United States presidential election

Letting the Right People Vote

(Flickr/Bettina Neufeind)

For some years, the Republican party has tried to convince Americans that they have put their ugly legacy on issues of race behind them, that Richard Nixon's "Southern Strategy" and Willie Horton have no relationship to the GOP of today. They call themselves the "party of Lincoln," hoping people will forget that the Republican and Democratic parties were very different in 1864 than they are today. (Consider: If the likes of John Boehner, Mitch McConnell, Rush Limbaugh, Sarah Palin, and the rest of the leading lights of the GOP had been alive 150 years ago, which side would they have been on? The answer seems pretty obvious.) Sometimes, they may even go as far as the National Review did recently, publishing an unintentionally hilarious cover article claiming that Republicans are the real civil rights heroes, because the Democratic party was once home to white Southern segregationists, so there! Never mind that those folks, like Strom Thurmond and Jesse Helms, eventually found their rightful home in the Republican party, as part of the realignment process that gave us the parties of today.

The protestations would be a little more convincing if every election–every election, without fail–didn't see Republicans searching for new ways to exploit white racial animus and, more importantly, keep minorities from voting. This year's election will be no different; Republicans are working harder than ever to make sure that if you're not their kind of person, you will find voting as difficult as possible. That doesn't mean that deep in their hearts Republicans are racists. It isn't about hate. It's about power.

Mitt Romney's Howard Dean Strategy

Flickr/John P. Hoke

In March 2003, a then fairly obscure former Vermont governor and presidential candidate named Howard Dean stood up in front of a meeting of the California Democratic Party, opened his speech by criticizing the timidity and fearfulness of Democrats in Washington, and said to hearty cheers, "I'm Howard Dean, and I'm here to represent the Democratic wing of the Democratic party!" Rank-and-file Democrats were amazed and excited. Dean perfectly captured their frustration with national leaders whom they felt were wimps and capitulators, failing to stand up to a Republican president whom they disliked more than any other in their lifetimes.

In short order Dean became the candidate of the most partisan Democrats, and the news media portrayed him as some kind of wild-eyed liberal busting into the race from the extreme fringe. But the truth was that Dean was actually a moderate Democrat. He had opposed the Iraq War from the start, that was true. But he had also been endorsed by the National Rifle Association, and generally cut a profile in Vermont as a pragmatic center-left governor. Voters and reporters mistook his pugnacious style for a policy liberalism that wasn't really there, or at least wasn't any different from any of the establishment candidates against whom he ran.

I don't know whether or not they were inspired by Dean's story, but Mitt Romney and his advisors seem to have figured out that in this model there lies the key to securing the conservative base of the GOP that has distrusted Romney for so long.

The Wisconsin Recall Won't Determine the Presidential Race


There's no question the stakes of the Wisconsin recall are high. As I wrote last week, if Governor Scott Walker survives the election next week—no matter how slim the margin—he's likely to claim a mandate. Since he's already a rock star among conservatives and anti-union activists, Walker would be in a good position to push further right. If he loses, it gives the labor movement one of its biggest victories in years.

However, the fate of Wisconsin is unlikely to determine the fate of the presidential election. It may not even determine the presidential race in Wisconsin.

The "Vetting" Obsession

(AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

When the Washington Post story about Mitt Romney's high school years (including forcibly cutting the hair of a student whose commitment to conformism was insufficiently vigorous) came out, leading Republicans were fairly quiet about it. Whether the incident happened or not, they said, it tells us virtually nothing about the man Romney is today and the issues at stake in this election. That's a perfectly reasonable argument, but it isn't the one you would have heard from many of the foot soldiers in the Republican base. Among the troops, there was outrage, not so much about the Romney story, but about what they saw as a double-standard. As one emailed me after I wrote a piece on the topic, "I saw your article on CNN. When does the vetting of President Obama begin? Have you delved into his past? The next time I read an article about a young Barrack [sic] Obama will be the first."

As I replied to this person, there were hundreds, maybe thousands of articles written in 2008 (and since) about Barack Obama's youth. He even wrote a pretty frank book about it himself, before he ever became a politician. If you think he wasn't "vetted" you weren't paying attention. But there are millions of conservatives who believe precisely that, and as we approach Obama's possible re-election, with an extremely busy and consequential first term almost behind us, the obsession with his allegedly hidden past only grows.

High-Ranking Crazy

Arizona Secretary of State and certified nutball Ken Bennett

Astute readers may have noticed that over the past year or so, I've made an effort not to be too knee-jerk about my partisanship. Not that I've changed my beliefs about any substantive issues lately, but I've tried to be as thoughtful as I can about people on the other side, whether it's conservative writers or conservative politicians. I don't always succeed (the occasional insult still filters through now and then), but I'm doing my best. And I understand that writing about how the other side is evil can be satisfying. It's also popular; I've written or co-written four books, and the most partisan one sold the most, even though it's not a book I'd have much appetite to write again.

That being said, there are times when it isn't enough to say that conservatives are wrong about a particular matter. Being truthful requires saying that many of them are, in fact, nuts.

Rich People: Not That Smart

Previously unseen video of shadowy character nobody has ever heard of.

Most of us would agree that Citizens United has been bad for democracy, with corporations and wealthy people now permitted to spend as much as they want to buy the kind of representatives they prefer. But there is one factor that we didn't really anticipate, something that mitigates the harm they can do: it turns out that rich people aren't necessarily that smart with their money.

So during the presidential primaries, casino mogul Sheldon Adelson spent $16.5 million to help out the campaign of Newt Gingrich, whom you might have noticed is not the GOP nominee. And in today's New York Times, we get an interesting story about Joe Ricketts, the founder of TD Ameritrade, who is preparing to spend $10 million to defeat Barack Obama. And what is the magic bullet Mr. Ricketts has located, the zinger that will bring down this incumbent president? Jeremiah Wright! Seriously. Jamelle discussed the racial aspect of this story, but I equally interesting is just how naive this demonstrates that influential people can be. Ricketts is going to spend all that money to "Show the world how Barack Obama's opinions of America and the world were formed...And why the influence of that misguided mentor and our president's formative years among left-wing intellectuals has brought our country to its knees." In other words, just about the same thing you could hear every day by listening to Glenn Beck's radio show or tuning in to Fox News.

Big Sky's the Limit

(AP/Andrea Helling)

Montana knows all about buying elections. In 1899, just ten years after it became a state, William Andrews Clark, known as the Copper King, spent an estimated $400,000—the equivalent of $11 million today—to buy the votes of state legislators to send him to the United States Senate. After a lengthy investigation, Clark resigned before the Senate could boot him out. The scandal turned from shocking to farcical when Clark, who bragged that he “never bought a man who wasn’t for sale,” returned to Montana and the lieutenant governor reappointed him to the position from which he’d just been removed.

Mitt Romney Reads Rob Portman's Amazon Reviews

Not whom Mitt Romney will pick as his running mate. (Flickr/Marc Nozell)

I don't know about you, but when I have to make a large consumer decision — pretty much anything over $100 — I put way too much thought into it. This is partly the curse of the internet, where there is a near-infinite amount of information available about everything. So I read a million reviews, obsessing over every detail, trying in vain to weigh the advantages and disadvantages of every conceivable feature, eventually reaching a point where every option seems like the wrong one and I'm sure I'll be disappointed no matter what I choose. The last time I bought a smartphone it took me about six months.

I suspect that Mitt Romney is going through something similar right about now. Romney is a famously methodical thinker, and I picture him with a 10-page pro/con list for every possible vice-presidential candidate, going over and over them all until none of them looks like a winner. All his options have weaknesses, and none of them seems to have the ability to do anything but make Romney look bad for having chosen them...

An Evolution Too Little, Too Late?

Obama still has a chance to lead on LGBT rights—if he takes it.

(AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)


Last June, President Obama was pressed at a news conference on how his famous “evolution” on marriage equality was coming along. "I'll keep on giving you the same answer until I give you a different one," he said. It was another in a long line of wink-wink statements indicating that the president’s stated opposition to same-sex marriage was shifting. Everybody knew the “different answer” was coming—just not when. Now we know.

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 . . ."

Dreams from My President

Every 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.

By All Means, Politicize the Bin Laden Killing

Pete Souza/The White House

Imagine that you called a carpenter to come repair your deck, and after looking at the rotted timbers and split rails, he said, "Well, I can fix this deck. But the one thing I'm not going to do is come over here and engage in a bunch of carpentry. That would be wrong."

You'd probably suspect that the carpenter was insane. Yet politicians and their campaign advisers–people for whom politics is a profession no less than carpentry is the carpenter's profession–are constantly complaining that their opponents are engaged in "politics," or are committing the horrible sin of "politicizing" something that shouldn't be political.

So it was when Barack Obama's re-election campaign took the opportunity of the one-year anniversary of the killing of Osama Bin Laden to remind voters who was president when it happened...

The Bin Laden Question

(Phillip Stearns/Flickr)

As Washington debates the (not particularly vital) question of whether it’s fair that President Obama claims credit for the killing of Osama bin Laden, it’s worth asking a single question—if the shoe were on the other foot, and President John McCain had issued the order to kill bin Laden, would Republicans hold to their current position, and insist that it wasn’t fair game for an election? Would Democrats continue tout its place on the president’s resume?

Cool Kids Versus Squares, Continued

Now that's cool.

Yesterday, I wrote a post looking at an ad aired by GOP uber-super-PAC American Crossroads that went after Barack Obama for being a "celebrity" and doing things like going on Jimmy Fallon's television show. I argued that it looked like once again we are in for a renewal of the old battles that started in the 1960s between the squares and the cool kids (or, depending on the historical moment, the jocks and the hippies). In the course of my post, I talked about Barack Obama's image of "cool," which he certainly works to cultivate. I'm hardly the first person to note this about Obama, and I didn't actually say anything about whether coolness makes one a good president. Nevertheless, Matt Welch at Reason seemed positively outraged, enough to illustrate his post responding to mine with a giant picture of me (great!) and accuse me of arguing something I didn't actually argue (not so great). Here's what he had to say...

The Campaign to Defeat Barack Obama, Focused Largely in Wisconsin

A 2009 Tea Party rally in Madison protesting then-Governor Jim Doyle. (Flickr/cometstarmoon)

Based on emails from the Campaign to Defeat Barack Obama, the Tea Party-affiliated political action committee seems more like the Campaign to Support Scott Walker. Daily—sometimes multiple times a day—the organization sounds out emails blasting the move to recall Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker. 

The emails don't mince words. An April 15 email (subject line: Fox News + Wall Street Journal ALERT) tells subscribers that "If Obama's operatives and the union bosses win, they will export their tactic of million-dollar funded RECALLs against Republican governors across the country, and they will likely win Wisconsin's 10 Electoral Votes for Obama in November."