Vox Pop

The Prospect's politics blog

Romney's Tax Break

After a week of constant criticism on his Medicare proposals, Mitt Romney decided to fall back to something a little less contentious: his tax returns! In a press conference with reporters this afternoon, he was emphatic about his dutiful taxpaying. “I did go back and look at my taxes and over the past 10 years I never paid less than 13 percent," he said. "I think the most recent year is 13.6 or something like that. So I paid taxes every single year.”Will Romney release his tax returns to verify this information? No, he won’t. Which means that we haven’t actually learned anything new. Without releasing his returns, there is no way he—or the press—can prove that this is the rate he paid. He can’t even disprove Senator Harry Reid’s allegations that he paid a zero percent tax rate, which, when you think about it, is an incredibly low bar. And so, less than a week after calling for a more substantive campaign, Mitt Romney has returned—of his own volition—to thing that prompted the call in...

The Worst-Ever Attempt at Swiftboating

(White House/Flickr)
The “swift boat” attacks in the 2004 presidential election were effective, in part, because they played on real public anxiety: “We’re fighting two wars, is now a good time to change leaders?” For a critical number of Americans, the answer was no, and John Kerry couldn’t overcome the sense that we shouldn't change horses in midstream (to use a cliché). “ Dishonorable Disclosures ” is a 22-minute video from a group of former special operations and C.I.A. officers that attempts to do the same to President Obama. The group, called Special Operations Education Fund (OPSEC), bills itself as a nonpartisan group—it calls on supporters to “stop the politicians, President Obama and others”— whose main goal is to inform the public. More specifically, it's registered as a 501(c)4, or "dark money" group, which doesn't have to reveal its donors to the public. Its message is straightforward: The Obama administration is leaking sensitive national security information for the sake of political gain...

The Trouble With a Campaign About "Issues"

The subject of a substantive, issue-based discussion from a previous campaign.
In the early stages of every presidential campaign, journalists and pundits start saying, "This is going to be the most negative campaign in history." Then as the campaign proceeds, it turns out to be plenty negative, but not really the worst in history, so they stop saying that. Eventually, however, some back-and-forth of attacks will cause them to lament, "We thought this could be a campaign about issues. But instead it's all personal attacks!" And that's the stage we're at now. As Buzzfeed 's Ben Smith wrote yesterday, "Mitt Romney's choice of Paul Ryan was supposed to transform the 2012 presidential campaign away from what Politico called the 'smallest' campaign ever into something grand and honorable. Everyone said so… Three days later, the campaign has reached its ugliest, most fevered moment." But let's not be naïve here. Every campaign gets negative, and every campaign gets personal. Think back on the presidential campaigns you've lived through. Was there a single one about...

The Biden Distraction

It started out innocently enough. At a campaign stop in Virginia yesterday, Vice President Joe Biden warned that Romney wanted to “unchain Wall Street." "They’re going to put y’all back in chains,” he told the crowd. The Southern affect is a little annoying, but it’s more than clear that Biden was not making an allusion to slavery. Nevertheless, Romney used this as an opportunity to condemn President Obama's campaign for its supposedly “hateful,” “angry” and “divisive” rhetoric.Given the verbal slips that inevitably come with campaigning, Team Romney’s intense focus on this is a little odd. Indeed, just four days ago, Mitt Romney—and his newly-minted running mate, Paul Ryan—promised to bring substance to the campaign. Instead, we’re debating Joe Biden. With that said, the Romney campaign has a good reason for this approach: It needs to take the focus away from Medicare. Republicans don’t do well on Medicare. The public trusts Democrats too much for them to make an impact. At most,...

Voting Rights Lose in Pennsylvania

(AP Photo/Marc Levy)
Let's imagine a world in which Pennsylvania's voter-ID law did not disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of voters. The law, which requires voters show government-issued identification in order to vote, has created significant burdens for voters without IDs, a population disproportionately made up of poor people and minorities. In our imaginary world, the state would do a stellar job of educating voters, reaching out to African Americans—who disproportionately lack state IDs—and Spanish-language media. They would send postcards as early as possible to tell every voter in the state about the change. A "card of last resort" would be available to any voter who could not easily access the required documents for a standard ID, which include a birth certificate and a Social Security card. Employees at the state's driver's license centers would be well-versed in the law and give voters advice about what was needed and what they were entitled to receive for free. Election workers would be well...

Obama's European Socialist Empire

(AP Photo/Haraz N. Ghanbari, File)
It has been a long time since Europe has featured so prominently in an American presidential race. Republicans, in particular, have seen the crisis plaguing the Eurozone as an opportunity to attack president Obama, who—they claim—is leading America away from its core values and towards the sickly collectivism prevalent in the European Union. Mitt Romney, in one of those hilarious-but-horrifying Republican debates last September, spoke of a president “taking his inspiration […] from the socialist democrats in Europe," before pointing out that he, in contrast, believed in America. His vice-presidential pick, Paul Ryan, was complaining to the New Yorker’s Ryan Lizza about the lurch towards a European style of government in March 2009, before the crisis in Greece had begun, and has continued invoking the frightening specter of the Europeanization of American as the Eurozone’s woes have deepened. It is well known that political campaigns leave little room for facts and sober analysis. I...

Mitt Romney's Implausible Bid for the High Road

(Jamelle Bouie/The American Prospect)
Politics is tough, and most politicians—including President Obama—are willing to bend the truth to win an election. But there’s a difference between the small distortions of all campaigns, and the brazen dishonesty we’re seeing from Romney. In a 48-hour period, Mitt Romney has doubled-down on the false charge that Obama has ended work requirements for welfare, lied about the Affordable Care Act’s Medicare cost savings, and kicked up a storm over comments made by Vice President Joe Biden. That last one is noteworthy for the sheer chutzpah of Romney’s complaint. During an event in Danville, Virginia (pronounced Dan-vul) with African-American supporters of the president, Biden deployed somewhat unfortunate language in attacking Romney’s promised repeal of financial reform: "Romney wants to let the — he said the first 100 days — he’s gonna let the big banks once again write their own rules. Unchain Wall Street,” Biden said at an event in Danville, Va. “They gonna put y’all back in chains...

Ryan and Biden: No Catholic Guilt Here

(Flickr/Gage Skidmore)
The current media frenzy over Paul Ryan seems to boil down to two things: his fiscal conservatism and his broad-shouldered good looks. Not since John F. Kennedy has a White House hopeful caused such a handsome fuss—Ryan, with his stiff-bristled black hair, aquiline nose, and earnestly furrowed brow has all the lean good looks of an early 20th century prize fighter in the back bar rooms of the Lower East Side. But Ryan is heir to JFK in more ways than hunkiness. The guy just may be the single greatest thing to happen to American Catholics since the 35th president took the oath of office, ending the White House’s WASP streak. In 1960, speaking before a group of Texas ministers, Kennedy addressed his Catholicism head-on, dispelling the notion that, as president, he would take directives from the Vatican. “I do not speak for my Church on public matters—and the Church does not speak for me,” Kennedy said . “Whatever issue may come before me as president—on birth control, divorce,...

Read Mitt's Lips

After months of leaving practically every element of his policy proposals on the level of abstraction, Mitt Romney has finally offered a bit of clarity. According to his policy director, a President Romney would overturn all of the cuts to Medicare included in the Affordable Care Act, a figure that initially totaled $500 billion but has increased to $700 billion in the three years since the bill became a law. The bulk of these cuts are noncontroversial—Paul Ryan's budget, notably, maintains them—and they don't harm seniors' care one bit, despite Romney's wild claims . But hey, any chance to fear-monger with old white folks about that scary man in the White House, right? As our own Jamelle Bouie wrote today, Romney needs to win a large majority of the elderly vote if he hopes to win in November. What would it mean to leave Medicare untouched? Ezra Klein dug into the implications of Romney's promise, combined with his other budget plans. You will be shocked, no doubt, to learn that the...

Paul Ryan's Self-Made Myth

(AP Photo)
In politics and journalism, myth often passes as biography. For evidence, look no further than The New York Times and Washington Post 's profiles of newly minted vice-presidential candidate Paul Ryan, who by virtue of a few well-deployed anecdotes—told by his brother and by fellow congressman and confidant Jeff Flake—has been transformed into the apotheosis of the self-made man. The linchpin of this pull-yourself-up-by-you-bootstraps story is the death of his father when Ryan was 16. "It is remarkable that he chose a path of individual responsibility and maturity rather than letting grief take a different course," the candidate's brother tells the Times , which elaborates with an encomium worthy of an Anglo-Saxon epic: His self-reliance followed him to summer camp, where as a counselor he canoed and hiked, and into young adulthood, where he took up deer hunting. … It followed him into college, where he immediately took a passionate interest in the canon of conservative economic...

Is the Driverless Car Menace 2012's Sleeper Issue?

A Florida senior just after her brush with death.
As someone who has gone on record in support of driverless cars, I simply must raise my voice in objection to this ad targeting Florida state representative Jeff Brandes, who is running for state senate. An inconsequential local race, you say? Not when this kind of vicious anti-technological filth is sent out to paralyze our nation's seniors with fear of walking the streets! If you think American politics is no fun, just take a gander: Clearly, this Brandes character is some kind of fifth column infiltrator preparing us for the coming robot apocalypse, when Roombas start mowing down helpless seniors in their homes and ATMs reach out and swallow you when all you wanted was to take out $20 and make it to the early bird on time. For all we know, Brandes might be a robot himself. Actually, before long robots will actually be used to provide companionship and assistance to seniors. It's already happening in Japan. And also, help them pull off jewel heists:

The Coming Obama Landslide

(AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
In terms of demographics, Mitt Romney has one path to victory: overwhelming support from white voters. At the least, he’ll have to outperform every Republican since Ronald Reagan, and win 60 percent of their votes. And this is if minority turnout is at its 2008 levels. If it increases, he needs even more whites to make up the difference. Seniors play a key part in this coalition. The New Republic ’s Nate Cohn puts it bluntly : “Romney’s road to the White House runs through seniors.” John McCain won 51 percent of seniors, beating Obama by four percentage points. At the moment, Cohn notes, Obama’s support among this group is in the low 40s. If the former Massachusetts governor can outperform McCain and crush Obama among older Americans, he can eke out a narrow win. But if Obama can hold his own—and move closer to his 2008 total—he’ll have secured victory. Enter Paul Ryan. As a congressman, the Wisconsin representative’s signature accomplishment is a proposal to reform entitlements,...

Mitt Romney's Terrible Laugh

(AP Photo/Winslow Townson)
Some public figures get defined by a single image, or a single statement ("Ask not what your country can do for you"; "I am not a crook"). Others have a characteristic linguistic tic or hand gesture that through repetition come to embody them; think of Ronald Reagan's head shake, George W. Bush's shoulder-shimmy, or that closed-fist-with-thumb-on-top thing Bill Clinton used to do. For Mitt Romney, it's the laugh. I'm sure that at times Romney laughs with genuine mirth, but you know the laugh I'm talking about. It's the one he delivers when he gets asked a question he doesn't want to answer, or is confronted with a demand to explain a flip-flop or a lie. It's the phoniest laugh in the world, the one New York Times reporter Ashley Parker wrote "sounds like someone stating the sounds of laughter, a staccato 'Ha. Ha. Ha.'" Everything Mitt Romney is as a candidate is distilled within that laugh—his insincerity, his ambition, his awkwardness, and above all his fear. When Mitt laughs that...

I Know You Are But What Am I? Medicare Edition

In the good old days, you could get political speeches on LP.
Republicans' pleasure over Mitt Romney picking Paul Ryan for his running mate is tempered by their nervousness that Democrats will use Ryan's budget to hammer them on Medicare, particularly in Florida. And yes, they will. So how are Republicans going to respond? The answer is that they'll employ the time-honored "I know you are, but what am I?" strategy. The National Republican Congressional Committee—the House Republicans' campaign arm—is sending out memos to its members telling them to, in the title of one, "Stay on offense on Medicare." And how do you do it? You say, we're not the ones who want to destroy Medicare, the Democrats are the ones who want to destroy Medicare! We're already hearing it from Romney and Ryan, and it'll be coming from all kinds of other places as well; here's the Heritage Foundation saying "Obamacare ends Medicare as we know it." (How? Because it's all governmenty.) This kind of muddying of the waters has worked before. Here's one of my favorite ads from...

Shiny, Happy Ryan

(AP Photo/Conrad Schmidt)
Although Paul Ryan has only been on the Republican presidential ticket for two days, the punditocracy's opinions on how he will influence the race this fall have already solidified. Republicans think he is the saving grace of a candidate wounded by chronic awkwardness, a schizophrenic policy history, and, well, just being filthy rich. Democrats, meanwhile, have been chortling non-stop for the past 48 hours, relishing the chance to tell all those elderly swing voters in Florida about Ryan's evil plot to dismantle Medicare. However, Democrats' entrenched evaluations fail to include an essential variable in the equation of how the Wisconsin representative will play with voters: however strident his policy proposals, you can't fault the packaging. When Paul Ryan was a young twenty-something working at the conservative think tank Empower America, Jack Kemp taught him that conservative talking points could be " delivered with a smile " instead of apocalyptic threats, and Paul Ryan is a...

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