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The Prospect's politics blog

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?


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.

Obama's Town Hall To-Do List

Here’s what President Obama needs to do tonight:

  1. Show leadership, resolve, and toughness
  2. Directly call Romney on his evasions and deceptions
  3. Demolish several of Romney’s outright lies
  4. Not pass up several opportunities to make points, as he did in the first debate
  5. Not make any major mistakes
  6. Take advantage of any Romney blunders


  • Refute Romney's claims that the Benghazi attack was Obama’s failure, and shame Romney for trying to make political hay of it

What Does Obama Need to Do Tonight? Defend His Record.

(Jamelle Bouie)

Ahead of tonight’s town hall debate, the Obama campaign has released a direct-to-camera video featuring Bill Clinton, who—as president—thrived in town hall-style environments. The video, which is meant to clarify the issues around Mitt Romney’s tax plan, is a partial restatement of Clinton’s acclaimed speech at the Democratic National Convention.

All Due Respect

Find out what it means to me.

As I was going through old presidential debates in writing this piece, I came across a moment in the 2004 town hall debate in which John Kerry got asked by a woman in the audience what he would tell someone who thought abortion was murder and wanted reassurance that their tax money wouldn't be going to abortion. He began his answer in the way we have come to expect Democratic politicians to: "First of all, I cannot tell you how deeply I respect the belief about life and when it begins." He then went on to explain how he was an altar boy, religion is very important to him, but he won't impose his personal beliefs on others. At the end of it, he wrapped up with a discussion of the importance of family planning, and said, "You'll actually do a better job, I think, of passing on the moral responsibility that is expressed in your question. And I truly respect it."

Which got me thinking: When was the last time you heard a Republican express their deep, deep respect for the moral perspective that informs the views of Americans who are pro-choice? The answer is, pretty much never.

Obama and the Vision Thing

President Obama’s first challenge in tomorrow night’s town hall debate has been crystal clear ever since he allowed Mitt Romney to Etch A Sketch his way through their first encounter: Follow Joe Biden’s lead by calling out Romney on his inconsistencies and lies, while highlighting the radicalism of the Republicans’ real agenda. The Prospect’s Paul Waldman offers some sage advice: “He needs a single phrase that he will repeat every time he's refuting a Romney falsehood.

Five Fool-Proof Tips for Winning a Town Hall Debate

(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Tuesday night, Barack Obama and Mitt Romney will meet in a "town hall" debate, which doesn't actually much resemble a town hall, but does provide an opportunity for ordinary voters to ask the candidates questions. So does this kind of forum actually give us any better idea of which candidate would be the superior president? As I noted last week, town hall debates are less predictable and tend to cover a wider range of topics than the format of a moderator and candidates standing behind podiums. That does mean that we could get a bit more insight into the operation of these two men's minds, but it also means that slightly different of skills and preparation are required. A review of past town hall debates—there has been one in every presidential election since 1992—shows what Obama and Romney will have to do in order to succeed. Obama and Romney have, we assume, looked back at how their predecessors handled these events. Here's some of what they might have learned.

Let's Talk about Climate, Mr. President

(PRNewsFoto/American Electric Power)

The night of the first presidential debate, I showed up at a watching party unusually sweaty. It was a heavy, humid night in New York City—too hot for October, reminiscent of an evening in late June. I know that weather’s not climate, but I couldn’t help wondering: without climate change, how likely could it be that a night a few weeks into the fall would feel like this one? Was I experiencing the creep of days hotter than they should be, nights that just won’t cool down? Most Americans, it turns out, are asking themselves similar questions.

Medicaid Is the Real Target

Since August, when Mitt Romney chose Paul Ryan as his running mate, the two campaigns have fought a fierce battle over who is the most stalwart protector of Medicare. In the first presidential debate, Romney assailed President Obama for his $716 billion in Medicare cuts, and Ryan did the same in last week’s vice presidential face-off. Likewise, the Obama campaign has hit Team Romney for the Ryan plan and its Medicare “premium support”—which, if implemented, would gradually replace traditional Medicare with subsidized, regulated private insurance.

(Fiscal) Cliffs Notes

(Flickr/Matthew Wilkinson)

The most bizarre thing about the deficit and the campaign is the fact that the risk of a fiscal cliff—which everyone agrees will crash the economy—is being used to justify a slightly smaller fiscal cliff. There are several players here, so the arguments are worth sorting out. Herewith, some Cliffs Notes: