Vox Pop

The Prospect's politics blog

If Only the President Would Make Speeches, Everything Would Be Different

President Obama delivers a speech on health care to a joint session of Congress.
Yesterday, psychologist and political consultant Drew Westen had yet another op-ed in a major newspaper (the Washington Post this time) explaining that all of Barack Obama's troubles come from a failure to use rhetoric effectively. Don't get me wrong, I think rhetoric is important—in fact, I've spent much of the last ten years or so writing about it. But Westen once again seems to have fallen prey to the temptation of believing that everything would be different if only a politician would give the speech he's been waiting to hear. There are two problems with this belief, the first of which is that a dramatic speech almost never has a significant impact on public opinion. The second is that Barack Obama did in fact do exactly what Drew Westen and many other people say they wish he had done. This is only one part of Westen's piece, but I want to focus on it because it's said so often, and is so absurd In keeping with the most baffling habit of one of our most rhetorically gifted...

Mitt Romney Thinks You're a Sucker

Mitt Romney tells ABC's David Muir he's no sucker.
Back in January, when he was asked during a primary debate about the taxes he pays, Mitt Romney made the somewhat odd assertion that "I pay all the taxes that are legally required and not a dollar more. I don't think you want someone as the candidate for president who pays more taxes than he owes." As I've written before , this would seem to indicate that Romney believes that if you don't have a team of accountants who can ferret out every last loophole to minimize your tax bill then you're just a sucker, so pathetic that you are unworthy of occupying the highest office in the land. But maybe I was being unfair. After all, I've been critical of the campaign habit of reading too much into any particular statement a candidate makes. We all say things that upon reflection we'd like to put another way or take back completely, so maybe Romney didn't quite mean it the way it sounded. But once you repeat a statement like that more than once, we can be pretty sure you do in fact mean it. And...

You Can't Beat Voter ID with Facts

(Ted Polumbaum Collection / Newseum)
The most recent episode of the Prospect podcast is a conversation with my colleague Abby Rapoport on voter-identification laws. One thing that we begin to talk about, but don’t spend enough time on, is the normative argument against voter identification. So far, liberals have devoted their time to showing the rarity of in-person voter fraud—the kind ostensibly prevented by voter ID—and the low likelihood that it would affect the outcome of an election. Tactically, this makes a lot of sense. The push for voter ID includes stories of massive voter fraud that play on public distrust toward government. If you can counter those stories with facts, you can make people think twice about implementing an additional burden to voting. Strategically, however, it’s a weak approach. Conservatives benefit from the the fact that their position sounds reasonable—if identification is required to buy beer and drive cars, then why isn’t it required for elections? Everyone agrees that voting is one of the...

Have Republicans Ever Hated a President More Than Barack Obama?

Which one do Republicans hate more?
The widespread belief on the right that Barack Obama is a Muslim is one of the stranger features of this period in history. There are some of them who know that Obama says he's a Christian but are sure that's all an act designed to fool people, while he secretly prays to Allah. But there are probably a greater number who haven't given it all that much thought; they just heard somewhere that he's a Muslim, and it made perfect sense to them—after all, he's kinda foreign, if you know what I mean. Rather remarkably, that belief has grown over time; as the latest poll from the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life shows, fully 30 percent of Republicans, and 34 percent of conservative Republicans, now believe Obama is Muslim. These numbers are about double what they were four years ago. You can bet there aren't too many who think there's nothing wrong with it if he were. For many of them, it's just a shorthand for Obama being alien and threatening. So it leads me to ask: Can we say, finally...

It's Not about the Gaffes

Mitt Romney delivers his patented fake laugh to NBC's Brian Williams.
Mitt Romney is getting a lot of grief for the not-so-auspicious beginning to his first overseas trip as leader of the Republican party. In case you've been trapped in a well for the last two days, when he was asked by Brian Williams how, in his expert opinion, he thought London was doing in preparing for the start of the Olympics, instead of offering the expected polite banality ("I'm sure it's going to be terrific"), Romney said something a bit more honest, saying that there were "a few things that were disconcerting" about the preparations. The Brits were not amused , and he got very public pushback from both Prime Minister David Cameron and London mayor Boris Johnson. It's all well and good to enjoy Romney's misfortune on this score. But let's not forget: The real problem with Romney isn't what he blurts out by accident, it's what he says when he has plenty of time to consider his words. As I've written a zillion times, running for president is very difficult, and one of the...

Romney's Disastrous Trip Abroad

At the beginning of this week, I argued that Mitt Romney had nothing to gain from going abroad. If voters put him into the Oval Office, it will be because of discontent with the country's economy. Few people, especially undecided voters, are interested in what Romney has to say about foreign policy. Insofar as they even have opinions on it, they are most likely to agree with President Obama’s approach. For Romney, I argued, a foreign trip was high risk, low reward. So far, everything in Romney’s trip has confirmed that assessment. In less than 72 hours, Romney and his team have offended British prime minister David Cameron over the country’s Olympics preparations, lied about or revealed confidential conversations with the Australian foreign minister, confused Russia with the “Soviet Union,” attacked President Obama with an oddly racialized criticism, and suffered the ridicule of 60,000 Britons. The Romney team began this trip with hopes that Romney would emerge as the picture of a...

Who's Affected by Pennsylvania's Voter-ID Law?

Viviette Applewhite, one of the ACLU's plaintiffs (ACLU)
As the first big lawsuit against the Pennsylvania's voter-ID law starts its third day at trial, arguments about the legality of the law have focused largely on who's impacted by it. First, the secretary of the commonwealth estimated as many as 758,000 Pennsylvanians lacked the most common form of ID —those issued by the state Department of Transportation. A political scientist's study showed that number to be around a million. Either way, it's a lot of people, and we know a disproportionate number of them are poor, nonwhite, and elderly. Still, those supporting strict voter-ID laws, which require citizens to show government-issued identification before voting, often cast suspicion on anyone without an ID. They argue that you need photo identification for pretty much anything these days, and people without them must be freaks or criminals—people we don't want voting anyway. Republican Texas state Representative Jose Aliseda exemplifies this position; he recently said that anyone...

Romney Starts His Foreign Trip with a Series of Gaffes

For someone as cautious as Mitt Romney, it is surprising that within a day of arriving in Britain, he made a number of gaffes that have been widely reported in both the British and American press . When Romney commented that the security around the Olympics was not quite up to snuff, British Prime Minister David Cameron shot back: "We are holding an Olympic Games in one of the busiest, most active, bustling cities anywhere in the world. Of course it's easier if you hold an Olympic Games in the middle of nowhere" (a pointed reference to Romney's management of the Winter Olympics in Utah in 2002). But even Romney's attempt at praise fell flat when he acknowledged America's shared Anglo-Saxon heritage with the U.K., forgetting that the majority of Americans trace their roots to Central Europe, Latin America, Africa, and Asia rather than Britain. Politicians make gaffes all the time, but given that the only purpose of this trip is to make Romney look presidential, insulting his hosts is...

The Enthusiasm Question

Yet another poll shows President Obama with a commanding lead among Latino voters. According to a survey commissioned by NBC News, the Wall Street Journal and Telemundo, Obama leads Romney 67 percent to 23 percent among Latino registered voters. Romney’s favorability with Latinos is incredibly negative, with 22 percent saying they have a positive view of the former Massachusetts governor, and 44 percent saying they have a negative view. Moreover, Romney hasn’t convinced Latinos that he would be effective on the economy; 53 percent say that Obama has better ideas to improve the economy, compared to 22 percent for Romney. Overall, 58 percent of Latinos approve of Obama’s handling of the economy. It should be said that this has the virtue of being true; Romney’s plan for the economy—a series of small bore measures to increase energy production and bolster trade relationships—would have a small affect on the short-term economy. And his tax plan, which ends several stimulus related tax...

Why Should Politics Stop at the Water's Edge?

Senator Arthur Vandenberg, misinterpreted yet again.
Mitt Romney is in London—most definitely not to cheer on Rafalca in the dressage competition, mind you, because he barely knows that horse ("I have to tell you. This is Ann's sport. I'm not even sure which day the sport goes on. She will get the chance to see it—I will not be watching the event")—but he's making sure that while he's over there, he won't utter a discouraging word about the socialist business-hating foreigner in the Oval Office who is working every day to destroy America. Because that's not how we do things. "Politics stops at the water's edge," we always say. My question is: Why? The phrase, by the way, was originally spoken by Republican Senator Arthur Vandenberg, but he was explaining why he was going to be cooperating with the Truman administration on matters of foreign policy. Exactly when it became associated with the idea that when you're traveling outside the United States you should pretend that here in America we all get along famously and have no political...

Romney's Economic Plan: Dubya 2.0

Mitt Romney's chief economic adviser.
I'll be honest: There are a few things about Mitt Romney that I find annoying. One of the biggest has to be that there is probably no sentence he has repeated more often in this campaign than "I know how the economy works," but he never actually explains what he knows that nobody else does, or how that hard-won knowledge translates into a unique set of policy moves that only he could bring about and that would pull America from its economic doldrums. There are really two sets of questions that absolutely must be asked of Romney in the area of economics, given the rationale he offers for his candidacy. The first is, "What specifically did you learn as a businessman that policymakers haven't known up until now?" As far as I know, he has only been asked this question once, and the result wasn't encouraging. (After repeating over and over that he "understands how the economy works," Romney finally allowed that businesses spend money on energy, so if energy were cheaper, they'd have more...

Conservatives Explore New Arenas of Self-Caricature

The internet, sort of. (Flickr/jurvetson)
In one of those now-frequent "I can't believe we're actually going to argue about this" moments, conservatives have now decided that the United States government did not actually have any meaningful role in the creation of the Internet, despite what everyone, including all the people who were there at the time, have always known. Why have they suddenly come to this revelation? All you need to know is that Barack Obama has recently been using the Internet as an example of where government can create conditions that allow private enterprise to flourish, and as Simon Malloy says , if Obama says something, "that, ipso facto, makes it false." Part of what's so crazy about this is that the tale of the Internet's creation and development is actually a story of public/private partnership that both liberals and conservatives ought to be able to celebrate. The conservatives' "evidence" for their brand-new claim is an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal by Gordon Crovitz claiming that the...

What's the Deal with the Pennsylvania Voter-ID Law?

"I voted" picture: (Flickr/ Vox Efx) Liberty Bell photograph: (Flickr/dcwriterdawn)
We get it. Real-life court dramas are not as exciting as Judge Judy (and definitely not as exciting as Judge Joe Brown). So we totally don't judge you for not knowing why the hell Pennsylvania's voter-ID law is suddenly in court. Of course, you thought you'd covered your bases when you read our early explanation of voter-ID laws. (If you didn't, well, you only need to be a little embarrassed.) You know there's basically no evidence of in-person voter fraud where one person impersonates another—the only type of fraud voter ID guards against. You know that the big fights were in Texas and South Carolina. So why is everyone so worked up about some court case in Harrisburg? Well let us be quick and leave you plenty of time for Court TV. So a bunch of states have voter-ID laws—what's the big deal about Pennsylvania? Well, not shockingly in a presidential election year, a lot of it boils down to politics. Pennsylvania is a swing state in a close election, so every vote each side can pull...

The Policy Is Personal

A new ad from Priorities USA Action.
We often think of character attacks and issue attacks as being two entirely separate things, with the former being illegitimate and the latter being legitimate. But that's not necessarily true. First, both kinds of attacks can be fair or unfair, accurate or inaccurate, relevant or irrelevant. Second, a clever campaign will weave the two together into a coherent whole. That's what the Obama campaign will be doing in the coming months. The issue attacks tell you the what , and the character attacks tell you the why . They'll be telling voters that Romney wants to cut taxes for rich people and threaten important social programs like Medicare (true, as it happens). But in order for that charge to take hold, they need to also explain to people why Romney would want to do such a thing. That's where stuff like this comes in: That, from the pro-Obama super PAC Priorities USA Action, is a more lighthearted take on this ad , the one featuring Romney singing "America the Beautiful." As Alec...

Ads Succeed in Making Voters Dislike Both Candidates

The early barrage of negative ads has made voters dislike both Obama and Romney. A new poll shows that 43 percent of Americans hold a somewhat or very negative view of President Obama (up from 37 percent a year ago) and 40 percent have a somewhat or very negative view of Mitt Romney (up from 26 percent a year ago). Historically these are very high negatives for so early in the season. The vast amount of negative advertising on tap for the Fall is only going to make it worse. It will be a miracle if the winner can govern at all with half the country hating him. Romney SuperPACs Have Spent $144 Million so Far Republican SuperPACs have been running television ads at a furious rate, spending $144 million on general election ads in swing states so far. All of them are negative ads attacking President Obama rather than praising Mitt Romney's business expertise. Karl Rove's two groups, Crossroads GPS and American Crossroads, together have spent $94 million on TV ads, five times as much as...

Pages