Vox Pop

The Prospect's politics blog

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...

Be Like Bill

(AP Photo/Charles Krupa)
(AP Photo/Charles Krupa) President Bill Clinton and Bob Dole prepare for opening remarks at their first presidential debate in Hartford, Connecticut on October 6, 1996. W hen President Obama and Mitt Romney stride onto the stage at the University of Denver tonight, there will be a dramatic contrast between the former law school professor and the former private-equity executive. Whichever candidate is best prepared to play the hero in this drama will win tonight and, most likely, on Election Night. Whoever merely memorizes zingers or crams for a quiz show may as well start drafting a concession speech. Debate-prep is stagecraft. Bill Clinton understood this, and as a campaign speechwriter, I saw him perform masterfully. Of the other two nominees I worked for, Michael Dukakis prepared for policy seminars—not debates—with predictable results, while Walter Mondale rehearsed, stealthily but skillfully, for the one memorable moment when he upstaged the Gipper. While devouring the briefing...

Are Women Better Off than We Were Four Years Ago?

(Flickr/Lekere)
Last week I confessed that I don’t like presidential election season. I don’t like the trivialized reportage, the horse-race-ification of serious subjects, and the narrowed vision that settles in on policy folks during these months. I especially don’t like the question “Are you better off now than you were four years ago?” This suggests two things to which I object: first, that the president is in charge of how well-off I am, when all of us know that American politics and global economics are far more complex. Second, that “better off” or “worse off” can be reduced to my current income and immediate financial prospects, even if those were dependent on the president. So I’m going to hijack that question for my own purposes and ask: Are women better off than we were four years ago—not just financially, and not just in ways affected by President Barack Obama’s administration, but overall? Episode one: Show me the money. Despite the fact that I dislike the reduction of life to finances,...

Why the Denver Debate Could Matter

In recent weeks, as Mitt Romney has been practicing his debate “zingers” and the Obama campaign has been “managing expectations” by portraying the president as the lousiest debater since Admiral Stockdale, plenty of pundits—progressive ones, mostly—have been assuring us that the importance of debates is seriously overblown. Our own Jamelle Bouie sums up the argument well: “A quick look at decades of Gallup polling shows little change in the election after the debates, and political scientists find that ‘the best prediction from the debates is the initial verdict before the debates.’ Put another way, if you want to know how the race will look after the debates, pay attention to what it looks like before the debates.” True enough. Facts are facts. But in this case, those facts are definitely taking the fun out of the closest thing to a Super Bowl that politics delivers. So let’s consider a few reasons why tomorrow night could prove an exception to the “debates don’t matter” rule. For...

Nowhere to Go

Things are looking so bleak, all the color has left Mitt Romney's face. (Flickr/mnassal)
I'm sure that right about now Mitt Romney is drowning in unsolicited advice. That's what happens when you're behind—everybody from the consultants you weren't wise enough to employ to the donors funding your campaign to the guy who delivers your mail fancies themselves a political genius, and will be happy to tell you that all your problems would be solved if only you'd follow their advice. But I wonder: Is there anything all these people are telling Romney and the people who work for him that might help? Because I don't know what it might be. Sure, we can all agree that the Romney campaign hasn't exactly been deft, but their biggest problem isn't one of strategy or message, it's that their candidate is unskilled and unappealing. In a long article out today, the National Journal explains that people's expectations of the economy have just been lowered, and the Romney campaign's belief that eventually voters would come around to blaming Obama for the country's troubles just hasn't...

Pennsyvlania Voter ID: Now Requested But Not Required

(AP/ John C. Whitehead)
Thanks to a decision today by Commonwealth Court Judge Robert Simpson, Pennsylvania's controversial voter-ID law will not be in effect in November. Though voters will be asked for one of the several allowable government-issued photo IDs at the polls, those who do not have such identification will still be able to cast the usual ballot. But the future of the law is still murky, and the legal battles will likely extend far beyond election day. The controversy over the state's voter-ID law over the last few months has been contentious. While those promoting the law initially argued it was needed to prevent voter fraud, there's been no evidence of voter fraud in the state, and the state did not cite any examples of voter fraud in legal proceedings. But there was partisan advantage. According to several studies, voter-ID requirements disproportionately impact poor and nonwhite voters, who are more likely to lack the required identification. These are, coincidentally, the voters most likely...

Tue, Oct. 02 Electoral Vote Predictor

Romney To Broaden Focus When Mitt Romney started his 2012 campaign, he basically assumed that all he had to do to win was point out to people that the economy was in the toilet. As it turns out, the voters already knew that and before giving him the keys to the White House, they want to know how he is going to fix the economy. Since he doesn't want to discuss his economic plan in any detail other than "tax cuts" and seems to be falling farther and farther behind, he is now considering broadening his attacks, hitting President Obama on energy, health care, taxes, and spending. Note that what he is talking about doing is more attacking. He is not planning to tell people why they should vote for him, just why they should not vote for Obama. For whatever reason, he can't get out of attack mode. The problem with that approach so far is that although he may convince people that Obama is far from perfect, he hasn't even tried to make the case that he is better. Traditionally, re-election...

Zing!

Flickr/webjones
The other day, The New York Times reported that in their debate preparations, "Mr. Romney's team has concluded that debates are about creating moments and has equipped him with a series of zingers that he has memorized and has been practicing on aides since August." This then became the subject of predictable ridicule (check out #romneyzingers or #mittzingers on Twitter), but it actually does give us a window into the unfortunate state of the Romney campaign. I'm sure they're feeling pretty tense up in Boston right now. Barack Obama has a small but stubborn lead in every poll, there's only a month left, and these debates are the best chance the campaign has at doing something dramatic. So if you were involved in Romney's debate prep, you probably wouldn't think that just showing your candidate to be smart and likeable will be enough to change the campaign's direction. Hence the pressure for zingers. But it's tempting to learn the lessons of past debates a little too well, and that may...

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