Vox Pop

The Prospect's politics blog

The Problem of Motive Questioning

Divisive? Me?

The questioning of motives is one of the most common and most pernicious of rhetorical habits in political debate. It's pernicious because it encourages people to conclude not that your opponents are wrong about whatever matter it is we're discussing, but that they're bad people. When you question someone's motives you're automatically calling them a liar (since they will have offered an entirely different justification for why they are advocating what they're advocating), and you're also saying they're untrustworthy, cynical, and driven by some nefarious goal.

We see this all the time, and I'm not saying I've never questioned anyone's motives, because from time to time I have. But we have to acknowledge that someone can take a different position from the one we do without the disagreement coming from some place of evil. To see what I'm talking about, here's today's column by Charles Krauthammer, probably the most admired columnist on the right. Appalled that President Obama is now running for re-election and disagreeing with his opponents on matters of policy after saying he would try to unite the country, Krauthammer says this:

Look to the Revisions!


As far as April is concerned, the jobs report is disappointing; 115,000 new jobs, just enough to keep pace with population growth. Unemployment dropped to 8.1 percent, but labor force participation also declined, which means that joblessness is lower because fewer people are searching for jobs.

What’s interesting is that this runs counter to a host of other economic indicators, all of which point to a brighter picture. According to Gallup, for example, economic confidence is a four-year high, consumer spending has edged up, and small-business optimism has risen to its highest levels since the summer of 2008.

Mitt Romney: Still Afraid

Mitt Romney is apparently terrified of this guy.

The departure of Ric Grenell from the Romney campaign is something that approximately zero undecided voters know or care anything about, but does it tell us anything interesting or useful about Mitt Romney himself? In case you haven't heard, Grenell is a longtime Republican communications professional who was hired by the Romney campaign to be a spokesperson on foreign policy; then liberals started criticizing Grenell for some nasty tweets he had sent, while social conservatives started criticizing him for being gay. The Romney campaign didn't care much about the liberals' criticism, but was apparently quite unnerved by the conservatives' criticism.

You Can Eat Your Peas Later

The kickoff of the general-election season has been marked by a series of inconsequential flaps—think caterpillars and hot mics, or the latest outrage over the fictional Julia (see the Daily Meme below). One might prefer more substance, but there's one issue that, thankfully, will be pushed off until after the election: raising the debt ceiling.

Newton Gingrich's Passage to Power

(AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

The existence of the Republican Party has been marked by five incarnations in its century and a half, peaking early with its first president and the country’s greatest, Abraham Lincoln. The second Republican age culminated at the outset of the last century with Theodore Roosevelt; the third age with Dwight Eisenhower; the fourth with Ronald Reagan—whose harbingers were Barry Goldwater and Richard Nixon—and whose coda was George H. W. Bush. The fifth that ultimately would coalesce around the presidency of Bush’s son was inaugurated by Newton Leroy Gingrich of Georgia, and not even W. has better represented the party’s style and substance these past 20 years.

By All Means, Politicize the Bin Laden Killing

Pete Souza/The White House

Imagine that you called a carpenter to come repair your deck, and after looking at the rotted timbers and split rails, he said, "Well, I can fix this deck. But the one thing I'm not going to do is come over here and engage in a bunch of carpentry. That would be wrong."

You'd probably suspect that the carpenter was insane. Yet politicians and their campaign advisers–people for whom politics is a profession no less than carpentry is the carpenter's profession–are constantly complaining that their opponents are engaged in "politics," or are committing the horrible sin of "politicizing" something that shouldn't be political.

So it was when Barack Obama's re-election campaign took the opportunity of the one-year anniversary of the killing of Osama Bin Laden to remind voters who was president when it happened...

Chill Out. Romney's Not Picking a VP for a Long Time.

(Flickr/Gage Skimdore)

Are you already sick of the endless series of articles extolling the virtues of various potential Mitt Romney running mates? Are you also sick of the posturing—TV ads, major foreign policy speeches—of wannabe VP candidates? Too bad. If Romney follows precedent it will be quite some time before he selects his partner on the Republican ticket.

The "Catholic Vote" is Tautological

(Catholic Church [England and Wales]/Flickr)

A new survey from Gallup shows an even split among Catholic voters—46 percent support President Obama, and 46 percent support Mitt Romney. If you disaggregate by race, the picture looks very different; only 38 percent of non-Hispanic Catholics support Obama, compared to 70 percent of their Hispanic counterparts. Among white Catholics, if you break the numbers down by religiosity, the most religious and moderately religious support Romney, while the nonreligious support Obama.

"Friends," By Which He Means Not Really Friends

Mitt Romney with some of his friends. Really. (Flickr/World Affairs Council of Philadelphia)

Via Andrew Sullivan, Fox News' Shepard Smith had some kind of weird brain event and burped out a bit of fascinating honesty upon reading Mitt Romney's statement on Newt Gingrich pulling out of the presidential race. We shouldn't treat Smith like a hero just for saying what a normal person might say upon reading this, although the fact that he works for Fox does make his implicit criticism of the Republican party's nominee a bit brave. Anyhow, let's watch:

A Toast to Newt

The end of a campaign is too often treated like the death of a person—say something nice, at least for now, or keep your mouth shut. In the case of the much-belated official demise of Newt Gingrich’s presidential bid, the kid-glove treatment might be considered especially appropriate, given that it also represents the final passage of his long political career. But as Newt said himself, debating Mitt Romney, “Can we drop a little bit of the pious baloney?” As when a truly terrible human being expires, the only thing worth celebrating here is the death itself. And the thing to mourn is not the loss of Newt on the national political stage, but the time that he spent on it.

Romney's Distasteful Spin

(Flickr/Gage Skidmore)

The Romney campaign has tried their darndest to divert the media and wipe their hands clean of Richard Grenell after the national security spokesperson abruptly resigned his post yesterday afternoon. When the news leaked to The Washington Post's Jennifer Rubin, it was immediately framed in terms of Grenell's status as an openly gay man in a party that advocates against LGBT civil rights. However Rubin didn't mince words in explaining Grenell's departure. "The ongoing pressure from social conservatives over his appointment and the reluctance of the Romney campaign to send Grenell out as a spokesman while controversy swirled left Grenell essentially with no job," she wrote.

TV Ads Are Not All There Is to Presidential Campaigns

Egad! Negative advertising!

Every election, commentators can be relied on to predict that this will be the most negative campaign in history. We've already heard such predictions this year, and we'll surely hear more. It almost certainly won't be true, but you can also predict that when one side attacks the other, the side being attacked will respond by saying, "Our opponent is just trying to distract Americans from the real issues/his failed record/that disturbing story about him and a goat." But we should keep things in perspective. It's possible to have a lot of negative ads and still have a relatively positive campaign, believe it or not.

That's because ads are not the only thing a campaign does...

The Beginning of the End in Afghanistan

(White House/Flickr)

If anyone was expecting President Obama to spike the proverbial football during his address this evening from Afghanistan, they were sorely disappointed. In a sober, 11 minute message, Obama retraced the path that brought the United States to Afghanistan, and outlined the next two years of American policy in the country.

Romney's Gay Episode

Mitt Romney accomplished a rare political feat when he hired Richard Grenell to serve as his foreign policy spokesman: He managed to provoke politicos of all ideological stripes. Liberals were up in arms over Grenell'simpolitic tweets (more than 800 of which he has deleted) haranguing female politicians and journalists, among others. The press corps was equally disturbed, as reporters recalled stories of Grenell's ill temperament during his time as a U.N. spokesperson.

Why Romney Won't Pick Condi

(Eric Draper/Public Domain)

The Hill's Christian Heinze smacks down speculation that Condoleezza Rice might get tapped as Mitt Romney's running mate. Heinze offers one simple yet convincing explanation—Rice is pro-choice, an intolerable stance among the GOP base. It would be difficult for any Republican to convince the party of a pro-choice VP, but it’s a particularly acute challenge for Romney, a former moderate who has devoted himself to selling conservatives that he is in actuality one of them to only middling success.