Vox Pop

The Prospect's politics blog

Obama's Decisive Bump

President Obama’s convention bounce shows no sign of subsiding. Yesterday’s Fox News poll shows him with a five-point lead over Romney among likely voters—48 to 43 percent—and he continues to lead in the Gallup tracking poll, which shows him with a six lead over the Republican nominee, 50 to 44 percent. It’s hard to overstate how dangerous this is for Mitt Romney’s bid for the presidency. Conventions are one of the few points when candidates can shift the race and make meaningful gains. This makes sense—they’re little more than long, effusive advertisements, broadcast by major media outlets and seen by tens of millions of Americans. But while conventions can do a huge amount to change the dynamics of a presidential race, things tend to stabilize afterward. In their new book The Timeline of Presidential Elections , political scientists Robert Erikson and Christopher Wlezien explain the extent to which conditions harden in the post-convention period: It is easy to imagine that many...

The Return of the Green Lantern Theory of Geopolitics

In need of just a bit more Romneystrength. (Flickr/Jason Means)
Until a few days ago, few people cared all that much what Mitt Romney thought about foreign policy. It isn't an area where he has any experience, or, let's be honest, anything in particular to say. His denunciations of President Obama's record have a kind of rote quality. There's nothing really substantive there, no attacks on any particular decisions Obama has made or initiatives he has undertaken. What it all consists of is the idea that Obama is weak, and "apologizes for America" (I'm not going to bother debunking that one again). But when Mitt goes off on that stuff, you can tell he's just doing it to satisfy the Sean Hannitys of the world and assure the Republican base that yes, I hate him as much as you do, and now let's talk about the economy. But in every presidential race, there are external events that force the candidates to change their agenda, which is what has happened now. And yesterday The Washington Post published this article , in which we learn just how powerful...

In Pennsylvania, Voting Rights on Trial—Again

(Flickr/loop_oh)
Hey—remember Pennsylvania's voter-ID law? The really strict one that could disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of voters? The controversy over the law died down in mid-August, when a commonwealth court ruled the law would stand . Since then, however, the voting rights advocates who'd filed suit appealed to the state's Supreme Court. There, on Thursday, justices heard the case. But it garnered little in the way of headlines. That's probably because Pennsylvania no longer looks up for grabs in the presidential race. The state's strict voter-ID law, which require voters to show a government-issued photo ID, disadvantages Democratic candidates, since the law disproportionately affects poor and nonwhite voters—those more likely to vote Democratic. When the presidential race was tight, the outcome in Pennsylvania seemed like it might be up for grabs, and many worried the voter-ID law would determine which candidate would receive Pennsylvania's electoral votes—or win the whole election,...

Following in Chris Stevens's Footsteps

(AP Photo/John Minchillo)
(AP Photo/John Minchillo) Supporters of slain U.S. ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens hold a candlelight vigil outside the Libyan Embassy, Thursday, September 13, 2012, in New York. Stevens was killed by an angry mob during an assault on the U.S. embassy in Benghazi that stemmed from the widespread anger generated by an American-made anti-Muslim film. T he Middle East has a propensity for producing both the tragic and the absurd, two qualities that converged in appallingly consummate fashion with the attacks this week that killed U.S. diplomats in Libya and threatened American embassies across the region. The deaths of Christopher Stevens, U.S. ambassador to Libya, and three of his colleagues at the American consulate in Benghazi on Tuesday represent a profound tragedy on many levels. First and foremost is the loss of such brave and dedicated individuals, who served their country in a place wracked by chaos, uncertainty, and violence. Stevens had a well-deserved reputation as a...

Stimulated

The big news today wasn’t Mitt Romney’s continued fumbling over foreign policy (for which Team Romney is surely grateful). It was the Federal Reserve’s decision to embark on a new round of quantatative easing. For the uninitated, quantatative easing—or QE to the cool kids—is a strategy for generating growth in the economy. Right now, the problem in the economy is a lack of demand. Consumers aren’t spending, and so businesses aren’t hiring, and so banks are not lending, and so on. One way to deal with this is to provide income to people, throw out benefits, tax cuts, or public works—i.e., stimulus. But that requires congressional action, and as we’ve seen for the last two years, Republicans are not interested in spending money to generate growth—or in letting President Obama do any more of it. That leaves the Federal Reserve. It can’t give money to people, but it can create incentives to spend. With quantatative easing, the Fed purchases bonds back from the government, holds interests...

Do Reporters Dislike Mitt Romney?

Dont' come any closer! (Flickr/Gage Skidmore)
Do reporters dislike Mitt Romney? And if so, what kind of a difference might that make? I'm prompted to ask by this post from Andrew Gelman at the Monkey Cage, in which he expresses doubt that back in 2000, reporters disliked Al Gore and liked George W. Bush. I won't spend time on that question—it has been extensively reported over the years, with not only quantitative analyses of the press coverage the two received, but plenty of on-the-record comments from reporters who were there at the time testifying that they and their colleagues found Bush to be a friendly fellow and thought Gore was a pedantic, phony liar. (In his post, Gelman confesses to not owning a television, which obviously calls into question his standing as a true American.) But the more interesting question now is the one about Romney. This is sometimes difficult to assess clearly, since we all have a tendency to see press coverage that reinforces our beliefs as fair and objective, and coverage that contradicts our...

Defenders of the Vote

(AP Photo/Michael Perez)
(AP Photo/Michael Perez) Joe Michetti holds a sign to demonstrate the opposition of Pennsylvania's new voter-identification law during the NAACP voter-ID rally, Thursday, September 13, 2012, in Philadelphia. Pennsylvania's Supreme Court justices are scheduled to hear arguments over whether a new law requiring each voter to show valid photo identification poses an unnecessary threat to the right to vote. Y ou know you’re in a fledgling campaign office the moment you step off the street and into one of the plainest buildings in Germantown, a mostly black Philadelphia neighborhood that contains several Colonial landmarks. Along garish, peach-colored walls are maps of every inch of the city: council districts, wards, divisions, recreation centers. Mismatched tables sit empty, waiting for soon-to-be-installed phones that volunteers will use to call number after number. In one corner of the back office, there’s even a double megaphone ready to perch atop a van and spread the message. Rather...

Praying for the White House

(AP Photo/White House)
Eight years ago, innumerable commentators said "values voters"—in other words, voters with conservative values—were responsible for George W. Bush's re-election (liberal voters, apparently, don't have values, they just have opinions). They noticed a correlation between religiosity and the propensity to vote Republican, and in the most religious of all industrialized countries, this "God gap" was routinely characterized as a problem that Democrats had to solve if they were to avoid electoral doom. In fact, today the "God gap" is more of a wash for the two parties, and in the future it could become the Republicans' problem. But the idea that religion only helps Republicans persists, and when GOP presidential candidates competed during the primaries for the title of most pious (with no fewer than three testifying that God had instructed them to run), few considered it something that would damage their eventual nominee. So let's take a look at what the two parties' religious coalitions...

The Hungarian Solution

If the current wave of Republican criticism of Mitt Romney—due to his ideological uncertainty and the general incompetence of his campaign—keeps up, here’s a suggestion for a replacement candidate: Viktor Orban. The longtime leader of Hungary’s right-wing Fidesz Party and Hungary’s prime minister since 2010, Orban seems more committed to carrying out a Tea Party-esque agenda than Romney does. In his two years in office (he also served as prime minister a decade ago, but with a smaller majority and a less radical platform), Orban has slashed unemployment benefits, restricted collective bargaining, and reduced the nation’s retirement benefits. More than that, though, he’s gotten into trouble with the European Union (which at least nominally tries to hold member states to agreed-upon democratic norms) for his move to make the nation’s judiciary answerable to his office, and his purge of TV programs and newscasters who didn’t take the Fidesz line. Independent voices have largely vanished...

The Danger of "Scoring Points"

Mitt Romney, digging a hole.
Mitt Romney is running for president. And I guess it can be hard, when you're running for president and your focus every day is convincing the American voter that you're a great guy and your opponent is awful, not to approach every new development in the world by seeing it as yet another opportunity to tell everyone that your opponent is awful. But when the only question you ask yourself is, "How can I use this to make my opponent look bad?" you run the risk of making yourself look like a jerk. Sometimes during a campaign, a candidate will be asked, "Is there anything your opponent has done that you agree with?" or "Is there anything good you can say about him?" Usually they say, "He has a lovely family," as though the thought that he might have done a single thing right is just impossible to contemplate. To say otherwise would be passing up an opportunity to "score points." And this, I think, is the root of why Romney did what he did yesterday and came out looking like such an...

Reckless Romney

"I would point out that we have one president at a time and one administration at a time," President Obama said in June, responding to a critical op-ed by a Romney adviser in a German newspaper. "And I think traditionally, the notion has been that America’s political differences end at the water’s edge.” The president was merely restating one of the nation's oldest remaining traditions of bipartisan comity. The op-ed kerfuffle was, of course, absolutely nothing compared to the Romney campaign's latest break from that tradition. On Tuesday night his campaign rushed out a naked attempt to politicize the death of four American diplomats, including a U.S. ambassador, at the country's embassy in Libya. Before all of the dead had been identified, Romney's campaign blasted forth a press release trotting out his familiar—not to mention false—claim that Obama "apologizes for America." By morning it was clear that Romney had blundered badly. Even other Republicans were taking him to task (see...

Poverty Stays Static, But Income Inequality Widens

As economists keep telling us, the Great Recession is officially over. The U.S. gross domestic product grew by a sad 1.8 percent last year. Here's why you probably don't know it: Just about every ounce of economic gain went to the top. The Census Bureau released 2011 numbers from the annual population survey: The median household income was $50,100, which is 1.5 percent lower than in 2010. Overall, it has fallen 8.1 percent since 2007, the last year before the Great Recession. Robert Greenstein, president of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, and Jared Bernstein, an economist and senior fellow there, noted in a conference call with reporters that, before 2007, middle-level incomes were stagnant—so they were holding steady before falling. If we go back to 1997—remember those heady Clinton years?—median household income was $51,704 in 2011-adjusted dollars. Poverty didn't increase—it held steady at 15 percent—which wasn't expected because it had increased for every one of the...

Mitt Romney Responds to Libyan Crisis in Worst Way Possible

Last night, an armed mob—angry over an American-made video denigrating the Prophet Muhammad— attacked the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, killing Ambassador Christopher Stevens, along with three of his staff members. This came after a similar uprising in Egypt, where protesters climbed the walls of the U.S. Embassy in Cairo and tore down the American flag. Initial reports on the situation—which revealed the death of a U.S. official—were followed by this statement from the Romney campaign: “It’s disgraceful that the Obama Administration’s first response was not to condemn the attacks on our diplomatic missions, but to sympathize with those who waged the attacks.” Likewise, Republican National Committee chair Reince Priebus tweeted that “Obama sympathizes with attackers in Egypt. Sad and pathetic.” Both are in response to a statement from the U.S. Embassy in Cairo—released before protesters breached the compound—which criticized said film for hurting “the religious feelings” of...

Mitt Romney's Character Problem

(Flickr/David Lawrence)
(Flickr/Vectorportal) “Character” is a word that Republicans used a lot in the 1990s, by which they meant President Bill Clinton’s sexual behavior. “At least,” my Republican mother said pointedly upon the election of George W. Bush, “he’s a man of character,” unlike the previous guy getting blow jobs from interns in the Oval Office. If their candidate for president this year should lose in November, it will be interesting to see to what extent Republicans understand that character is one of the reasons. As Governor Mitt Romney’s prospects grow more daunting, a view has emerged from the right that the problem is the political flaws and tactical missteps of the candidate and his campaign, in what Republicans insist to themselves should otherwise be a “gimme” election (to quote radio talk-show host Laura Ingraham). But the Romney Problem is more profound, and it’s one of character, not tactics. Republicans believe they hold the patent on character. I have a friend who, discussing the...

Bidening

Time was when the political woods were full of Joe Bidens—super-gregarious retail politicians who could yell themselves hoarse at one campaign stop about how the rich and powerful are screwing everybody over, then in the next town go all quiet and sincere and wring tears from even the toughest characters in the crowd. Those old-style pols lived to campaign, and they campaigned for their lives—especially back in the way-old days when political speechifying was a major form of entertainment in many parts of the country. The best of them were shameless hams, willing to do just about anything to win a vote; Huey Long, the Louisiana populist who inspired fear in both corporatists and Roosevelt Democrats, was reported to have pulled off his shoes at rallies and wiggled his toes, demonstrating that just like the poor folks in the crowd, he had “relatable” holes in his socks. Biden hasn’t gone quite that far—yet—but who’d put it past him? Not since Bill Clinton (who was a slicked-up,...

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