Vox Pop

The Prospect's politics blog

The Libertarian Romantic Thriller

(Photo: Patrick Caldwell)
REPUBLICAN CENTRAL, DC—Every Republican presidential nominee is speaking in CPAC's main ballroom today except Rep. Ron Paul. He sent his son, Sen. Rand Paul, in his stead last night and the libertarian's message is being spread—if not always explicitly—down in the CPAC dungeon of booths. (The American Prospect/Patrick Caldwell) Filmmakers have been marketing "Silver Circle" to comic book fans and conservatives. Set in 2019 during the aftermath of an economic collapse, the animated film "Silver Circle" is a "fun thriller romance," according to producer/director Pasha Roberts. I walked up to this booth expecting the typical Paul friendly organization arguing against fiat money, but was instead treated to behind the scenes clips of actors on a green screen stage edited with shots of the completed footage, fully animated in a manner evoking the rotoscoped effect of "Waking Life" but far more halting and amateurish in appearance. "Silver Circle" follows the soon-to-be true story of anti-...

Keep Conventions Conventional

Unless there’s a psychic shift in the Republican Party soon, this past Tuesday evening the campaign for its presidential nomination became sui generis . On its face, the race conforms to the establishment-versus-insurgency template that’s characterized past contests, such as the 1976 GOP race in which Ronald Reagan nearly took the nomination from sitting incumbent Gerald Ford, and the 1980 race in which Edward Kennedy couldn’t liberate Jimmy Carter of the Democratic nomination, so he stole the party’s heart instead. The dynamic in both cases was that once the party dutifully resolved to remain in its marriage to the dour Gerald Ford or Carter, it had one last doomed fling with heartthrobs Reagan and Kennedy in order not to forget who it really yearned for. What makes the current race singular, however, is that Mitt Romney is the weakest and least convincing establishment front-runner since Walter Mondale and that the insurgency is fractured. Insurgencies are purist by definition and...

Mitt Romney Is Really Bad At Running For President

(Flickr/DonkeyHotey)
If you spend your time amongst politically-involved liberals these days, you've probably participated in a lot of head-shaking conversations, along the lines of, "Wow, is this Republican race awesome, or what?" It is, without doubt. And one of the things it has showed us is that, what political scientists call "candidate quality" is a more complicated factor than we usually think. And Mitt Romney turns out to be the most complicated candidate of all. Ordinarily, we tend to believe that while some candidates are good at some things and some are good at others, and a candidate may have one particular strength but be lacking elsewhere (e.g. Newt Gingrich usually performs well in debates but sucks at most other parts of campaigning), the political world is basically divided into good candidates, mediocre candidates, and bad candidates. You can go pretty far being mediocre—for instance, Al Gore and Bob Dole never knocked anybody's socks off, but both rose almost to the apex of their chosen...

Catholic Men at CPAC Oppose Birth Control

(Photo: Patrick Caldwell)
CPAC, D.C.—The controversy around the Obama administration's decision to mandate birth-control coverage in health insurance has dominated the talk at CPAC. "You may not agree with what that religion agrees. That's not the point. The point is, the First Amendment still applies," Marco Rubio said in his early morning address on Thursday. A group called Confronting Religious Persecution in America was primed to take advantage of the latest controversy. They're a Catholic men's organization that favors the conservative interpretation of social morals. "We have a desire to fight in a peaceful manner," said James Bascom, who stood with perfect posture, "to defend the Church, to defend the teachings of the Church, and to defend the remnants of Christian civilization that are being undermined and being destroyed in our society." (The American Prospect/Patrick Caldwell) Bascom, of Confronting Religious Persecution in America, spoke out against the birth control clause in the Affordable Care...

Gold and Silver: Taking Heavy Metal Literally

(Photo: Patrick Caldwell)
CPAC, DC—Bouncing between Republican campaign events over the past few months, I've often run into GOP voters who wish they could support Ron Paul, but just can't mark the box next to his name. They love his End the Fed, slash every government regulation take on the economy, but despair over his isolationist foreign policy. I've met none that exemplify that split more than Travis Englert, who I spoke with yesterday deep in the bowels of CPAC. Hidden in the very back corner of the basement, Englert was manning the booth for Procinctu, a group that he just launched on Wednesday. Their booth might have been out of the main path, but it certainly stood out among the traditional mix of conservative groups. Englert rocks the shaved head looked, ditching the typical CPAC suit for a black button down. Heavy metal music blasted from his booth, and the group's logo features a cartooned shirtless man wearing a headband and rifle across his back. (The American Prospect/Patrick Caldwell) What...

CPAC Boothapalooza Part 1

(Photo: Patrick Caldwell)
CPAC, D.C.—Day one of the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) was full of members of Congress palling around with white nationalists, conservatives offering dating advice, and Marco Rubio ripping into the president for considering birth control an essential health-care service. Day two is set to be dominated by talk of the 2012 race, with Rick Santorum, Mitt Romney, and Newt Gingrich all slotted to speak in the main ballroom of the Marriott Wardman Park hotel on Friday. The real fun of CPAC lies in the basement labyrinth of booths where conservative groups of all stripes hawk their wares. In addition to covering the above-ground speeches, over the course of the day I'm going to profile a few of the more colorful vendors hidden away from the light of day. First up is HSP Direct, a mail fundraising firm that is working for Santorum this cycle. For a candidate who isn't particularly known for pulling in the money or an extensive organization, HSP sure was proud of its...

White Nationalists Agree: Multiculturalism Is Bad

(Flickr/Gage Skidmore)
Right-wing members of Congress have never shied away from associating with fringe agitators, but appearing with a white nationalist is beyond the pale. On Thursday afternoon, Iowa Representative Steve King jovially appeared on a panel with Peter Brimelow, an anti-immigrant author that the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) has termed a white nationalist. Brimelow wrote Alien Nation and founded the online community VDARE, which SPLC describes as "a nonprofit that warns against the polluting of America by non-whites, Catholics, and Spanish-speaking immigrants." King had no qualms about associating himself with Brimelow when I caught up with the congressman after the panel. "Consider the source, I'm not in a position to judge people in the fashion that they seem to be so free to do," King said of the SPLC. King was not on the public schedule for the panel held at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), and showed up as a surprise guest an hour after the panel started. Hosted...

This Is Why You Can't Have Nice Things

(Flickr/Gage Skidmore)
The class of commentators who celebrate politicians outside the two-party system might finally realize their dreams of a third-party candidacy in 2012. These agitators of a middle path—typically white, upper-middle-class elites terrified of the nation's debt but ill at ease with social conservatism—have tried their hand in past years at disrupting the normal political process. In 2008, a group called Unity '08 planned to run a bipartisan presidential ticket but fell apart before the election. This "disempowered center" is back and appears primed for some serious troublemaking in 2012. Americans Elect has qualified for the ballot in 16 states and plans to reach all 50 before November. Founded by *investment banker Peter Ackerman, the group has raised at least $22 million to bankroll this third-party run. Their candidate will be selected through online balloting rather than the normal caucus/primary slog, and the only requirement is that the ticket must be split between a Republican and...

Is the NRA's Electoral Power a Myth?

(Flickr/Alan Cleaver)
We all know that the National Rifle Association is one of the most powerful, if not the most powerful, interest group in Washington. With their money and their committed supporters, they can carry candidates to victory or defeat as they choose, just as they've done in the past. Right? Well, maybe not. I'm doing a series of posts for Think Progress based on research I've done trying to address the question of the NRA's electoral effectiveness in a systematic way, something that has rarely been attempted before. Here's an excerpt from the first installment : To determine just how powerful the NRA really is on election day, in recent months I assembled a database covering the last four federal elections: 2004, 2006, 2008, and 2010. These years cover two presidential and non-presidential years, as well as two significant Democratic victories and two significant Republican victories. I gathered data on the outcome of every House and Senate election, including the margins of victory, the...

What the Anti-Contraception Conservatives Really Want

(Flickr/Jenny Lee Silver)
Let's stipulate at the outset that almost everyone on the right you hear talking about the issue of contraception coverage is cynically adopting this position for no other reason than they believe it to be a handy cudgel to bash the Obama administration. (One notable exception is Rick Santorum, who genuinely believes that contraception is wrong, since it unleashes our dirty, dirty thoughts and allows people to have sex without being punished for it. But Santorum is also pro-Crusades , so make of that what you will.) They may be right or wrong about the political wisdom of taking up this fight—a lot depends on whether the administration stands firm and makes sure everyone remembers that what we're talking about is birth control, for goodness' sake, something that outside the ranks of the celibate old men who run the Catholic Church is accepted by just about everyone, Catholics included. But we should keep in mind the principle for which conservatives are now arguing. Their argument is...

The Jig Is Up

(Flickr/Monik Markus)
As you’ve probably noticed by now, the response of conservative Catholics to President Barack Obama’s decision to require full birth-control coverage from employers who provide health insurance has been to accuse the administration of an attack on religious freedom. These Catholics, and in particular, the Catholic Bishops, would prefer a regime that allows a broad exemption for Catholic-affiliated hospitals, even if they employ nonadherents and serve the general public. Anything less, they argue, is an assault on their constitutional rights. To wit : “The federal government, which claims to be ‘of, by and for the people,’ has just dealt a heavy blow to almost a quarter of those people – the Catholic population – and to the millions more who are served by the Catholic faithful,” said Bishop Timothy A. McDonnell of Springfield, Mass., told his congregation on Sunday. “We cannot – we will not – comply with this unjust law.” Supporters of the administration argue two things. First is that...

A Second Term at All Costs

“I don't think American elections should be bankrolled by America's most powerful interests," President Barack Obama said during his 2010 State of the Union, staring down the six Supreme Court Justices in attendance. It was a week after the high court issued its decision on Citizens United . That landmark ruling—followed shortly by a D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals' decision in Speechnow.org v. Federal Elections Commission that removed the $5,000 donation limit for political-action committees (PACs)—led to the development of super PACs that can receive unlimited campaign donations as long as they do not directly coordinate with the candidates on messaging and ad creation. The president spent much of the following year bemoaning new routes for corporations to buy political influence in elections and investing his political capital in the DISCLOSE Act, a bill that would have instituted additional disclosure requirements but done little to stem the flow of unchecked money. The efforts were...

Wall Street's Third Party

(AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast, File)
(AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast, File) T his November, when Barack Obama faces off against his Republican opponent, there will be a third candidate in the race, too. This candidate has already qualified for the ballot in 14 states, including California. The campaign to ensure the candidate’s ballot access in all 50 states has raised $22 million (more than the campaigns of every Republican presidential candidate except Mitt Romney), with which it has employed 3,000 paid signature gatherers and enlisted 3,000 volunteers. This third candidate probably doesn’t have to do all that well to affect the outcome of the presidential election. Most polling shows that the general election will be close, both nationally and in a number of swing states. It takes no great imaginative leap to envision a scenario in which this third candidate tips a key state to Obama or his GOP opponent, much as Ralph Nader tipped Florida to George W. Bush in 2000. Only this time around, there’s one signal difference:...

What Santorum Means

With Rick Santorum’s Tuesday sweep in Colorado, Minnesota, and Missouri, the number of non-Romney “surges” in the GOP presidential contest now threatens to eclipse the number of debates. Pundits respond every time in competing choruses: the “It’s Not Over Yet!” song of jubilation, and the “Sorry, Mitt Is Still Inevitable” retort. It can be as tiresome as hearing Romney recite snatches of “America the Beautiful”—and it presents the campaign as a largely substance-free succession of stats and fundraising numbers and demographics. But the candidate who surprised everyone in the non-binding contests on Tuesday has, unlike the front-running Romney, based his campaign on big ideas —a bold plan to bring back manufacturing jobs and an ardent desire to rekindle the culture wars. As he showed again last night in Missouri, where he delivered one of the angriest and least-celebratory victory speeches in memory, Santorum is not competing on the basis of charisma and charm; his best moment was...

Maybe We Should Stop Talking about Media "Bias"

The Pew Research Center is out with one of its big reports about news use and politics, and as usual there's a lot of interesting stuff there, if this happens to be your thing. I want to point to one result, about perceptions of "bias" in the news. On one level, it's about what you'd expect: Republicans see a lot of bias in the news, particularly with Tea Party Republicans. That's because they're the most intense partisans, and they've spent 30 years marinating in an ideology that puts their oppression at the hands of a vicious liberal media at its center. But when Pew asked whether respondents prefer "news sources that have no point of view" or sources that "share your point of view," everybody agreed: 65 percent of Republicans, 71 percent of Democrats, and 71 percent of independents said that they liked sources that "have no point of view." Of course, there is no such thing as a news source that has no point of view. But it's pretty clear that to most people, "bias" means little...

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