama are incredibly close in the polls, and barring a major change in outside conditions—economic collapse or a foreign-policy crisis—that will likely carry over through the fall. For congressional elections, however, the picture is far less interesting. The race for control of the Senate will be close, but the House of Representatives will almost certainly remain a Republican stronghold. Indeed, only a handful of races on the Senate side are actually competitive. In the large majority of contested seats, the incumbent—or incumbent party—will win by a comfortable margin. The House is even less competitive. “If we had to call all the races today,” writes Kyle Kondik , house editor for the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, “we’d estimate a Democratic gain of somewhere between five and ten seats, with a specific guess of Democrats plus-six.” Remember, the entire House goes for re...

Romney Has Nothing to Win by Talking Foreign Policy

Besides pledging his unconditional support to the government of Israel and reiterating his willingness to use force against Iran, Mitt Romney didn’t actually offer foreign policy ideas in his speech this afternoon to the national convention of the Veterans of Foreign Wars. What he did do, however, was denounce President Obama’s foreign policy in the strongest terms possible. In particular, he attacked the administration’s opposition to missile defense, its willingness to accommodate and work with Russia—which he has deemed our “number one geopolitical foe”—its unwillingness to take a belligerent stance towards Venezuela, and its refusal to intervene in uprisings across the Middle East, from the 2009 Green protests in Iran to the recent events in Egypt and Syria. He promised to take a hard stance against China, and presented Obama as an avatar for American decline and weakness: I will not surrender America’s leadership in the world. We must have confidence in our cause, clarity in our...

The Gary Johnson Effect

(Gage Skidmore/Flickr)
Joe Trippi, a long-time Democratic campaign operative, argues that Gary Johnson—former Republican governor of New Mexico and current Libertarian Party nominee—could have an outsized influence on the presidential election: [R]emember that Ralph Nader didn’t crack 3% of the popular vote in 2000 – yet he completely changed the outcome of that race. Gary Johnson, meanwhile, is currently polling at 5.3% in the latest Zogby national poll. […] Johnson could make a major dent in the general election – because he is currently doing better than most people realize in several key swing states. Most pollsters don’t even include Gary Johnson in their polling. But recent polling that included him showed Johnson drawing 9% of the vote in Arizona, 7% in Colorado and New Hampshire – and 13% in his home state of New Mexico Trippi suggests otherwise, but if Gary Johnson were to make a Nader-like performance in this year’s election, odds are best that he would cost Mitt Romney the election. Remember, the...

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...

Batman: Gotham's Reformer

(Jamelle Bouie/The American Prospect)
My colleague Tom Carson makes an excellent point about The Dark Knight Rises , the final chapter in Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy: The real joke, as Rush [Limbaugh] might have learned if he’d crammed his posterior into a theater seat before venting, is that The Dark Knight Rises is one of the most deeply conservative movies to come out of Hollywood in years. Understand, I mean “conservative” in the traditional, more or less honorable sense that Rush and his fellow napalm-eaters have done their best to make obsolete. To a large extent, that’s built right into the source material. To much grimmer effect than his rival, Superman—all that sunshine palaver about “the American way,” feh—Batman has always been the guardian of a social order against chaos, with a pretty dour view of unbridled license and plenty of pessimism about humanity’s prospects for improvement. It’s absolutely true that Batman is a conservative character, and that this conservatism carries over into both Rises and...

How Should We Approach Gun Control?

As many pointed out last Friday, after the shooting in Aurora, Colorado, politics is one of the most important ways in which a democratic society deals with thorny issues—and the regularity of mass killings in the United States is a complicated issue that deserves a political lens. As David Waldman put it, “If you live under a regime of self-government, everything is political. Even the decision to decline to address things politically.” With that said, here are a few things we know about gun violence in this country. There are an estimated 270 million privately owned guns in the U.S, and the total rate of gun ownership is 88.8 firearms per 100 people. Overall, there are guns in 40 to 45 percent of American households, and nearly a third of adults own a firearm. This makes the United States the most gun-saturated country in the world. We also have a high rate of gun-related violence. There were 16,272 homicides in 2008. Of those, more than 58 percent—or 9,484—were committed with a...

Romney's Counterproductive European Tour

Next week, the Washington Post reports , Mitt Romney is taking a break from the campaign at home to meet with leaders abroad: Mitt Romney plans to depart next week for a visit to Britain, Israel and Poland, and the Republican presidential candidate hopes the trip will help him project the aura of a statesman and signal to voters back home that he would make a plausible commander in chief. He will listen to leaders of important U.S. allies, make symbolic appearances at historical sites and build personal relationships. He plans to meet with British Prime Minister David Cameron at 10 Downing St. and catch up with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, an old friend from their days as business consultants, while aides are preparing speeches for him to give in Israel and Poland. I continue to doubt the utility of this trip. Few Americans are dissatisfied with Barack Obama’s foreign policy, and few want—or need—Romney to articulate an alternative. Romney should take advantage of this...

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