Vox Pop

The Prospect's politics blog

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...

Republicans Will Soon Stop Talking about Health Care

foxnation.com
The Supreme Court's decision on the Affordable Care Act (ACA), particularly Justice John Roberts siding with the liberals, took most everyone by surprise this morning. But if you tune in to Fox News or surf around the conservative blogs, they seem to be taking it somewhat philosophically. They're not happy, but there's little rending of garments and gnashing of teeth. Mostly they're saying, well, we'll just have to win this in November ( see here for a representative sample). There's also a good deal of discussion of the fact that the Court declared that the requirement to carry health insurance is permissible under the government's taxing power. After all, if there's one thing Republicans know how to do, it's complain about taxes. Mitch McConnell quickly took to the floor of the Senate to condemn the decision, and no doubt Mitt Romney will soon say something so vague that no one can determine what he actually thinks. But here's my guess: Republicans are going to drop health care very...

#OtherSCOTUSPredictions

(Flickr/Mark Fischer)
In anticipation of today's Supreme Court ruling on the Affordable Care Act, Twitter users took to levity, making humorous predictions about what the justices would rule. Here are the top ten: Court rules 6-3 that the middle seat is entitled to BOTH armrests. #otherSCOTUSpredictions — Nate Silver (@fivethirtyeight) June 28, 2012 5-4 Justices rule that broccoli has the same free speech rights as people #otherSCOTUSpredictions — Dahlia Lithwick (@Dahlialithwick) June 28, 2012 5-4, Supreme Court rules "justice is not blind." But, Roberts notes in majority opinion, "it may be deaf." #otherSCOTUSpredictions — David Corn (@DavidCornDC) June 28, 2012 8-1 removing baby from the corner, with Alito dissenting that removal could infringe on baby’s 1st amendment rights. #otherSCOTUSpredictions — amaeryllis (@amaeryllis) June 28, 2012 8-1, rule that (Roberts writing majority opinion) "this court should stay friends no matter what." Scalia dissents. #otherSCOTUSpredictions — Josh Greenman (@...

Romney Campaign Puts the Screws to The Washington Post

Today's Washington Post
Campaign professionals tend to believe that the most potent attacks use your opponent's own words against him, preferably if they're on video and can be replayed over and over. If you don't have that, it helps to have third-party validation of your attack from the most credible, non-partisan source you can find. Which is why it's so helpful when an established news organization reports something damaging about your opponent, which you can then talk about and put in your ads. If the third-party source is credible enough, you won't have to argue about whether the allegation is true, but merely about what it means and how much it matters. Which is why the Obama campaign was so pleased when The Washington Post reported that under Mitt Romney (and after he departed), Bain Capital invested in a number of companies that specialized in helping other companies outsource work to foreign countries. Not only was this new information that could be used to attack Romney, but it had the imprimatur...

The Outline of Victory, or Defeat

(Barack Obama/Flickr)
If you look closely at the latest poll from The Wall Street Journal and NBC News, you can see the outlines of victory for either Obama or Romney. The top line result is where it’s been for the last two months—Obama leads Romney, 47 percent to 44 percent. He wins 92 percent of African Americans, 52 percent of women, 66 percent of Latinos, 52 percent of voters ages 18 to 29, and 40 percent of independents. By contrast, Romney is ahead among Tea Party supporters (94 percent to 1 percent), whites (53 percent to 38 percent), and men (48 percent to 43 percent). Obama’s challenge is to boost his share of the nonwhite vote to 2008 levels, and retain a significant plurality of the white vote. As Nate Cohn points out at The New Republic , Obama’s magic number for white support is around 38 percent: Obama would require 40 percent of the white vote if minority turnout falls to 25 percent of the electorate and only 77 percent of minority voters support Obama. Obama would only require 37 percent of...

Bain Isn't Going Anywhere

Image from Obama campaign ad.
Consider these two headlines. First, from the Atlantic Wire : " Bain Attacks Are Working In Swing States ." Then, from Business Insider : " POLL: Most People Have Never Heard of Bain Capital ." And here's the punch line: Both articles are about the same poll from NBC and The Wall Street Journal. So which is it? As for the latter, it's true that 53 percent of the people in the poll said they didn't have an opinion about Bain Capital, which is not quite the same thing as saying they had never heard of it (and 8 percent said they had a positive opinion of the company, while 20 percent had a negative opinion). But I doubt the Obama campaign really cares whether people remember the name of the company Mitt Romney worked for. The question they're trying to influence is the more basic one about Mitt Romney's business career: Did that career turn Romney into a skilled manager who understands the economy and can help it get back on track, or did it reveal Romney to be a ruthless vulture...

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