Vox Pop

The Prospect's politics blog

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...

Oh Good, Another Candidate's Book

Not what will determine the outcome of this election.
Making clear (if it wasn't already) that he'll be running for president in 2016, New York governor Andrew Cuomo has decided to write a book, in which he'll lay out his vision for America. America no doubt awaits with bated breath. Which got me wondering: When was the last time a sitting politician actually wrote a book worth reading? We'll have to consult the historians on whether the answer is "never," but it certainly hasn't happened in a long, long time. Last year, in what I came to think of as a courageous act of public service, I suffered through and then reviewed the campaign books written by Mitt Romney, Tim Pawlenty, Newt Gingrich, Mike Huckabee, and Sarah Palin. The latter two decided not to run in the end, but their homespun wisdom and common sense surely left untold numbers of Americans more optimistic about the future of this great land. These books can occasionally become problematic, as Mitt Romney discovered when the paperback edition of No Apology deleted a line from...

Third Party Planning

Did you hear? The Republican former governor—long anointed as the presumed candidate—officially gained the party's nomination over the weekend. No, I'm not talking about Mitt Romney. Come November, former New Mexico governor Gary Johnson will be on the ballot in all 50 states under the banner of the Libertarian Party. Johnson spent last year running in the Republican primary, but he abandoned his dream of securing the nomination after only making in into two debates and barely registering in the polls. Despite this, Johnson made a bit of a name for himself as a cooler version of Ron Paul—the one who climbs Mount Everest and doesn't look and act like your crazy uncle. Johnson is your typical libertarian: He's pro-pot (which he himself used, though only the medical variety, of course), supports same-sex marriage, and opposes the ongoing war in Afghanistan, but aligns himself with the extreme economic policies of the GOP's Tea Party wing. The Libertarian Party puts a candidate up every...

No One Trust's Obama's Evolution

(Flickr/VJnet)
Few people truly believe Barack Obama when he claims his position on same-sex marriage is "evolving." He first publicly endorsed marriage equality in 1996 while running for the Illinois state senate. At the time, just 27 percent of the population shared his views, according to a Gallup poll. Now, Gallup's tracking numbers from last year have 53 percent of the country favoring SSM. It might have been politically expedient for Obama to position himself against same-sex unions in 2008, but it's impossible to imagine anyone at the vanguard of LGBT civil rights like that young Illinois legislator truly changing his mind. That's why his continuing "evolution" makes no sense. It ticks off liberals and moderates who are convinced that Obama does not have the courage to stand up for his convictions. And it certainly wins him no plaudits from conservatives, who also believe it is a smokescreen to hide his true agenda. To wit, here's RNC Chairman Reince Priebus on MSNBC earlier today: “So we’ve...

It's the Economy, Smartypants

Flickr/DonkeyHotey
Karl Rove's signature contribution to campaign politics was the insight that the most effective way to defeat an opponent was not to attack his greatest weakness, but to attack his greatest strength. (There's some vivid detail from Joshua Green's classic 2004 article on Rove's history as a campaigner. Sample: Your client's opponent volunteers to help abused children? Spread rumors that he's a pedophile!) There's no doubt that at the moment, Mitt Romney's greatest strength is the idea that as a successful businessman, he will do a good job stewarding the American economy. In fact, that may be his only strength. He's stiff and awkward, he has a well-earned reputation for changing his stated beliefs to suit the political moment, he just went through a primary campaign in which he took numerous unpopular positions in order to please an extremist party base, the severe unpopularity of his party in Congress will drag him down, he has nothing particularly compelling to say about foreign...

Obama's Untenable Position on Same-Sex Marriage

(Flickr/Barack Obama)
Oh, good old Joe. The vice president just can’t help himself sometimes, getting juiced up and spouting off whatever comes to his mind rather than staying on message like the Obama campaign would prefer. On yesterday’s Meet the Press , Biden was questioned about his stance on same-sex marriage and seemingly went a step further than the official White House line, perhaps not endorsing marriage equality directly but coming pretty close : David Gregory: You’re comfortable with same-sex marriage now? Biden: Look, I am Vice President of the United States of America. The president sets the policy. I am absolutely comfortable with the fact that men marrying men, women marrying women and heterosexual men marrying women are entitled to the same exact rights. All the civil rights, all the civil liberties. And quite frankly I don’t see much of a distinction beyond that. Of course that’s not the official policy of the Obama campaign, so officials acted quick to walk back Biden’s statement. But the...

Do the Right Thing

(plainwrap/Flickr)
Yesterday, on Meet the Press , Vice President Joe Biden was unusually candid about his feelings on same-sex marriage: “And you’re comfortable with same-sex marriage now,” NBC’s David Gregory asked Biden on Meet the Press. “I am vice president of the United States of America. The president sets the policy,” Biden said by way of a disclaimer, then continued, “I am absolutely comfortable with the fact that men marrying men, women marrying women, and heterosexual men and women marrying another are entitled to the same exact rights, all the civil rights, all the civil liberties. And quite frankly, I don’t see much of a distinction—beyond that.” Almost immediately, this was reported as an endorsement of same-sex marriage by Vice President Biden, which in turn was followed by White House attempts to nix the perception. On Twitter, for example, David Axelrod issued an odd clarifying statement, “What VP said-that all married couples should have exactly the same legal rights-is precisely POTUS’...

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