Vox Pop

The Prospect's politics blog

New Study Finds Voter-ID Laws Burdensome

Flickr/76803040@N04
Ten states have recently passed laws requiring voters to present government-issued photo identification before they can vote. Ostensibly, these laws are to prevent voter fraud. However, a study by nonpartisan university researchers at NYU's Brennan Center for Justice has shown that voter fraud is microscopic ( e.g. , 0.00004% of the votes in the 2004 Ohio election were fraudulent); the penalty for getting caught is so large (5 years in prison), and the effect of one vote so small, that nobody risks it. The very occasional fraudulent vote is invariably from an ex-felon or green-card holder who mistakenly thought he had the right to vote. Nevertheless, states persist in passing voter ID laws. Why? As the study shows, the real effect of these laws is to disenfranchise low-income voters who are disproportionately minorities and Democrats. The legislators who pass voter-ID laws and the governors who sign them (invariably, Republicans) know this very well. By making poor people, who often...

The Romney Death Star Is Not Operational

It’s still too early to tell, but if the Washington Examiner ’s Byron York is right , the vaunted “Romney Death Star” has an unshielded thermal exhaust port at the center of its super-structure: So at least at the moment, the vaunted Romney death star, the machine that flattened his Republican opponents, just isn’t working. Romney is trying to get traction — this week, he’s focusing on Obama’s crony capitalism — but he is struggling. To fix things, he’ll have to put out more facts about his own record, plus capitalize on more bad economic news for Obama (that’s a sure bet at this point), plus gain access to the money he’s raised for the general election, plus find a way to sharpen the SuperPACs’ games. When the general election began, the assumption was that the Romney Death Star was fully operational; it had destroyed Newt Gingrich in a show of force, and overtook Rick Santorum in his underdog effort to win the nomination. But in the face of a fully-equipped opponent, it has faltered...

Mitt's Troubles Never End

I'm comin' fer ya, Mitt! (Flickr/akseabird)
It's looking like Mitt Romney might name his VP pick pretty soon, which is probably a good idea given that the release of the pick will result in a few days of positive coverage when the news media is consumed with something other than what Bain Capital did when, or what juicy nuggets might be contained within Romney's hidden tax returns. But there's a downside: once we do get to the Republican convention, the VP nominee will be old news, so the media can pay much more attention to intra-party squabbling. And nobody likes a good squabble more than Sarah Palin. Remember her? The Romney camp will not comment on Palin, or on plans for the convention, but one adviser associated with the campaign suggested that Palin would be prohibited from speaking at the Republican convention by her contract with Fox News. "It's true I'm prohibited from doing some things," Palin says, "but this is the first I've heard anyone suggest that as an excuse, er, reason to stay away from engaging in the...

With High Unemployment, Why Is Obama Ahead?

Nate Silver has an excellent post this morning on the Romney campaign’s reaction to the attacks on Bain Capital. The short story is that Romney might be overreacting to the controversy; he continues to equivocate and go on the defensive, despite the thin evidence that these attacks are having an effect on the race. Both Obama and Romney are roughly where they were three months ago, when the general election began in earnest, and polls taken since the attacks began have been inconclusive on the effect of anti-Bain ads. To show that Romney isn’t underperforming (because of Bain or anything else), Silver looks to his economic model for the election, which predicts a small but solid lead for the incumbent. Moreover, he makes an important point about the economic indicators that matter in the election year: Pace almost all election coverage, unemployment doesn’t actually tell you much about the final outcome of an election: In plain English, what this chart says is that there’s almost no...

Good Ads and Bad Ads

Vivid evidence of the Romney campaign's skill.
By now you've probably seen the Obama ad that juxtaposes Mitt Romney's tender rendition of "America the Beautiful" against information about Romney's extra-national financial activities, including Bain Capital's involvement in outsourcing and the worldwide distribution of Romney's personal accounts. The ad has been praised for its skillful sound design and powerful message, so in attempt to hit back, the Romney campaign countered with its own ad featuring Barack Obama singing. Unfortunately, the Romney ad is no longer viewable—it has been taken down because of a copyright claim, since Obama is seen singing a line from Al Green's "Let's Stay Together." But it's pretty simple—it shows Obama singing that line, then displays information about Obama allegedly rewarding his political contributors and cronies with government contracts and such, while ignoring the middle class. They obviously put it together quickly, but nevertheless, the difference between the two ads provides an excellent...

Why "Knowing How the Economy Works" Is Not Enough

George W. Bush has the answers.
This week will see the release of The 4% Solution: Unleashing the Economic Growth America Needs , a collection of essays from the George W. Bush Institute with a forward by the former president himself. It's true that annual GDP growth never actually reached 4 percent during Bush's two terms in office and averaged only 2.4 percent even if we generously exclude the disastrous year of 2008. But look at it this way: Who knows more about what the president ought to do about the economy than Dubya does? After all, there's only one living American (Bill Clinton) with as much experience being president, so Bush must have the answers we need. A ridiculous argument? Of course. That's because experience only gets you so far. It's obviously a good thing, all else being equal, for the president to know a lot about the economy, just as it's a good thing for him to know a lot about foreign affairs or domestic policy. But the truth is that although the government has to solve many practical problems...

How Bain Undercuts Romney's Narrative

Is Bain a problem for Mitt Romney’s narrative? Andrew Sullivan says yes : Romney, in other words, doesn’t have a leg to stand on. He has been running a campaign against the “Obama economy” insisting that the president own every single month he has been in office in order to condemn his economic management all the more - despite at least a first year in which Obama cannot really be held responsible for the fallout of an economic collapse he inherited. So Romney insists on maximal responsibility for Obama and the economy. Romney’s attempt to evade responsibility undermines his core argument against Barack Obama. How can you say, on one hand, that Obama is responsible for every job loss that has happened under his tenure—even if his policies haven’t taken effect—and then on the other, deny responsibility for actions your company took when it was still under your ownership? This, it seems, is the problem with flagrant dishonesty in a presidential campaign—it doesn’t leave room to maneuver...

Mitt Romney Is Not a Weak Candidate

Former Bush official and conservative pundit David Frum has a harsh and critical take on Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign: The hope for many of us was that a Republican president could do a better job constraining them than Barack Obama has been able to do - especially if (as I personally also hoped) the very act of electing such a president would deflate the radicalism of the congressional GOP and revive a more constructive spirit. But at every point, Romney has surrendered to the fringe of his party. Weak. And now in his first tough encounter with Barack Obama, Romney is being shoved around again. This is not what a president looks like - anyway, not a successful president. With the revelations over Bain Capital, this is an increasingly popular position—especially if my Twitter feed is any indication—but I think it’s an over-reaction. As far as candidate quality is concerned, Romney is a generic Republican, and little more than an avatar for discontent with President Obama...

Romney's Swing-State Dilemma

(Flickr / Gage Skidmore)
Before Mitt Romney's Bain Capital problems seized everyone's attention, we were hearing about a different political minefield the candidate had to maneuver: While his campaign is based largely on the country's economic woes, several GOP governors in swing states were claiming economic success and recovery. Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker spent his recall campaign pointing to the state's recovery, while Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell launched his own ads showing his state's progress. Iowa Governor Terry Branstad was boasting on his website of "“200,000+ new jobs" and "a 25% increase in family incomes." By late June, things were coming to a head. Bloomberg News reported that Romney's team asked Florida Governor Rick Scott to quiet down his bragging about job creation in the Sunshine State. There was a disastrous Ohio rally in which Governor John Kasich hailed his state's economic gains, and then Romney took the stage to slam the national economy. All in all, at least seven battleground...

Will Bain Actually Matter for November?

(NewsHour/Flickr)
Over the last week, Mitt Romney has struggled to deal with revelations over his tenure at Bain Capital and the extent of his involvement in the company from 1999 to 2002. He insists he retired in 1999—and thus is not responsible for Bain’s conduct afterward—despite the fact that documents from a variety of sources show Romney as the owner, CEO, and sole shareholder; he continued to sign documents, and may have had a small role in managing the firm. The Obama campaign has had a field day, hitting Romney for his evasiveness and even going as far as to suggest the Republican nominee broke the law. This provoked angry demands for an apology from the Romney team, which in turn, prompted this response from Obama for America. This easily ranks as the most brutal ad to appear in the 2012 election campaign—it’s likely the closest Barack Obama will get to simply slapping Mitt Romney in the face . But for as much as Romney is flailing to explain his contradictory statements, and for as much as...

A Few Questions That Would Clear Up This Whole Bain Thing

Mitt Romney subjects America to the horror of his singing.
The question of when exactly Mitt Romney "left" Bain Capital may not be the most trivial campaign controversy in history (it certainly has more importance than the dozens of "My opponent said something that when taken out of context sounds troubling!" kerfuffles we have to suffer through every four years), but when it has gotten to the point that we're checking the Wayback Machine to see if Romney was listed on Bain Capital's website in 2000, we're drifting far away from the reasons this is supposed to matter. Just to remind you, Romney's departure date tells us whether he is an honest job-creating business leader (1999), or a rapacious job-destroying vulture capitalist (2002). I was hoping that the five interviews Romney did with the TV networks on Friday might clear this up, but unfortunately they focused on things like whether Barack Obama's campaign representatives are super-meanies for how they're criticizing Romney. But a couple of simple questions might clear this whole thing...

Wag the Veep

Yesterday, as the Romney campaign was drowning in revelations and nagging questions about his time (and maybe-time) at Bain Capital, mysterious “sources” apparently decided it was an excellent time to call Matt Drudge and dangle a shiny pseudo-scoop in front of him. Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, he breathlessly reported at 7:30 p.m., is “now near the top of the list” to be Mitt’s vice-presidential choice. Why? Well, apparently because she gave a real nice speech at the Romney retreat in Utah recently. (BuzzFeed has the audio .) And what do you know? The interwebs and cables were instantly ablaze with just-add-water analysis of Rice’s prospects, pros and cons. Bill Kristol hopped on the bandwagon. Sarah Palin declared it a “wonderful” idea and, in a related development, Juan Williams opined that it would be a “ game changer .” If the phrase “game changer” doesn’t send instant chills up the spines of Republicans, it’s hard to imagine what would. Rice, of course, is no...

2012 Is about the Past and the Future

One ongoing theme in this election is the extent to which political observers are simply bored with it. Last month, Politico ’s Maggie Haberman and Alexander Burns expressed frustration with the “small scale” of the election, and today, The New York Times ’ Peter Baker echoes the concern , with a piece on how the campaigns are relitigating the past rather than articulating a vision for the future: Mr. Obama’s campaign on Thursday hammered Mr. Romney over business deals from the turn of the century, just days after the president summoned supporters to the East Room for the latest salvo over tax cuts enacted by his predecessor a decade ago. Mr. Romney’s Republican supporters in Congress countered by voting in the House to repeal Mr. Obama’s two-year-old health care program and by trying to force a Senate vote on President George W. Bush’s tax cuts. “It’s just rearguing and rearguing and rearguing,” said Mickey Edwards, a former Republican congressman from Oklahoma and author of a book...

What's in Mitt Romney's Tax Returns?

Mitt Romney delivers fake, uncomfortable laugh at being asked about his tax returns.
To a certain degree, all this back-and-forth over precisely when Mitt Romney left Bain Capital is an argument about almost nothing. We might reasonably ask, what does it matter? The Romney campaign thought it mattered when they insisted that Romney wasn't part of the firm when it was doing stuff he was being criticized for, like shutting down factories and laying off workers. The Obama campaign thought it mattered when they wanted to make those charges in the first place, and now that they want to keep Romney on the defensive and stretch this story out longer by focusing on things like who Romney was deceiving when he attested on various documents that he either was or wasn't still in charge of Bain during the period between 1999 and 2002. But if we settled this argument once and for all (and don't worry, we won't), would it change much? Not really. Nevertheless, this whole thing is only going to increase the pressure on Romney to release more tax returns. During the primaries, he...

No, Candidates Don't Have to Lie

Lies lies lies yeah!
We reached some kind of a milestone this week when the Romney campaign decided it would use the word "lie" when complaining about criticisms the Obama campaign is making of the Republican soon-to-be nominee. It's a word journalists almost never use, since it sounds too judgmental and they know they'll be accused of taking sides, and candidates seldom use, perhaps because it sounds too whiny, I'm not precisely sure. What we do know is that while some candidates are bigger liars than others, no presidential candidate seems capable of getting through a campaign without saying things that aren't true. Conor Friedersdorf asks , "Can anyone become president without lying? Without misrepresenting their opponent? Without using people as a means to an end? I don't think anyone can." The complaints about Barack Obama that he cites are more about broken promises, which are different from lies, but I'll grant that Obama has said some things that weren't true. Yet I'd have to disagree. First, let'...

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