Vox Pop

The Prospect's politics blog

The GOP's Crazy Core

The pragmatic Republican establishment (despite the Tea Party, there still is one) is frantic to jettison Representative Todd Akin’s toxic comments on conception and rape, and to quarantine the scientifically-challenged congressman. Much of the commentary has been about how Akin’s clumsiness connects to Republican vulnerability on other issues important to women. But this raises a larger question: Why is the Republican lunatic position politically toxic only on this particular issue? The Tea Party position, after all, has become (or already was) the “mainstream” Republican position on at least a dozen other issues—denying climate change, rejecting evolution, embracing bogus science on homosexuality, destroying regulation of palpable harm to consumers, defending the right of assassins to bring AK-47s to schools, and on and on. So why is this lunatic fringe position different from all other lunatic positions? Here are some conjectures: Almost everyone is a feminist on the subject of...

The GOP Wants to Make this Todd Akin's World

Yesterday morning, before the GOP completely turned its back on Todd Akin, I noted that—despite their harumphing —few Republicans disagreed with the substance of Akin’s remarks. In Congress and across the country, GOP lawmakers have supported a raft of bills designed to restrict or end abortion, as well as most forms of contraception. Look no further than the Republican platform, which— as CNN reports —will include radical and restrictive language on abortion: ”Faithful to the ‘self-evident’ truths enshrined in the Declaration of Independence, we assert the sanctity of human life and affirm that the unborn child has a fundamental individual right to life which cannot be infringed,“ the draft platform declares. ”We support a human life amendment to the Constitution and endorse legislation to make clear that the Fourteenth Amendment’s protections apply to unborn children." Republicans have been quick to distance themselves from Akin. Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown—who is running a...

Todd Akin's Place In History

When something like the Todd Akin "legitimate rape" controversy comes up, it can be hard to look at the case objectively and determine if the crime is worthy of the consequences. As a liberal, I found Akin to be a pretty awful character even before yesterday. And his comments were, by any standard you can come up, both spectacularly stupid and morally vile. This kind of thing is where misogyny and anti-intellectualism converge, though my favorite part of his comment is that he began it by saying, "From what I understand from doctors..." as though he came to this conclusion only after consulting with a number of physicians on the question of the ladypart lasers that are presumably activated to zap unwanted sperm when it arrives in those legitimate rape cases. It's the same thing that you hear from Republicans who say, "My reading of the science is that global warming is a giant hoax," as though they've actually been perusing climate journals. Akin later clarified his doctor...

Democrats' Last Great Hope?

Republicans up for election in 2012—from Mitt Romney down to the most junior member of Congress—don't want to talk about social issues. Their success is predicated upon talking about the economy—and then talking about the economy some more—and making arguments about why they deserve a shot at trying to jump-start the job market. But when a member of Congress says that in instances of "legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down," the narrative is bound to veer wildly off-course. And especially when that less-than-eloquent member of Congress from Missouri is competing against the most vulnerable Democratic senator in the country, that is very bad news for the Republican Party. Representative Todd Akin, who has now popularized the bizarre term "legitimate rape," has earned the scorn of politicians and commentators all across the political spectrum, and the call for him to drop out of the race against Claire McCaskill by tomorrow's 5 p.m. deadline has...

Romney Escapes Punishment for Lying, Continues Lying

You can't see from this angle, but his pants are actually aflame.
We may be talking a lot about Medicare, but on the airwaves, Mitt Romney is just not giving up on the welfare attack. As you should know by now , over the last couple of weeks Romney has been airing ads featuring an unusually brazen lie about the Obama administration, claiming that Obama has eliminated work requirements from welfare. It's just false, as every fact-checker has attested and anyone who is not actually in Mitt Romney's employ will tell you. Romney has been repeating this lie on the stump as well. Everybody understands the racial subtext underneath the welfare attack, so we needn't dwell on that at the moment. But what's remarkable is that despite the judgment of journalists, Romney just keeps on telling the lie. Here's the third ad his campaign has produced about it: Why does Romney keep saying this? Because he isn't getting punished for it, that's why. It isn't enough that the fact-checker columns say it's false. What's required to really chasten a political liar is...

Running Mate Runner-Ups

(AP Photo/Richmond Times-Dispatch, Joe Mahoney)
Representative Paul Ryan's rise to the second-slot of the Republican presidential ticket has everyone in a frenzy. Democrats think the right-wing rock star will poison Romney's campaign, while the GOP applauds Mitt Romney's vice-presidential choice as a much needed dose of excitement—and a sign that the presidential running mates are deeply wedded to the right. But there's one thing everyone can agree upon: Paul Ryan is going to be an A-lister on the political stage for a long time, even if Romney loses. Here's a look back at vice-presidential candidates who never reached the hallowed halls of the White House. Slideshow The Ghosts of Vice-Presidents Past

The Radicalism of Akin and Romney

Since yesterday morning, political conversation has been dominated by the comments of Todd Akin, a (formerly) obscure Missouri congressman and Republican candidate for Senate. "First of all, from what I understand from doctors [pregnancy from rape] is really rare,” Akin told local reporters , explaining his absolute opposition to abortion, “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.” And if these natural defenses fail? “Let’s assume that maybe that didn’t work, or something,” Akin said. “I think there should be some punishment, but the punishment ought to be on the rapist and not attacking the child.” Captured in these words is a constellation of ugly ideas about women, beginning with the ludicrous belief that some rapes are “legitimate,” others fake, and that through some undiscovered mechanism, the female body will prevent implantation in the case of the former. Indeed, his statement betrays the extent to which Akin isn’t concerned with...

Romney's Race-Based Initiative

"There's a woman in Chicago," Ronald Reagan told an audience in New Hampshire while campaigning in 1976. "She has 80 names, 30 addresses, 12 Social Security cards and is collecting veterans benefits on four nonexisting deceased husbands. And she's collecting Social Security on her cards. She's got Medicaid, getting food stamps and she is collecting welfare under each of her names. Her tax-free cash income alone is over $150,000." The story—an exaggerated account of a 47-year-old black woman on the South Side of Chicago—played on racial stereotypes that struck a chord with white, suburban voters. The specter of the “welfare queen” has been with us ever since. Despite high hopes, the election of a black president has done little to quell racial resentment. If anything, Obama’s election, the recession, and the changing demographics of America have heightened the fear that “real Americans” are losing their country—and their money—to undeserving minorities. It is precisely this anxiety...

Trickle-Down Ryanomics

Republicans have already gone through the five stages of grief over Paul Ryan in the week since he was chosen to be the Little John to Mitt's Romney Hood, but their outsized emotions seem to have been a waste of energy. Romney's standing in the polls is … exactly the same as it was prior to the "game-changing" announcement. It seems that, just as history and political science teach us, the veep isn't going to determine the fate of the 2012 presidential election—much to Bill Kristol's chagrin . But, Paul Ryan's biggest effect will likely be seen in down-ballot races. Upstate New York proves a perfect example of how Ryan's infamous budget plan, which Romney pronounced "marvelous," could be a boon to Democrats out of their element in the older-voter-skewing Republican part of the state. Bill Owens, a Democratic representative in the 21st District, was swept into office under the luckiest of circumstances in a 2009 special election when his Republican opponent dropped out and endorsed him...

Takes One to Know One

Just keep smiling. (Flickr/Donkey Hotey)
Ask a political consultant, and she'll tell you that if you're a candidate running for something like the House, there's no point in putting out position papers. Sure, you want to let people know you're substantive and have thought seriously about policy, but putting it down on paper only brings you grief. Nobody will be convinced to vote for you because of something in a position paper, but people may well find therein a reason to vote against you. And your opponent will go through it and find things to take out of context and attack you with. Presidential campaigns, however, are supposed to be different. A new congressman can coast through a term without anything much resembling an agenda, but a president is supposed to have a whole slate of policies he wants to implement. So presidential campaigns employ people whose job it is to devise and refine plans that can be put into practice in the White House. But now, Mitt Romney and the people who work for him, are coming out and saying...

Does America Get the Campaigns It Deserves?

Undecided voters
I have some bad news. Chances are Mitt Romney doesn't care about you. OK, you knew that, but Barack Obama probably doesn't care about you either. Because if you read the Prospect , you're not an undecided voter, and even if you were an undecided voter, unless you live in one of a handful of states (Florida, Ohio, Virginia, Colorado, and a few others), they couldn't care less what you think. Today The New York Times has a nice article about that tiny portion of the electorate that the presidential campaigns in all their glory are trying to persuade. Although the piece doesn't address this question, it's good from time to time to step back and acknowledge that the fate of our nation basically rests with some of the least informed among us, and the system is designed to maximize their power. But first: In spite of clichés about Nascar dads and Walmart moms, the actual share of voters nationally who are up for grabs is probably between just 3 percent and 5 percent in this election,...

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,...

Pages