Vox Pop

The Prospect's politics blog

Why Obama Can't Be Hopey-Changey This Time Around

Flickr/Will Merydith

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.

But Obama doesn't have much choice...

"We've Heard it All Before"


The latest Obama campaign ad—which will air mainly in swing states—continues the attack on Mitt Romney’s record in Massachusetts:

Letting the Right People Vote

(Flickr/Bettina Neufeind)

For some years, the Republican party has tried to convince Americans that they have put their ugly legacy on issues of race behind them, that Richard Nixon's "Southern Strategy" and Willie Horton have no relationship to the GOP of today. They call themselves the "party of Lincoln," hoping people will forget that the Republican and Democratic parties were very different in 1864 than they are today. (Consider: If the likes of John Boehner, Mitch McConnell, Rush Limbaugh, Sarah Palin, and the rest of the leading lights of the GOP had been alive 150 years ago, which side would they have been on? The answer seems pretty obvious.) Sometimes, they may even go as far as the National Review did recently, publishing an unintentionally hilarious cover article claiming that Republicans are the real civil rights heroes, because the Democratic party was once home to white Southern segregationists, so there! Never mind that those folks, like Strom Thurmond and Jesse Helms, eventually found their rightful home in the Republican party, as part of the realignment process that gave us the parties of today.

The protestations would be a little more convincing if every election–every election, without fail–didn't see Republicans searching for new ways to exploit white racial animus and, more importantly, keep minorities from voting. This year's election will be no different; Republicans are working harder than ever to make sure that if you're not their kind of person, you will find voting as difficult as possible. That doesn't mean that deep in their hearts Republicans are racists. It isn't about hate. It's about power.

As Wisconsin Goes...

Only five more days till the Wisconsin recall, and surprisingly—given Governor Scott Walker’s advantage thus far on the money and polling front—it looks like it’s going to be a tight match. But as exciting as the race will be, that doesn’t mean it’s time to crown it the Great Predictor of the 2012 Presidential Election. This isn’t a referendum on President Obama, and the petri dish of local politics on display in Wisconsin isn’t translatable to the national level in the way political journalists and commentators want it to be. However, there is one way the Wisconsin recall can be seen as the pre-party to November.

Mitt Romney's Howard Dean Strategy

Flickr/John P. Hoke

In March 2003, a then fairly obscure former Vermont governor and presidential candidate named Howard Dean stood up in front of a meeting of the California Democratic Party, opened his speech by criticizing the timidity and fearfulness of Democrats in Washington, and said to hearty cheers, "I'm Howard Dean, and I'm here to represent the Democratic wing of the Democratic party!" Rank-and-file Democrats were amazed and excited. Dean perfectly captured their frustration with national leaders whom they felt were wimps and capitulators, failing to stand up to a Republican president whom they disliked more than any other in their lifetimes.

In short order Dean became the candidate of the most partisan Democrats, and the news media portrayed him as some kind of wild-eyed liberal busting into the race from the extreme fringe. But the truth was that Dean was actually a moderate Democrat. He had opposed the Iraq War from the start, that was true. But he had also been endorsed by the National Rifle Association, and generally cut a profile in Vermont as a pragmatic center-left governor. Voters and reporters mistook his pugnacious style for a policy liberalism that wasn't really there, or at least wasn't any different from any of the establishment candidates against whom he ran.

I don't know whether or not they were inspired by Dean's story, but Mitt Romney and his advisors seem to have figured out that in this model there lies the key to securing the conservative base of the GOP that has distrusted Romney for so long.

Mitt Romney's Personal Is Not Political

Flickr/Donkey Hotey

Conservatives used to say that a conservative was a liberal who had been mugged. In other words, your abstract political ideology has to shift when it bumps up against unpleasant reality. Something similar can happen with politicians—not that they undergo wholesale ideological shifts, but many have some issue on which they have personal experience that leads them away from their ideology. For instance, Alan Simpson, a staunch conservative in almost every way, has advocated against harsh sentences for minors who commit crimes, because he himself grew beyond his run-ins with the law as a teenager.

As you've probably heard, Ann Romney suffers from multiple sclerosis. In a new video on the Romney campaign's web site, the Romneys talk about how they've dealt with the disease, and encourage people to donate to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. Which is good, but when you run for president, your own personal life is necessarily political. It's important to be sensitive in how we talk about this, but Jonathan Cohn says exactly the right thing. It's terrific that Mitt Romney has been so devoted to his wife, "But if you have MS, or any other serious chronic illness, you need more than a devoted spouse. You need a way to pay your medical bills." For people with any chronic illness, paying those bills, and getting and keeping coverage in our brutal private insurance system, can be difficult and at times even impossible. Cohn goes on:

Oh, the Humanity!

(Recuerdos de Pandora/Flickr)

For the past two years, there has been a pattern to the country’s job growth: the economy speeds up in the winter, cruises through the spring, and slows down as summer approaches. For 2012, it seems that we’re on track for the same ride. The strong gains of January and February gave way to the moderate gains of March and April, which have completely dissipated with the latest jobs report. In May, the economy created 69,000 jobs, and unemployment rose slightly to 8.2 percent.

Odd Couple

When George W. Bush came back to his former home in Washington today to unveil his and his wife's official paintings, reporters were quick to note how much of an odd couple Obama and Dubya prove.

Working the Refs Continues to Work


For the last 40 years or so, conservatives have undertaken a carefully planned and sustained campaign to "work the refs," complaining constantly about "liberal media bias" in an attempt to bully reporters and obtain more favorable coverage for their side. That isn't to say they don't sincerely believe that the establishment media is biased against them—they do—but they also understand that the complaints, no matter how silly they are in a particular instance, keep pressure on reporters and have them constantly bending over backwards to show that they're not biased. And when it works really well, you get stories like this one from Politico honchos Jim VandeHei and Mike Allen. "To GOP, blatant bias in vetting," reads the headline. Apparently, Republicans are angry that Mitt Romney's life is being investigated by reporters, while Barack Obama, who has been president for almost four years and went through all this in 2008, isn't getting precisely the same scrutiny in precisely the same ways. Stop the presses!

How the Attack on Massachusetts Could Backfire

This morning, the Obama campaign released its first video on Mitt Romney’s tenure as governor of Massachusetts:

There are a few obvious problems with this line of attack. Even with its fiscal problems and slow job growth, Massachusetts wasn’t a terrible place to live under the Romney administration. The point is to show that Romney is offering the same “robotic” line to voters, but how does that resonate when few people associate Massachusetts with “bad governance?”

It's Hard Out There For a Billionaire

Not an actual billionaire. (Flickr/Rainforest Action Network)

Is there a group of people you can think of who have thinner skin than America's multi-millionaires and billionaires? Wall Street titans have been whining for a couple of years now about the horror of people in politics criticizing ineffective banking regulations and the favorable tax treatment so many wealthy people receive (you may remember the time when hedge fund billionaire Steven Schwarzman said that President Obama suggesting that we eliminate the "carried interest loophole," which allows hedge fund managers to pay taxes at only the 15 percent capital gains rate instead of standard income tax rates, was "like when Hitler invaded Poland in 1939"). America's barons feel assaulted, victimized, wounded in ways that not even a bracing ride to your Hamptons estate in your new Porsche 911 can salve. And now that the presidential campaign is in full swing, their tender feelings are being hurt left and right.

Mythical Backlashes and Specious Explanations

Barack Obama's favorability ratings over the last year, from pollster.com.

One of the most dangerous temptations of the political reporter is over-interpretation of polls, the need to explain every apparent movement in this week's poll with reference to events that just happened. The result is a whole lot of utterly unsubstantiated claims explaining things lots of reporters don't even understand or that may not actually have occurred at all. Only coverage of the stock market, where every news report confidently explains even the tiniest movement in share prices ("Apple shares fell one-tenth of a point today, with investors expressing concern after Billy Wilson of Saginaw, Michigan decided to buy a Droid to replace the iPhone he dropped in the toilet"), comes close. There are two reasons why: the first is that most reporters don't understand, or willfully ignore, what a "margin of error" represents (meaning they talk about movement within the margin of error as though it represents something real, when it isn't). The second is that when you have to write every day, you have to say something and explain to your readers/viewers/listeners what's going on, so there's an impulse to link effects (poll blips) with purported causes (events on the trail).

Health Care Play-Acting


I've written many times, by way of explaining congressional Republicans' actions on the issue of health care, that it just isn't something that conservatives as a group care very much about. They have other interests, like taxes and the military, that they'd much rather spend their time on. This may strike some as unfair, but I think it's pretty clear from everything that's happened over the last couple of decades that it's true. There are a few conservative health wonks, but not nearly as many as there are on the liberal side. I can't think of any conservative journalists who are deeply conversant with the policy challenges and details of the health care system, while on the liberal side we have a number of such people, like Ezra Klein and Jonathan Cohn. Liberals have organizations dedicated to reforming the health system and achieving universal coverage; conservatives have organizations dedicated to stopping liberals from reforming the health system and achieving universal coverage. Other than an eternal desire to limit the ability of patients to sue for malpractice (which is as much about hamstringing trial lawyers, who donate a lot of money to Democrats, as it is about improving health care), Republicans only propose anything intended to improve the health care system when political events make it impossible for them to remain silent.

Which is why it's reasonable to be highly skeptical whenever congressional Republicans start talking about what they'd like to do on health care. That's the proper spirit to take the latest news on how conservatives are positioning themselves:

Let's Hear Less About Massachusetts, More About Bush


Earlier this week, I argued that the Obama campaign would soon bolster their attacks on Bain Capital with attacks on Mitt Romney’s record in Massachusetts. Well, this morning, ABC News’ Jake Tapper reports that the campaign will do just that, and open a new front in its war on the Republican nominee:

Let Obama Be Obama

The New York Timesbig story today, detailing President Obama’s role in the country’s counterterrorism efforts, should ignite a slow burn of new coverage and heated questions in the upcoming weeks. The scene, which presents Obama looking through Al Qaeda members' biographies and making the final life-or-death call of which suspects make their way onto what the Times calls "macabre 'baseball cards' of an unconventional war," feels ripped right from the third episode of The West Wing, "Proportional Response," where President Jed Bartlet struggles with the difficult decisions of war, in a cinematically presidential way.