Vox Pop

The Prospect's politics blog

Mythical Backlashes and Specious Explanations

Barack Obama's favorability ratings over the last year, from pollster.com.
One of the most dangerous temptations of the political reporter is over-interpretation of polls, the need to explain every apparent movement in this week's poll with reference to events that just happened. The result is a whole lot of utterly unsubstantiated claims explaining things lots of reporters don't even understand or that may not actually have occurred at all. Only coverage of the stock market, where every news report confidently explains even the tiniest movement in share prices ("Apple shares fell one-tenth of a point today, with investors expressing concern after Billy Wilson of Saginaw, Michigan decided to buy a Droid to replace the iPhone he dropped in the toilet"), comes close. There are two reasons why: the first is that most reporters don't understand, or willfully ignore, what a "margin of error" represents (meaning they talk about movement within the margin of error as though it represents something real, when it isn't). The second is that when you have to write...

Health Care Play-Acting

GOP.gov
I've written many times, by way of explaining congressional Republicans' actions on the issue of health care, that it just isn't something that conservatives as a group care very much about. They have other interests, like taxes and the military, that they'd much rather spend their time on. This may strike some as unfair, but I think it's pretty clear from everything that's happened over the last couple of decades that it's true. There are a few conservative health wonks, but not nearly as many as there are on the liberal side. I can't think of any conservative journalists who are deeply conversant with the policy challenges and details of the health care system, while on the liberal side we have a number of such people, like Ezra Klein and Jonathan Cohn. Liberals have organizations dedicated to reforming the health system and achieving universal coverage; conservatives have organizations dedicated to stopping liberals from reforming the health system and achieving universal coverage...

Let's Hear Less About Massachusetts, More About Bush

(Wikipedia)
Earlier this week, I argued that the Obama campaign would soon bolster their attacks on Bain Capital with attacks on Mitt Romney’s record in Massachusetts. Well, this morning, ABC News’ Jake Tapper reports that the campaign will do just that, and open a new front in its war on the Republican nominee: Team Obama will point to Romney’s rhetoric on job creation, size of government, education, deficits and taxes during the 2002 gubernatorial campaign and draw parallels with his presidential stump speeches of 2012. The goal is to illustrate that Romney has made the same promises before with unimpressive results, officials say. […] “He sold the same hooey in MA ten years ago, and then turned in one of the worst performances of any gov in the USA. 47th in job creation,” senior Obama strategist David Axelrod tweeted last week, hinting at the direction of the attacks to come. Tapper calls this a “shifting of gears” away from the assault on Bain, but I think that’s mistaken. For now, the Obama...

Let Obama Be Obama

The New York Times ' big story today, detailing President Obama’s role in the country’s counterterrorism efforts, should ignite a slow burn of new coverage and heated questions in the upcoming weeks. The scene, which presents Obama looking through Al Qaeda members' biographies and making the final life-or-death call of which suspects make their way onto what the Times calls "macabre 'baseball cards' of an unconventional war," feels ripped right from the third episode of The West Wing , "Proportional Response," where President Jed Bartlet struggles with the difficult decisions of war, in a cinematically presidential way. This image (and the 2008 national security campaign literature trumpeting the phrase “Pragmatism over ideology,” which was regurgitated in the piece) captures the ultimate truth of the Obama presidency—something that will be overlooked in the inevitable columns that will challenge Obama on the civil-liberties shortcomings presented in the Times piece. Obama never ran...

Texas GOP Holds Hispanics in Check

(Flickr/jmtimages)
Last week Scott offered a great defense of the Voting Rights Act, arguing that Section Five—a clause that requires southern states to receive preclearance before changing any voting procedures—is a necessary correction to the limits of the Fifteenth Amendment. That provision was recently overturned by the D.C. Circuit, setting up a hearing in the Supreme Court that could possibly strike down the landmark civil rights legislation. Given the recent conservative tilt of the Supreme Court, some legal experts are predicting that the circuit court's decision will be upheld, with the majority arguing that the act was crafted during circumstances no longer relevant to the political climate. The recent spate of voter suppression laws tell another story and are often trotted out by liberals as the best evidence to highlight the continued need for Section Five. However today's primaries in Texas also offer a good test case for why the Voting Rights Act needs to be strengthened rather than...

Why Democrats Support the Drug War Status Quo

Medical marijuana for sale in California. (Flickr/Dank Depot)
Later today, I'll have a post up at MSNBC's Lean Forward blog explaining why the "Choom Gang" revelations from David Maraniss' new biography of Barack Obama didn't seem to make anybody mad (with the exception of libertarians who took the opportunity to make the entirely accurate point that Obama's Justice Department is vigorously prosecuting people for doing pretty much the same thing Obama did as a teenager, and if he had been caught he might have gone to jail and certainly wouldn't have grown up to be president). Briefly, it comes down to a couple of things: Obama had already admitted he smoked pot "frequently," so it wasn't much of a revelation; and around half of American adults have too, meaning they weren't going to be outraged. Furthermore, most of the reporters who would write about the story are probably in the pot-smoking half, making them less likely to treat it as something scandalous. But this raises a question, one posed by Jonathan Bernstein: Why do Democratic...

Could Romney Be the Real "Job Creator" in this Election?

(Jamelle Bouie/The American Prospect)
After last week’s fight over Bain Capital, the Romney campaign is returning to safer ground with a renewed attack on Obama’s handling of the economy: “President Obama has never managed anything other than his own personal narrative. He has never created a job and never run a business. President Obama not only doesn’t understand the economy - he also opposes the free-market principles that built it. His policies have prevented businesses from growing, thriving, and creating jobs, and he has no plans to change course.” Of course, knowledge of “job creation” has almost nothing to do with experience in business—Bill Clinton spent his entire life in government and George W. Bush had an MBA, but the former presided over a period of immense job creation, while the latter led the country through a decade of stagnant job growth. Likewise, Obama’s inexperience with the private sector hasn’t stopped his administration from presiding over 4.25 million new private sector jobs , a huge improvement...

The Cost of the Debt-Ceiling Fight

(Flickr/jacqueline.poggi)
For a moment last fall, it looked as if the last-minute debt-ceiling deal was all for nothing. Democrats had caved to Republicans’ demands to cut spending in order to keep the government funded. But Standard and Poor’s decided that the brinkmanship displayed by John Boehner and Republicans reflected poorly on the country’s ability to pay its bills, and decided to lower the U.S.’s credit rating anyway from AAA to AA+. Luckily, that decision was taken more as a reflection of the rating agency than a proper assessment of the country’s credit-worthiness. The U.S. continues to sell Treasury bonds at record low interest rates, a sign that investor confidence hasn’t been shaken. That doesn’t mean the tussle over the debt ceiling last summer came without cost. Economists Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers have an op-ed in Bloomberg today assessing the impact of the debt-ceiling showdown: High-frequency data on consumer confidence from the research company Gallup, based on surveys of 500...

Republican Showdown in Texas

In a state as red as Texas, general elections are mostly formalities; GOP primaries are the main events. That’s one explanation for the national focus on Tuesday’s U.S. Senate primary, where Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst faces a field led by former Solicitor General Ted Cruz in a quest to replace retiring Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison. As the name indicates, Cruz is far from a traditional Republican candidate—which is the main reason the right has been buzzing about this race for months. He’s not only the son of a Cuban-American father, he’s also a darling of the Tea Party, with Sarah Palin and Rick Santorum’s stamps of approval. Cruz has trailed consistently in the polls, but appears likely to keep Dewhurst—a more traditional conservative—under 50 percent, which would trigger a runoff. The lieutenant governor, who’s extravagantly rich and has out-raised Cruz considerably, will be the favorite head-to-head. But for at least a few more weeks, the overwhelmingly white Texas Republicans will...

Dear Washington, Nothing Has Changed About the Election

(Jamelle Bouie/The American Prospect)
For political junkies, it’s easy to think that campaign tussles make a difference in presidential elections. Washington was consumed with the story of Mitt Romney the high school bully, but voters could care less—in a recent poll from ABC News and The Washington Post , 90 percent said that it wouldn’t be a factor in their view of the GOP nominee. Likewise, the massive controversy over Elizabeth Warren’s Native American heritage has had zero effect on Massachusetts voters—69 percent say they simply don’t care. I don’t mean to single out partisans; actual Beltway pundits are also too concerned with gaffes and faux controversies. Mike Allen and Jim VandeHei's assessment of the last month—which has the top spot at POLITICO — describes the Obama campaign as “stumbling out of the gate” and “struggling” with message discipline. It’s everything you would expect from a micro-focus on the election: Obama, not Mitt Romney, is the one with the muddled message — and the one who often comes across...

No Taxmageddon Solution Before November

(Flickr/Nasa hq photo)
Congress is deadlocked on a host of issues that will need to be solved before the end of the year lest the country plunge off a fiscal cliff at the start of 2013. If no action is taken, all of the Bush tax cuts will expire, the payroll tax will return to higher rates, and the full-sequester spending cuts will go into effect, with the debt ceiling hitting its limit shortly thereafter. Estimates from the Congressional Budget Office released early this week paint a horror story for the start of 2013, with the economy contracting by 1.3 percent. The New York Times tries to offer a bit of hope this morning, with a story detailing both Democrat and Republican intentions to tackle the tax cuts before the lame duck session: Both parties in the House and the Senate are eager, perhaps even giddy, at the prospect of voting for their respective versions of an extension of the cuts this summer, well before the due date. Speaker John A. Boehner, Republican of Ohio, has said there will be a House...

He Who Must Not Be Named

The President, engaged in a vulgar activity. (White House photo by Pete Souza)
As I mentioned the other day, reporters are both repulsed by and attracted to negative campaigning, and I think that probably goes for most of us as well. On one hand, we want to say, "Tut, tut, you shouldn't be doing that." On the other hand, not only can't we look away, but we desperately want our own favored candidate to go negative, so we can get the visceral satisfaction from watching our disfavored candidate get assaulted. It's analogous to the way we feel when watching a movie or reading a story: if the bad guy doesn't get killed in the end, we're left feeling unsatisfied. But we also have a series of campaign conventions regarding what kind of behavior is acceptable that have little or nothing to justify them. One that has always mystified me is the idea that it's impolite to mention your opponent by name. Instead, you're supposed to say "my opponent" and speak of "the other party," as if to make clear whom you're talking about is somehow rude. This is supposed to be doubly...

Civics 101

Beneath the skirmish over whether President Obama should use Bain Capital against Mitt Romney (simple answer: duh ), you could detect a deeper—and far more edifying—theme that’s starting to define the presidential campaign. Obama’s ringing response in Chicago to critics of his Bain criticisms made the plainest logical sense: If Romney’s going to claim his business experience as his main qualification for the presidency, then of course that business experience is part of the debate. But Obama’s mini-lecture about what a president does—and how it’s vastly different from running Bain—was particularly striking. “When you’re president, as opposed to the head of a private equity firm,” he said in part, “then your job is not simply to maximize profits. Your job is to figure out how everybody in the country has a fair shot.” Obama’s discourse about what a president does—and how businessmen aren’t necessarily equipped to do it—is part of his larger, ongoing effort to explain and defend the...

Romney's Ambitious First Day

(Screenshot from campaign ad)
Perhaps Newt Gingrich's presidential campaign wasn't meaningless after all. During the Florida primary, I tracked Gingrich and his ludicrous proposals to overhaul the entire federal government so quickly upon taking office that he would barely have time to change into a tux for the inauguration parties. His extensive list of promises for day one was absurd, yet it seems to have influenced Mitt Romney. Romney's first general-election ad was titled "Day One," and now the Republican nominee revisits the same idea in a new ad, unimaginatively called "Day One, Part Two." Between these two ads, Romney has promised a first day that will include: Immediate approval to construct the Keystone Pipeline Executive orders to halt the implementation of the Affordable Care Act The introduction of tax cuts for "job creators" Deficit reduction "Ending the Obama era of big government" (this one is left up to the viewer's interpretation) Threatening China on trade to "demand they play by the rules" A...

Marco Rubio Is Already Tired of the Senate

(Flickr/Gage Skidmore)
Marco Rubio spent much of the past year denying his ambitions to attain higher office. He would shoot down reporters every time they questioned his desire to join the 2012 Republican ticket as vice president, claiming his intent was solely to learn the ins and outs of the Senate. "I don't want to be the vice president right now, or maybe ever. I really want to do a good job in the Senate," he said in an interview last month. But now that the veepstakes has kicked, off Rubio's adopted a far different tone. From a speech in D.C. yesterday: Too often times in the United States Senate especially, most of the votes we take are nothing but messaging points," Rubio said in a speech at the Latino Coalition's Annual Economic Summit in Washington. "Bills are brought to the floor, that people know are not going to pass, for one purpose alone, and that's to give people talking points on the Sunday evening shows. "Our people deserve better. It's not like we don't have major issues to confront, but...

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