Though it is the crown jewel of our charming little American democracy, the right to vote hasn’t ever been a thing of glittering beauty. At its best, voting is the stuff of fluorescent-lit hallways at local middle school schools and the withering glares of geriatric poll workers. At its worst, it’s the stuff of racist poll taxes, land owner-only discrimination, and good old-fashioned sexism.
The New York Times, showing blatant pro-Romney bias.
I have a soft spot for Joe Scarborough. Back when I was more of a partisan warrior I used to go on a lot of conservative radio and television shows, including "Scarborough Country," and he was without question the most fair-minded of the hosts I dealt with. There were even a couple of times when he admitted he had been wrong about something, which is pretty rare. But I'm going to have to object to some of his recent remarks, in particular because they offer a vivid demonstration of what communication scholars call the Hostile Media Effect.
The chart of the day, which comes via the Center for Public Integrity, is both vivid and, I'll argue, mostly beside the point. But before we get to my objections, the first thing to notice is what's obvious: Scott Walker and his allies spent way, way, way more money than the other side did in Wisconsin. While it's true that the more high-profile an election is the less a spending advantage matters, and while it's also true that as long as the other side has enough funds to compete, a spending advantage matters less, we're talking about a 7-to-1 difference here, which is pretty striking. Now, to the chart:
Last week, the Susan B. Anthony List’s computers were seized as evidence in an ongoing federal lawsuit in Ohio. Yesterday, the group’s president, Marjorie Dannenfelser, sent out a fundraising e-mail with the news and a plea for donations. “As important as it is that we vigorously defend against the opposition’s efforts to strip us of our cherished First Amendment right to speak, every minute (and dollar) we spend doing it takes away from our efforts to defeat Planned Parenthood and their pro-abortion Congressional allies,” Dannenfelser wrote.
Of all the things we talk about during a presidential campaign, the Supreme Court probably has the lowest discussion-to-importance ratio. Appointing justices to the Court is one of the most consequential privileges of the presidency, one that has become more important in the last couple of decades since the Court has become more politicized. But there isn't a great deal to say about it during the campaign, beyond, "If we lose the election, we'll lose the Court." The candidates aren't going to say much of anything about whom they'd appoint other than a bunch of disingenuous bromides ("I'll appoint justices who will interpret the law, not make law!"), and we don't actually know who's going to retire in the next few years, so in the campaign context there isn't much to be said .
But if there's anything that ought to make you afraid of a Mitt Romney presidency, it's this.
The results of the Wisconsin recall election weren’t surprising; for the last month, polls had shown Walker with a solid lead over his Democratic opponent. What was interesting—and a little surprising—was the extent to which President Barack Obama has maintained a strong position in the Badger State. Among the 2.4 million people who voted in last night’s election—a slight decrease from presidential turnout—52 percent support Obama. Obama’s performance is down from 2008, when he captured 56 percent of the vote, but Mitt Romney hasn’t captured the difference.
Sometime soon—probably in three weeks or so—the Supreme Court is going to hand down its ruling on the Affordable Care Act. Given what happened at the oral arguments, there aren't too many people predicting that the ACA will be upheld, although that of course remains a possibility. Those oral arguments now seem like someone smacking us awake out of a dream in which we believed that the Republican-appointed justices might have something in mind other than the partisan and ideological advantage of their side. It was a weird dream, so weird that in the days before the arguments, some people seriously discussed the possibility that Antonin Scalia might be bound by the logic he had followed in previous cases involving the commerce clause and vote to uphold the law. What a joke.
Over the past month or two, as the president’s political position has continued to erode and he becomes more vulnerable, an extraordinary and vaguely preposterous conversation has taken shape. Variations on it have been advanced by everyone from former presidents chatting with Hollywood moguls on news cable TV to esteemed Sunday-morning newspaper columnists picking their way through the racial bric-à-brac of the presidential psyche. In a way, it’s the corollary of the birther discussion at the other end of the spectrum, which is to say that it’s a conversation we’ve never had about any other president.
Barack Obama and Mitt Romney's stances on health insurance mandates stand as one of the great ironies of the 2012 presidential race. At various points both have opposed the mandate and both have advocated for the idea, successfully forcing the measure into legislation. The only problem is that they have evolved in opposite directions.
Before 2008, there was a story I used to tell about how presidential campaigns have been waged over the last few decades. It goes like this: The Democrat comes before the voters and says, "If you examine my 10-point plan, I believe you will agree that my 10-point plan is superior to my opponent's 10-point plan." Then the Republican comes before the voters, points to the Democrat, and says, "That guy hates you and everything you stand for." It may not have applied to every election in our lifetimes (Bill Clinton was pretty good at running for president, you may remember), but it rang true enough that when I said it, liberals tended to chuckle and nod their heads.
That changed in 2008, when Barack Obama ran a campaign in both the primaries and general election that reflected a profound understanding that politics is much more about identity than issues. His opponent understood it too, but the statement of identity that a vote for McCain represented just couldn't garner a majority of the public at that moment in history.
So what kind of a statement of identity does a vote for Mitt Romney represent?
As others have noted, it’s not hard to see the Keynesian case for Mitt Romney’s presidency. Because of Republican opposition, there’s little chance that President Obama could pass stimulus in his second term. Instead, it’s more likely that we’ll stay on the current path of deficit reduction and inaction with regards to the employment crisis.
Mitt Romney has always been a candidate more of the head than the heart. He looks presidential enough, and particularly for Republicans, his resume as a successful businessman is admirable. He certainly seems smart and competent. But no rock stars are going to be putting together songs like this one about the Romney candidacy. Not even songs like this one. Nobody is moved to tears by a Mitt Romney speech. In years hence, Republicans will not be telling their grandkids about how the 2012 campaign was the one that meant the most to them, the time when they felt that politics could be uplifting and inspiring, the one that made them feel like citizenship was something participatory and meaningful.
All that seems pretty plain. But the Romney campaign isn't willing to go down without giving that whole "inspiring" thing a shot. Here's their latest ad:
After what seems like forever, it’s finally Wisconsin Recall Eve. Regardless of what happens tomorrow, one thing’s certain: If you’ve had any doubts about the growing nationalization of elections, wash them away now. All politics may be local, but people in D.C.—whether journalists, politicians, or billionaire dilettantes—have found that they can have an outsized influence on the national stage by investing in state and local races.
It's sometimes said that the most optimistic presidential candidate is inevitably the one who wins. If that's true, Barack Obama is a shoe-in, considering what he said on Friday about the "fever" of Republican intransigence. "I believe that if we're successful in this election," the President mused, "that the fever may break, because there's a tradition in the Republican Party of more common sense than that. My hope, my expectation, is that after the election, now that it turns out that the goal of beating Obama doesn't make sense because I'm not running again, that we can start getting some cooperation again." And if you believe that, I've got some mortgage-backed securities you might be interested in.