Vox Pop

The Prospect's politics blog

You Like Me! You Really Like Me! Or Maybe You Don't.

Flickr/DonkeyHotey
In an excellent column over at The Daily Beast , former Prospect czar Michael Tomasky points out Mitt Romney's enormous likeability deficit, which seems to grow worse with each passing week. It's not only true impressionistically, polls back it up: Gallup recently found 60 percent of Americans saying Barack Obama is likeable, compared to only 31 percent for Romney. Tomasky does a good job of breaking down all the reasons why, and points out that the last time the candidate considered less likeable won the presidency was 44 years ago, when grumpy Dick Nixon edged smiling Hubert Humphrey. This could well be one of those interesting-but-probably-meaningless correlations, like the taller candidate always winning (which held true for many years until 2004). But given the preponderance of "gut" voting among the American people, it's likely to make a significant difference in November. But what is it that makes a person—not a politician, but someone you meet face to face—likeable? There are...

Going Meta

Tamron Hall about to bring the hammer down on Tim Carney.
Since I wrote a couple of pieces about the story of Mitt Romney possibly being a high-school bully, I've gotten some unsurprising responses. The first, perhaps predictable one, is from conservatives complaining that Barack Obama was never "vetted," and the fact that we've learned about Romney's youthful "hijinks" just shows the media's double-standard. Needless to say, this is just absurd; there were hundreds of articles written in 2008 (and since) about Obama's family and his youth, not to mention the fact that he wrote a pretty frank book about it himself before he ever ran for office. The second complaint—less silly, but related—is that this is all a distraction, and we ought to be talking about real issues. I've already said most of what I have to say about what kind of meaning we should ascribe to the bullying story, assuming it's true. But even if I disagree with the conservatives who are saying that The Washington Post should never even have pursued the story or that it shows...

Romney's Lost Opportunity to Demonstrate Empathy

Mitt Romney's high school yearbook photo.
Allow me one more point on this whole Romney bullying thing. If you haven't read my previous post on it, that's here , but today I have a piece on CNN.com arguing that this was a real missed opportunity for Romney. Here's the key passage: A candidate who has struggled with seeming human, as Mitt Romney has, could have done himself a favor by using this as an opportunity to show a little more of himself. He could have said: Yes, it happened. It was stupid and cruel. I wish I could go back and undo it. But part of growing up is realizing where you failed when you were young, and learning from your mistakes so you can become a better person. Most importantly, Romney could have said something that indicated he had a conception of how horrible the assault must have been for John Lauber, the victim. His only mention of Lauber, who died in 2004, was to say "I had no idea what that individual's sexual orientation might be." By referring to Lauber as "that individual" he makes Lauber a...

Every Time He Thinks He's Out, They Pull Him Back In

Jerry Falwell, on whom Mitt Romney will be heaping praise tomorrow.
There was a time not long ago when Democrats feared the culture war. They'd try to make campaigns about things like economic fairness, and just when things seemed to be going their way, Republicans would jump out from behind a bush and shout "God! Guns! Gays!" Voters would scream in alarm and pull the lever for the GOP. But here we are today, with Republicans desperately trying to change the subject away from gay marriage and back to the economy. Whodathunkit? Just a few days ago, most people thought it would be too risky for President Obama to come out and support marriage equality. But now not only has he come out in support, his campaign has released a web ad touting his support for it and slamming Romney for not supporting even civil unions. It uses George W. Bush (!) saying he supports civil unions, and hits Romney for supporting a constitutional amendment to forestall marriage equality. "President Obama is moving us forward," the ad concludes. "Mitt Romney would take us back."...

How Gay Marriage Might Hurt Romney

(WEBN-TV/Flickr)
If same-sex marriage will harm anyone in this election, it’s not President Obama; his position is supported by most Democrats and independents, as well as important portions of his liberal base. By contrast, Mitt Romney is in a serious bind. If he shifts his rhetoric to emphasize opposition to marriage equality, he could energize the conservative base, and deepen his support among evangelicals and other members of the religious right who doubt his commitment to the cause. Already, he’s made steps in that direction. Yesterday afternoon, Romney reiterated his stance on marriage: “You don’t change your positions to try and win the states or certain subgroups of Americans, you have the positions you have,” Romney told Fox News’s Neil Cavuto on Thursday afternoon. “And as you know, for a long time, I think from the beginning of my political career, I’ve made it very clear that I believe marriage should be a relationship between a man and a woman. “ The problem, of course, is that—in the...

“Inspired” But Not Read

(Flickr / Rhubarble)
“I happen to believe that the Constitution was not just brilliant, but probably inspired,” Mitt Romney told a town-hall meeting in Euclid, Ohio, on Monday. It may be that, like many who like to thump sacred texts, he has simply never read it. Media commentary has focused on Romney’s flat-footed refusal, or inability, to talk back to a questioner who suggested that President Obama should be “tried for treason” because he is “operating outside the structure of our Constitution.” But it’s worth taking a moment to note that “treason” is a term Americans seem to take lightly these days (Witness Rick Perry’s remark that Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke, a former George W. Bush staffer, would be “almost treasonous,” and perhaps guest of honor at a Texas necktie party, if he used the Fed’s legal authority to try to prevent the economy from falling back into recession). The Framers didn’t take the term lightly, and their care is reflected in one of the Constitution’s most important, though little-...

Connecting With the People

The President communing with ordinary Americans.
Any speechwriter knows that in constructing persuasive rhetoric it's important to take big, abstract ideas and communicate them through the stories of people. It isn't always easy, and you can't make every speech one long story about your Aunt Gladys, but if your speeches are nothing but facts and figures then they make it very hard for your audience to connect to what you're saying on an emotional level. From what I've seen, Mitt Romney doesn't do this very often when he's on the stump. When he does touch on individuals, it's often vague and brief, the "I met a guy the other day..." who illustrates a point and then is quickly abandoned. This is notable because the whole connecting-with-people thing is something Romney has a bit of a political problem with. And it's certainly something the Obama campaign is emphasizing. Look at this ad the campaign just released discussing the auto bailout: You'll notice, first, that Obama is in shirtsleeves. Then we see him, dressed similarly...

The Big Bully

It was one (fabulous, uplifting, inspiring) thing to watch the president of the United States come out for same-sex marriage on Wednesday. It was whole 'nother to see, within 24 hours of Barack Obama’s revelation, his campaign immediately begin to use Mitt Romney’s opposition to marriage equality against him in an online video. You might have expected the Obama folks to step back after the president’s announcement and say, “We’ve settled that, now let’s get back to talking about jobs and bin Laden.” They’ve done the opposite. “Mitt Romney: Backwards on Equality” is not the most stylish spot you’ll ever behold. But it effectively points out how far right Romney is on the issue, noting that he also opposes far less controversial civil unions—which even George W. Bush supported. The video also flashes a series of uncontroversial protections for gay couples that Romney would disallow. It all plays into a larger context for the campaign, which is working to paint Romney as a hardline...

Is Mitt Romney a Bully?

Students at Mitt Romney's alma mater.
The presidential campaign story of the day is Jason Horowitz's lengthy portrait of Mitt Romney's days as a student at the elite Cranbrook prep school in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. While the story contains a lot of detail that paints the picture of who the youthful Mitt Romney was and what kind of environments he grew up in, the headline-grabbing part is Romney's leading role, corroborated by several witnesses, in a vicious assault on a classmate whom everyone thought was gay. Partisan Democrats are certainly going to use this to make the case that the incident gives us important insight into Romney's character. I'll get to what I think this does and doesn't tell us about him in a moment, but here's the key passage: Mitt Romney returned from a three-week spring break in 1965 to resume his studies as a high school senior at the prestigious Cranbrook School. Back on the handsome campus, studded with Tudor brick buildings and manicured fields, he spotted something he thought did not...

Bring On Less Democracy

(Flickr / afagen)
Is anybody else as depressed as I am about the next four years? No matter who wins, we face the prospect of bitterly divided government, savage partisanship in Congress, and increasing executive desperation. Even if Republicans win the Senate and retain the House, they will not have a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate; even if Obama holds on to the White House, he will face filibusters in the Senate and outright defiance in the House. A Congress that cannot deal with the tiny student-debt problem in orderly fashion is unlikely to be able to tackle big problems at all. The response to legislative paralysis is, of course, executive aggrandizement. Charlie Savage of The New York Times laid out recently the turn by the Obama administration to executive authority as its means of governing the country. It’s entirely predictable; legislative fecklessness has led to presidential power-grabbing for more than a century. And if Mitt Romney becomes president, he is already poised to follow...

Why Obama Won't Be Punished For His "Evolution" On Marriage Equality

President Obama discussing same-sex marriage.
If you were Mitt Romney right now, you'd probably feel like you're the victim of a double-standard. When you have changed your position on an issue in the past, everyone took it as proof that you have no core of beliefs and you'll flip-flop whenever the situation demands. But when Barack Obama does the same thing, he gets to say he has "evolved" and nobody takes it as proof of a character flaw. Surely, Mitt might be saying to himself, Americans will see this for the craven, politically motivated flip-flop it is and punish Obama for it, no matter what they think about gay marriage. I'm afraid Mitt is going to be out of luck on this one. Obama's evolution will be treated differently than Romney's changes in position, for one important reason: because millions of people have gone through a similar evolution in the last few years. Most of us haven't changed our opinions about abortion or cap and trade or gun control recently (if ever), but most Americans have changed the way they think...

Doing the Right Thing Was the Right Thing

WikiMedia Commons
Today is obviously a great and historic moment for President Obama, who decided today to follow the Prospect 's Jamelle Bouie's advice and openly favor same-sex marriage. The effects are primarily symbolic, but it's still a good thing that he decided to match his excellent policy record on LBGT issues with the correct position on a crucial civil-rights issue. One question that is sure to come up is whether this decision will harm President Obama's chance of re-election. I'm sure some members of Obama's political team were urging him to maintain the incoherent mess of a position he nominally took before today. This is, for reasons I discussed in the context of LBJ last week, certainly a serious question. Romney winning the 2012 election would be a disaster for LBGT rights, starting with the fact that this would probably result in Antonin Scalia being to the left of the median Supreme Court justice. Particularly since Obama has done pretty much all that is within his power to advance...

Lies Politicians Tell Children

A candidate delivers some baloney to a group of teenagers, who are appropriately unimpressed.
Massachusetts senator Scott Brown has released his first ad of the fall campaign, and it's a fairly anodyne message about how Brown is independent, since Republicans aren't too popular in the Bay State. But there is something highly objectionable in the ad (it's at the bottom of this post if you want to watch it), which is when we see Brown telling a bunch of teenagers, "There's absolutely nothing in this world that you can't get if you work hard at it." There may be no single piece of advice that politicians deliver to young people more often than this. Democrats, Republicans, Whigs, Tories, no matter who they are, you stick 'em in a room with a bunch of kids and before long they'll deliver the sage insight that anything is possible if you put your mind to it. Well, I'm here to say: bullshit. I'll spare you the disquisition on rising inequality and the imperfections of capitalism. But just as a message delivered from a grown person to a young person, is there anything more...

Hey Dems! Chill Out About the Super PACs.

My morning paper: note the two headlines.
So I open up my dead-tree edition of The New York Times today, and see an article entitled "Liberal Donors' Plan Worries Top Democrats," about how the fact that some rich Democratic donors have decided to put their money into grassroots organizing instead of the kind of super PAC Republicans have, where nearly every penny goes to fund television ads, has got some Democrats fuming. The article quotes exactly one complainer, Harry Reid's chief of staff, who says, "Why go off and build a redundant grass-roots and get-out-the-vote organization that the Obama campaign is clearly invested in?...Why would they rule out this tried-and-true medium?" The Republicans will be investing so much on TV, and Democrats will be outgunned! Right below that story, on the same page of the Times , is a profile of Obama campaign ad guru Jim Margolis, discussing all the groovy ads he's going to create for the Obama campaign to destroy Mitt Romney with. Which is a good reminder that Democrats fretting about...

Mitt Romney's Truth-Free Campaign

(Austan Hufford/Michigan Daily)
If you haven’t already, you should read Ed Kilgore and Greg Sargent on Mitt Romney’s speech yesterday in Michigan, where he tried to clarify and contrast his approach on the economy. The message was typical of Romney’s rhetoric; an attempt to flip an attack and direct it at his opponent. In this case, Romney decried Obama as the purveyor of failed policies, and presented himself as a reform conservative in the mold of Bill Clinton and the New Democrats. As Kilgore argues, the argument is laughable on its face. The Obama administration is staffed with Clintonites. It’s core policies—on health care, especially—were variations on policies pushed during the Clinton years, and Obama’s foreign policy falls well within the approach of the Clinton administration. What’s more, as Greg Sargent points out, there is no way in which Romney is running as a departure from the previous Republican administration. An RNC spokesperson summed this up well—the Romney agenda is the Bush platform, “just...

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