Vox Pop

The Prospect's politics blog

The Problem with Right to Work

One of the things to pay attention to in Mitt Romney’s latest South Carolina ad is his implicit defense of the state’s “right to work” law, which makes it more difficult for unions to organize. “The National Labor Relations Board, now stacked with union stooges selected by the president, says to a free enterprise like Boeing, ‘You can’t build a factory in South Carolina because South Carolina is a Right to Work state,’” Romney says in the ad. “That is simply un-American. It is political payback of the worst kind.” Combine this with his attack on President Obama as a “crony capitalist,” and I wouldn’t be surprised to see Romney tout right-to-work laws as part of his strategy for reviving the economy. The problem, of course, is that said laws do nothing of the sort. The Economic Policy Institute has a great primer on the actual effect of right-to-work laws on workers, wages, and employment. On the whole, RTW laws “reduce wages by $1,500 a year, for both union and nonunion workers”; “...

Romney's Pitch to the Palmetto State

This afternoon, Mitt Romney kicks off the South Carolina leg of his campaign with an event in Charleston, where he’ll join Governor Nikki Haley and a host of supporters. Given the extent to which the state is defined by its deep conservatism, Romney isn’t in the best position; his moderate reputation makes him an easy target for attacks from the right. But, if his newest TV ad is any indication, Romney plans to get around that with a straightforward pitch on the economy, targeted toward conservative frustration with the National Labor Relations Board, and the fight to open a Boeing plant in the Palmetto State. Take a look: This has been airing with some regularity since yesterday, when it debuted. With the attacks on “union stooges” and the declaration that the president’s economic policies are guided by politics, Romney is hoping to tap into conservative anti-union sentiment and the state’s strong disdain for Obama. What’s more, it could work. South Carolina prides itself on being...

Attacking Mitt Romney

It looks increasingly likely that Mitt Romney will be the Republican nominee for president, so the Obama campaign needs to decide just how they are going to eviscerate him. As the New York Times asks , "Do they go the out-of-touch, protector-of-Wall-Street route or the flip-flopper route?" The consensus from the smart people they talked to seems to be that painting Romney as overly conservative is the way to go. Of course, Romney can't be both an extremist ideologue and a craven opportunist who'll say or do anything. Either he has the wrong values, or he has no values -- one or the other. Kevin Drum makes an interesting point, however: "The fact is that Romney has reserved almost all of his most extreme rhetoric for laughably over-the-top denunciations of Barack Obama, and that's not really a problem for him. By contrast, most of his issue positions have remained relatively tolerable. The truth is that Romney is unusually well positioned to moderate his image by summer, which is when...

What Happens in the One Percent, Stays in the One Percent

Despite conservatives' denials about income inequality and the validity of the Occupy movement's mission, recent surveys show that the protest's rallying cry—"We are the 99 percent"—strikes a chord with many Americans. The economic mobility that once seemed a basic feature of American life has faded away; the U.S. now stands behind Denmark, Canada, and Britain, among others, when it comes to social mobility— 62 percent of Americans born into the top two-fifths of the income distribution stay in that bracket, a far larger sum than in Britain (30 percent). The middle class retains a far higher degree of mobility—about 36 percent of Americans raised in the middle-fifth move up as adults—but people at either end of the economic spectrum are unlikely to budge. The Latest Eurozone's Phoney War will be Short-Lived The Guardian Obama to Unveil Austere Pentagon Strategy The Washington Post Cordray Appointment Activates Full Powers of New Consumer Bureau Bloomberg Businessweek A Less Dismal...

Republican Roulette

Even on past occasions when the result of the Iowa caucuses appeared to be an aberration—and whether eight votes divides relevance from irrelevance this year remains to be seen—it has set the tenor of the subsequent campaign. Four years ago, both Democrats and Republicans had a sense of voting for something (which itself was an aberration), with Mike Huckabee and Barack Obama representing the prospect of new national possibilities to different people in different ways. It’s hard to imagine how Tuesday’s result could establish more viscerally the sense of people voting against something. For the last six months, Republican Presidential Candidates Not Named Romney have played an electoral version of Russian roulette, one after another spinning the chamber and blowing him- or herself away until Senator Santorum was left alone holding the gun, corpses strewn before him. There has been about the nomination race so far the quality of a Dark Ages ritual for choosing a king, while lacking the...

The Clean-Election State

While officials in other states struggled to balance their budgets in 2011, Governor Dannel Malloy and the Connecticut General Assembly closed a deficit of historic proportions one month early, agreeing on a mix of tax hikes and union concessions. That topped a list of unmatched legislative accomplishments: Connecticut passed in-state tuition for illegal immigrants, a transgender-rights bill, a major genetic research initiative, a bipartisan job-growth package, and the nation’s first paid sick-leave mandate. In a year of reactionary politics and partisan gridlock nationwide, what made Connecticut so different? One-party control over both the governor’s office and the legislature for the first time in 21 years played a role. But the secret behind the Democrats’ success was sweeping campaign-finance reform enacted six years earlier. Reeling from the embarrassment of a corruption scandal that landed a governor in federal prison, Connecticut legislators grabbed the national spotlight in...

Paul Revolutionaries

ADEL, IOWA —Caucus chair Jon McAvoy faced an awkward situation right before his townsfolk were set to vote. Surrogates for each candidate—save still-on-the-ballot Herman Cain and Iowa absentee Jon Huntsman—had stepped up to the microphone for one final pitch. Michele Bachmann’s campaign had sent some star power in the form of her 21-year-old daughter Elisa; though her mom faded fast and left the race the following day, the younger Bachmann won praise for her eloquence from the caucus voters. She was the closet thing to a celebrity at this site 23 miles west from the heart of downtown Des Moines, with locals stumping for the other candidates. McAvoy introduced each of the speakers, an easy task when it came time for Perry: McAvoy was that designated supporter. The proceedings went in alphabetical order, so a Rick Santorum supporter would be the final one to pitch his man before the vote began. But when McAvoy called Santorum's representative forward, he was met by silence. A few...

Earning Their Hatred

Thank God for elections and election years. An election gives our president, who must face the voters in November, permission to think and act like a partisan. It’s long overdue. President Obama has boldly made key recess appointments to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) and to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). The Republican strategy has been to destroy these agencies by failing to confirm appointees. In the case of the new CFPB, that meant nobody in charge to make key decisions to make the new bureau operational. In the case of the NLRB, it meant the lack of a quorum would paralyze the agency altogether. In naming Richard Cordray to head the CFPB, the president has called the Republicans’ bluff. This was the agency that Elizabeth Warren invented and dearly hoped to lead. Republicans made clear they would block her appointment. When Obama passed her over in favor of the less-well-known Cordray, former Ohio Attorney General and also a strong consumer advocate,...

The Enthusiasm Gap

The most important number on Tuesday night in Iowa wasn’t eight—the miniscule margin by which Mitt Romney edged out Rick Santorum for first place. It was 3,255 —the negligible estimated increase in turnout over the 2008 GOP caucuses. Given the sizable number of independents — 23 percent of the total —who showed up to (mostly) vote for third-place finisher Ron Paul, it looks like fewer Iowa Republicans actually voted this year. To say the least, this complicates one of the most popular story lines about 2012—that Republicans are simply wild to unseat President Barack Obama and that the Democrats are facing a serious “enthusiasm gap” against their fired-up foes. (In fact, a Gallup poll in December already began to puncture this myth.) In 2008, the Democratic caucuses in Iowa attracted 239,000 voters, almost twice the number as in 2004—a portent of the rising tide that would lift Obama to the White House ten months later. Of course, the Democrats had three candidates that year (Obama,...

The Wrath of Newt

AP Photo/Eric Gay
Concord, New Hampshire— As the wrath of Achilles was kindled by the slaying of his best friend Patroclus, so the wrath of Newt Gingrich has been set ablaze by the slaying of his own best friend—his ego. Finishing a distant fourth not just to Mitt Romney but also to Rick Santorum and Ron Paul, after Romney’s Super PAC had run a brutal ad campaign against him, Gingrich was fairly blazing in his concession speech last night in Iowa. He not only declined to congratulate Romney but attacked him and his ads, making clear that he’d hang in the race if only to bring Romney down. It was a more subdued and tired-looking Newt who came before a group of college students and then answered questions from reporters this morning in Concord. What was striking about his first appearance was his lack of interest in creating any rapport between himself and the students. What Newt delivered was a lecture, not a speech, on the duties of citizenship as he saw them, which consist chiefly of the duty to...

It's the Flop that Kills

One of the things that might not be immediately clear about Iowa is the extent to which it complicates Mitt Romney's general-election campaign, if he’s the nominee. After all, it’s clear that his strategy relies on a shift back to the center, where he’ll run on his record as governor of Massachusetts. For this to work, however, Romney needs to avoid the kind of right-wing rhetoric that defines candidates like Rick Perry and Newt Gingrich, which in turn, requires a quick and decisive path to the nomination, where he can avoid outsized commitments to right-wing priorities. If Romney had walked away from Iowa with a decisive win, this wouldn’t be a concern. But the fact is that Iowa underscored the extent to which he is unpopular with the right-wing of the Republican Party, even if they’re willing to support him (which they will, eventually). In all likelihood, Romney will have to shore up the right flank of his campaign with a renewed emphasis on conservative rhetoric and a promise to...

Bye Bye Bachmann

AP Photo/Chris Carlson
WEST DES MOINES, IOWA —Less than 12 hours ago, Michele Bachmann seemed determined to prove all the haters wrong and vowed to waste the next several weeks of her life in South Carolina. Turns out it was all a ruse to gather the media for one last headline-grabbing event. Bachmann announced that she would suspend her presidential campaign this morning at the Marriott in west Des Moines. For the first time in her career, Bachmann seemed to have landed on planet Earth. "Last night, the people of Iowa spoke with a very clear voice, so I have decided to stand aside," she said. Boy, they sure were clear. She came in second to last, just ahead of Jon Huntsman, who drew 5 percent of the vote. That equals 6,073 votes, only a slight increase from the 4,823 people who supported her at the Ames Straw Poll in early August. Back then it looked as if Bachmann could threaten Mitt Romney for the GOP nomination. But the entry of Rick Perry into the race stole her momentum, and she never recovered. Her...

Bachmann Leaves, Perry Stays, and Gingrich Goes in for the Kill

After a disappointing sixth-place finish in the Iowa caucuses, Congresswoman Michele Bachmann—who won the Ames Straw Poll last summer—has suspended her campaign for the Republican presidential nomination. “I have no regrets, none whatsoever,” she told the media, saying “I look forward to the next chapter in God’s plan” adding that Republicans “must rally around the person that our country, and our party, and our people decide to be the standardbearer.” Rick Perry, who placed fifth in Iowa, was poised to suspend his bid for the presidency; last night, he announced a return to Texas to re-evaluate his campaign. If recent news is any indication, it didn’t take long for the governor to set a course; according to the campaign , Perry plans to continue with a renewed commitment to South Carolina. Even still, by floating a possible end to his candidacy, it’s likely that he’s harmed his standing with Republicans in the state. As for the other candidates—Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul, Rick Santorum...

This Time, It's Personal

Every candidate knows what you're supposed to say when you come out to speak to your supporters after a loss. This was a great effort! I'm so proud of everyone who worked so hard! Whatever happens, our fight for the things we believe in goes on! As trite as it may be, having been repeated so many times, it actually does make the staffers, volunteers, and supporters feel a little bit better. But Newt Gingrich is no ordinary candidate. So after coming in a distant fourth place in the Iowa caucuses, he emerged swinging . He said he was "drowned in negativity," and that the negative ads targeted at him were "shameful." He attacked Ron Paul, saying his views are "stunningly dangerous for the survival of the United States." He called Mitt Romney a "Massachusetts moderate" (horrors!) who "would be pretty good at managing the decay" but won't change Washington. He also said that while he won't run "nasty ads," "I do reserve the right to tell the truth. And if the truth seems negative, that...

Bernanke's Burn Book

Fed Chair Ben Bernanke has decided to release senior officials' short-term interest-rate forecasts, opening a window into the collective mind of the Federal Reserve. The forecasts will be released after the next meeting of the Federal Open Market Committee on January 25. It will include forecasts for the "likely timing" of the first hike of the federal funds target rate and "qualitative information" on the Reserve's war chest of bonds and securities. The Fed likely hopes that by releasing this data, it can encourage much-needed economic growth by guiding investors' expectations and staving off worries about interest-rate changes. Many economists are cheering the transparency of this move, but some—including those who didn't vote for the change of policy on the board—think that publishing forecasts could confuse instead of educate the public and that the Federal Reserve's forecasts are often no more accurate than its peers'. “You run the risk of every other forecaster, and that is of...

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