Vox Pop

The Prospect's politics blog

The Republicans' Foreign Policy Problem

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Pop quiz: if you had to describe the Obama foreign policy in one sentence, what would you say? Not easy, is it? Back in 2008, it was pretty simple: "Not Bush." Now back then, there was something called the "Bush doctrine," which may have had a subtle meaning to those working in the administration, but as far as the public was concerned mostly meant "invading lots of countries and making everyone in the world hate us." So it was easy to imagine Obama as a breath of foreign policy fresh air. He'd use a less-bumbling combination of diplomacy, "soft power," and carefully restrained force. He'd get us out of Iraq. Things would change for the better. But now that Obama has been president for four years, "Not Bush" has lost its relevance. Obama's actual foreign policy is too complicated to sum up easily, and probably therefore too complicated for most voters to understand. We did get out of Iraq, but things don't seem to be going too well in Afghanistan; Obama has dramatically increased the...

What Will Obama Do about Income Inequality? Not Much.

New data from the Census Bureau shows that the tepid recovery is exacerbating income inequality and pushing ordinary Americans into tougher economic circumstances. Here is the Los Angeles Times with more detail : The median household income, after adjusting for inflation, dropped 1.5% in 2011 from the previous year to $50,054. That is now 8.1% lower than in 2007, when the recession began late that year. […] The share of people falling below the poverty line—$11,702 for a single person under age 65 and $23,201 for a family of four—had increased steadily since 2006, when the rate was 12.3%. The census report said there were about 46 million poor people in the U.S. last year, essentially the same as in 2010. […] The latest census report showed that households with incomes in the 20th to 60th percentile saw their share of overall incomes fall last year to 23.8% of total income. Meanwhile, households in the top 20% saw their share of the total pie climb to an all-time high of 50%. With the...

Romney's Wrong Right Move

(AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
(AP Photo/Charles Dharapak) Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney campaigns at D’Evelyn High School in Denver, Colorado over the weekend. Once it became clear that President Barack Obama received a significant bounce from the Democratic National Convention, the next question was whether this bounce would translate to an enduring advantage for his campaign. On Friday, polls from National Journal and Reason magazine gave Obama a 7-point lead over Mitt Romney, 50–43 and 52–45, respectively. Saturday was a quiet day for national polling, but Sunday saw the release of two tracking polls by Rasmussen and Gallup. Rasmussen was unchanged from the last few days ; Romney and Obama remain tied with 46 percent support, though Obama’s job approval has ticked down: 48 percent approve, 50 percent disapprove. Obama began last week in a similar position with Gallup, but both his approval—and performance against Romney—improved in yesterday’s tracking poll. He now earns 48 percent support to...

Today in Anti-China Rhetoric

Mitt Romney’s dwindling chances depend on outsized support from working-class whites in industrial states like Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Wisconsin. Which is why, in recent weeks, he’s taken a harder line against Chinese economic practices. But his latest ad, “Stand Up to China,” crosses the line and moves into straight-up xenophobia. Take a look: It’s unfortunate—given the extent to which Americans are helped by a good working relationship with the Chinese—but anti-China rhetoric is par for the course in American elections. Both Democrats and Republicans indulge, despite the fact that neither party wants to harm our trade relationship with China (or be blamed for more expensive everything as a result of protectionist policies). But this ad—with its accusations of theft and shadowy insinuations of a Chinese conspiracy—goes beyond the pale. It also continues the Team Romney strategy of hitting President Obama with misleading economic statistics. Yes, there are fewer jobs than there were...

What? There's a Nonpartisan Way to Run Elections!?

(AP/Eric Schultz)
Ask any kid who's played Monopoly—if the banker isn't a fair one, the whole outcome of the game can change. That can lead to two different conclusions: either the kids come up with a fair set of rules or everyone fights to be banker the next game. When it comes to elections, partisans have long struggled with a similar problem: Who should set the rules governing elections? Rather than investing in a nonpartisan solution, for the most part, the parties have fought to be the banker—or in this case, the secretary of state. In 33 states, an elected, partisan secretary of state is responsible for running elections. In eight others, the chief election official is appointed by a partisan elected official. This election cycle has furnished plenty of evidence why that can be a problem: Ohio's secretary of state has come under intense fire for limiting early-voting hours, while in Florida and Colorado, attempted purges of the voting rolls raised concerns that legitimate voters could be...

Getting to Know You, Getting to Know All About You

She's getting a bit displeased. (Flickr/Josh Janssen)
Seven months ago, I wrote a column explaining that my increasing irritation with Mitt Romney had made me understand how Republicans probably felt about Al Gore 12 years ago. The politician with the "authenticity" problem whose goals you share just seems awkward—undesirable from a strategic perspective, but hardly morally blameworthy—while the one from the other party seems irredeemably phony and dishonest. But I'm guessing lots of liberals, maybe most, feel the way I do, which is that is seems I like this guy less and less every day. This has happened before. Before John McCain's 2008 presidential campaign, he seemed like a fairly reasonable person for a Republican, extremely conservative to be sure, but with an admirable willingness to buck his party every now and again and a refreshing honesty. But by the end of the race, I couldn't stand him, and I'm sure most liberals felt the same way. He had revealed himself to be unprincipled, petty, mean, and a whole bunch of other things. I...

Puncturing Myths about the White Working Class

A new survey and report from the Public Religion and Research Institute—entitled “Beyond God and Guns”—is a valuable corrective to so many stereotypes of the white working class. Particularly noteworthy in this report are the large and important differences within the white working class—by age, region, gender, and party, to name a few. For example, consider this: In mid-August, Romney held a commanding 40-point lead over Obama among white working-class voters in the South (62% vs. 22%). However, neither candidate held a statistically significant lead among white working-class voters in the West (46% Romney vs. 41% Obama), Northeast (42% Romney vs. 38% Obama), or the Midwest (36% Romney vs. 44% Obama). The report amplifies some of the findings I discussed in my “zombie” post —not only how different the white working class is within and outside the South, but how much more social issues affect the political choices of the white college-educated more than the white working class. Along...

Sun, Sep. 23 Electoral Vote Predictor

Polls Aren't Moving, Both Sides Worried The bounce President Obama got from the Democratic convention shows no sign of fading and both sides are worried. One reason the polls are not moving is that people have made up their minds and there are hardly any voters left to swing. A large fraction are not really strongly for either candidate but are strongly against one of them. One voter said he'd vote for Saddam Hussein before he'd vote for Barack Hussein but another called Romney the devil. Not much motion is likely there. Romney's team can read the handwriting on the wall and the pixels on the monitor and is trying to put on a brave face, saying : "We've got a campaign which is tied with an incumbent president [of] the United States." The team knows that in the national polls, it is fairly close, but in this graph of the electoral college Romney has been behind all year and is now down 122 electoral votes. They feel that some fundamentals (such as the poor jobs situation) put them in a...

Sat, Sep. 22 Electoral Vote Predictor

Obama Leads in Poll of Swing States A new Purple Strategies poll of 12 swing states shows President Obama with a lead of 49% to 44% over Mitt Romney. In August, the same poll had Romney ahead by 1%, so this is a sharp swing towards Obama. Part of Romney's problem is that only 38% of the voters see him in a favorable light vs. 52% who regard him unfavorably. Obama's favorability is above water with 49% to 46%. Romney Releases 2011 Tax Return, Paid 14% Willard M. Romney has released his 379-page tax return . His income was $13.69 million, of which $450,740 was earned (business) income. The rest was mostly interest, dividends, and capital gains. He paid $1.9 million in federal tax. Below is the income portion of Romney's tax return. Click here for full story

Nine Is the Loneliest Number

(Flickr/Paul Downey)
I try to resist the temptation to argue that any particular statement a candidate makes represents his "true" self, revealing what he wants to conceal the rest of the time. This is something that campaigns say whenever their opponent makes a "gaffe," but in general what matters isn't what someone says once off the cuff, but what they repeat multiple times. That's why I have pointed to something Mitt Romney said repeatedly when asked about his taxes, that "I don't pay more than are legally due and frankly if I had paid more than are legally due I don't think I'd be qualified to become president." He really seemed to be saying that if you don't game the system as much as you can, then you're a sucker, a chump, and you wouldn't want a chump to be president. This quote—and he said variations of it on more than one occasion, remember—is now coming back to haunt him, because Romney is releasing his 2011 tax returns, and his team of accountants and tax lawyers has fashioned them in a very...

Could Romney Have Been a Different Candidate?

Flickr/Donkey Hotey
Mitt Romney has made a lot of mistakes in this campaign, not all of which came in the last couple of weeks. Now that we've moved into the "Is he doomed?" phase of campaign coverage, the always thoughtful Ron Brownstein wonders if Romney sowed the seeds of his own undoing by the way he ran his primary campaign: Romney's biggest general-election problem is that he did not believe he could beat a GOP primary field with no competitor more formidable than Rick Perry, Rick Santorum, or Newt Gingrich without tacking sharply right on key issues. Romney repeatedly took policy positions that minimized his risks during the spring but have multiplied his challenges in the fall. His fate isn't sealed, but the choices he made in the primaries have left him with a path to victory so narrow that it might daunt IndianaJones. "To secure the nomination, they made … decisions about immigration, tax cuts, and a whole host of other issues that had no strategic vision," said John Weaver, a senior strategist...

The Democrats Have a Lot of Governors' Mansions to Protect

(Flickr/Kevin Hutchinson)
Republicans already dominate governors' mansions around the country. Twenty-nine states have GOP governors, thanks largely to 2010, when the party took 11 governorships away from the Democrats. Given those numbers, it might not seem like there's much left for Democrats to defend. But, as it happens, this Democrats must play defense in all but three of this year's gubernatorial elections. Of the 11 states electing governors this year, eight currently have Democrats doing the job. (That's Delaware, Missouri, Montana, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Vermont, Washington, and West Virginia.) A Stateline report offers a handy rundown. Many of the races will be competitive, and with a serious disadvantage in fundraising, Democrats face an uphill battle to simply hold their ground. As I argued in my latest print column , many national debates are currently getting fought at the state level, and who controls the legislative and executive branches of a state has huge implications for the...

Blame Obama for Romney's Mediocrity

It’s almost banal to say at this point, but Mitt Romney is not a strong candidate. His past ideological heterodoxy makes him a poor fit for the contemporary GOP, his constant attempts to position himself with the right makes him seem dishonest to ordinary Americans, and his chief personal characteristic—stiff awkwardness—puts him at a disadvantage against a president known for his likeability. But as Kevin Drum reminds us , he was the best possible choice in a Republican presidential field that included luminaries like Rick Perry, Michele Bachmann, Tim Pawlenty, Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich, and former pizza magnate Herman Cain: Mitt Romney was pretty unanimously considered the strongest candidate in the Republican field—by a large margin. He was, without much question, the most electable of the primary bunch and the toughest opponent for Barack Obama. He was disciplined, well-funded, and had a moderate background that appealed to independents. He was, in short, the very best the...

Our Bipartisan Future?

Is that Mitch McConnell and Harry Reid? No. Definitely not. (Flickr/Go Splat)
Pretty much every presidential candidate in the last couple of decades has said that he was going to bring Republicans and Democrats together and end the partisan bickering in Washington that Americans so dislike. Bill Clinton said he would. George W. Bush said he would. Barack Obama said he would. All of them failed, and the one that tried hardest to do it—Obama—had a harder time than any of them. Despite the partisanship of their eras, both Clinton and Bush had significant pieces of legislation they passed with cross-party support, like Clinton's welfare reform and Bush's No Child Left Behind. But everything important Obama did was accomplished despite unified resistance from Republicans. Conservatives might argue that the reason is that Obama is a uniquely partisan and vicious president, so cruel to Republicans that he's impossible to work with. But the real reason, as anyone who has been paying attention the last four years knows, is that Republicans made a decision upon his...

Warren and Brown Meet in Debate

(AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)
On Thursday evening, Elizabeth Warren, the Democratic challenger in the Massachusetts Senate race, dusted off the debate skills that, in high school, won her a scholarship to George Washington University. Scott Brown, the Republican she wants to replace, raced from a Senate session in Washington, D.C., and polished up his Massachusetts accent—as if, after every line, he were going to pat some working Joe on the back with an “Amirite?” Brown began the night with opening comments needling Warren about the Cherokee “controversy.” (Full disclosure: Amelia Warren Tyagi, Elizabeth Warren's daughter, is chair of The American Prospect ’s board of directors and is chair of the board of the magazine’s publishing partner, Demos.) The claim is that, at some point in her career, she checked off a box to identify herself as a Native American. “Clearly she’s not,” he said. How will we know if it affected her acceptance to law school or her hiring as a professor at Harvard? Only if she releases all...

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