Vox Pop

The Prospect's politics blog

B Is for Bad Moderator

(AP Photo/Matt Sayles, File)
(AP Photo/Pool-Michael Reynolds) President Barack Obama answers a question of moderator Jim Lehrer during the first presidential debate at the University of Denver, Wednesday, October 3, 2012, in Denver. A ll spinning aside—and if I read the term "rope-a-dope" one more time, I may lose it—Wednesday's debate was a bummer for Obama's partisans and a lift for Mitt Romney's. But let's not slight the night's one great contribution to American unity. Who among us can forget the thrill of realizing we were all fed up with Jim Lehrer? From blue, red, and even purple throats alike, a roar of "Put a sock in it, you dweeb" rang through the land. Beware the man whose signature boast is his modesty. The comedy got underway when Monday's New York Times reported that the crypt-keeper of PBS's Newshour was "seething" over complaints that he might not be the hippest cat to moderate Denver's mano a mano. It's not unknown in Washington that Lehrer can be awfully prickly whenever anybody doubts his bland...

Obama the Apologetic

Obama and Romney, yukking it up.
As I read over the transcript of the debate, a couple of things struck me. First, on the page it doesn't look nearly as bad for Obama as a lot of people are saying. Of course, the debate doesn't exist for most people on the page, but what I found frustrating wasn't so much that Obama said things that were bad in and of themselves, but that he let so many opportunities pass by. And what a lot of it comes down to is his seeming inability to use direct language. We heard leading up to the debate that his advisers were encouraging him to make his answers shorter, but length isn't his problem. It's that he uses passive constructions and language that hedges when he should be speaking more clearly. To show what I mean, here are a few of the things he said during the debate when he was criticizing Romney, and how they might have been put more clearly. Here's something he said about Romney's tax plan: Now, Governor Romney's proposal that he has been promoting for 18 months calls for a $5...

At Long Last, Romney Shifts to the Center

(AP Photo/Eric Gay)
(AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall) Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney answers a question during the first presidential debate at the University of Denver, Wednesday, October 3, 2012, in Denver. F or some time now, I've been wondering when Mitt Romney would finally make that "shift to the center" that candidates supposedly do after they win their party's nomination. The need was particularly acute for Romney, since his party is particularly unpopular with the public, and he spent the primaries working so hard to convince base Republican voters that he was, in his immortal phrase, "severely conservative." But it never seemed to happen. Until last night. There's no question that Romney performed better than Obama in most every way. But what was really striking to me was how different he sounded than he has up until now. If you hadn't paid any attention to politics over the last year and a half, you'd think this Mitt Romney guy must have been the most moderate Republican running this...

"And Now Begins the Overreaction."

Opening Remarks Opening gambits: Obama croons "Let's Stay Together," Romney counters with "She'll Be Comin' Round the Mountain." — Paul Waldman (@paulwaldman1) October 4, 2012 I'm confused. I was led to believe this would be a debate between Jeremiah Wright and Orly Taitz. — Jesse Walker (@notjessewalker) October 4, 2012 This is like watching a tax law professor debate an investment advice infomercial host — daveweigel (@daveweigel) October 4, 2012 Moderator Bashing ... — Silent Jim Lehrer (@SilentJimLehrer) October 4, 2012 Jim Lehrer is watching "Homeland" on his iPad. — John Podhoretz (@jpodhoretz) October 4, 2012 Jim Lehrer seems kinda crotchety, but we really need Eastwood moderating this debate. — Molly Ball (@mollyesque) October 4, 2012 JIM LEHRER IS A REPLACEMENT REF — Kevin Lincoln (@KTLincoln) October 4, 2012 I like when Twitter moves this fast, because it means we're all just shouting into the ether, and not actually reading any of it. — Alex Koppelman (@AlexKoppelman)...

The Debate in 17 GIFs

Obama Shouts Out to Michelle for Their Anniversary Mitt Says He Loves Coal Obama Nods. Mitt Offers Some Simplistic Platitudes. Obama Nods. Obama Name-Checks Bill Clinton. Twice. Mitt Tells Another Anecdote about a Down-on-Their-Luck Couple in Schenectady. Jim Lehrer Won't Shut Mitt Up. Obama Nods. Everyone Loves the Middle Class Mitt Claims He's Way into Regulation. Obama Smiles. Mitt Throws the Phrase "Trickle-Down" at Obama. The President Winces. Liberals Facepalm. It's Over. THANK GOD.

Romney Wins ... and It Won't Matter

(AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
(AP Photo/Charles Dharapak) Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney embraces granddaughter Chloe at the end of the first presidential debate. For the last two weeks, I have argued—consistently—that the debates don’t matter for the outcome of the presidential election. And now that we’ve had the first debate , I still think that’s true. Which is not to say that this wasn’t interesting. For the first time since he began running for the Republican nomination, Mitt Romney looked comfortable. During his debate with President Obama, he took command, clearly explained his points of disagreement, and offered a little humanity with stories of the unemployed and suffering. He even shook the Etch-a-Sketch; on everything from tax policy—he disavowed his plan to cut taxes across-the-board—to health care (where he praised his Massachusetts reform bill), Romney made an abrupt move to the center, and it was hugely effective. It’s no exaggeration to say that...

Obama: Game Off

(AP/David Goldman)
President Obama listens to Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney during the first presidential debate at the University of Denver, Wednesday. Not since George H.W. Bush’s “I’m so bored I’m looking at my watch” turn in the town-hall debate against Bill Clinton and Ross Perot in 1992 has a sitting president performed as lethargically as Barack Obama did in Denver. The juice that the Democratic Convention injected into his re-election effort was leeched out, in the span of 90 minutes, by his faltering, small-ball effort. The president didn’t just play it safe; he didn’t play at all. That was not merely the reason Obama lost; it was also the reason Mitt Romney gave him a good old-fashioned stomping. The Mittster came across as a man who can’t wait to be president. Sure, he was overeager at times. Yes, he was unappealingly aggressive at times, especially as he mercilessly steamrolled the hapless and foggy Jim Lehrer. And of course, his “plans” made no sense whatsoever, as the...

The First Presidential Debate

In Wednesday night’s debate, Romney won on style while Obama won on substance. Romney sounded as if he had conviction, which means he’s either convinced himself that the lies he tells are true or he’s a fabulous actor. But what struck me most was how much Obama allowed Romney to get away with: Five times Romney accused Obama of raiding Medicare of $716 billion, which is a complete fabrication. Obama never mentioned the regressiveness of Romney’s budget plan—awarding the rich and hurting the middle class and the poor. He never mentioned Bain Capital, or Romney’s 47 percent talk, or Romney’s “carried-interest” tax loophole. Obama allowed Romney to talk about replacing Dodd-Frank and the Affordable Care Act without demanding that Romney be specific about what he’d replace and why. And so on. I’ve been worried about Obama’s poor debate performance for some time now. He was terrible in the 2008 primary debates, for example. Expectations are always high—he’s known as an eloquent orator. But...

First Round to Romney

(AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
(AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais) Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, left, and President Barack Obama, right, debate at the University of Denver, Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2012, in Denver. How could Barack Obama have been so feeble a debater? Mitt Romney gave him one opening after another, but Obama stuck closely to prescripted talking points. Romney’s strategy, as it has been throughout the campaign, was to lie, and for the most part Obama failed to call him on it. Romney essentially disavowed the tax and budget plan he has been running on for eighteen months, claiming that it was possible to cut tax rates and make up the difference by closing loopholes. Obama correctly pointed out that the arithmetic didn’t work. But Obama failed to challenge Romney to identify just which loopholes he would close. On Social Security and Medicare, Romney gave Obama another opening that the president failed to maximize. Romney said that nobody at or near retirement...

Black and Right

So much of politics can be described as an elaborate game of “I know you are, but what am I?” One side makes an attack, and the other side tries to mirror or echo it. For a prime example of this, look no further than yesterday’s attempt by conservative bloggers to turn a five-year-old Barack Obama speech into a campaign scandal, following the “47 percent” video that has inflicted huge damage on Mitt Romney’s campaign. In 2007, then-Senator Barack Obama spoke to students at Hampton University, where he discussed the alienation felt by lower-income African Americans and others in inner cities. He critiqued the federal government for its poor response during Hurricane Katrina, while also emphasizing ways in which the black community could improve itself. For Obama, this was boilerplate. The thing that made it interesting—for the right’s purposes, at least—was the fact that Obama slipped into an African American accent during the speech. If you pay attention to politicians at all, you...

Debate Prep, the Domestic Policy Round

(AP Photos)
The first of three presidential debates will take place today at the University of Colorado in Denver and focus on domestic policy. Here's a list of the best pieces we've published about each candidate's domestic-policy agenda. Economy (AP Photo/David Goldman) Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney speaks at a campaign event at the Wings Over the Rockies Air and Space Museum, Monday, October 1, 2012, in Denver. Obama Obama's Squandered Economy , Rich Yeselson Is Obama Too Calm Before the Storm? , Tim Fernholz Barack Obama's Theory of Power , Robert Kuttner Romney Mitt Romney, Servant of the Right , Jamelle Bouie Why "Knowing How the Economy Works" Is Not Enough , Paul Waldman Health Care (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File) In this March 23, 2010 file photo, President Barack Obama signs the Affordable Care Act in the East Room of the White House in Washington. When you vote in November 2012, you'll be voting for more than a president; you'll be...

How Debates Matter

Flickr/Natalie Maynor
Yesterday, John Sides wrote about some interesting studies exploring the effect the media have on voter perceptions of presidential debates. One experiment showed that when you expose people to post-debate commentary, it significantly alters their perception of who won the debate. This is something researchers have known about at least since 1976, when the public at first didn't see Gerald Ford's "gaffe" about Eastern Europe not being under Soviet domination as any big deal (apparently, they realized he was speaking more aspirationally than anything else). Immediately after the debate polls showed the public evenly split on who had won, but after a few days of coverage of the "gaffe," the polls shifted dramatically, with many more people saying Carter had won. As I've pointed out many times, what persists in our memory about presidential debates are only those moments reporters choose to keep reminding us about (I wrote about it in this book —still relevant eight years later!). But...

Wed, Oct. 03 Electoral Vote Predictor

First Debate Is Tonight It is do-or-die time for Mitt Romney tonight. With another batch of swing state polls showing Obama ahead everywhere, tonight's debate is his first—and maybe only—chance to turn the race around. He's promised zingers and provided a few in the speech he gave in Colorado Monday: Click here for full story

You're Not in the Debate Minor Leagues Now, Mitt

Mitt Romney and friends, pledging.
In the year-long game of attrition that led to his nomination to the Republican presidential ticket, Mitt Romney participated in over 20 debates with his primary opponents. A look back at those debates demonstrates many of the things that will hold Romney in good stead during his debates with Barack Obama: his ability to construct lengthy yet coherent answers to questions, his disciplined repetition of talking points, and his delivery of practiced zingers, to name a few. One also sees a candidate with vulnerabilities, particularly his tendency to stumble when under attack and forced to improvise. Some of his worst mistakes—offering to bet Rick Perry $10,000 to settle a quibble about what was in the book Romney wrote, or explaining how he told his landscaper, "you can't have any illegals working on our property. I'm running for office, for Pete's sake, I can't have illegals"—came during those high-stress moments. But Romney's greatest challenge may lie in appreciating the difference...

Crying Fraud, Then Creating It

(AP Photo/The The Hutchinson News, Travis Morisse, File)
For once, the Republicans were right. They have been obsessively claiming that voter-suppression measures are necessary because of widespread “ballot fraud.” However extensive investigations by the mainstream media have shown that ballot-fraud is a convenient myth . Even the Bush administration, in an extensive five-year search, turned up no evidence of the kind of voting fraud—fake IDs, voting in the name of dead people, folks being bribed to vote—that the Republicans routinely allege. Republicans, evoking the tactics of the pre-civil rights segregationist South, simply want to make it more difficult for people who might support Democrats to exercise their right to vote. Some five million people, mostly minorities and the poor, are at risk of being denied their right to vote in 19 states controlled by Republican governors and legislatures, according to a report from the Brennan Center. Happily, the courts have struck down the most extreme of these measures, in Texas, Ohio, Wisconsin...

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