Vox Pop

The Prospect's politics blog

What Is Old Is New Again

(Ralph Alswang/Center for American Progress Action Fund)
In many ways, the 2012 presidential election looks a lot like the one in 2004. A divisive incumbent in a polarized electorate faces a surprisingly strong challenge from a lackluster politician against the backdrop of a stagnant economy. Like John Kerry, Mitt Romney is a Massachusetts-based candidate with a reputation for serial inconsistency, who lacks the full-throated support of his party’s base. And like George W. Bush, Barack Obama is running a campaign that highlights his strengths as a leader and portrays his opponent as untrustworthy and unprincipled. To wit, here is what Obama said in an interview with an NBC affiliate in Ohio: "Mr. Romney was one of the biggest promoters of the individual mandate. In Massachusetts, his whole idea was that we shouldn’t have people who can afford to get health insurance to not buy it and then force you or me, or John Q. Public to have to pay for him when he gets sick. That’s irresponsible. That’s exactly what’s included as part of my health...

Obama Gets Personal

Barack Obama prepares to feast on Mitt Romney's entrails. (Flickr/Barack Obama)
Campaigns often feature a division of labor when it comes to speaking about the candidate's opponent, one in which the candidate makes polite but firm criticism, while the surrogates (campaign staff, other elected officials) say much harsher and more personal things. A good campaign makes sure that the two proceed along the same thematic lines so that they reinforce one another, but the fact that the candidate himself is more genteel in his language is supposed to preclude a backlash against him for being too "negative." Frankly, I've always thought this is overblown, particularly the strange custom whereby it's deemed a bit unseemly to refer to your opponent by name, such that saying "Mitt Romney is a jackass" would be horribly uncouth, but saying "My opponent is a jackass" is somehow more acceptable. As the campaign goes on, this protocol fades away. Candidates' comments take on a harder edge, beginning to resemble the comments their staffs make. It seems we may be entering this...

Terribly Lackluster

(wools/Flickr)
For the third month in a row, job growth has been lackluster. In June , the number of new net jobs came in at 80,000—slightly below the 90,000 to 100,000 expected. Likewise, revisions for previous months were a wash—April’s numbers were revised from 77,000 to 68,000, and May's were revised from 69,000 to 77,000. There simply isn’t much news in this jobs report, which is another way of saying that our sluggish economic growth is grinding to a halt. Millions of American workers are stuck in continued stagnation, and the odds for relief are low. Republicans in Congress have no interest in providing additional fiscal stimulus, and the Federal Reserve is unmoved by widespread economic misery—if anything, it sees high unemployment as the necessary cost of low inflation. Politically, this obviously isn’t good for President Barack Obama’s re-election chances, and it's a godsend for Mitt Romney, who has been struggling against a headwind generated by the Supreme Court’s ruling on the...

A Tale of Two Super PACs

Today featured contradicting reports on the presidential election's fundraising front. In The New York Times Magazine, Robert Draper describes the long, hard slog of pro-Obama Priorities USA, the self-acknowledged underdog of super PACs that is bound to be beaten by American Crossroads—the super PAC Hulk masterminded by Karl Rove. Because of the well-known troubles of Priorities USA, it was surprising to see the National Review report on Obama's super PAC advantage, citing FEC reports that showed that anti-Romney spending far outweighs anti-Obama spending. Just a little oversight in this analysis, though. The biggest conservative spenders in 2012 aren't likely going to be super PACs. The real scary fundraisers are the 501(c)4 nonprofits, which don't face the same disclosure requirements as their more overtly political super PAC brethren. As TPM 's Brian Beutler points out, American Crossroads's nonprofit sibling, Crossroads GPS, dropped $24 million on one ad buy in May. If we take...

The Myth That Won't Die

A shot from a 2008 McCain for President ad.
John McCain is no longer a substantively important figure in American politics. As a member of the minority party in the Senate, he chairs no committees. He is not a leader among his peers. Since losing in his second run for president, he continued his decades-long record of not bothering to engage in the legislating part of being a legislator (over a three-decade-long career, McCain has exactly one significant piece of legislation to his name, a law that was overturned by the Supreme Court). Yet he continues to be a politically important figure, appearing on the Sunday shows more often than anyone else and having his ideas and his opinions regularly reported on. Which is why I simply must speak up now that the biggest myth about John McCain is cropping up again. It's the idea that, noble and modest as he is, McCain has always been terribly reluctant to discuss the fact that he was a POW in Vietnam. This came up over the past couple of days in a House race in Illinois, where classy...

Look, up in the Sky! It's a Tax! It's a Penalty! It's a Stupid Argument over Semantics!

Flickr/Alyson Hurt
Since not much campaign news happens over the July Fourth holiday, Mitt Romney took the opportunity to change his campaign's tune on whether the penalty in the Affordable Care Act for those who can afford health insurance but refuse to get it is a "tax." To review, the Supreme Court said that the government has the authority under its taxing power to penalize those who refuse to get insurance, leading Republicans to cry, "Tax! Tax! Tax!" with all of their usual policy nuance and rhetorical subtlety. The only problem this poses for Romney is that calling it a tax means that Romney imposed a tax with his health-care plan in Massachusetts, which means admitting that Romney sinned against the tax gods. First his spokesman came out and said that no, it's really just a penalty, but then Romney came out and said, well, if the Supreme Court said it's a tax, then it's a tax, but it wasn't a tax when I did it, because the Supreme Court didn't call it that. What does all this arguing over...

Romney's "Rich Man" Problem Just Got Worse

(News Hour/Flickr)
For the Fourth of July, the Obama campaign released a new Web video, highlighting a recent Vanity Fair look at Mitt Romney’s tax shelters and offshore accounts. It’s brutal: The key line: “I’ve never heard of a president having an overseas bank account.” This is a Web video, so it has limited circulation, but these interviews—and others, I’m sure—will certainly make it into swing-state and other general-election advertising. Moreover, they will play well with the Obama campaign’s attempt to hinder Mitt Romney by defining him as an out-of-touch plutocrat. The key thing to remember about this strategy is that it isn’t necessarily aimed at short-term movement in the polls. Instead, the goal is to shape the impressions of undecided voters so that when they make a decision in the fall, their mental map is dominated by a particular, and unflattering, image of Romney. This process is especially important for white undecided voters, who—if Romney can assemble them into a coalition—will give...

Mitt Goes into the Fog

Flickr/Austen Hufford
I just want to elaborate on a point I made in passing in my column today about Mitt Romney's complex ideological dance. When it became clear that Romney would indeed be the Republican nominee, people began speculating about how he would execute the "move to the center" that every nominee must undertake, since in the primaries you're appealing to your party's base, while in the general election you have to appeal to independents. It's particularly tricky for Romney, since every time he switches positions on something people are reminded that he switches positions on things a lot, and that gives Democrats the opportunity to remind everyone of his flip-flopping past. So has Mitt managed to find a way out of this dilemma? I think he has. The answer to how one should go about moving to the center is: don't. Romney hasn't taken a single position at odds with the hard-right stances he took during the primaries or said anything that would antagonize conservatives, or repudiated any of the...

Can We Take John Roberts's Word at Face Value?

Flickr/Donkey Hotey
For years, conservatives have articulated a clear legal philosophy to guide their beliefs about the proper role of the courts and the way judges should arrive at their decisions, much clearer than the philosophy liberals espouse. They said they supported "originalism," whereby judges would simply examine the Constitution as the Founders understood it to guide its interpretation today. They said they opposed "judicial activism," wanting judges to simply interpret the law instead of making their own laws. Liberals always replied that these ideas were a disingenuous cover for something much simpler: conservatives just want judicial decisions that support their policy preferences. They see whatever they want in the Constitution and define "judicial activism" as nothing more than decisions whose outcomes they don't like. The reaction to Chief Justice John Roberts joining the Supreme Court's four liberals to uphold the Affordable Care Act shows something revealing about the conservative...

No Veep Vacay

Now that Supreme Court season is over, it's time for political observers to return to obsessing over the next big decision: Mitt Romney's vice-presidential pick. With news slowing down in advance of the mid-week holiday, there's opportunity for the speculation flames to fan higher than usual in the upcoming days. Today, Politico's Jonathan Martin called the veepstakes the "political equivalent of the Oscars" and NPR chimed in with "coquettish dance." These descriptions seem far too flattering for the paperwork and equivocating that characterizes the selection of a running mate. Key word: "equivocating." All the potential nominees are steadfastly denying any desire to play second fiddle, and the Romney campaign is keeping equally mum about which way it's leaning. Front-runner Marco Rubio has dropped to the back of the race ( or has he? ), and Rob Portman remains the only possibility more blah than the main GOP event ( or is he? ). Portman is also the only candidate who seems to be in...

Failures of Spin

Flickr/Gage Skidmore
Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell is ordinarily a spinner of unusual skill. He's relentlessly focused on his message and doesn't let any interviewer frame a question in a way he (McConnell) doesn't like. Which is why it was a little odd to see Fox News' Chris Wallace catch him without a handy talking point when it came to covering the uninsured. This excerpt is a little long, but you have to see the whole thing: WALLACE: All right, let's move on. If voters elect a Republican president and a Republican Senate, your top priority will be, you say, to repeal and replace "Obama-care." And I want to drill down into that with you. One of the keys to "Obama-care" is that it will extend insurance access to 30 million people who are now uninsured. In your replacement, how would you provide universal coverage? MCCONNELL: Well, first, let me say the single the best thing we could do for the American health care system is to get rid of "Obama- care," get rid of that half a trillion dollars...

Peggy Noonan Feels the News

She's feeling something. (Flickr/kylebogucki)
When he began his still-brilliant show a few years ago, Stephen Colbert said, "Anyone can read the news to you. I promise to feel the news at you." And there's nobody who feels the news quite like Peggy Noonan, America's most unintentionally hilarious columnist. Pretty much every time she writes a column or goes on television, Noonan can be counted on to tell us about a feeling out there in the land. It's seldom a powerful feeling; instead, it's more often a stirring, an inchoate emotion still in the process of crystallizing. It might be a yearning, or an unease, or a doubt or a fear, but it lingers just out of our perception until Peggy Noonan comes along and perceives it for us. Did you think the impact of yesterday's Supreme Court ruling was that millions of uninsured Americans will now be able to get health insurance, and after 2014 none of us will ever need to fear the words "pre-existing condition" again? Nay , good-hearted Americans: The ruling strikes me as very bad for the...

On Medicaid, Republicans Explore New Moral Depths

Florida governor and aspiring Bond villain Rick Scott, looking forward to denying poor Floridians health insurance. (Flickr/Gage Skidmore)
As the lawsuits challenging the Affordable Care Act worked their way up to the Supreme Court, I always found the challenge to the expansion of Medicaid to be the strangest part. Quick context: the program provides insurance for poor people, splitting the cost between the federal government and the states. But the current rules say that each state gets to set its own eligibility standards, which meant that if you live in a state run by Democrats and you're poor, you can get Medicaid, but if you live in a state run by Republicans, you have to be desperately poor to get Medicaid. For instance, in Mississippi, a family of four has to have a yearly gross income below a princely $9,828 to qualify. Because if a family is living high on the hog with their $10,000 a year, they aren't really poor, right? Fortunately, the Affordable Care Act fixed this, by changing Medicaid so that everyone with up to 133 percent of the federal poverty level ($30,657 for a family of four) would qualify. And to...

What CNN Could Have Done

Oops!
If you were watching cable news when the Supreme Court handed down its ruling, you were probably confused at first. Initially, both CNN and Fox News announced that the individual mandate had been struck down, only to come back a few minutes later and correct themselves, after their screaming chyrons and web site headlines had already gone up announcing the administration's defeat. Let's forget about Fox, since they're just a bunch of nincompoops anyway. The more interesting question concerns CNN. The most common explanation for this screwup is that they have come to value being first over being right, which is true enough. But I think it also suggests that they don't really understand their audience. And by trying to be just as fast as MSNBC or Fox, they lost an opportunity to differentiate themselves. My guess is that the people who work at CNN have in their heads an imagined audience made up of people like them, people who think it matters if a particular piece of news is delivered...

Who Won the Fight over Obamacare?

The most important thing about today’s landmark ruling on the Affordable Care Act has nothing to do with Barack Obama or Mitt Romney and everything to do with the millions of people who will gain health insurance—or keep it—as a result of the Court’s decision. Tens of millions of people would have lost financial security if the law had been struck down. With the law intact, everything moves to the voters—where it should have been this entire time. If Obama is re-elected, then the Affordable Care Act will survive, and the administration will have enacted the largest expansion in social services since the Great Society. By contrast, if he loses, Republicans will have a tremendous opportunity to reshape or dismantle the welfare state. That said, it’s hard to say if this will have any substantive effect on the direction of the presidential election. Obviously, the Court’s ruling is good for President Obama. The administration has won a huge battle, and at the risk of cliché, Americans...

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