Vox Pop

The Prospect's politics blog

The Big Finish

All across America on Tuesday night, a little after 10:30, Democrats were leaning forward in their seats, rubbing their hands in eager anticipation while Republicans covered their eyes and winced over what was about to happen. Mitt Romney, after spending the night treating his opponent, the moderator, and the truth with ugly contempt, had just done the nicest thing you could imagine: He’d offered President Obama a kind invitation to close the festivities by invoking the Republican’s most devastating blunder of the campaign, his “47 percent” remarks at a fundraiser in Boca Raton last May. Not once, but twice, Romney had used his own closing moments to claim that he cares about “100 percent” of Americans. 

It's All In the Words

Flickr/Pierre Metivier

When Barack Obama and Mitt Romney got into their little back-and-forth over Benghazi last night, I tweeted that it would probably going to get more press attention than anything that happened in the debate, yet of all the topics they addressed, it may be the least relevant to which of these two would make a better president. And here we are. Think about this: the argument isn't about what sort of policy we should be pursuing toward Libya, or how we can address anti-Americanism or terrorism, or what sort of security our embassies and consulates should have. Instead, it's about which words Obama said on which day. Seriously. And you wonder why people are cynical about politics.

All along, Republicans have been acting as though within hours of the attack, had Obama said, "This was a terroristic terror attack, full of terrorizing terror," then...what, exactly? The perpetrators would have turned themselves in? Potential al-Qaeda recruits would have said, "Hold on—this is a terrorist organization you want me to join? No thanks, buddy"?

And now that we've all been reminded that Obama did indeed use the word "terror" the day after the attacks, are we any closer to understanding what happened and what should have been done differently? Of course not.

No, Candy Crowley Did Not Show Any Favoritism

Candy Crowley questions President Obama during last night's debate

Before last night's debate, both the Obama and Romney camps expressed their concern that moderator Candy Crowley might go rogue and act like something resembling a journalist, not merely keeping time and introducing questioners but interjecting to get clarifications and ask follow-ups. Once the debate was over, it was only conservatives complaining about her. Some found her biased from start to finish, but all criticized her for her intervention on the somewhat absurd question of what words President Obama used and when to describe the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi. But a close look at what went on in the debate reveals that Crowley was actually judiciously even-handed, and if anything, may have done more favors for Romney. Before we discuss how, here are some of the reactions from the right:

Romney Decides to Make Stuff Up on Abortion

Mitt Romney is no stranger to shifting positions on reproductive rights, but even for him, his latest move is audacious. In an ad released today, he simply denies that he’s ever held conservative positions on contraception and abortion:

If you can’t watch videos, here’s what the narrator says:

“You know, those ads saying Mitt Romney would ban all abortions and contraceptions seemed a bit extreme, so I looked into it. Turns out, Romney doesn’t oppose contraception at all. In fact, he thinks abortion should be an option in cases of rape, incest, and to save a mother’s life.”

Obama Said Knock You Out

(Sipa via AP Images)

What made the first presidential debate so shocking—and what sent liberals into complete panic—was the fact that, for the first time in four years, President Obama had to face an equal—and he didn’t seem to know how to respond. He looked less like the president, and more like another politician, who might not be ready for another four years on the job.

A Binder Full of Beers

(Sipa via AP Images)

For Republican supporters of Mitt Romney in Denver—site of Romney’s triumph in the first debate over the president two weeks ago—Tuesday night’s town hall was marked with energized anticipation. Romney had rescued them from a lackluster summer, and they were ready to celebrate even before moderator Candy Crowley introduced her first Town Hall participant. Around 50 people came to The Tavern downtown straight after work for a debate-watching party held by the Romney campaign. It began at 7 p.m. for those of us in Denver, which meant one thing to these voters: Happy Hour.

Wed, Oct. 17 Electoral Vote Predictor

Supreme Court Refuses to Block Early Voting in Ohio

With a one-sentence decision reading "The application for stay presented to Justice Kagan and by her referred to the Court is denied," the U.S. Supreme Court has extricated itself from a case that increased the chances that President Obama would win Ohio and the election. Briefly recapping the situation, early voting has already started in Ohio. However, the Republican Secretary of State, Jon Husted, decided to close the polls on the Saturday, Sunday, and Monday before election day except for military families. They would be allowed to vote then, but nobody else would.

The Obama campaign took the state to court on the grounds that there was no valid reason to allow one class of voters to get three extra days and not others. Husted knew very well, of course, that the majority of people who vote the weekend before the election are Democrats, many of them lower-income voters who can't take off from work on election day. The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the state could not keep the polls open for some voters but not all. Then Husted appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court to prevent the Appeals Court's ruling from taking effect. The Supreme Court refused to grant the stay, so all Ohio Voters will be allowed to vote the weekend before the election.

This is probably the most important news of the day, even more than the presidential debate. An estimated 100,000 people will vote in the weekend before the election, the majority of them Democrats. If their votes help Obama carry Ohio, it would take a near miracle for Romney to get to 270 electoral votes. He would have to win Florida, North Carolina, Virginia, and Colorado and a few more swing states.

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A Bumper Crop of Pot Referenda

(Flickr/Torben Bjørn Hansen)

In the halls of state legislatures, few folks laugh at the exploits of Cheech and Chong or Harold and Kumar. There is a bipartisan consensus that marijuana laws are political kryptonite, as if touching the topic of drug legalization, even medicinally, might prompt immediate backlash. The lack of mainstream support is surprising, given that sizeable groups in both parties have long clamored for an end to the “War on Drugs.” Some drug war critics point to the costs, both societal and budgetary, associated with imprisoning millions of people for a crime that doesn’t seem to hurt anyone.

Stop Gun Violence: Get Married

Anthony Behar/Sipa USA (Sipa via AP Images)

The Republican presidential candidate thinks marriage solves everything because he'd rather avoid real solutions.

Game, Set, Obama

President Obama did what he needed to do tonight. He took the debate to Mitt Romney. He was relaxed, even jaunty, as he scored one point after another. He seemed to be enjoying himself at Romney’s expense. He looked more comfortable and commanding as the debate wore on, while Romney looked more stiff, edgy, and salesman-like.

Obama needed to remind voters that Romney is a very rich man out of touch with regular people, and he did that well. He got in Romney’s face and he got under Romney’s skin, but stopped just short of being overly aggressive.

Advantage Mitt?

Everyone knows that Mitt Romney is stiff and awkward, which is why everyone also knows that he’ll do poorly at tonight’s town hall debate. Of the two candidates, Barack Obama is supposed to be the one who is friendly and personable with ordinary people. Even with his poor performance two weeks ago, the assumption is that Obama will benefit from the change in format. But will he?

The fact is that there are serious pitfalls for the president tonight. The first, of course, is that if he doesn’t do well, he'll give Romney a chance to solidify his gains with another solid win. There’s also the chance that he overcompensates for his initial loss, and is too aggressive against the Republican nominee. In which case, he comes across as unpresidential—and a little bit desperate.

Bums on the Bus

Courtesy Faith in Public Life

Yesterday, the Nuns On the Bus—the summer’s most devout media darlings, who gained notoriety for their two-week, nine-state bus tour to protest Congressman Paul Ryan’s proposed budget plan—got a rude surprise in Marietta, Ohio.

In the midst of a five-day bus tour of the state to protest proposed cuts to social services, the sisters were greeted by a group of Romney-Ryan supporters toting signs with slogans proclaiming, “Bums on the Bus: You Are Not Catholic,” and “Romney/Ryan, Yes; Fake Nuns, No,” ostensibly taking issue with the nuns’ focus on affordable healthcare and income inequality instead of pro-life issues.

Marry Me in Maryland?

(Flickr/mdfriendofhillary)

This fall, opponents of marriage equality will lose a much-beloved talking point: that in every state in which the issue has gone on the ballot, voters have rejected same-sex marriage. On November 6, the freedom to marry someone of the same sex is up for a vote in four states: Maine, Maryland, Minneosta, and Washington. Each state's initiative and situation is quite different, but in at least one, and possibly three, voters are going to offer marriage licenses to their lesbian and gay neighbors.

Let's start by looking at Maryland. The backstory: In February, the Maryland legislature passed, and on March 1, Governor Martin O'Malley enthusiastically signed, a marriage-equality law. The law was set to take effect in January. Named in jujitsu fashion, "The Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Protection Act" explicitly addressed the canard that allowing civil same-sex marriage would force churches to perform religious marriages that they oppose theologically. As expected, opponents launched a petition drive to put the measure on the ballot after it passed.

In Defense of Paul Ryan's Fake Dishwashing

(AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

In case you haven't heard the story, the other day Paul Ryan's team thought it would be a good idea to show his compassionate side, so they had him show up at a soup kitchen in Youngstown, Ohio to help out. The only problem was that lunch had already been served, the patrons were all gone, and everything had been cleaned up. Undeterred, Ryan and his wife donned aprons and proceeded to wash pots for the cameras, despite the fact that the pots they were washing appeared to have already been washed. The head of the charity that runs the soup kitchen was a bit perturbed about the whole thing, saying later, "Had they asked for permission, it wouldn't have been granted. … But I certainly wouldn't have let him wash clean pans, and then take a picture."

Yes, this came in for plenty of ridicule. But let me rise to Ryan's defense. The fact that the pots did not actually need washing doesn't make this much more phony than the typical candidate photo op, where the candidate pretends to be "helping" for a few minutes but actually does little but create trouble for everyone; as they say on "Free to Be You And Me," some kind of help is the kind of help we all can do without. Everything candidates do, particularly this close to an election, is manufactured and artificial, undertaken only for the purpose of being photographed and written about. If tomorrow Paul Ryan goes to paint a Habitat for Humanity house or deliver Meals on Wheels, it won't be any more genuine. And the truth is, by coming when nobody was there, he did that soup kitchen a favor.

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