Ten states have recently passed laws requiring voters to present government-issued photo identification before they can vote. Ostensibly, these laws are to prevent voter fraud. However, a study by nonpartisan university researchers at NYU's Brennan Center for Justice has shown that voter fraud is microscopic (e.g., 0.00004% of the votes in the 2004 Ohio election were fraudulent); the penalty for getting caught is so large (5 years in prison), and the effect of one vote so small, that nobody risks it. The very occasional fraudulent vote is invariably from an ex-felon or green-card holder who mistakenly thought he had the right to vote.
It's looking like Mitt Romney might name his VP pick pretty soon, which is probably a good idea given that the release of the pick will result in a few days of positive coverage when the news media is consumed with something other than what Bain Capital did when, or what juicy nuggets might be contained within Romney's hidden tax returns. But there's a downside: once we do get to the Republican convention, the VP nominee will be old news, so the media can pay much more attention to intra-party squabbling. And nobody likes a good squabble more than Sarah Palin. Remember her?
Nate Silver has an excellent post this morning on the Romney campaign’s reaction to the attacks on Bain Capital. The short story is that Romney might be overreacting to the controversy; he continues to equivocate and go on the defensive, despite the thin evidence that these attacks are having an effect on the race. Both Obama and Romney are roughly where they were three months ago, when the general election began in earnest, and polls taken since the attacks began have been inconclusive on the effect of anti-Bain ads.
By now you've probably seen the Obama ad that uses Mitt Romney's tender rendition of "America the Beautiful" juxtaposed against information about Romney's extra-national financial activities, including Bain Capital's involvement in outsourcing and the worldwide distribution of Romney's personal accounts. The ad has been praised for its skillful sound design and powerful message, so in attempt to hit back, the Romney campaign countered with its own ad featuring Barack Obama singing.
Unfortunately, the Romney ad is no longer viewable—it has been taken down because of a copyright claim, since Obama is seen singing a line from Al Green's "Let's Stay Together." But it's pretty simple—it shows Obama singing that line, then displays information about Obama allegedly rewarding his political contributors and cronies with government contracts and such, while ignoring the middle class. They obviously put it together quickly, but nevertheless, the difference between the two ads provides an excellent demonstration of what makes some political ads effective and others complete duds. Let's look at some of the differences:
This week will see the release of The 4% Solution: Unleashing the Economic Growth America Needs, a collection of essays from the George W. Bush Institute with a forward by the former president himself. It's true that annual GDP growth never actually reached 4 percent during Bush's two terms in office and averaged only 2.4 percent even if we generously exclude the disastrous year of 2008. But look at it this way: Who knows more about what the president ought to do about the economy than Dubya does? After all, there's only one living American (Bill Clinton) with as much experience being president, so Bush must have the answers we need.
A ridiculous argument? Of course. That's because experience only gets you so far. It's obviously a good thing, all else being equal, for the president to know a lot about the economy, just as it's a good thing for him to know a lot about foreign affairs or domestic policy. But the truth is that although the government has to solve many practical problems and it's important to have smart, knowledgeable people in government to work on them, the presidency is not a technocratic position.
Is Bain a problem for Mitt Romney’s narrative? Andrew Sullivan says yes:
Romney, in other words, doesn’t have a leg to stand on. He has been running a campaign against the “Obama economy” insisting that the president own every single month he has been in office in order to condemn his economic management all the more - despite at least a first year in which Obama cannot really be held responsible for the fallout of an economic collapse he inherited. So Romney insists on maximal responsibility for Obama and the economy.
Former Bush official and conservative pundit David Frum has a harsh and critical take on Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign:
The hope for many of us was that a Republican president could do a better job constraining them than Barack Obama has been able to do - especially if (as I personally also hoped) the very act of electing such a president would deflate the radicalism of the congressional GOP and revive a more constructive spirit.
Before Mitt Romney's Bain Capital problems seized everyone's attention, we were hearing about a different political minefield the candidate had to maneuver: While his campaign is based largely on the country's economic woes, several GOP governors in swing states were claiming economic success and recovery. Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker spent his recall campaign pointing to the state's recovery, while Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell launched his own ads showing his state's progress.
Over the last week, Mitt Romney has struggled to deal with revelations over his tenure at Bain Capital and the extent of his involvement from 1999 to 2002. He insists he retired in 1999—and thus is not responsible for Bain’s conduct afterward—despite the fact that documents from a variety of sources show Romney as the owner, CEO, and sole shareholder, who continued to sign documents, sit on board members, and may have had a small role in managing the firm.
Mitt Romney subjects America to the horror of his singing.
The question of when exactly Mitt Romney "left" Bain Capital may not be the most trivial campaign controversy in history (it certainly has more importance than the dozens of "My opponent said something that when taken out of context sounds troubling!" kerfuffles we have to suffer through every four years), but when it has gotten to the point that we're checking the Wayback Machine to see if Romney was listed on Bain Capital's website in 2000, we're drifting far away from the reasons this is supposed to matter. Just to remind you, Romney's departure date tells us whether he is an honest job-creating business leader (1999) or a rapacious job-destroying vulture capitalist (2002).
I was hoping that the five interviews Romney did with the TV networks on Friday might clear this up, but unfortunately they focused on things like whether Barack Obama's campaign representatives are super-meanies for how they're criticizing Romney. But a couple of simple questions might clear this whole thing up so we can move on. If I had the chance to interview Romney (just so you know, Governor, the Prospect's doors are always open), I'd ask this:
Yesterday, as the Romney campaign was drowning in revelations and nagging questions about his time (and maybe-time) at Bain Capital, mysterious “sources” apparently decided it was an excellent time to call Matt Drudge and dangle a shiny pseudo-scoop in front of him. Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, he breathlessly reported at 7:30 p.m., is “now near the top of the list” to be Mitt’s vice-presidential choice. Why? Well, apparently because she gave a real nice speech at the Romney retreat in Utah recently.
One ongoing theme in this election is the extent to which political observers are simply bored with it. Last month, Politico’s Maggie Haberman and Alexander Burns expressed frustration with the “small scale” of the election, and today, TheNew York Times’ Peter Baker echoes the concern, with a piece on how the campaigns are relitigating the past rather than articulating a vision for the future:
Mitt Romney delivers fake, uncomfortable laugh at being asked about his tax returns.
To a certain degree, all this back-and-forth over precisely when Mitt Romney left Bain Capital is an argument about almost nothing. We might reasonably ask, what does it matter? The Romney campaign thought it mattered when they insisted that Romney wasn't part of the firm when it was doing stuff he was being criticized for, like shutting down factories and laying off workers. The Obama campaign thought it mattered when they wanted to make those charges in the first place, and now that they want to keep Romney on the defensive and stretch this story out longer by focusing on things like who Romney was deceiving when he attested on various documents that he either was or wasn't still in charge of Bain during the period between 1999 and 2002. But if we settled this argument once and for all (and don't worry, we won't), would it change much? Not really.
Nevertheless, this whole thing is only going to increase the pressure on Romney to release more tax returns. During the primaries he released one year's worth (2010), and it turned out to be quite a treasure trove for opposition researchers, over 200 pages of offshore accounts and lightly taxed income. Part of what's so weird about this question is that Romney seems actually to have believed he could get away with not releasing multiple years. Let's take a look back at what he said in a primary debate in January when he was asked whether he'd do what his father did and release multiple years of tax returns:
We reached some kind of a milestone this week when the Romney campaign decided it would use the word "lie" when complaining about criticisms the Obama campaign is making of the Republican soon-to-be-nominee. It's a word journalists almost never use, since it sounds too judgmental and they know they'll be accused of taking sides, and candidates seldom use, perhaps because it sounds too whiny, I'm not precisely sure. What we do know is that while some candidate are bigger liars than others, no presidential candidate seems capable of getting through a campaign without saying things that aren't true. Conor Friedersdorf asks, "Can anyone become president without lying? Without misrepresenting their opponent? Without using people as a means to an end? I don't think anyone can." The complaints about Barack Obama he cites are more about broken promises, which are different from lies, but I'll grant that Obama has said some things that weren't true. Yet I'd have to disagree.