Vox Pop

The Prospect's politics blog

The Third Debate: New Topic, Same Empty Taste

(AP Photo/Mario Tama, Pool)
(AP Photo/David Goldman, File) President Barack Obama and Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney exchange views during the second presidential debate at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York. B arack Obama and Mitt Romney will meet tonight to discuss foreign affairs, and there's one thing I can predict with near-certainty: This discussion will be just as vacuous as the rest of the campaign. Which is too bad, because on foreign policy, the president's own personal interests, beliefs, and biases matter much more than they do on domestic policy. An inordinate amount of time is spent during the campaign trying to pin down who the candidates are deep in their hearts, when in so many areas it doesn't matter at all. In the domestic realm, presidents are constrained by what Congress is willing to do and by their own party's priorities. Mitt Romney will seek to cut taxes, roll back regulations protecting the environment and workers' rights, cut...

In Minnesota, Voting Blind on Voter ID

(AP Photo/The The Hutchinson News, Travis Morisse, File)
The fifth in a Prospect series on the 174 ballot measures up for a vote this November. Across the country, most voter-ID wars have unfolded in legislative chambers and courtrooms. But in Minnesota, a whole new battleground has opened as voters decide whether to put a photo ID-requirement into the state constitution. The constitutional amendment passed through the Republican-controlled legislature, but was foiled by a veto from Democratic Governor Mark Dayton. Now, it's up to voters to decide whether they want to put new burdens on themselves and fellow voters. The catch? Voters won't get any say about what those burdens will look like—flexible, with several forms of photo ID allowed, or super-strict, with only one or two kinds acceptable? Whichever party wins the state legislature in November will likely get to set the rules. If the Democrats win, the law could be relaxed, whereas conservatives would likely push to make the law as restrictive as they possibly can without incurring...

White Democrats Disappear from the Deep South

"These are my guns now, and ain't nobody gon' take 'em away."
John Barrow is fighting for his life. The Georgia representative is that most politically endangered of species, a white Democrat in the Deep South. When the state's Republicans redrew the district lines, they not only made his district more Republican, they also made sure his own home was outside his new district, just to stick it to him. Barrow was always conservative— National Journal rates him as the eighth-most conservative Democrat in the House—but in this election, he's got to really turn on the juice if he's going to survive. And what better way than with some belligerent paranoia on guns? After proudly showing off his father's and grandfather's guns (and snapping the bolt back and forth on the latter to provide the very sound of freedom), Barrow says in this ad, "I approved this message because these are my guns now. And ain't nobody gon' take 'em away." Well that's a relief. There are a number of black Southern Democrats in Congress, representing districts that are...

Will 2000 Happen Again?

In the last week or so, conventional wisdom has begun to settle on the possibility of an Electoral College/popular vote split. The situation is straightforward: Thanks to a persistent lead in Ohio, Obama ekes out a victory in the Electoral College, but Romney wins a bare majority of the popular vote. Setting aside the question of politics— i.e. , how the parties and public would react to the second such split in just over a decade—just how likely is this scenario? If you go by current polling, it looks like a solid possibility; just this morning , the pollsters at Quinnipiac University found Obama with a five-point lead in Ohio. If you take an average of the three major polling averages—Talking Points Memo, Real Clear Politics, and Pollster—Obama has a 2.4-percent lead over Mitt Romney in Ohio. By contrast, that same average of averages shows a slight 0.2 percent lead for Romney nationally. If this holds, we could have the split. Of course, in addition to accepting this is as a...

The Mile-High Question

(Flickr/Snap Man)
(Monica Potts/The American Prospect) A front lawn in Littleton, Colorado This is part one of the Prospect ’s weeklong series on the swing districts that could determine the national outcome on November 6. G reg Archuleta lives in Golden, Colorado, where he worked for the Coors brewery for 34 years until he retired in 1999. Archuleta, who is 73, volunteers for the Democratic Party in the larger Jefferson County area, 778 square miles of suburbs just west of Denver that holds half a million people. On a recent Saturday drive, Archuleta was worried. For the past few months, he’s been asking property owners with backyards facing the highway if they would hang giant signs for President Barack Obama and the local congressman, Democrat Ed Perlutter, who’s in a tough battle for re-election. Now, some of the Obama signs had come down; more and more signs for Mitt Romney were up. Archuleta drove between shopping malls and new condos and subdivisions, investigating the grassy tracts between road...

Too Close for Comfort

This was supposed to be about a six-point race in Obama's favor. That's sure how it looked on the eve of the first debate. But now it's dead even. What happened? First, of course, Romney cleaned Obama's clock in the first debate. Obama came back strong in debate number two, but evidently a lot of swing voters formed their impressions in that deadly first encounter. But there is a more fundamental problem here. The narrative of the past four years should have revolved around free-market ideology, Wall Street plunder, Republican rule, and the fact that Republicans first crashed the economy and then blocked a recovery. Obama did not hit any of those themes as forcefully as he needed to. The Tea Partiers, despite their billionaire backers, became agents of populist backlash. Obama was too conciliatory for far too long. The Republican Congress was able to persuade public opinion that the failure to make progress on everything from jobs to the budget was a symmetrical failure rather than...

Four Notes on George McGovern

(AP Photo/Doug Dreyer, File)
During Senator George McGovern’s 1972 presidential race, just out of college and back in my hometown of Los Angeles, I worked at the campaign’s Fairfax Avenue office, which was in the epicenter of L.A.’s Jewish community. Someone there (I don’t remember who) got the idea to print up a leaflet that proclaimed, in bold letters, “Nixon is Treyf”— treyf being the Yiddish word for not kosher, filthy, you shouldn’t eat it. The leaflet then went on to list reasons why President Nixon wasn’t good for the Jews. (We didn’t know at the time that Nixon had ordered a purge of Jewish economists from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, or that would have headed the list.) Fast-forward 18 months to the Watergate hearings. As the hearings kept turning up crime after crime committed by Nixon’s re-election campaign, Republicans were desperate to uncover at least one dirty trick committed by the McGovern effort. The best they could do was introduce the “Nixon is Treyf” leaflet into evidence, and call the...

The Grit and Grace of George McGovern

(AP Photo)
(AP Photo, File) In this August 9, 1972 file photo, with the pictures of former Democratic Presidents Kennedy and Johnson behind him, Senator George McGovern, introduces Sargent Shriver as his vice-presidential pick to the Democratic National Committee in Washington. A family spokesman says, McGovern, the Democrat who lost to President Richard Nixon in 1972 in a historic landslide, has died at the age of 90. According to a spokesman, McGovern died Sunday, October 21, 2012 at a hospice in Sioux Falls, surrounded by family and friends. T hroughout his sixty years in public life, a great deal was written about George McGovern. One of my favorite descriptions of him is by Pete Hamill. Back in the 1972 presidential campaign, he wrote: “George McGovern comes at you like one of those big Irish heavyweights in the 1930s—a little slow, but with the chin shut hard against the chest, the jaw breaching out, coming on, daring you to do your best. ... He might be beaten, but you will know he was...

Obama's Missing Bounce

Wait a minute: Wasn’t President Obama supposed to get a generous boost in the polls from his masterly comeback performance on Tuesday night? A counter-bounce to the one Romney got from Round One? If so, it’s been awfully slow in coming. The main polling headline in recent days sent Democrats right back into a depressive spiral: Gallup’s weekly tracking poll, out on Thursday, showed the Republican leading nationally by his biggest margin yet—seven points. The swing states remain much the same, with Obama clinging to narrow leads in most. So what gives? If Obama fails to get much or any post-debate bounce, you can blame it at least in part on the power couple of new media: Republican spin and instant journalism. Long before the debate was over, the right was busy making it all about the moderator, Candy Crowley, and her perceived bias against Romney. (The Prospect 's Paul Waldman shot this down decisively .) They’d been warning of the threat this partisan Bolshevik from CNN posed for...

Free Speech Weirdness from Overseas

The Bill of Rights, nothing but trouble.
Today, Philip Bump at Grist passed along this interesting story about a shock jock in Australia who, after spewing some false nonsense about climate change on the air, "has been ordered to undergo 'factual accuracy' training, and to use fact-checkers." Obviously, the government has no such powers here in America, but it's a good reminder that America's particular version of free speech wasn't handed down from above, or even by the Founders. The words in the First Amendment ("Congress shall make no law ... abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press") are very general; the contours and details of that freedom have been given shape over the decades by a succession of Supreme Court cases. James Madison didn't have an opinion about whether it was OK for Rush Limbaugh to go on the air and call Sandra Fluke a "slut" and a "prostitute," so we had to figure out later how to handle that, and we chose, for some good reasons, to let it slide (legally speaking). In other countries where...

Salad Days for the Gun Industry

Time to stock up! (Flickr/ElCapitanBSC)
This week's town hall debate featured only one really surprising question, on gun violence. In any other election one might have expected a question about this topic, but both Barack Obama and Mitt Romney have been completely silent on the issue, so in all likelihood neither one of them expected it. And they gave answers that should have warmed the heart of any gun advocate. Obama, whose action on guns has consisted of signing two laws expanding gun rights (you can now take your guns into national parks and on Amtrak), said that "what I'm trying to do is to get a broader conversation about how do we reduce the violence generally." When his turn came, Romney gave his nod to the standard pro-gun line, "I'm not in favor of new pieces of legislation on guns," and went on to say that the real problem is single-parent homes. So if you're a gun advocate, these are really the best of times. On one hand, you have a president who has not and will not do anything to restrict gun rights. Yet on...

Georgia's Bitter Charter Battle

(Flickr/hpeguk)
The fourth in a Prospect series on the 174 initiatives and referendums up for a vote this November. In March, the Georgia Department of Education released an in-depth report showing that students in the state's charter schools perform worse than those in traditional schools. You might have thought such a conclusion would prompt lawmakers to at least pause on a constitutional amendment creating a new state agency specifically to create new charters. Instead, a week later, the Georgia Senate passed it with the required two-thirds majority . Voters will determine the amendment's fate this November, deciding whether charter schools should be drastically expanded at the expense of the traditional districts. The amendment fight was heated from the get-go. Georgia has cut around $4 billion in funding for public schools over the last four years. The new agency would cost $430 million—money traditional school advocates say should be going to ease those budget cuts. The state would also have to...

Gallup Gulp

Undoubtedly, there are some liberals panicking over the latest Gallup tracking poll, which shows Mitt Romney with a seven-point lead over President Obama, 51 percent to 44 percent. Before confining themselves to despair, however, liberals should remember a few things: First, individual polls aren’t accurate measures of the state of the race. As more and more polls are released—and there is more and more noise—it’s important to pay attention to averages . Even something as crude as the Real Clear Politics average—which brings together the most recent polls—is useful in reducing the influence of outliers. Second, Gallup is a well-regarded survey outfit, but that doesn’t mean its polls are perfect. This isn’t to say that Gallup is “skewed,” but rather that Gallup has had erratic results over the last few election cycles. In 2010, for example, Gallup showed Republicans leading on the generic ballot by 15 points; the actual margin was 6.8 points. Similar disparities were seen in the 2008,...

And On to the Next Pseudo-Issue We Go

He's ready to deliver. (Flickr/Just a Prarie Boy)
So remember how the question of whether Barack Obama said the right words at the right time about the Benghazi attack was the most important thing happening in the world and a burgeoning scandal that we absolutely had to get to the bottom of lest Americans' faith in our democratic system be destroyed? Eh, not so much : In the post-debate spin room Tuesday night, Romney campaign aides and surrogates tried to make up for a botched exchange on the Libya attacks by promising to aggressively prosecute President Obama's handling of the situation — but 36 hours later, no such prosecution has materialized. Instead, Mitt Romney spent the next day on the stump criticizing the president for his lack of a second-term agenda, and conspicuously avoiding the Libya issue. Asked why the issue was absent from Romney's public remarks, senior adviser Kevin Madden told BuzzFeed the campaign decided to focus their post-debate Virginia swing on exposing Obama's lack of specific proposals, and challenge him...

What Mitt Romney Will Actually Do On Abortion

Flickr/OZinOh
During Tuesday's debate, Mitt Romney did a sneaky little pivot on the issue of contraception coverage that surely went over the head of most of the people watching. What Romney supports is a Republican bill, the Blunt amendment, that would allow any employer to refuse to include coverage for contraception in employees' health insurance. For many women, that would mean they would be shut out of getting contraception through the plans that, we should note, they paid for themselves (insurance coverage isn't a favor your employer does for you, it's part of your compensation that you get in return for your labor, which means you paid for it). But when it came up in the debate, Romney said this: "I don't believe that bureaucrats in Washington should tell someone whether they can use contraceptives or not. And I don't believe employers should tell someone whether they could have contraceptive care of not. Every woman in America should have access to contraceptives. And—and the—and the...

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