Jamelle Bouie

The Public Is Polarized on Obama and the Economy

(White House/Flickr)
For all the focus on head-to-head matchups between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, the important number, right now, is the president’s job approval. According to the latest poll from NBC News and The Wall Street Journal , 49 percent of Americans approve of Obama’s performance, while 46 percent disapprove. Overall, according to the Real Clear Politics average, Obama holds an approval rating of 47.4 percent and a disapproval rating of 47.1 percent. There’s room for growth, but not much. Still, that would be OK if not for the president’s numbers on the economy and his handling thereof. According to NBC News and T he Wall Street Journal , 59 percent of Americans believe that the country is on the wrong track, a bad number, but nowhere near as terrible as last October, when 74 percent believed that everything was falling to pieces. Likewise, more Americans saw Mitt Romney rather than Obama as having ideas to improve the economy. If there’s anything good for the president, it comes by way of...

Mendacious Mitt Strikes Again!

(Jamelle Bouie/The American Prospect)
I’ve spoken before about the constant torrent of dishonesty from the Romney campaign. From the small issues (tax returns) to the big ones (Obama’s “apology tour”), Romney and his team have routinely lied to make a point or build a case. When it comes to the economy, for example, the Romney team takes every job lost in 2009, regardless of whether Obama’s policies were in effect or not, and attributes it to the president. It’s a distorted number—he claims two million lost jobs —designed to mislead voters with a false picture of the economy. The Romney campaign has been criticized — repeatedly —for this misleading approach to economic numbers, but like a child that acts out in class, this has only encouraged their misbehavior. To wit, the Romney team now claims that the number of new business start-ups has declined by 100,000 as a result of Obama’s policies. As with the jobs number, this is only possible if you include the period of beginning in 2008 and ending in early 2009. If you take...

Note to GOP: Grow Up

(Flickr/DonkeyHokey)
I’ve grown so used to dismissing Tom Friedman’s work for The New York Times that when he writes something genuinely good , it comes as a surprise. To wit, in his column for the Sunday paper, he aruges that our political system has devolved into a “vetocracy”—a system where “no one can aggregate enough power to make any important decisions at all.” The culprits, according to Friedman, are polarization, broken institutional norms—in particular, filibuster abuse—the massive proliferation of special interests, and the growing importance of money in politics. The ultimate outcome of this, says Friedman, is governmental paralysis: America’s collection of minority special-interest groups is now bigger, more mobilized and richer than ever, while all the mechanisms to enforce the will of the majority are weaker than ever. The effect of this is either legislative paralysis or suboptimal, Rube Goldberg-esque, patched-together-compromises, often made in response to crises with no due diligence...

Playing "What If" with Health-Care Reform

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Like almost every Democrat with claims to being a moderate, outgoing Virginia Senator Jim Webb doesn’t seem to understand that partisan politics are zero-sum: What happened in the end, Webb said, “was five different congressional committees voted out their version of health-care reform, and so you had 7,000 pages of contradictory information. Everybody got confused. … From that point forward, Obama’s had a difficult time selling himself as a decisive leader.” Webb also said that if Obama had opted for a smaller measure, he would have stood a chance of winning the support of a significant number of Republicans on Capitol Hill. I have no doubt that Senator Webb maintains cordial relations with his GOP colleagues in the Senate; regardless, it’s simply true that Republicans were opposed to advancing a health-care bill of any size, even after Democrats floated a smaller, compromise bill following Scott Brown’s win in Massachusetts. It’s not hard to see why; a bipartisan legislative victory...

Mitt Romney Passes the Competence Test

(Jamelle Bouie/The American Prospect)
For all the focus on President Obama’s narrow lead over Mitt Romney in the latest poll from Quinnipiac University, the more interesting numbers are in the full results, where you can find a better account of how voters perceive the two men. Independents, for example, are neither thrilled nor satisfied with the president. His favorability rating is 19 points underwater at 37/56, while his job-approval numbers are 17 points in the negative at 39/56. Overall, 47 percent of voters approve of Obama’s performance, while 48 percent disapprove. For now, this is the number to watch. If it goes up, and reaches 50 percent by the fall, then Obama stands a good chance of being re-elected, even if it is a tight race. But if it declines from its current place—to the low 40s—then Obama will likely finish the year as a one-term president. More important, this will be true even if Romney stays unpopular with the large plurality of Americans—for challengers to an incumbent president, popularity or...

House Republicans to Keep Romney on a Short Leash

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Since his first run for the GOP nomination, Mitt Romney has never tried to lead the Republican Party in any particular direction. This isn’t hard to understand; as an outsider to the conservative movement, it’s simply too difficult. Instead, to win conservative trust, he acts as a cipher for GOP priorities—they lead, and he follows. Congressional Republicans understand this, and, as The New York Times reports , intend to use it to their advantage: House Republicans said Mr. Romney could go his own way on smaller issues that may help define him as separate from his Congressional Republican counterparts. But, they said, he must understand that they are driving the policy agenda for the party now. “We’re not a cheerleading squad,” said Representative Jeff Landry, an outspoken freshman from Louisiana. “We’re the conductor. We’re supposed to drive the train.” They’re “supposed to drive the train” and it’s almost certain that they will. Already, Romney has adopted the Ryan framework for his...

Stop Blaming Dysfunction on "Both Sides"

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For years, liberals have argued that polarization his little to do with the Democratic Party—which they see as largely centrist—and everything to do with a Republican Party, which has moved far to the right since the 1970s. Recent research from political scientists Keith Poole and Howard Rosenthal, who have measured polarization and ideological shifts in Congress, confirms that theory. According to NPR , they’ve found that the GOP is more conservative now than it’s been in a century: The short version would be since the late 1970s starting with the 1976 election in the House the Republican caucus has steadily moved to the right ever since. It’s been a little more uneven in the Senate. The Senate caucuses have also moved to the right. Republicans are now furtherest to the right that they’ve been in 100 years. Moreover, Republicans have moved further to the right than Democrats have to the left, and that goes a long way toward explaining the gridlock of the last three years, during...

Mitt Romney Declares his Conservatism, and It's Time to Believe Him

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After today’s speech to the National Rifle Association, there should be no speculation about Mitt Romney’s ideological positioning in the general election. More than running as a conservative, Romney has positioned himself as an absolutely stalwart defender of conservative values, and his rhetoric leaves room for an abrupt move to the center. As John Whitehouse joked on Twitter, the former Massachusetts governor “appears to be running for the Continental Congress.” On the question of economic freedom, he believes that the American people have been the “victim[s] of unbounded government appetite – and so is economic growth, job growth, and wage growth.” The only way to improve the economy, according to Romney, is to drastically reduce the size of government. On the question of religious freedom, Romney portrays the Obama administration as a crew of secular sectarians out to quash the freedom of believers (read: conservative Christians) to worship as they please: In all of America,...

Obama and Romney Agree: Romney Is a Conservative!

(Jamelle Bouie/The American Prospect)
The latest ad from the Obama campaign is a Web video, so it won’t receive much traction among the population at large, but it does provide an interesting glimpse into how the campaign will attack Mitt Romney: Rather than define Romney as a “flip-flopper,” they’ve opted to take him at his word and present him as a “severely conservative” nominee for the Republican Party. This, to me, is the right direction for the campaign. Romney’s strength is that he makes a great first impression—he seems reasonable, confident, and competent. Attacking him as a “flip-flopper” only reinforces that view and makes him seem less threatening to voters who aren’t sure that they want to support a Republican. Alternatively, by attacking him as too conservative, Democrats remind the public of its dislike for the GOP and tie Romney to the most unpopular elements of the conservative agenda. It helps, too, that the former Massachusetts governor is also working to define himself as a conservative, in order to...

The Wrong Approach

(Jamelle Bouie/The American Prospect)
It seems that Mitt Romney is following the Karl Rove template for presidential campaigns; taking your perceived weaknesses and using them to attack your opponent. The former Massachusetts governor has been criticized as an elitist reactionary who will say anything to get elected. And so, in the last two weeks, he has attacked President Obama as an out-of-touch hypocrite, who would rather scare voters than own up to his record. The latest in what Amanda Marcotte calls the “I’m rubber, you’re glue” approach involves women voters, who have turned away from the Republican Party in huge numbers. Rather than present a more moderate image to women, the Romney campaign has opted to accuse the Obama administration of waging a “war on women” (in response to Democratic claims of the same). The evidence? Seemingly high job losses among women over the last three years. Here is a campaign graphic meant to illustrate the disparity: The problem, as Politifact pointed out this morning, is that this is...

What's Next for Mitt?

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At The Washington Post , Chris Cillizza and Aaron Blake write a bit more about the planned advertising blitz by Republican Super PAC American Crossroads: The Crossroads ads, which began airing in Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Nevada, Ohio, and Virginia and attack the incumbent for his handling of gas prices, are the first of what is expected to be an extended air assault on Obama by the conservative group. “We think it’s important to be a counterweight to President Obama’s bully pulpit and hold him accountable for the policy choices he’s made and the results he’s failed to deliver,” said Steven Law, the executive director of American Crossroads. “Obama is putting the full muscle of the White House into changing the subject from his track record to a new, bleak vision of America — and we aim to keep the focus of the debate where it belongs.” Like I said a few days ago, I’m not sure that these will have much effect; opinions on Obama are mostly set in stone, and a few million dollars in...

Rick Santorum Finally Calls It Quits

(AP Photo / Gene J. Puskar)
As far as challengers to a party establishment are concerned, Rick Santorum was unique. Unlike Ronald Reagan, Santorum didn’t lead an ideological faction. Unlike Gary Hart, he wasn’t the young and dynamic future of his party. He didn’t lead a marginalized wing of the party coalition, like Jesse Jackson did, and he wasn’t a media favorite, like John McCain was. Indeed, there’s a reason why every pundit, myself included, dismissed Santorum as a long shot in the race for the Republican nomination. As a candidate, Santorum combined doctrinaire conservative beliefs with a hostile, combative persona. He wasn’t just against gay rights or abortion; he thought they were destructive to the fabric of the country. It’s not that he opposed Barack Obama; it’s that he argued that the president would turn the country into a Marxist wasteland. But if Rick Santorum was completely unsuitable as a major party nominee, how exactly did he come from behind to stand as Mitt Romney’s most viable challenger?...

Reintroducing the Buffet Rule

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Later this afternoon, in Florida, President Obama will make his push for the Buffet rule, a policy which would ensure a minimum 30 percent tax rate for individuals making more than $1 million per year. There’s no chance that it will pass either chamber of Congress, but that’s not the point; the proposal is meant to place Democrats on the side of tax fairness and present the GOP as tied to the interests of the wealthy Americans. The Republican response is that this is an attempt to draw attention away from the economy and its sluggish performance over the last three years. In a great post, Greg Sargent notes the extent to which the Obama campaign is hoping to tie its argument about the direction of the economy to an argument on economic fairness: The GOP hopes to neutralize the tax fairness issue by separating it from the economy’s performance. But Obama’s case is that there is no separating the fairness issue from the economy’s performance or from people’s economic suffering. He is...

Rick Warren and the Gospel of Supply-Side Jesus

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This past weekend, evangelical mega-church pastor Rick Warren spent a portion of his Easter on the Sunday shows, where he patiently explained to ABC News' Jake Tapper that the Gospels require him to oppose both a social safety net and higher marginal tax rates on the rich: Well certainly the Bible says we are to care about the poor. There’s over 2,000 versus in the Bible about the poor. And God says that those who care about the poor, God will care about them and God will bless them. But there’s a fundamental question on the meaning of “fairness.” Does fairness mean everybody makes the same amount of money? Or does fairness mean everybody gets the opportunity to make the same amount of money? I do not believe in wealth redistribution, I believe in wealth creation. The only way to get people out of poverty is J-O-B-S. Create jobs. To create wealth, not to subsidize wealth. When you subsidize people, you create the dependency. You – you rob them of dignity. The primary purpose of...

More Evidence that Populism Works

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There’s one last nugget from the ABC News/ Washington Post poll that I wanted to mention. In the poll, they ask voters for their thoughts on the “biggest problem facing the country,” and offer a choice—“unfairness in the economic system that favors the wealthy, or over-regulation of the free market that interferes with growth and prosperity.” By a large margin, 52 to 37, voters said that unfairness was the biggest problem facing the country. I’m not a believer in the power of the bully pulpit, but this seems to lend credence to the view that—after more than six months of populist rhetoric and attacks on “you’re on your own” economics—Obama has pulled both the public and the economic narrative in his direction. Combine this with the fact that Obama is winning independents, and you have a result that cuts through the most recent survey from centrist group Third Way. According to Third Way, the president’s populist rhetoric is hurting him with self-described “swing independents,” another...

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