Vox Pop

The Prospect's politics blog

Michelle Obama Hits a Home Run

CHARLOTTE, NORTH CAROLINA —Delegates were enthusiastic for every prime-time speaker at the Democratic National Convention last night. San Antonio mayor Julian Castro received big applause for his riff on opportunity—“My mother fought for civil rights, so that instead of a mop, I could hold this microphone”—and former Ohio Governor Ted Strickland won cheers for his harsh attacks on Mitt Romney’s “economic patriotism.” But for all of its excitement, the crowd saved its adulation for Michelle Obama’s closing message to tonight’s session of the convention. She was a superstar—delegations passed out “Michelle Obama” signs, attendees stood and clapped at every opportunity, and on several occasions, she was drowned out by the roar of the crowd. If you watched or listened to the speech, it’s not hard to understand the overwhelmingly positive reaction. Obama has grown into an extremely capable speaker—like Ann Romney, her tone was genuine, but with a steady firmness that’s reminiscent of more...

A Declaration of Interdependence

(AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
(AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster) Michelle Obama addresses the 196th Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina. The message of the first night of the Democratic Convention was “We built it together.” Speaker after speaker took aim at the Republican Party’s Randian, libertarian vision, at the ideology that Britain’s Margaret Thatcher succinctly expressed when she said, “There is no such thing as society.” There is, too, replied the Democrats. There is temporal society—the intergenerational links, the investment in education that pays off not in your own success but, as San Antonio Julian Castro pointed out, in your children’s. There is the society of laws, where Democrats (in general) and Barack Obama (in particular) have fought for equality in matters of sexual orientation. There is the economic society—now more unequal than it’s been in 80 years—where Obama, in his wife’s words, ensured that paying your medical bill won’t mean you go broke. The first evening on the...

Julian Castro's Great Expectations

(AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
Before San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro walked onstage at the Democratic National Convention, the crowd was already pumped. They'd laughed and cheered as Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick and former Ohio Governor Ted Strickland lambasted Mitt Romney—the former with righteous indignation, the latter with humor at full volume. After Castro exited, Michelle Obama, now unquestionably the most popular woman on planet Earth, took the stage with a speech that left both crowd and pundits—left and right—spellbound. Consequently, despite weeks of attention on the young Latino mayor, Castro's perfectly serviceable keynote speech isn't likely to be the one that everybody remembers. But that hardly means he failed. In fact, "perfectly serviceable" may have been the desired result. In their first day, the Democrats did a masterful job of both managing expectations and drawing specific contrasts with the GOP's convention last week. Castro shared the evening spotlight with Obama, much as New Jersey...

The Media Whinefest Commences

Members of the news media arrive at RNC in Tampa, prepare to talk about nothing. (Flickr/NewsHour)
I have a lot of sympathy for campaign reporters. Their time on the trail can be exhausting, a weird combination of high stress and utter boredom. Every day they have to follow their candidate around to another event that was just like the last one, where he'll say exactly the same things and they have to figure out how to write a story that isn't precisely the same as what they wrote yesterday. And now that their news organizations want them to produce content for a wide array of platforms, it gets even harder. That being said, reporters can sometimes get seriously whiny. To wit, this story in Politico about how the members of the traveling press corps all think campaign 2012 is a total bummer: If there is one narrative to anchor what often feels like a plotless 2012 campaign, it is media disillusionment. Reporters feel like both campaigns have decided to run out the clock with limited press avails, distractions, and negative attacks, rather than run confident campaigns with bold...

Poll Spells Trouble for Iowa Judge

(Flickr/Serdar Kaya)
It looks like another Iowa Supreme Court justice may lose his job this year. Conservatives are once again railing against one of the judges who legalized same-sex marriage in Iowa. Bob Vander Plaats, a prominent social conservative on the local scene who led an anti-retention campaign against three of the state's supreme court justices in 2010, announced last month that he was spearheading an effort to make sure David Wiggins doesn't succeed at the polls this November. A Public Policy Polling survey from last week indicates that Vander Plaats's plan is working. Among likely Iowa voters, 38 percent would like to retain Wiggins, while another 38 percent want to send him home. While at first glance that tie might seem positive for Wiggins—in 2010 two of his colleagues lost by 8 percent, one by a ten-point margin—the dynamics don't favor Wiggins. Many of those likely voters supporting Wiggins might not vote in the retention election—judicial retention votes were notoriously under the...

Nine and a Half Conventions

(AP Photo)
(AP Photo) Then-Senator John F. Kennedy stands in the spotlight on the rostrum of the Los Angeles Sports Arena and promises Democratic convention delegates, who nominated him as their presidential candidate on July 14, 1960, that "we will win" in November. My first Democratic National Convention came when I was ten. My parents took me along to the new Los Angeles Sports Arena for the second night of the 1960 gathering that nominated Jack Kennedy. The tickets came courtesy of my father’s employers, who ran a mega-tract-home construction company. They may well have been to the right of the Democratic Party; my parents were still stubbornly to its left—members of the all-but-extinct Socialist Party—but no matter. A national political convention didn’t come around every week, and besides, my parents increasingly considered themselves close to the liberal reformers who dominated California’s Democratic Party. As chance would have it, the second night of that Democratic Convention provided...

The Political Education of Elizabeth Warren

(AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)
Illustrations by Victor Juhasz I n early October 2011, Shannon Sherman, a pregnant nurse who was two weeks from her due date, met Elizabeth Warren, though she didn’t know it at the time. All Sherman knew was that a friendly woman said hello to her in the ladies’ room at the Massachusetts Nurses Association’s annual conference, asked how far along she was, and shared a chuckle about the difficulties and indignities of the ninth month of pregnancy. Sherman had heard of Warren; the previous summer, the nurses' union had been among the first to endorse the Democrat in the 2012 Senate race, just after she left a job in Washington overseeing the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.* Like many progressive groups, the union was eager to encourage Warren to jump into the race for the Senate seat Ted Kennedy had held for 47 years until his death in 2009. Scott Brown, a Republican, had won a special election in January 2010, and Democrats were still aghast over it. Spotlight: Liz Warren's...

The RNC Convention TV Ratings In Historical Perspective

This kid should clearly have been at home watching TV. (Flickr/NewsHour)
When Mitt Romney gave his convention speech on Thursday, as far as we can tell the collective response from the everyone in the country was, "Meh." I haven't seen any Democrats who said it was a disaster, but I also haven't seen any Republicans who said it was fantastic. And lo and behold, Gallup reports that 40 percent of respondents in their poll said Romney's speech made them more likely to vote for him, while 38 percent said it made them less likely to vote for him. That net positive of +2 makes Romney's the least effective speech since Gallup started asking this question in 1984. That's probably partly because the speech was nothing special, and partly because people are largely going to react along partisan lines no matter what it actually contained. But one thing that's weird about this is that 78 percent of people expressed an opinion about Romney's speech. And in a separate question, a nearly identical 76 percent said they had watched at least some of the Republican...

A Convention of Bootstrap-Pullers

One day, his great-grandson would grow up to propose block-granting Medicaid. (photo by Jacob Riis)
Kevin Drum noticed something that I also found striking about the Republican convention, that it seemed like every speaker had to relate their hard-luck tale of a rise from poverty. And if they didn't actually have their own such story, then they told their parents' story, or their grandparents' story. Kevin laments that, like many of us, he has to go back a couple of generations in his family to find the inspiring tale of bootstrap-pulling. You'll also notice that most of these stories end with the teller exulting that "only in America" could someone like them, who had a parent or grandparent who was poor, today be standing in front of a crowd of people wearing elephant hats. I've complained before about the ridiculousness of "only in America," but oh boy was it repeated often over the last three days. We even heard it from Ann Romney, who told us how she and Mitt were so deprived when they were starting out that they lived in a basement apartment and used an ironing board for a...

What Romney's Speech Didn't Do

I am talking at you, America! (Flickr/NewsHour)
I often find it difficult to give an objective assessment of something like Mitt Romney's speech last night. For those of us who are immersed in politics and have strong opinions, setting aside one's prior judgments and beliefs is all but impossible, particularly when you're faced with a speech like this one that wasn't obviously great or obviously terrible. Having acknowledged my biases, my conclusion is that this speech isn't going to change too many minds. Like many people, I find Mitt Romney to be the most artificial of politicians. There are many things that go into that, some of which are more serious than others. The fact that he's awkward and stiff is completely forgivable; there have been awkward and stiff Democratic candidates (Kerry, Gore) whom I thought would make perfectly good presidents. As Jon Chait said , "Romney seems to lack a talent for faking sincerity," which is no crime in and of itself. On the other hand, the fact that he seems utterly devoid of principles (...

Romney Breaks Out of His Robotic Shell, Emerges as Generic Republican

If you tuned in to the Republican National Convention last night hoping to learn something about Mitt Romney, you probably came away satisfied. With a video highlighting his family and role as a father, his campaign did an excellent job of presenting the candidate's humanity. Romney himself added to the success, with a speech that went a long way toward reintroducing him as not just a cold automatron. He told the crowd that he grew up in "the middle of the century and the middle of the country"—a way of minimizing the distance between his incredibly privileged life and the more ordinary lives of almost everyone else—and he showed genuine emotion when telling the crowd about his parents. In particular, he shared a moving story about how his father used to leave a rose on his mother’s nightstand every evening, and she knew he had died when that flower was missing. It elicited genuine tears from Romney, and quick shots of the crowd proved he had made a connection—more than a few people...

Chasing Swingers, Not Specifics

(AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
(AP Photo/Jae C. Hong) Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan are on stage with their wives Ann Romney and Janna Ryan at the end of the Republican National Convention This year’s Republican Convention wins the prize for most conflicted message. Half the time, the convention was devoted to assuring those elusive swing voters—who needed assurance that Republicans really aren’t all angry old white men who hate women and minorities and would close your plant in a blink of the eye if they could make a nickel on the deal—that Republicans in general and Mitt Romney in particular were inclusive, caring, nurturing patriots. The other half of the time, it was devoted to bashing President Barack Obama for his anti-American agenda, an agenda the Republican base has fabricated out of its own paranoia. Because it is effectively all white, the GOP is compelled to send out a revolving door of minority pols and businessmen to affirm the party’s...

Pennsylvania Has a New Voter ID Option—But Serious Burdens Remain

(Flickr/amslerPIX)
There's a lot not to like about Pennsylvania's voter ID law, which requires voters show a government-issued photo ID at the polls. Only a few types of IDs are acceptable, like driver's licenses and passports, and even public-university student IDs must have an expiration date on them. Ever since Republicans passed the law in March, critics have worried that without a comprehensive education plan, hundreds of thousands of voters would not even know about the law—those Pennsylvanians, disproportionately nonwhite and low-income, who lack the necessary ID. Most urgently, they pointed to the people could't get an ID under Pennsylvania's unusually restrictive rules, because they didn't have a birth certificate or social security card or their married name was different than the names on some documents. In a lawsuit aimed at blocking the law, plaintiff Vivienne Applewhite exemplified the problem—a longtime voter, born in South Carolina, whose Social Security card had been stolen and whose...

Did Hubris Kill Texas's Photo ID Law?

(AP Photo/Pat Sullivan)
In a unanimous decision on Thursday, a panel of three federal judges knocked down the Texas voter-ID law, which would have required voters to show a form of government-issued photo identification. The state will undoubtedly appeal the decision, but the news is yet another blow to the law, which the Justice Department already determined would disproportionately affect nonwhite voters. The Department of Justice estimated that between 600,000 and 800,000 registered voters would be affected. Those with Hispanic surnames were far more likely than whites to not have the requisite identification. While it's yet another rebuke to strict voter-ID laws, the court's decision also illustrates just how much the specifics of this law, and its particularly scary effects, were brought on by the arrogance of state lawmakers and (Republican) officials. Like right-wing Republicans in the many states that went whole-hog GOP in 2009 and 2010—Wisconsin, Michigan, Maine, Alabama, Virginia, and Louisiana...

The Hidden Candidate

(John Cuneo)
(John Cuneo) W hen Gore Vidal died a few weeks ago, eulogies quoted his famous observation that “the more money an American accumulates the less interesting he himself becomes.” Vidal originally wrote these words in a 1972 essay on Howard Hughes, but who could read them today and not think of Willard Mitt Romney? Blessed with parodically presidential good looks, yet cursed with the unconvincing mannerisms of an early-generation android without its update patch, Romney is that most discombobulating of political phenomena—a boring enigma. Trying to figure out his true nature is akin to facing a block of polystyrene. You can’t see inside, and you can’t get a toehold. You’re left with analogies. Romney has been dubbed the next Herbert Hoover, awarded the honorary George H.W. Bush “Wimp” prize from Newsweek , and compared to a porn-movie queen because he changes his positions so often (this last from Arlen Specter, who only changes parties). Those of a more artistic bent have dubbed Romney...

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