Vox Pop

The Prospect's politics blog

Yes We Can ... Watch Something Else

Obama gave his 2012 State of the Union address last night, and all the eyes in the media and political world were tuned in. During the address, 766,681 SOTU-centric tweets were fired off , with 548 coming from inside the chamber. Despite the frenzy that takes over news rooms and congressional offices, the rest of the nation was more likely watching The Real Housewives of Atlanta or Wizards of Waverly Place . Ever since cable started competing with the networks for the hearts of the American public, ratings for primetime presidential addresses have plummeted, as shown by research conducted by Matthew A. Baum and Samuel Kernel of Harvard and the University of California, San Diego, respectively. Richard Nixon—not known for the most stirring rhetoric outside of defending questionable pet gifts—had 59 percent of households with televisions watch a routine press conference he gave in 1969. In 2010, Obama only had 41 percent of households watch him give the most important presidential...

The Case for Overconfidence

As we watch the Republican primary come down to a contest between (to caricature for a moment) a fight between the flip-flopping, wooden, private equity gazillionaire and the repellent, philandering, pompous influence-peddler, Democrats can't quite figure out who they want to win this race. On one hand, the path to Barack Obama beating Mitt Romney is absolutely clear: he's the candidate of the 1 percent whose lust for power will lead him to say anything to anyone. On the other hand, it's harder to tell what an anti-Newt Gingrich campaign would be like, since there are so many awful things about him to attack. But this makes me wonder: Is this how Republicans felt four years ago? As you'll recall, the 2008 Democratic primaries were pretty hard-fought. And I'm guessing that at least some Republicans looked on and said to themselves, we can't believe our luck. Either we'll face Hillary Clinton, whom we know everyone hates, or we'll face this neophyte black guy from Chicago whose middle...

Florida Kingmaker

AP Photo/Jae C. Hong
Each time Mitt Romney's campaign enters a tailspin, the former Massachusetts governor rolls out a major endorsement to right his establishment-approved ship. He announced Chris Christie's endorsement on the eve of a debate when Herman Cain was cresting in the polls, and last week he brought Bob McDonnell out to South Carolina in a last-ditch effort to rebut Gingrich's rising tide. Almost the entire roster of would-be vice-presidential nominees has been at Romney's beck and call. As Romney flounders in the latest Florida polls, now would be a prime opportunity for another red-carpet rollout of a big-name local surrogate. But Jeb Bush pulled back from an endorsement after apparently being on the edge of backing Romney. And the most pivotal potential supporter in the Sunshine State has split loyalties between Gingrich and Romney. Freshman Senator Marco Rubio could be the rare single endorsement that creates a discernable shift in election outcomes. He is one of the few politicians whose...

Politifact Gives Up on Actual Fact-Checking

I’ve written before about Politifact’s approach to fact-checking, which seems to swing between actual consideration of the facts and embarrassing attempts to curry favor with conservatives and establish “credibility.” Last night’s “ fact-check ” of President Barack Obama’s State of the Union falls into the former category. Here’s the line in question from last night’s speech: “In the last 22 months, businesses have created more than three million jobs. Last year, they created the most jobs since 2005.” Considering the depth of the recession, three million jobs isn’t good enough for a robust recovery, but there’s no doubt that this is a true statement. That, however, didn’t stop Politifact from labeling it “half-true.” Say what? In his remarks, Obama described the damage to the economy, including losing millions of jobs “before our policies were in full effect.” Then he describes the subsequent job increases, essentially taking credit for the job growth. But labor economists tell us...

To Know Mitt Is to Not Really Like Mitt

It's always good for political junkies to remind ourselves that the rest of the public doesn't think about politics nearly as much as we do, and therefore their opinions are far less rooted and far more likely to change with the arrival of new information. If you're a TAP reader, you had an opinion about Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich a year ago, and your opinion today is probably pretty much the same as it was then. It may have intensified a bit, and there may be new things you think of when you think of those two, but it's unlikely that you've shifted from disliking them to liking them, or vice-versa. But that's not the case for most Americans, who in recent months have been subjected to all kinds of new information about the Republican candidates. And guess what: they don't much like what they see. Take a gander at this new Washington Post/ABC News poll . Mitt Romney's unfavorable ratings have increased 15 points just in the last few weeks. He's now viewed unfavorably by 58 percent...

Try Again Next Time

AP Photo/APTN
The most you can say about Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels response to the State of the Union is that it was better than Bobby Jindal’s attempt in 2009. To be fair, responding to the State of the Union has never been an easy task. The president has the advantage of pomp, circumstance, and ritual. At best, the opposition party can present a simulacra of these things—see Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell’s response in 2010—and hope that the actual message is strong enough to reach viewers. The problem for Daniels is that the Republican message just isn’t very compelling. Other than its usual prescription—cut taxes on “job creators”, cut regulation, cut spending—the GOP doesn’t have a plan for the problems facing the economy. It has no interest in regulating Wall Street (and in fact, wants to return to the glory days of 2008), it has no interest in providing support for lower-income families, it has no interest in bolstering public services (other than the military), and it sees class...

Mitt and Newt: The More We See, the Less We Like

As the Gingrich-Romney cage match rages on into the spring, it’ll be increasingly tempting to grope for parallels with the epic Clinton-Obama clash of 2008. Will the eventual winner be “battle-tested” like Obama, a stronger candidate for having survived a slugfest, as some optimistic Republicans have argued ? If favorability ratings are any indication, the answer appears to be an emphatic “no.” The longer the race goes on, it seems, the more people realize that they can’t stand Mitt Romney—and they already knew they didn’t like Newt Gingrich. A new ABC News/Washington Post poll shows his favorability rating dropping to 31 percent—with 49 percent of Americans viewing him unfavorably—while 53 percent view President Obama favorably, up 5 points from a month ago. Gingrich isn’t exactly charming the masses, either; 51 percent view him unfavorably, and his favorable numbers are dropping. All of which points to a fundamental difference between the Obama vs. Clinton and Gingrich vs. Romney...

Other Things You Can Do with Rich People's Tax Dollars

On the heels of a State of the Union that promises to address income inequality and a broken tax system, National Journal reports on the Democratic plan to revive a surtax on annual incomes greater than a million dollars: Democratic members of a conference committee working on a long-term extension of a payroll-tax holiday and other programs will urge a surtax on incomes of more than a million dollars a year to pay for the bill when talks officially start today, said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., on Tuesday. It should be said that if Democrats are going to push a tax increase—even a popular one—they should aim to do a little more than just offset the cost of stimulus. Unemployment is still above 8 percent and the bond markets are happy to lend us money at historically low rates. Rather than offset the cost, we should just pay for the payroll-tax holiday with debt and use the funds raised by a millionaire’s tax to boost food stamps and unemployment insurance. Even better,...

Vermonters United

Sarah Harris Vermonters protest Citizen United outside the statehouse in Montpelier. “Hi. I’m Jerry. I’m a person,” said Jerry Greenfield, co-founder of Ben and Jerry’s Homemade Ice Cream, as he introduced himself to the crowd with an ingratiating smile. “Ben and Jerry’s Homemade Ice cream: not a person.” Everybody chuckled. A crowd at the Montpelier statehouse in Vermont rang in the second anniversary of Citizens United , a 2010 Supreme Court decision recognizing that corporations have free-speech rights under the First Amendment, with a rally on Friday. Retirees and college students, elected representatives, advocacy and business leaders, and ice-cream titan Greenfield gathered to call for a constitutional amendment repealing Citizens United and abolishing corporate personhood. The gathering was part of a series of events around the nation put on by groups like Public Citizen , Move to Amend , USPIRG , and others that are opposed to Citizens United . But the Montpelier rally had its...

Capital Games

AP Photo/Haraz N. Ghanbari
Mitt Romney has now disclosed that he paid only 14.5 percent of his reported income in federal income taxes in 2010. That’s no surprise. My group, Citizens for Tax Justice, predicted as much last fall, based on Romney’s previous disclosure that almost all of his 2010 income came from capital gains and dividends taxed at the low 15 percent top rate. Newt Gingrich insists that this is not fair. Touting his own “flat tax” proposal on January 17, Newt said, “I think we ought to rename our flat tax, we have a 15 percent flat tax, so this would be the ‘Mitt Romney flat tax.’ All Americans would pay the rate Mitt Romney paid. I think it’s terrific.” Putting aside the fact that Newt’s preposterous flat tax would slash federal revenues by $18 trillion over the next decade, there’s another noteworthy flaw in his argument. Gingrich’s actual “flat tax” proposal would cut Romney’s tax rate to zero (because it exempts all investment income from tax). With the two leading Republican presidential...

Mitt Romney's Entitlement Problem

Jamelle Bouie/The American Prospect Mitt Romney address a crowd in Columbia, South Carolina. Obviously, Mitt Romney’s tax returns are gold for the Obama campaign, which can accurately describe the former Massachusetts governor as emblematic of the extreme wealth disparities in the United States. His income of $20.9 million in 2011—nearly all of it from profits, dividends, or interest from investments—is a staggering amount of money. For context, as Bloomberg ’s Richard Rubin points out , “In 2008, according to the IRS, the median adjusted gross income was $33,048, which Romney made in less than a day.” Thanks to the Occupy movement—with the help of opportunistic politicians—income inequality is on the political agenda, and in this environment, immense wealth is a huge political liability. A smart candidate would use this fact and retool his message away from the glories of free-market capitalism and toward one that—at the very least—acknowledged that Americans were uncomfortable with...

None of the Above

Mitt Romney cruised through 2011 on the idea that he was the most electable conservative candidate. And, for the first two weeks of 2012, it looked as if he were about to prove it. He won a narrow victory in the conservative stronghold of Iowa and a landslide in the more moderate New Hampshire. But that’s when everything changed. Opponents began to question his record and his ideological bona fides, with attacks on his former company, Bain Capital, and his past as a moderate governor of Massachusetts. His victory in Iowa slipped away after a recount, and voters in South Carolina rejected him—by a double-digit margin—in favor of Newt Gingrich, a son of the South. More important, Romney handled himself poorly throughout, with a major fumble on the issue of his tax returns, and his low, low tax rate ( 13.9 percent on an income of $45 million, if you were wondering). In a little more than a week, Romney lost his lead in the Palmetto State, lost the state itself, and lost his lead in the...

All the Taxes Owed

AP Photo
Mitt Romney's reluctance to reveal his income and tax information received center-stage attention once again at last night's debate. After weeks of immense scrutiny and criticism from his opponents, Romney caved and agreed to release his tax returns from 2010 and the projections for his 2011 return. "I pay all the taxes owed. And not a penny more," Romney said at the debate. "I don't think we want someone running for president who pays more taxes than he owes." Thanks to leaks from Reuters , we now know Romney's exact figure: $6.2 million over the course of 2010 and 2011 . That's an unimaginable sum to most Americans, but it represents a pittance of Romney's annual earnings, which total more than $45 million over those two years. He paid an effective tax rate of just 13.9 percent last year, with the majority of his income taxed at the capital-gains rate of 15 percent. That's about the same level as a couple making less than $70,000 per year. To Romney's credit, he might not chip in...

Quiet Time

AP Photo/Paul Sancya
Whether intentionally or not, NBC News handicapped Newt Gingrich by asking the audience to stay quiet during the Republican presidential debate in Tampa, Florida. In South Carolina, the audience was a source of energy for Gingrich. With their whoops and hollers, they emboldened the former House speaker and cowed his competitors. By contrast, without an obvious sign of support from the crowd, Gingrich was surprisingly vulnerable to Mitt Romney’s attacks on his record. And as the candidate with the most to lose in Florida, Romney was relentless, aggressively pressing Gingrich on his ties to Freddie Mac. Here’s the exchange in full: Because there wasn’t an overall direction to Romney’s attacks, it’s hard to say that there was a knock-out moment. But in a state hard hit by the foreclosure crisis, it’s enough for Romney to raise the issue and present Gingrich as an inside man for an industry that ruined life for thousands of Floridians. What’s more, this exchange illustrated the extent to...

Romney's Plan B

The whuppin’ Mitt Romney took in South Carolina made one thing abundantly clear: The man desperately needs a new rationale for his candidacy. “Electability” doesn’t cut it when your own party starts rejecting you. And in a time of renewed class consciousness, neither does touting yourself as a grand master of private equity. “He can’t run for CEO any more,” writes Michael Walsh at NRO. So what can he run as? If his campaigning in Florida today was any indication, the Romney people have no answer as yet. At a rally in Ormond Beach, Romney went whole-hog negative against Gingrich. “We’re not choosing a talk show host, we’re choosing a leader,” Romney said, while denouncing Gingrich’s “failure” as House speaker and railing about his Freddie Mac lobbying gig . In Tampa, he labeled Gingrich “highly erratic.” Of course, there are millions of miles of bad Gingrich road to use as fodder for attacks. But will going all attack-dog make Romney a more appealing candidate? RedState’s Erick...

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