Vox Pop

The Prospect's politics blog

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...

Massachusetts Senate Debate, the Unscripted Version

What a ruckus! NBC's David Gregory hosted the second debate between Massachusetts Senate candidates, sitting Republican Scott Brown and his Democratic challenger, Elizabeth Warren. If you want to call the interruption derby that devolved before the University of Massachusetts at Lowell students' eyes a debate. Gregory opened by asking Warren about the well-worn Cherokee heritage controversy. Warren repeated what she's said before—including in the last debate, which Brown opened by attacking her on the same issue. (Full disclosure: Warren's daughter, Amelia Warren Tyagi, is a member of The American Prospect ’s board of directors and is chair of the board of the magazine’s publishing partner, Demos.) Gregory devoted many minutes of the debate to the issue, which began when the Boston Herald reported that Harvard University had claimed Warren as a minority on forms to counteract claims that its faculty wasn't diverse enough. Brown wants to use it to cast doubt on the entire biography...

The Carter Surprise

Ask Americans about Jimmy Carter, and the most popular response may well be: “Um. Wait. Was he a president or something?” After all, the man left office more than three decades ago, long before many voters were born. Unlike the Reagan years, there was nothing definitional about Carter’s presidency—which was one of its problems. And unlike Bill Clinton, the Man from Plains didn’t preside over a boom time—which was another one of his problems. He’s been a swell ex-president, but normal people don’t pay much heed to ex-presidents, especially the ones who run around doing fine things for humanity (yawn). Sure, to some politicos, “Jimmy Carter” is still synonymous with a gloomy and failed presidency. But for everybody else, Jimmy Carter was yesterday’s news 20 years ago. But he’s about to make a dramatic comeback, if the Romney campaign has anything to say about it. At Salon, Craig Unger reported today on the grand turnaround strategy that Team Romney is “ chortling with glee ” about: “to...

To the Spin Room!

A primary debate spin room, only a fraction as busy as what we'll see in Denver. (Flickr/WEBN-TV)
Barack Obama and Mitt Romney will be debating on Wednesday night, and as Michael Calderone tells us , an absolutely incredible 3,000 journalists will be trooping out to Denver to be there when it happens. They won't actually be in the hall, though. They'll be in a nearby gym, watching it on TV like everyone else. But after the debate ends, they'll decamp to the "spin room, where partisans will dispense utterly predictable remarks on what just happened. "Governor Romney hit it out of the park, while President Obama couldn't justify his failures," a Romney staffer will say. "President Obama hit it out of the park, while Mitt Romney only reinforced the doubts the American people have about him," an Obama staffer will say. "Ooo, that's fascinating—give me more of your interpretation of what I just saw, campaign staffer," no one in the world will say. Calderone asks one relevant question—Should they bother? (Answer: No)—but I'd like to address another couple: Why do they do it in the first...

Foreign Policy Is Hard

"If this Romney is elected, we will obviously have to shut down the nuclear program. He is so strong and resolute!" (Aslan Media)
In today's Wall Street Journal , Mitt Romney takes to the op-ed page to offer his vision for a new American policy in the Middle East. Apparently, the tragic recent events in Benghazi have convinced Romney and his advisors that something is going on over there, and though they aren't sure exactly what, it's definitely something, and therefore Romney ought to come and say something about it, to show everyone how wrong Barack Obama is. If you thought Romney was being vague about his domestic policy, that's nothing compared to what he has to say about foreign policy. The first half of the piece is the standard criticism of the Obama administration (he's weak!), and here's the part where Romney lays out in specific detail exactly what he'd do differently: In this period of uncertainty, we need to apply a coherent strategy of supporting our partners in the Middle East—that is, both governments and individuals who share our values. This means restoring our credibility with Iran. When we say...

Mon, Oct. 01 Electoral Vote Predictor

The Shadow of the Debates Looms Large Both President Obama and Mitt Romney are preparing for the first debate Wednesday. Dozens of surrogates are preparing people for a miserable performance from their candidate. The idea is that if the candidate does not drool all over his tie, he can be declared the winner. It is not clear why they bother. People will watch the debate and decide what they think based on what they see, not based on how low the candidate's spinners have managed to set the bar. Team Romney has announced it has some real zingers it is going to hurl at Obama. In contrast, Obama said he is going to be serious and not aim for clever sound bites. But as every comedian knows all too well, good comedy requires not only good lines, but a sense of timing and pacing—qualities that Romney is not known for. If his lines fall flat, he is going to become fodder for the late-night comedians, who do have good stage presence. Even more-or-less-serious pundits are already suggesting...

Diane Ravitch Talks School Reform, the Chicago Strike, and the "Testing Vampire"

(Credit: DianeRavitch.com)
Click here for part 2 of the Prospect 's interview with the former assistant secretary of education. Diane Ravitch is famous* for two things: championing the education-reform movement, then leading the opposition to it. The movement, which broadly supports an agenda that emphasizes student assessment (a.k.a. testing) and school choice (a.k.a. charter schools), has come to dominate American education policy. For the most part, both Democrats and Republicans now push to make school systems resemble economic markets. They want fewer teacher protections, more testing, and more charter schools for parents to choose from. President Barack Obama's Department of Education, headed by education reformer Arne Duncan, shares many policy goals with those of George W. Bush's administration. Ravitch herself was once part of the movement, promoting student assessments and helping to create voluntary academic standards. After serving as assistant secretary of education under George H.W. Bush, she held...

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