Vox Pop

The Prospect's politics blog

Odd Couple

When George W. Bush came back to his former home in Washington today to unveil his and his wife's official paintings, reporters were quick to note how much of an odd couple Obama and Dubya prove. AP's Ben Feller wrote that it seemed "a little awkward that Obama is about to preside as Bush's image and legacy are enshrined forever," given that "Obama is still bad-mouthing Bush's time in office.” Roger Runningen at Businessweek noted that Obama “rarely passes up a chance to highlight the 'mess' he inherited when he took office." But both politicians were perfectly civil as they shared the spotlight this afternoon, cracking jokes and leaving the election on the trail. Obama even thanked his predecessor: “You also left me a really good TV sports package. I use it.” As strange as it may seem to see the former president and the man who won by running against his legacy enjoy each other’s company, a Romney and Bush joint-event is an even bigger stretch of the imagination. First of all, the...

Working the Refs Continues to Work

Egad.
For the last 40 years or so, conservatives have undertaken a carefully planned and sustained campaign to "work the refs," complaining constantly about "liberal media bias" in an attempt to bully reporters and obtain more favorable coverage for their side. That isn't to say they don't sincerely believe that the establishment media is biased against them—they do—but they also understand that the complaints, no matter how silly they are in a particular instance, keep pressure on reporters and have them constantly bending over backwards to show that they're not biased. And when it works really well, you get stories like this one from POLITICO honchos Jim VandeHei and Mike Allen. "To GOP, blatant bias in vetting," reads the headline. Apparently, Republicans are angry that Mitt Romney's life is being investigated by reporters, while Barack Obama, who has been president for almost four years and went through all this in 2008 , isn't getting precisely the same scrutiny in precisely the same...

How the Attack on Massachusetts Could Backfire

This morning, the Obama campaign released its first video on Mitt Romney’s tenure as governor of Massachusetts: There are a few obvious problems with this line of attack. Even with its fiscal problems and slow job growth, Massachusetts wasn’t a terrible place to live under the Romney administration. The point is to show that Romney is offering the same “robotic” line to voters, but how does that resonate when few people associate Massachusetts with “bad governance?” The big problem for this attack is health care reform. Not only was Romney’s health care bill the signature accomplishment of his administration, but it formed the basis for the Affordable Care Act, which may become the signature accomplishment of President Obama’s administration. Romneycare remains popular with Massachusetts voters, and it’s a genuine achievement for the Republican nominee, even if he can’t present it as an asset in his campaign. By attacking Romney’s tenure, the Obama campaign could put itself in the odd...

It's Hard Out There For a Billionaire

Not an actual billionaire. (Flickr/Rainforest Action Network)
Is there a group of people you can think of who have thinner skin than America's multi-millionaires and billionaires? Wall Street titans have been whining for a couple of years now about the horror of people in politics criticizing ineffective banking regulations and the favorable tax treatment so many wealthy people receive (you may remember the time when hedge fund billionaire Steven Schwarzman said that President Obama suggesting that we eliminate the "carried interest loophole," which allows hedge fund managers to pay taxes at only the 15 percent capital gains rate instead of standard income tax rates, was "like when Hitler invaded Poland in 1939"). America's barons feel assaulted, victimized, wounded in ways that not even a bracing ride to your Hamptons estate in your new Porsche 911 can salve. And now that the presidential campaign is in full swing, their tender feelings are being hurt left and right. David Weigel points us to this remarkable video , in which someone at the...

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...

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