Jamelle Bouie

Democrats Answer the "Better Off" Question

CHARLOTTE, NORTH CAROLINA —At the same time that Democrats are celebrating the achievements of the last three-and-a-half years and preparing to renominate the president, Republicans are refocusing on the message of their convention—"Obama isn’t working." In particular, the GOP has resurrected the question of 1980 and 1992, which happen to be the two most recent times an incumbent president has lost reelection: “Are you better off than you were four years ago?” There’s no easy answer to this. If measured year-to-date, four years ago puts us in late 2008, before the economy slid into recession, and before that recession exploded into the greatest economic crisis since the Great Depression. The numbers were better then than they are now, but the trendline was far worse. If you measure from the time that Obama took office, however, it’s clear that the country is better off. We’ve gone from losing nearly a million jobs a month to gaining 150,000, and the economy is growing at a slow but...

Michelle Obama Hits a Home Run

CHARLOTTE, NORTH CAROLINA —Delegates were enthusiastic for every prime-time speaker at the Democratic National Convention last night. San Antonio mayor Julian Castro received big applause for his riff on opportunity—“My mother fought for civil rights, so that instead of a mop, I could hold this microphone”—and former Ohio Governor Ted Strickland won cheers for his harsh attacks on Mitt Romney’s “economic patriotism.” But for all of its excitement, the crowd saved its adulation for Michelle Obama’s closing message to tonight’s session of the convention. She was a superstar—delegations passed out “Michelle Obama” signs, attendees stood and clapped at every opportunity, and on several occasions, she was drowned out by the roar of the crowd. If you watched or listened to the speech, it’s not hard to understand the overwhelmingly positive reaction. Obama has grown into an extremely capable speaker—like Ann Romney, her tone was genuine, but with a steady firmness that’s reminiscent of more...

Ted Kennedy Returns to Troll Mitt Romney

Charlotte, North Carolina —So far, the most devastating moment of the first day of the Democratic National Convention has been the Ted Kennedy tribute video, which highlighted his commitment to health care reform and drew Barack Obama into a broader narrative of liberal progress. The devastating part, however, had almost nothing to do with Kennedy, and everything to do with Mitt Romney. In a brilliant move, the tribute included key parts from Kennedy’s 1994 Senate race against the then-candidate, and in particular, this now-famous line—“I’m pro-choice, my opponent is multiple choice.” Here’s the full video: In just over seven minutes, Democrats have honored a lion of American liberalism, and reinforced the image that Mitt Romney is utterly devoid of conviction. Not a bad first move.

The Man Who Wants to Beat Eric Cantor

Charlotte, North Carolina —So far, a large part of my time at the Democratic National Convention has involved talking to delegates other people on the street. Sometimes, they’re the usual attendees—party chairs, local officeholders, and well-connected activists. Every so often, however, you run into an actual candidate. This afternoon, I spoke to Wayne Powell, a Virginia Democrat who is running to unseat House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in the state’s 7th District, which extends down to Richmond. Powell, a small business owner and retired Army intelligence officer, thinks Cantor is too ambitious to effectively represent the district. “People are tired of not being listened to, not being attended to—he doesn’t return calls. Unless they’re his supporters or his contributors, he doesn’t have time for them,” says Powell. By contrast, he explains, “I’m a real representative—I don’t want to be speaker or leader of the House.” The 7th District is one of the more conservative areas of...

Romney Breaks Out of His Robotic Shell, Emerges as Generic Republican

If you tuned in to the Republican National Convention last night hoping to learn something about Mitt Romney, you probably came away satisfied. With a video highlighting his family and role as a father, his campaign did an excellent job of presenting the candidate's humanity. Romney himself added to the success, with a speech that went a long way toward reintroducing him as not just a cold automatron. He told the crowd that he grew up in "the middle of the century and the middle of the country"—a way of minimizing the distance between his incredibly privileged life and the more ordinary lives of almost everyone else—and he showed genuine emotion when telling the crowd about his parents. In particular, he shared a moving story about how his father used to leave a rose on his mother’s nightstand every evening, and she knew he had died when that flower was missing. It elicited genuine tears from Romney, and quick shots of the crowd proved he had made a connection—more than a few people...

Obama and the Two Virginias

(Jamelle Bouie)
(Jamelle Bouie) President Obama in Charlottesville, Virginia yesterday Well before President Obama arrived for his Wednesday rally in downtown Charlottesville, Virginia, local Tea Partiers had gathered to protest his event and promise an end to his tyrannical administration. Assembled in the nearest open space—a park set adjacent to downtown—and with a massive equestrian statue of Robert E. Lee as their backdrop, they denounced Obama’s record with fighting words. “The spirit of resistance to government is so valuable on certain occasions, that I wish it to be always kept alive,” said Republican state Delegate Rob Bell, quoting Thomas Jefferson’s famous letter to Abigail Adams. “It will often be exercised when wrong, but better so than not to be exercised at all. I like a little rebellion now and then.” Bishop E.W. Jackson, a black Tea Party activist and cable news commentator who lost a longshot campaign for the U.S. Senate nomination this year, attacked Obama for … everything. In his...

Chris Christie's Dark Vision for America

(AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
(AP Photo/Charles Dharapak) New Jersey Governor Chris Christie addresses the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla. on Tuesday, Aug. 28, 2012. Ann Romney’s speech to the Republican National Convention was supposed to be about love—the love she has for husband, and the love they hope they can share and show to the country. It was a nice riff, and would have been a great way to the end the night. Instead, it was the warm-up to New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who had a different message : Forget love, the only thing that matters is respect . “I believe we have become paralyzed by our desire to be loved,” said Christie, urging Republicans—and voters—to abandon the search for a candidate they like and instead choose someone who would get things done. What’s odd is that this wasn’t a pitch for Mitt Romney. The former Massachusetts governor didn’t make an appearance until late in the speech, and even then, he was presented in terms ludicrous to anyone with even a cursory knowledge...

Mitt in the Mud

(AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
(AP Photo/Evan Vucci) Mitt Romney gives a thumbs up as he leaves Brewster Academy after finishing convention preparations yesterday. In an interview with USA Today this weekend, Mitt Romney attacked President Obama for running a “sad” and “vituperative” campaign. He accused the president of channeling negativity and trying to tarnish the former Massachusetts governor's image with voters rather than debate the issues. The attacks on Bain Capital, the insinuations about his tax returns—they’re tactics to avoid discussing the weak economy. This is what you would expect an opposing candidate to say, but that doesn’t make it any less potent as a message. Voters always say they are tired of negative campaigning, and candidates who brand themselves as “positive” can capitalize on that fact—even as they themselves run negative ads (cf. Obama, 2008). Which is why Romney should be worried by his low standing with voters. In the interview, he dismisses the idea that voters will decide on the...

Romney's Birther "Joke" Wasn't a Joke.

This afternoon, while campaigning in Michigan, Mitt Romney made a little joke about President Obama’s birth certificate: Here’s the text: I love being home, in this place where Ann and I were raised. Where both of us were born … No one’s ever asked to see my birth certificate. They know that this is the place that we were born and raised. Here’s the Obama campaign’s response: Throughout this campaign, Governor Romney has embraced the most strident voices in his party instead of standing up to them. It’s one thing to give the stage in Tampa to Donald Trump, Sheriff Arpaio, and Kris Kobach. But Governor Romney’s decision to directly enlist himself in the birther movement should give pause to any rational voter across America. Naturally, Team Romney is trying to stop this from becoming a national story, and the campaign has offered a variety of excuses why Romney made the joke. My favorite comes from Romney advisor Kevin Madden. “The governor has always said, and has repeatedly said, he...

Racism Plays a Big Part in our Politics. Period.

(AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
If you haven’t read it, Ta-Nehisi Coates has a fantastic essay on Barack Obama’s relationship to race and racism in the latest issue of The Atlantic . There’s too much to quote, but this paragraph captures the thesis: In a democracy, so the saying goes, the people get the government they deserve. Part of Obama’s genius is a remarkable ability to soothe race consciousness among whites. Any black person who’s worked in the professional world is well acquainted with this trick. But never has it been practiced at such a high level, and never have its limits been so obviously exposed. This need to talk in dulcet tones, to never be angry regardless of the offense, bespeaks a strange and compromised integration indeed, revealing a country so infantile that it can countenance white acceptance of blacks only when they meet an Al Roker standard. The power and symbolism of Obama’s election is compromised by the extent to which his presidency has been shaped by white expectations and white racism...

Bill Clinton Strikes Again!

(White House/Flickr)
For most of the campaign, the biggest booster of former President Bill Clinton was Mitt Romney. After a year of pandering to the right wing of the Republican Party, Romney needed something that would signal moderation and tap into the broad frustration with President Obama’s administration. Popular at home and abroad, Clinton reminded Americans of better times. And despite the fact that Obama drew heavily from the Clinton administration, Romney used the poor economic conditions to argue that Obama had strayed from the Clinton path. Obama, he argued , “tucked away the Clinton doctrine in his large drawer of discarded ideas, along with transparency and bipartisanship.” The implication, of course, is that Romney will return the “Clinton doctrine” to its rightful place. Indeed, that rhetoric has been on full display for the last month, with Romney hammering Obama for “gutting” welfare. Yes, this never happened , but the point isn’t to tell the truth—if honesty were important to Romney, he...

The Tax Returns are Hurting Romney, Badly

I didn’t mention this in my previous post, but in addition to the aforementioned questions, NBC News and the Wall Street Journal asked respondents about the recent controversies over Bain Capital and Mitt Romney’s tax returns to gage whether they affected support for the Republican nominee. Neither result was good. Here’s the first question: Has what you have seen, read, or heard about Mitt Romney’s previous business experience managing a firm that specializes in buying, restructuring, and selling companies made you feel … more positive or more negative about him, not made much difference in your opinion or do you not know enough about this to have an opinion at this time? Twenty-five percent said it made them feel more positive, 28 percent more negative, and 27 percent said it made no difference. When you remember that Romney has made this his chief qualification for the presidency, it speaks to the failure of his campaign to effectively rebut the charges. At best, Bain Capital is a...

Paul Ryan Is Way More Anti-Abortion Than You Thought

(Speaker Boehner/Flickr)
Since the Todd Akin affair entered the national conversation, many commentators—myself included—have noted the extent to which Akin’s views are in line with the mainstream of the Republican Party, and nearly identical to ones held by Paul Ryan, the GOP vice presidential nominee. This video, unearthed by Buzzfeed’s Andrew Kaczynski, illustrates the point. In it, a younger Ryan denounces a women’s health provision that was included in a bill to ban “partial-birth” abortion. Exceptions to the ban, he argues, would make it “meaningless”: If you live in a swing state, don’t be surprised if this video appears with a short endorsement from President Obama. More seriously, if there’s anything that places you on the radical end of the abortion debate, it’s opposition to measures meant to save mothers from dying as a result of pregnancies gone wrong. Indeed, this is actually the least of Ryan’s anti-abortion extremism. During his 12-year career in the House of Representatives, Ryan has endorsed...

Why Is Romney Still Behind?

So far in his campaign for the presidency, Mitt Romney has had four big chances to move the needle in his direction. At the beginning, when he won the Republican nomination; during June, when it became clear that the economy was slowing down; last month, when he went abroad; and two weekends ago, when he chose Wisconsin Representative Paul Ryan as his running mate. In no case did he see a meaningful boost. Consolidating Republicans behind his candidacy garnered him a 45 percent vote share—the floor for either the Democratic or Republican nominee—and choosing Ryan as his running mate gave him a boost of one percentage point—four points below the median vice-presidential bump. Here is what the race has looked like since April , when the general election began in earnest: For all the gaffes and controversies, nothing has changed. President Obama continues to hold a small but steady lead over Romney, and Romney remains unable to break past the 45-percent threshold. The latest poll from...

Republicans Are Leaving Gains on the Table

In addition to endorsing a complete ban on abortion through constitutional amendment, the Republican Party platform will also include opposition to same-sex marriage, reports the Washington Post : Barbara Ann Fenton of Rhode Island suggested that the 112 members of the GOP platform committee endorse new language that would call for religions to define marriage in their own way but allow government to offer civil unions to both heterosexual and homosexual couples. […] Other delegates said support for traditional marriage is a bedrock Republican principle. “Government extends benefits to marriage because marriage benefits society,” said Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council and a delegate from Louisiana. “It benefits children, which in turn benefits society.” One of the obstacles facing President Obama as he runs for reelection is his middling approval with young voters. They formed the bedrock of his volunteers and supported him by large margins in 2008, but have been...

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