Vox Pop

The Prospect's politics blog

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...

"Don't Worry, He's Lying!"

Yesterday, I did an online debate with Buzz Bissinger, author of Friday Night Lights , for New York magazine. We went through a wide range of topics, but one thing we stuck on—for a while—was the issue of Mitt Romney’s political commitments. Bissinger refused to believe that Romney is the conservative he’s campaigned as for the last 18 months, and he insisted Romney would be more moderate than he’s appeared if elected president. Here’s the nut of his argument: [T]ake a look at Romney’s record as Mass governor. He was not some crazoid conservative. He crossed party lines. He provided the template for Obamacare, for God’s sake. Romney has at least shown some ability to cross lines, however weak. Obama has not. He is not politically adept. He is not good at crossing the aisle. I can only go on what I have read, but he does not like politics and all the gab and bullshit. Politics is gab and bullshit. So I think Romney has a much better chance of appealing to Dems than Obama will ever have...

Voting While Trans

(AP Photo/Stephan Savoia)
Here’s the thing I loved about talking with Mara Keisling this week: her flat-out declaration that transpeople are winning their civil rights and cultural acceptance battles. I’m crazily Tiggerish on lesbian and gay issues: we’ve come so far so unbelievably fast, over my lifetime, that some days I bounce with glee. But given that the trans part of the LGBT coalition got started about 15 years later and has had very different challenges, I was still an Eeyore about their efforts. So it made my day to hear Keisling, the National Center for Transgender Equality executive director, declare a coming victory. “Science is on our side, first of all,” she explained. “Common sense is on our side. Decency is on our side. When you get that combination, you win every time.” But of course, winning is not the same as has won— which is why we were discussing the right to vote, and whether transpeople will be able to exercise it this year. Until NCTE launched its “ Voting While Trans ” initiative, it...

12 Million Jobs and a Unicorn!

(Bluegal)
Mitt Romney’s entire presidential campaign is premised on the idea that—as a former businessman—he is best qualified to fix the economy. It went unnoticed, but while talking tax reform, President Obama pushed against that with an effective attack on the shaky numbers behind Romney’s tax plan: Now, Governor Romney was a very successful investor. If somebody came to you, Governor, with a plan that said, here, I want to spend $7 or $8 trillion, and then we’re going to pay for it, but we can’t tell you until maybe after the election how we’re going to do it, you wouldn’t take such a sketchy deal and neither should you, the American people, because the math doesn’t add up. Since then, “sketchy deal” has become something of a catchphrase for the president; to wit, in an Iowa speech yesterday, he used it to contrast Romney’s plan with “deals” of the past: Romney still benefits from a presumption of competence, and Obama would be well-served by hammering on the essential vapidness of Romney’s...

Jen Rubin: The Beltway's Waldorf and Statler

Secretary Hillary Clinton took responsibility for the situation in Benghazi on Monday , noting to the press that the “president and the vice-president wouldn't be knowledgeable about specific decisions that are made by security professionals.” There are a number of appropriate reactions this statement. One could assume it’s a bit of politicking during election season, an attempt to take the heat off the president and help his re-election bid. One could see it as a diplomatic move, aimed at quelling tensions in the Middle East. One could take it at face value. Or, one could lose her ever-loving mind and accuse Clinton of betraying feminism. The last option was the one chosen by WaPo's Jennifer Rubin, whose writing has become synonymous with “mindless partisan bleating.” Rubin responded to Clinton on Twitter with some creative uses of punctuation: First Bill humiliates her and now Obama does.. Hillary no feminist, more like doormat — Jennifer Rubin (@JRubinBlogger) October 16, 2012...

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. Obama graciously accepted the gift, turning his final answer into the piece de resistance of an evening when he hit every note he needed to hit—and turned the confident Romney of Denver into a caged animal, prowling the stage with a fierce scowl and bickering with the moderator rather...

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...

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