Vox Pop

The Prospect's politics blog

Mr. Middle Class

You’d think it would be downright ludicrous—late-night comedy material—for Barack Obama, the elegant and eloquent Man from Harvard Law, to pitch himself as any kind of regular Joe. But he managed it pretty well in 2008. And he was at it again last Friday, on a lawn in Maumee, Ohio, flanked by hay bales and an American flag, talking to a bunch of middle-American types in a loose-fitting, short-sleeved checked shirt he may have last worn while bowling in Pennsylvania—and sounding pretty darn regular , inspiring choruses of that’s right s and amen s. He talked about his single mom, who “raised me and my sister right,” about his grandparents’ service in World War II, about his HoJo’s vacations as a kid. The message: I’m middle class to my bones, y’all, believe it or not. Along the way, he previewed today’s call for extending the Bush tax cuts, which expire at the end of the year, for income under $250,000—another component of the campaign’s renewed emphasis on economic fairness and, you...

Their Mind on Mitt's Money and Mitt's Money on Their Mind

Flickr/Donkey Hotey
Remember when the knock on Mitt Romney was that he's an unprincipled flip-flopper? That seemed like it would be at the very least one foundation of the campaign Barack Obama would run against Romney, if not the primary foundation. It's a potent attack, and there may never have been a candidate more vulnerable to it than Romney. Yet aside from passing remarks here and there, we don't hear much about flip-flopping from Obama and his surrogates anymore. Instead, it's going to be all money, all the time. Or to put it another way, the Obama campaign's central message will be that Mitt Romney is an out-of-touch rich guy who spent a career screwing ordinary people in his endless lust for profits and now wants to be president so he can continue to screw ordinary people and reward his rich friends. Look at the ads produced by Priorities USA Action, the main pro-Obama super PAC. There are about 20 ads focusing on Romney's record at Bain Capital, and not one about flip-flopping. The ads produced...

Mitt Romney: The New Face of GOP Intransigence

As expected, President Obama has called for an extension of the middle-class Bush tax cuts—which apply to all incomes under $250,000—and an end to the additional tax cut for income greater than that amount. Given the degree to which the GOP program is devoted to more and greater tax cuts for the wealthy, it’s no surprise that Republicans are completely opposed to this plan to modestly raise taxes on higher-income Americans. Indeed, in a renewed bit of hostage taking, congressional Republicans have refused to renew the middle-class tax cuts unless Democrats also vote to extend further tax cuts for wealthier Americans. If the issue isn’t resolved, lower-income and middle-class Americans will see a significant hit to their income, and the economy will suffer from the decline in consumer spending. As Brian Beutler explains for Talking Points Memo , this puts Mitt Romney—standard-bearer for the Republican Party—in a tricky position: Last time around, nobody really had to answer for that...

Out of Touch Meets Really out of Touch

The Hamptons (Google Maps)
Mitt Romney has taken lots of abuse for being an out-of-touch rich guy whose struggles to connect to regular folks often produce comical results. But the stories coming out of Romney's one-day fundraising marathon in the Hamptons (three separate events at the no doubt spectacular vacation homes of Ronald Perelman, Clifford Sobel, and David Koch) on Saturday actually make Romney look good. Because the thing about Mitt is this: He's trying. He may be terrible at it, but he's making an effort to connect with ordinary people. He talks to them almost every day. Yes, the encounters are awkward and superficial, but he wants to be one of the fellas, and he understands that this is something he could be a lot better at. Whereas the people who came to these fundraisers are actually as pretentious, condescending, and elitist as Democrats would like people to believe Mitt Romney is. Let's stipulate that among the attendees at these events were some folks who are thoughtful and modest, treat their...

Voters Have Changed Their Mind about Romney—for the Worse

(Gage Skidmore/Flickr)
Methodologically, it doesn’t make much sense to do a poll of just the swing states. In presidential elections, the country moves as a whole; if President Barack Obama gains support nationally, then it will be reflected in individual states. Yes, some states will show more movement than others (Nate Silver calls these “ elastic ”), but there’s no real reason to focus exclusively on swing states, since you can predict the change with national polling. At most, it furthers the common but misguided notion that the election comprises 50 individual contests. Of course, we can still glean useful information from swing-state polls. The most recent , from USA Today and Gallup, has a good amount of useful information. Focusing on the barrage of TV ads in swing states, USA Today and Gallup found that of the overwhelming majority of voters in those states who saw campaign ads, about 1 in 12 said that it changed their minds. And of those 1 in 12, 76 percent say they now support President Obama,...

Florida's Voter Purge: What the Hell?

(Flickr/ldcross)
With a tangle of lawsuits and legal complexities, it's easy to get lost in the minutiae of Florida's voter-purge debacle. Last week, as a U.S. District Court ruled on one of the disputes between the Department of Justice and the state of Florida, most of the media discussion focused on who'd won and who'd lost in the rather nuanced court opinion. More legal action comes next week, and the discussion will likely be similar. At its core, though, this is a story of how Florida's secretary of state cast suspicion on thousands of perfectly legitimate voters. Waving around a list of 180,000 potential non-citizens and sending out a sample of 2,700 to elections officials, the state's methodology was deeply flawed. Many of those identified had immigrated to this country and completed the arduous path to citizenship. Now they're at risk of being kicked off voter rolls. With voter-ID laws gaining popularity in states across the country, the purge constitutes a new front in the battle to protect...

Running on Health Care

A significant part of the Affordable Care Act’s unpopularity had less to do with the law itself, and everything to do with its contested status. With Democrats unhappy and Republicans furious, voters saw the law as something controversial and potentially terrible. As such, the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold the law was an important signal to low-information voters; it communicated a certain amount of legitimacy, which—as we saw at the beginning of this week—translated to increased support for the bill. According to a poll from CNN, for example, support for Obamacare increased to 50 percent after the Court’s ruling. Likewise, a Reuters/Ipsos poll saw support increase to 48 percent of the public, up from 43 percent. I argued last week that this is an opportunity for the administration to resell the bill as something that will help the average American, and it seems that they’ve taken my advice [1] : Before a cheering crowd of several hundred at a rally in northwestern Ohio, Obama...

The American Jobs Act Still Exists

Mitt Romney is back to accusing President Obama of having no plan for economic growth: The president’s policies have not gotten America working again. And the president is going to have to stand up and take responsibility for it. I know he’s been planning on going across the country and celebrating what he calls ‘forward.’ Well, forward doesn’t look a lot like forward to the millions and millions of families that are struggling today in this great country. It doesn’t have to be this way. The President doesn’t have a plan, hasn’t proposed any new ideas to get the economy going—just the same old ideas of the past that have failed . [Emphasis added] The political world has all but forgotten the American Jobs Act , but it remains on the table as Obama’s plan for juicing the economy. If passed in full, the Jobs Act would cut payroll taxes for businesses, double the size of the payroll tax cut for individuals, give aid to states to prevent public sector layoffs, and increase infrastructure...

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...

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