Vox Pop

The Prospect's politics blog

Enough With "Only In America"

Word cloud of Mitt Romney's speech last night.
Last night, Mitt Romney gave what was billed as the opening speech of his general election campaign. Jamelle has explained how much Romney distorted the economic story of the past four years, while Ezra says accurately that "If this speech was all you knew of Mitt Romney -- if it was your one guide to his presidential campaign -- you'd sum his message up as, 'vote for me: I think America is great.'" Indeed you would—the speech included the word "America" a numbing 33 times. But there's something else I want to note from Romney's speech , something that both Republicans and Democrats do, and it drives me crazy: I’ll tell you about how much I love this country, where someone like my dad, who grew up poor and never graduated from college, could pursue his dreams and work his way up to running a great car company. Only in America could a man like my dad become governor of the state in which he once sold paint from the trunk of his car. You see, Mitt Romney may not have pulled himself up...

Will Liberals Prove to Be the Real Anti-Mormons?

Flickr/More Good Foundation
When the potential for anti-Mormonism harming Mitt Romney's candidacy is discussed, it's usually evangelical Christians we're talking about, since they have traditionally had the greatest antipathy toward Mormonism (some of them, at least). But what about liberals? Peter Beinart argues that by the time this election is over, they're going to evince more anti-Mormonism: One reason Democrats may be more anti-Mormon than Republicans is that Democrats, on average, are more secular. Devout Protestants, Catholics, and Jews may be more tolerant of Mormonism because they understand from firsthand experience the comfort and strength that religious commitment brings. Many secular Democrats, by contrast, may start with the assumption that religious orthodoxy produces irrationality and intolerance. I'm a little skeptical that devout believers of other religions are going to be more tolerant of Mormonism "because they understand from firsthand experience the comfort and strength that religious...

Mitt Romney's Fantasy World

(AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
(AP Photo/Jae C. Hong) Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and wife, Ann, take the stage at an election night rally yesterday. In a sane world, Mitt Romney would be laughed out of politics for the speech he gave celebrating his final wins (Delaware, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York) in the Republican nomination contest. The centerpiece of the address was a riff on the classic formulation, “Are you better of now than you were four years ago?” Is it easier to make ends meet? Is it easier to sell your home or buy a new one? Have you saved what you needed for retirement? Are you making more in your job? Do you have a better chance to get a better job? Do you pay less at the pump? What’s frustrating about this is the fact that it ignores the last four years of political history in an attempt to put Barack Obama at the center of the country’s economic troubles. But that’s ridiculous. Here’s what we know about the last four years. In 2008...

I'll Take Republican Talking Points For $100 Alex

(Flickr/marabuchi)
As a fan of game shows and an avid trivia nerd, I was disappointed that I couldn't attend the Jeopardy tapings this past weekend when the show rolled into D.C. However after reading a Politico article describing Alec Trebek’s ideological inclinations, I’m glad I missed out on hearing him cavorting on politics: “People [are] relying too much on the government,” the “Jeopardy” star said over the weekend while holding forth with the press during a day of taping in Washington. “If you want to tax high earners more, it would be nice if you told us where you are spending the money. If you are going to use our extra taxes to reduce the debt, fine. If you are going to use our extra taxes to finance new programs, whoa, let’s slow down a moment,” Trebek added, when asked by POLITICO which political issues concern him most. “The same word that I am using with my children, a lot of people are using now: a sense of ‘entitlement’ in our society. I think we need to get away from that.”... “I don’t...

Putting Romney In a Box

Mitt Romney applauds Dan Quayle for some reason. (Flickr/Gage Skidmore)
In the last week or so, a number of commentators have begun to debate whether the Obama campaign should paint Mitt Romney as an ideological extremist or as an inveterate flip-flopper. Bill Clinton is apparently advising that the answer should be "ideological extremist." But the real answer is, "Yes!" There's no reason Mitt Romney can't be a spineless, pandering flip-flopper who is also in thrall to the extremists in his party. One is an argument about who he is (flip-flopper), and the other is an argument about what he'll do (all kinds of horrible extremist things). There isn't a contradiction. And as Jonathan Bernstein tell us , congressional Democrats are getting ready to lend the president a hand by forcing a whole bunch of votes designed to make Romney choose between taking a position widely popular with the general electorate and taking a position that will satisfy his party and his base: Dems are currently pushing votes on no less than three major issues, all of which are...

Unpredictable Predictions

Nostradamus contemplating the impact of health care on Mitt Romney's primary candidacy.
If you're in the punditizing business, it's almost impossible to resist the temptation to make predictions. That's in large part because so much of politics involves furious but finite conflicts, where the outcome is what matters. Who'll win this next primary? Who'll be the nominee, and win the election? Is this bill going to pass? We care about these questions, and so it's hard not to answer them, particularly if this is the business you're in and you like to think that you know what you're talking about. The trouble with predictions, of course, is that if you make a lot of them, you're going to be wrong a good deal of the time. Which is really a reflection of what makes politics interesting: things can change quickly, there are always a huge number of variables at play in anything like an election or legislative battle, new personalities emerge all the time, and you just never know what's going to happen. And there really is no system that punishes people for making incorrect...

Romney vs. Congressional Republicans

(Flickr/Talk Radio News Service)
President Obama was prepared to spend his week contrasting himself with Republicans on students loans, but Mitt Romney deflated that argument yesterday afternoon. The 2007 College Cost Reduction and Access Act lowered the interest rates from 6.8 percent to 3.4 percent for federal student loans, but comes with an expiration date: this July. A one-year extension would cost just $6 billion dollars, but would benefit over 7 million young people with student loans. The Obama campaign has highlighted the lack of action from congressional Republicans on the issue, and the president will speak at three college campuses today and tomorrow. He can’t use this against Romney, though, after the presumptive Republican nominee came out in support of the extension yesterday. Romney’s pivot to the center doesn’t mean the issue is settled. This marks the first point of disagreement between Romney and his party since he cleared the primary competition. How congressional Republicans respond over the...

Romney Shifts His Target to Young People

(Merrimack College/Flickr)
Mitt Romney’s recent rhetoric on student loans is a sure sign that we’ve moved to the general election. In addition to distancing himself from the congressional GOP on student loans—like the president, he wants interest rates to stay low—Mitt Romney has adapted his overall message for the under–30 set, blaming President Obama for high unemployment among young people and a poor job market for recent college graduates. Here’s how he presented the issue at a press availability in Aston, Pennsylvania yesterday: When you look at fifty percent of the kids coming out of college today can’t find a job or can’t find a job which is consistent with their skills, how in the world can you be supporting a president that’s led to that kind of an economy? […] “I think this is a time when young people are questioning the support they gave to President Obama three and a half years ago. He promised bringing the country together; that sure hasn’t happened. He promised a future with good jobs and good...

Mitt Feints to the Middle

Moderate Mitt reared his head on Monday afternoon to contradict his party. The Obama campaign was prepared to make this week all about House Republicans' refusal to extend lower interest rates on student loans, with Obama scheduled for campaign stops at college campuses Tuesday and Wednesday. But now they won't be able to paint Romney as the anti-student boogeyman. During his first media availability in more than a month, the presumptive Republican nominee called on Congress to extend the current interest rates. “Particularly with the number of college graduates that can’t find work or can only find work well beneath their skill level, I fully support the effort to extend the low interest rate on student loans,” he said . Egads! This seems exactly like the scenario conservatives have feared all year. Now safely in the general-election cocoon, might Romney wildly deviate from right-wing dogma and betray the promises he made in the primaries? Not so much. Student loans were never a...

Media Bias Revealed

Frame of Romney coverage during the primaries, from the Project on Excellence in Journalism.
The Project for Excellence in Journalism is out with their latest report on news coverage of the primary campaign, and the big headline is that, surprise surprise, the tone of coverage varied pretty much exactly with whether candidates were winning or losing. Does that mean reporters had a pro-Romney bias when he was winning primaries, and a pro-Santorum bias when he was winning primaries? Of course not. It shows, instead, just how ridiculous most discussion of ideological bias is. I spent many years designing and executing this kind of study, and hands down, the most difficult thing to assess in an objective, reliable way is whether coverage is "positive" or "negative" for a particular figure. There are some stories that are obviously damaging ("Candidate Caught Smoking Crack"), which can be "negative" even though they are reported in a completely neutral way. There are some stories that are obviously helpful ("Candidate Wins Primary By Large Margin"), but which are also simply...

Marco Rubio Hedges

(Flickr/Gage Skidmore)
In the latest installment of Will He, Won’t He, Florida Senator Marco Rubio opened the door just a crack for the possibility of accepting the Republican vice-presidential slot should Mitt Romney offer it to him. In an interview with CNN yesterday morning, Rubio said : “Up to now, it’s all been theoretical,” Rubio explained, but now the party has a nominee who has begun the process of finding a running mate. “Moving forward, we’re going to let his process play itself out,” Rubio said. While that does look like a purposeful shift in tone after his string of denials over the past year, I don’t think it amounts to much. Everyone hems and haws until it becomes more than a hypothetical. The only person I’ve believed fully thus far is Suzanna Martinez, who said she would decline the VP spot because of family considerations. But for everyone else, it will be easy to change tone if Romney does offer them the spot. “I know I said I would never be vice president under any situation, but Mitt...

Shooting Blanks

(AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
In many ways, this presidential election features a reversal of a pattern we've gotten used to in recent campaigns. More often than not, it's the Republican who is self-assured and ideologically forthright, while the Democrat apologizes for what he believes, panders awkwardly, and generally acts terrified that the voting public might not like what he has to say. This time around, Barack Obama is the confident candidate, and Mitt Romney is the worried one (which says far more about these two men than it does about this particular historical moment). But there is one major exception to this pattern, on an issue that has re-emerged after being dormant for a decade and a half: guns. It isn't that Romney isn't pandering unpersuasively on the issue. What's different is that Barack Obama's campaign seems frightened of its own shadow and is trying hard to convince Americans that Obama is actually some kind of pro-gun president. Which, for all intents and purposes, he is. A week and a half ago...

Note to GOP: Grow Up

(Flickr/DonkeyHokey)
I’ve grown so used to dismissing Tom Friedman’s work for The New York Times that when he writes something genuinely good , it comes as a surprise. To wit, in his column for the Sunday paper, he aruges that our political system has devolved into a “vetocracy”—a system where “no one can aggregate enough power to make any important decisions at all.” The culprits, according to Friedman, are polarization, broken institutional norms—in particular, filibuster abuse—the massive proliferation of special interests, and the growing importance of money in politics. The ultimate outcome of this, says Friedman, is governmental paralysis: America’s collection of minority special-interest groups is now bigger, more mobilized and richer than ever, while all the mechanisms to enforce the will of the majority are weaker than ever. The effect of this is either legislative paralysis or suboptimal, Rube Goldberg-esque, patched-together-compromises, often made in response to crises with no due diligence...

In the Air and On the Ground

Obama volunteers in 2008 (Flickr/Barack Obama)
In recent years, a series of studies by political scientists have demonstrated that the most effective means of winning votes and getting your voters to the polls is one of the oldest: in-person contact. Having neighbors knock on doors and talk to people gets you significantly more votes per dollar of investment than direct mail or television ads. The only trouble is that putting together a comprehensive ground operation is really difficult. You need people, lots of them, and you need them to be devoted, enthusiastic and willing to put in long and frustrating days calling people and trooping from house to house. Over the weekend, The New York Times had a good article explaining how the Obama campaign's allies, particularly labor unions, will be putting their focus on the ground game in this November's election, while the Romney campaign's allies will be focusing on the airwaves. It's going to be a pretty stark contrast: With just more than six months to go before the November...

Liberal Bias at Fox News?

Mitt Romney on Fox News.
Over at The New York Times , Nicole Hemmer has a nice piece explaining some of the history of the right's "liberal media bias" charge and how it has left them incapable of seeing anything that happens in the media—even their own media—clearly. It turns out that supporters of Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum (not to mention Gingrich and Santorum themselves) were shocked to find that their favorite news sources didn't validate everything they believed, including who should win the Republican primary: "this role reversal is the end product of a process that was set in motion by the conservative media. Having spent decades promoting the charge of bias, they have helped strip it of meaning. These days, bias translates roughly to 'reporting something I don't like,' a reflexive defense against stories that cut against conservative interests." Conservatives got so used to seeing bias everywhere that it reached the point where some of them began accusing Fox News of being "liberal" because it...

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