Vox Pop

The Prospect's politics blog

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...

Tired of War

(Flickr/The US Army)
Obama campaign thinks a general election on foreign policy works toward their favor, as the past few weeks have made clear. The President is trying to stake out a middle ground between the typical hawk and dove divide, highlighting his success in killing Osama bin Laden and engagement in Libya while also recognizing the country’s war-weary sentiment by extracting the country from Iraq and signing an agreement with the Afghanistan government to remove the United States from combat operations by 2014. For a time it looked as if Mitt Romney might not fall under the influence of the neoconservative dogma that dominated the GOP’s foreign policy vision during the last decade. Like many of the other Republican presidential candidates, he expressed hesitance toward an indefinite military force in Afghanistan, recognizing the quagmire of the decade-long war. His tone has changed since he’s dispatched his nomination opponents and has attempted to contrast his views directly with Obama. Perhaps...

May the Most Electable Man Win

Up in Wisconsin, Democrats anointed a centrist to take on Republican Governor Scott Walker in next month’s recall election. Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett clobbered former Dane County executive Kathleen Falk, the preferred candidate of Wisconsin labor and the activists who’d campaigned against Walker’s anti-union jihad, by a resounding 24 percent. Falk had been prominent in last year’s anti-Walker resistance in Madison, and she was the logical candidate to be Walker’s Democratic challenger in next month’s recall. But she plainly wasn’t the strongest candidate—polls showed her trailing Walker by 5 to 10 points, while Barrett was running even with the governor. Labor poured millions into Falk’s campaign, but the polling probably convinced even many unionists that getting rid of Walker and restoring public-sector workers’ collective bargaining rights required a vote for Barrett. Wisconsin unions endorsed Barrett last night wholeheartedly—if they don’t dump Walker next month, it will be a...

Romney Takes Credit for the Auto Bailouts. Again.

(NewsHour/Flickr)
Three years ago, Mitt Romney was a naysayer on the auto bailouts, warning that they would result in the destruction of the American auto industry. But now that President Obama is running on the success of the bailout, Romney has decided that he’s responsible for the revival of auto manufacturing: “I pushed the idea of a managed bankruptcy, and finally when that was done, and help was given, the companies got back on their feet,” Romney told a Cleveland TV station while visiting a local auto plant Monday. “So, I’ll take a lot of credit for the fact that this industry has come back.” On this, Mitt Romney is the Winklevii to Obama’s Zuckerberg; sure, Obama developed and implemented the auto bailouts, but Romney had the same idea and therefore, he should receive the credit. My guess is that this won’t catch fire with voters, or anyone who has experience with the naysayer who claims retroactive credit for success. Romney’s decision to reverse himself on the bailouts—or at least,...

The Difference Between Republican Moderates and Democratic Moderates

Dick Lugar hanging out with some Hollywood liberal. (Flickr/Talk Radio News Service)
Today in Indiana, Senator Richard Lugar will probably be defeated in a Republican primary by State Treasurer Richard Mourdock, three-time failed congressional candidate, and Tea Party favorite. Lugar might be the single most respected member of the Senate, a guy who has been in office for 35 years, has carved out areas of interest and expertise that don't bring with them anything in the way of contributions or votes (foreign affairs, nuclear proliferation), and finds areas where he can work with Democrats. And that, of course, was his undoing. Perhaps Lugar's greatest sin in their eyes was that he maintained a good relationship with Barack Obama (horrors!). The Tea Party may be fading, but it had enough left in its tank to knock Lugar out. So what do we learn? Michael Tomasky argues that we shouldn't shed any tears for Lugar, since he had the chance to confront his party's extremism and chose not to; had he done so, he could have gone out with some more dignity. But he didn't try to...

Super PACs Already Spending Big

(Flickr/401K)
It’s been clear since the start of the Republican nomination that 2012 would be the year of the super PAC. While Mitt Romney’s campaign was better funded than his opponents, it was his affiliated super PAC Restore Our Future that truly freed Romney to tear apart every opponent who momentarily rose to equal footing. The same dynamic is playing out in the early stages of the general election, with Obama's fundraising advantage negated by his super PACs struggles as Romney's continues to thrive. But far too much time and attention is wasted on super PACs at the presidential level. Romney and Obama will both have plenty of funds when you combined their campaigns and super PACs. Neither will have trouble finding the cash to run a glut of TV ads or hire an extensive staff on the ground. A few extra million here or there will have only a marginal impact on the election’s outcome, especially in the relatively high information level that voters will have when they enter the ballot booth...

Coming to Dinner at Clooney's?

(AP Photo/Jonathan Short)
As you may have heard, Michelle Obama recently invited me to have dinner with George Clooney. And her own hubby too, of course—not that I think Barack really wants to hear my two cents about NDAA. As it happens, I know already that Clooney doesn't have a whole hell of a lot of use for my advice about his acting career. Pretty charming invite, though. Here's what FLOTUS wrote, in an email subject-lined "A Little Fun": "Thomas [she always calls me that, like a stern middle-school teacher. Does The Mich know how to tap my fantasies, or what?] — "Barack and I know how hard so many of you are working on this campaign—and we're grateful for it. "But sometimes you just need to have a little fun, too . . ." Followed by a nudge to make a "grassroots donation" if I want a chance to chow down with the President chez George on May 10. Amount unspecified, though I gather $3 is the minimum. Not to boast, but I've dropped more than that in Vegas a few times. The problem was that the menu was also...

Dreams from My President

E very president plays a symbolic, almost mythological role that’s hard to talk about, much less quantify—it’s like trying to grab a ball of mercury. I’m not referring to using the bully pulpit to shape the national agenda but to the way that the president, as America’s most inescapably powerful figure, colors the emotional climate of the country. John Kennedy and Ronald Reagan did this affirmatively, expressing ideals that shaped the whole culture. Setting a buoyant tone, they didn’t just change movies, music, and television; they changed attitudes. Other presidents did the same, only unpleasantly. Richard Nixon created a mood of angry paranoia, Jimmy Carter one of dreary defeatism, and George W. Bush, especially in that seemingly endless second term, managed to do both at once. While Barack Obama’s election left a joyous imprint on American culture—most of us were thrilled to discover that we could sometimes be what we want to think we are—his presidency almost immediately began...

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