Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Tampa, Day 2: ‘Red meat delivered well’

IN HIS big national convention coming-out party, Paul Ryan, the Wisconsin Republican congressman who’s now Mitt Romney’s running mate, praised the bona fides of his new boss tonight, lit into President Obama with the relish of an attack dog, and doubled down on a pinched, privileged vision of America that endeared itself to the faithful in Tampa.

With a speech by turns eloquent and slashing, Ryan staked his claim to being the new Republican big-picture ideologue: a Gen-Xer with rock music on his iPod and rolling back the nation’s most enduring social initiatives on his mind — chronologically a man with a future, politically a man thoroughly enamored of his party’s past. Bush 43 press secretary Ari Fleischer tweeted: “This is red meat delivered well.”

We should have seen this coming. After New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie hurled rhetorical sirloin into the crowd at the Tampa Bay Times Forum last night, it was clear that the thrust of the oratory from then on would be meant for people already in the choir, an appeal to the conservative base rather than anything like an olive branch to the rest of the country.

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Paul Ryan grabbed his butcher’s apron and picked up where Christie left off the night before. “After four years of getting the runaround, America needs a turnaround, and the man for the job is Mitt Romney,” he said.

At times, Ryan invested his speech with some poetry and showed a grasp of the moment; he recognized what was clearly the pinnacle of his political career, and he made the most of it.

The congressman seeks to bring a more middle-class sensibility to the Romney campaign, one that’s a marked contrast (a world away, really) from the gilded biography of Mitt Romney. Ryan also seems to intuitively understand his role as the wunderkind vanguard of what could be a new generation of conservatives — Generation-GOP, if you will — eager to make policy in Washington from the White House.

Pitching to the students that have been a core bloc of support for Obama in 2008, for example, Ryan made a bid to feel their pain, and took an affecting jab at the president in the bargain. “College graduates should not have to live out their 20s in their childhood bedrooms, staring up at fading Obama posters … and wondering when they can move out and get going with life!”

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THERE weren’t many policy or platform details in his speech; Ryan made only the slightest variations on the glittering generalities advanced by Romney on the campaign trail. And that may be a problem as RomneyRyan turns its eyes to the relatively few undecided voters who might still be persuadable.

All the chatter about the contents of his iPod makes for fresh optics and geek cred, but that won’t last. They can’t conceal the hard truths: by way of tax cuts, the proposed Ryan federal budget would pour money on wealthy Americans with a soup ladle, even as it would eviscerate health care for millions of middle-class Americans; deeply reduce federal budget investments in science and technology, education and training; and set American women back generations on matters related to their reproductive rights. Such is the document that the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities called “Robin Hood in reverse — on steroids.”

Just because you’ve got Zeppelin in your music collection doesn’t mean you’re as visionary and open-minded as the music you listen to.

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He was all too eager tonight to recycle the falsehood about $716 billion being funneled out of Medicare by President Obama, and to thunder about the malaise Ryan and the Republicans claim is what will endure of the Obama legacy. “Fear and division is all they’ve got left,” he said.

And young gun or not, Ryan can be just as reflexively myopic about the road from 2009 to now as any politician of longer standing on Capitol Hill.

“Here’s a question,” Ryan said tonight. “Without a change in leadership, why would the next four years be any different from the last four years?”

Here’s an answer: That depends.

That depends on voters’ decisions about the outcome of the various congressional races to be decided on Nov. 6. That depends on the public’s tolerance for more of the deliberate gridlock on Capitol Hill, the gridlock that’s fueled public cynicism about Congress, the gridlock that has stymied Obama White House initiatives from almost the beginning, the gridlock that Republicans pledged to create and cultivate from the moment Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell stated publicly in December 2010 that “our top political priority over the next two years should be to deny President Obama a second term.”

MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell observed: “Joe Biden now has a very real fight on his hands.” He was observing Ryan’s rhetorical style, as smooth and assured as Romney’s is, well, not so smooth and assured.

Depending on how well Romney himself does tomorrow night, Team Romney can expect a respectable post-convention bump in the opinion polls. But the style points won’t last long, and tonight Paul Ryan has given the fact-checkers what amounts to a short-term full employment act — a 65-day contract that just started.

Image credit: Ryan: Associated Press. GOP convention logo: © 2012 2011-12 Committee on Arrangements for the 2012 Republican National Convention.

Tampa, Day 1: Résumés on the convention floor

A NUMBER OF spot reactions to the baffling, sporadically spontaneous first night of the 2012 Republican National Convention lit up the news cycle and the blogosphere for much of last night and into this morning.

Some of them focused on the intended targets of the parade of governors that was much of last night’s lineup; others paid attention to the tone and style and stagecraft of the event itself, or the potential dissidents of the Ron Paul campaign sent packing to the nether reaches of the Tampa Bay Times Forum — a sign of discord within the ranks at the event that’s supposed to show how unified the Republican Party is.

Leave it to Rachel Maddow, the wicked-smaht MSNBC show host and analyst, to put things into accessible perspective when the first day’s show was over. “What the Republican Party most did tonight was make the case for their bench, if not for the team that’s on the field — at least the team that might be on the field in four years.”

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The convention was hampered by its own rain delay; Hurricane/Tropical Storm Isaac, which was blasting ashore during the convention and in the hours after that, was a justifiable shadow distraction (one that Ann Romney mentioned from the stage). But the bigger distraction was at the arena and became a central theme of the evening.

With few exceptions, the speakers, from South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, from House Speaker John Boehner to former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum offered Horatio Alger/Norman Rockwell personal biographies that tried to impart the visions of a collective imagined past and how they would reclaim that past from the monster now occupying the Oval Office.

Their oratories had precious little to do with Mitt Romney and everything to do with themselves, and using the stage of a national convention to advance their stars at the expense of the star of the show.

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WE WON’T drill down into each of them here. Suffice it to say they used their moment in the convention sun to recount hardscrabble personal histories; stories of sacrifice, initiative and personal drive; a love of family and the importance of family in the national experience; a bullet-point rundown of what they’ve accomplished in office; and a call for the nation to do better than it’s done in the last four years.

And oh yeah, Mitt Romney can help us do that.

Beyond that bewildering consistency of advertisements for themselves, last night was not a good night. The speakers seemed almost willfully disconnected from the nominee; and there was no overarching theme behind their speeches. It’s as if the speakers were satellites in search of a body around which to orbit. If there were expectations that this group of governors would close the sale on Romney as the nominee, it didn’t happen.

You got a clear sense of the confusion in the messages by distilling two of the more accidentally meaningful quotes of the night:

Ann Romney, wife of the candidate, sought to set politics aside and focus on Mitt the domestic man: husband and father. “Tonight, I want to talk to you about love.”

Minutes later, Christie, the night’s appointed rhetorical pit bull, used an instruction from his mother in childhood to express what Republicans needed: “Tonight we’re going to choose respect over love.”

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This disconnect was even more obvious when Mitt Romney himself stepped onto the stage he’ll own on Thursday night, to give wife Ann a hug after her generally successful address. Romney wasn’t exactly animatronic, but his gestures and his mien seemed so scripted, so precise as to suggest a man out of touch with what’s happening around him.

You could see it again as he watched other speakers: barely moving, face maintaining the same quasi-smirk that’s been there from the beginning, the mask that must not break.

On MSNBC, Chris Matthews observed: “Romney looked like Prince Charles visiting New Guinea.”

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ONE WRITER, Peter Beinert weighing in at The Daily Beast, suggests that may not be as big an optical unforced error as it might seem. For Beinert, Christie’s pugnacious keynote address was a reminder that “ideologically, this campaign isn’t about Mitt Romney. It’s about Paul Ryan.”

It’s been clear from the day he was tapped: In the absence of a defining philosophical energy from the man at the top of the ticket, Ryan, the newly-minted vice-presidential contender from Wisconsin has stepped in to fill that void. And that’s a problem.

A strong No. 2, a formidable running mate can shore up the one at the top of the ticket, can help mend the nominee in the broken places. That’s a much bigger challenge when the nominee’s got nothing but broken places.

Never mind the fact that Ryan as the policy center of the campaign is exactly upside-down from how it should be, with the soon-to-be standard-bearer calling the campaign’s existential shots. The problem is what Ryan inherited when he signed on.

A national survey released Wednesday by the Pew Research Center and The Washington Post found, among other things, that 37 percent of respondents viewed Ryan favorably, 35 percent viewed him unfavorably, and 28 percent were neutral in their views.

Ryan’s heir to the same lock on favorables in the 30th percentile that Romney has been posting all year.

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Ryan himself takes the stage tonight, and we can no doubt expect he won’t be making an infomercial for his services in 2016. Ryan has been loyal to the ticket he’s a part of. Tonight, we can expect more talk of Romney’s virtues and bona fides high up in the speech, as well as some of the wonkish insider perspective that makes Ryan such a campaign asset for the true believers.

But the pressure’s building for Romney himself to emerge from behind the curtain. And stay there. That needs to happen, one way or another, on Thursday night.

Only he can resolve the disjunction between the kinder, gentler Mitt Romney promoted by his wife and the Mitt Romney who professes faith in the American economy while keeping much money outside the American economy; the Mitt Romney who’d repeal the Affordable Care Act, raising health-care costs for the people least able to afford it; the Mitt Romney who threatens to shut down Planned Parenthood, leaving millions of the same American women his wife championed last night struggling to pay for their singular health-care needs; the Mitt Romney who blithely revives the corrosive birther meme with no consideration of what it says about the Republican Party, about his campaign, or about … Mitt Romney.

Last night, Ann Romney did her best to persuade the nation there’s blood in the mannequin who’ll accept the nomination for the presidency on Thursday. But what she knows about him couldn’t be communicated in twenty minutes of scenes from the Romney family scrapbook.

She did her best, but Ann Romney can’t humanize Mitt Romney. Only Mitt Romney can do that.

Image credits: GOP convention logo: © 2012 2011-12 Committee on Arrangements for the 2012 Republican National Convention. Romney-Ryan logo: from the campaign Web site. Mitt and Ann Romney: Associated Press/J. Scott Applewhite. Ryan: © Gage Skidmore. 

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Tampa: The Jersey mauler arrives

THE KEYNOTE speaker, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, hits the stage, all bluster and raucous animation, to thunderous applause. With the tireless energy of a carnival barker and the ritual fervor of an evangelist, Christie brings the passion to the Forum, a man “proud of my party, proud of my state and proud of my country.”

Christie embarks on his own family’s hardscrabble biography — referencing the music of his idol Bruce Springsteen, he recalls the roles played by father & mother. His mother imparted a no-nonsense way of dealing with the world, a baseline resoluteness. “She was tough as nails and didn’t suffer fools at all,” he says.

He goes on to build an advertisement for himself, trumpets his achievements: the governor bested the powerful teacher’s unions, fought back against the public-sector unions, balanced three budgets and brought bare-knuckled candor to Trenton politics.

Ergo, some tough love for those gathered at the Tampa Bay Times Forum.

"Our problems are big and the solutions will not be painless," he says. "We all must share in the sacrifice. Any leader that tells us differently is simply not telling the truth." A Republican talking shared sacrifice!?!

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But mostly Christie does what the keynote speaker’s supposed to do: hurl red meat into the crowd with both hands. The Jersey mauler doesn’t disappoint.

"I don't want my children and grandchildren to have to read in a history book what it was like to live in an American Century," he says. "I don't want their only inheritance to be an enormous government that has overtaxed, overspent and over-borrowed a great people into second-class citizenship."

Christie says “I want them to live in a second American Century! ... a second American Century” of solid economic progress and security, a strong military and a solid social and moral footing for the future.

Christie, who was briefly considered for the veep spot that went to Paul Ryan, did not bring his A game tonight. On MSNBC, Al Sharpton surmises that it was because Christie was reading from a teleprompter. But Christie — who for many Republican insiders was the other one who got away — seemed sour for much of his speech: severe, combustible, sometimes flat-out angry in ways that contradicted emotional aspects of the speech itself.

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HE USED the word “truth” about a half-dozen times, and spoke of how Romney would tell “us the hard truths,” and how his election would usher in “a new era of truth- telling.”

Christie and the Republicans will say it’s a reflection for the need for honesty from Washington in its dealings with the American people. But candor begins at home. If Romney would “tell us the hard truths,” he can start with the truth about Bain Capital and when he really left the company, if he has left the company. Or the truth about the labyrinthine world of his tax returns. Or the truth about the equally labyrinthine world of his tax havens. Or the politically hard truth that recognizes the need to add revenue to any viable policy prescription for repairing the national economy.

Christie fed the lions of the conservative base what they wanted tonight. They heard everything they expected to hear from the reliably pugnacious Christie, and everything they want to hear from Mitt Romney, the new Republican nominee, Thursday night, in prime time.

For maybe the first time, watched by everyone in the nation he wants to lead, he’ll bring his A+ game.

Image credit: Christie top: AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite. Christie bottom: Image from pool video. GOP convention logo: © 2012 2011-12 Committee on Arrangements for the 2012 Republican National Convention.

Tampa: Ann Romney: A love story

We come to one of the two main events. Ann Romney, wife of the Republican nominee, speaks, in glowing terms about her husband. “Tonight, I want to talk to you about love.” We’ve been led to believe Ann Romney will conjure soothing images of Mitt as accessible pipe & slippers family man, less Thurston Howell, more Ozzie Nelson or Ward Cleaver.

But first, let us now praise anonymous women. Ann champions women everywhere in what’s likely to be a pivotal year for their place at the ballot boxes on Nov. 6. “You are the best of America, you are the hope of America ... tonight we salute you and sing your praises.”

She may protesteth too much: “The last few years have been harder than they needed to be. It's all the little things — the price at the pump you just can't believe, the grocery bills that just get bigger ...”

And what would she really know about any of those things today?

Ann Romney offers what’s essentially a filmstrip tour of her life with Mitt — their early time together as young marrieds in a basement apartment — Ann as a young mother, all thumbs at first — Mitt chasing a law and business degree at the same time. In Ann’s rhetorical hands, Mitt comes off like Horatio Alger.

Theirs is no “storybook” marriage: Personal challenges for Ann Romney included breast cancer and multiple sclerosis, trials that the candidate endured alongside his wife with patience and commitment. Theirs truly is a love story.

Her ads for Mitt unabashed: Candidate is “warm, loving and patient.” “No one will work harder, no one will care more, and no one will move heaven and earth like Mitt Romney to make this a better place to live ...”

“This, man, will, not, fail,” she says. But for many people — including women rightly concerned about the Romney agenda vis-à-vis women’s reproductive rights — that pledge is a worrying thing.

Tampa: Santorum speaks

Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum wows the crowd at the Forum — seems to be a residual feeling of support for a well-fought primary campaign. Was he the one that got away? In his speech, Santorum burnishes his family-man image, saluting his son at The Citadel, repeating the Santorum family biography, the substance of his campaign oratory — immigrant forebears — grandfather working in the mines of Pennsylvania until the age if 72. “America believed in him; that’s why he believed in America.”

But the man in the sweater vest still pulls a knife from time to time. Speech tonight takes a shot at marriage equality (expressing preference for a nation “where married moms and dads are pillars of strong communities,” saying “If America is to succeed, we must stop the assault on marriage and the family in America today”) and federal programs generally (“the dream of freedom has become a nightmare of dependency”).

Then he repeats the bald-faced lie making the GOP rounds that Obama waived work-for-welfare requirements.

Santorum later tries to make a point using hands as the throughline metaphor. Over time it’s a bit overdone, but Santorum is at least rhetorically reaching for the rafters with a speech that tries in an overwrought way to achieve the context of a big vision.

Then he pivots to talk about his special-needs daughter Bella … and Santorum seems to connect here. His eyes misting — and whose eyes wouldn’t? Santorum brings the passion.

Then he switches up again, talks about the abortion issue with an implicit endorsement of the official GOP platform, in the process contemporizes the words of the Declaration of Independence (“all men, all men, are created equal.”) Note to Rick: As long as you’re contemporizing that quote, how about a mention of women. Given the subject, it just seems right ...

Tampa: John Kasich’s convenient memory

Ohio Gov. John Kasich up next, bringing his animated, passionate style to the convention. Kasich trumpets Ohio’s accomplishments under his watch: how the state went from 48th in job creation to fourth in the nation, has a $500 million surplus, and generated 122,000 new jobs in four years.

Down on Obama: “"We need a new partner in Washington," Kasich said. "This relationship is just not working. It is holding us back."

Not a word, predictably enough, about the role of the Obama White House-directed bailout of the auto industry, a rescue operation Kasich opposed (as well as Mitt Romney, the nominee). That rescue sparked the resurgence of his state's economy, leading to the jobs and corporate investment Kasich seems to claim as his own.

Tampa: So the Speaker of the House walks into a bar …

House Speaker John Boehner brings his borderline verklempt persona to the Tampa Bay Times Forum. In a spirited campaign speech, Boehner rouses the crowd with boilerplate call to arms: “We’re here to preserve this country the same way we built it: by exercising our God-given right to chart a new course … President Romney — boy, I like the sound of that.”

Then Boehner jumps into storyteller mode, recalling his boyhood days sweeping the floors and cleaning tables at the family bar outside Cincinnati — using barroom analogies to galvanize the faithful assembled around the idea of literally throwing Barack Obama out of the White House.

“So let’s say right now, a guy walked into our bar and said, ‘the private sector is doing fine.’ Well, do you know what we’d do? That’s right: we’d throw him out,” Boehner said. “If a guy walked into our bar ... and said, ‘if you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that,’ do you know what we’d do? Throw him out. ... President Obama just doesn’t get this. He can’t fix the economy because he doesn’t know how it was built. So in 70 days, when the American people walk into the voting booth, what should we do? Throw him out!”

Pundits on MSNBC question the appropriateness of Boehner’s imagery: the very idea of grabbing BHO by the collar and bodily heaving him out of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue seems a bit over the top (much like the speaker himself). But given Boehner’s upbringing in a family of bar owners, his analogy was at least organic, if not exactly polite.

Tampa: Romney official

On the first full night of the Republican National Convention, with 2,286 delegates and 2,125 alternate delegates attending from all 50 states, the District of Columbia and five territories. Willard Mitt Romney has just officially became the party’s nominee for the presidency.

With Romney as the official winner of the hard-fought, zanily disastrous campaign, the Republican Party has finally found its standard-bearer, its exemplar: a candidate as philosophically elitist and thematically amorphous as the party itself.

And with him trying to reverse course after seven or eight months in the GOP red-meat express lane, the job’s now formally his own: the task of establishing a single, clarifying vision not just for his campaign, but for the party he now leads.

Image credits: GOP convention logo: © 2012 2011-12 Committee on Arrangements for the 2012 Republican National Convention.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Tampa: Waiting for the chameleon man

WITH A potential hurricane brewing and the logistics of the Republican National Convention thrown into disarray, Team Romney has been making enormous changes in its lineup at literally the last minute, rapidly caught up in a presentational triage made necessary by the storm gathering offshore, trying to condense what had been four days of events into three.

At this writing (and depending on the furtive movements of Tropical Storm Isaac and its possible trajectory into New Orleans), Mitt Romney is set to accept the Republican nomination on Thursday. The network pundits and analysts have begun speculating on what Romney needs to do in his speech that night, a lock for prime-time, to advance his fortunes with Americans beyond the base.

One TV journalist defined the challenge, with a tabloid predictability, by saying Romney needs to deliver “the speech of his life.”

It’s ill-advised to hold your breath waiting for that to happen.

When the former Massachusetts governor takes the stage on Thursday night, it's a given that Romney needs that opportunity to really have a conversation with the country, not just the people in the Tampa Bay Times Forum. That’s what accepting the nomination is all about. But bigger questions remain: How will the base react to outreach to those beyond the tribe? How will the chameleon man change again, how can the candidate convincingly make the pivot from where he’s been to where he needs to be? And given his previous malleability on policy positions … should the country believe him?

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“After five years, you have left an impression,” Michael Steele said Friday on MSNBC, assessing Romney’s impact as a political persona. But Mitt Romney hasn’t just left an impression, he’s inked a document: This Is Who and What I Am. But the permanence of the ink, its proven ability to change colors when the temperature goes up, are some of the problems that have contributed to a yearlong shortcoming in the likability department.

According to the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, Romney maintains his longstanding net-negative favorables, with 38 percent viewing him favorably, compared to 44 percent unfavorably.

President Obama tops Romney by 35 points — 58 percent to 23 percent — on the likability question. The president bests Romney by 22 points (52 percent to 30 percent) on the empathy question — caring about everyday people.

For American voters, that admittedly squishy and imprecise metric matters. The accessibility of a candidate to your world view, your frame of reference, is one of the more important gauges of electability. It’s often distilled in the old political hypothetical: Which candidate would you like to sit down and have a beer with? In that respect, President Obama —lately become the brewmaster-in-chief — has a natural advantage over a candidate who doesn’t drink beer at all.

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THOSE POLL results lay out the general perception. Now, break it down by demographics: women, Latinos, younger voters and students, and African Americans.

The NBC/WSJ poll finds that Obama leads his Republican challenger by handsome-to-lopsided margins among the components of the Democratic base, with Obama topping Romney among women (51 percent to 41 percent), Latino voters (by a 2-to-1 margin), under-35 voters (52 percent to 41 percent) and African Americans (94 percent to, believe it, 0 percent).

All of which makes a certain sense. What could he possibly have to say to those groups now that he hasn’t said before, directly or indirectly? By accident or by design, Romney has said and done a lot in the previous year that’s told all of them: “Sorry, but I really don’t care, you’re on your own.” That’s why his favorables with those groups are where they are.

Are those vital American constituencies likely to forget that because of one barnburner of a speech at the convention? Don’t hold your breath waiting for that, either.

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“I think if the election were held tomorrow, Obama would win the election,” said Steve Schmidt, a senior adviser to the McCain 2008 campaign, told NBC News’ Mark Murray. “And in the balance of days left in this election, Romney has to change the dynamic of the election.”

“He needs to bring definition to the race,” Schmidt said. “Why's he running for president? I think it's an unanswered question right now.” The very fact that a senior Republican analyst would say that, would have to even ask that question less than three months before the election, is problematic in and of itself.

For many months, Romney has communicated an indifference to the challenges of poor and middle-class Americans, and offered policy prescriptions that would preserve and deepen distinctions of class and income. For millions of Americans, as he prepares to accept the Republican nomination, he’s become the avatar of that indifference. His biography is marked by a disassociation with the public he courts, an existential disconnect with most of the people of the nation he presumes to lead.

You don’t change that with a speech at the convention.

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Some of the news analysts’ speculation about Romney’s speech transmits a feeling of it being “Romney’s last chance,” offers the idea that some rhetorical Hail Mary pass is imminent at the Tampa Bay Times Forum. But as the Republican National Committee prepares to roll out a “new Mitt Romney,” they need to manage their expectations about Romney countering the drift of his polling favorables, ever lurking in the 30th percentile, with one jaw-dropping address.

Romney is where he is for a reason. He’s arrived at this point in the campaign for a reason. Over the course of the campaign, as it’s unfolded organically, he’s expressed what comes across as a sometimes accidentally blunt insensitivity to the life stations and perspectives of millions of middle-class Americans.

Over the course of the campaign, Team Romney has navigated an increasingly rightward political course when much of the country is in a very different place, on a variety of issues.

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THE REPUBLICANS gathering in Tampa have to control the expectations that Mitt Romney will “reinvent” or “reintroduce” himself now to the broader American electorate he should have been trying to reach since he clinched in April.

Delivering the speech of one lifetime or ten can’t undo the arc of the narrative he has assiduously constructed over the last year-plus of the current campaign, and going back to 2008.

He can’t un-be who he is, and it’s very late in the day for him to change who we think he is. Any attempt at doing that at the convention, any transforming surprise will be seen for what Americans — with vast historical evidence — believe it to be: the candidate shaking the Etch a Sketch one more time, on the biggest stage of his public life.

Mitt Romney, a man who’s been in and out of numerous self-created containers of policy and philosophy, may now be inside the last box of his 2012 campaign: his own painfully cautious, relentlessly manicured, foundationally privileged image — the box of Mitt Romney himself.

Image credits: Romney: Gage Skidmore, republished under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license. NBC/Wall Street Journal poll breakout: © 2012 Peter D. Hart Research Associates, for NBC News and The Wall Street Journal. GOP convention logo: © 2012 2011-12 Committee on Arrangements for the 2012 Republican National Convention.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

All in: Romney plays the birther card

IT STARTED OUT mundanely enough. Mitt Romney was speaking Friday at a campaign rally in Michigan, his former home state, where all the trees are the right height. The presumptive Republican nominee for president got into what seemed to be a rambling disquisition on the specifics of the origins of certain lives.

“I love being home in this place where Ann and I were raised, where both of us were born. Ann was born in Henry Ford Hospital. I was born in Harper Hospital,” Romney said in Commerce, less than 40 miles from the Detroit locations he referenced.

Then: “No one's ever asked to see my birth certificate. They know that this is the place that we were born and raised.” Cue the partisan applause and hoo-ah shouts.

And just that fast, the sour, angry dynamic of the 2012 presidential campaign took a new turn. For the first time in 14 months of campaigning, Mitt Romney, in a statement both socially insensitive and politically incompetent, cast his lot with the purveyors of this political season’s most divisive meme.

Romney, a devout Mormon and therefore averse to gambling, just went all in, playing the birther card. Whether it was evidence of a conservative one-percenter’s passive-aggressive malice or a campaigner’s Freudian brain-fart doesn’t really matter. With a comment just calculated enough to galvanize the angriest people in the conservative base, Mitt Romney abandoned any pretense of appealing to the broad national electorate.

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Team Obama pounced at once. “Throughout this campaign, Gov. Romney has embraced the most strident voices in his party instead of standing up to them,” Obama campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt said in an email to the media. “Romney's decision to directly enlist himself in the birther movement should give pause to any rational voter across America.”

“This is the kind of gutterball politics that I think will and should turn the American people off,” said Jen Psaki, Obama deputy press secretary, on NBC.

Conservatives were quick to defend Romney’s aside. “Right on, right on, right on,” said talk-radio Doberman and former recreational pharmaceutical enthusiast Rush Limbaugh, who said he thought Romney was “test-driving” the birther crack for use at other campaign events to come.

On his radio show, Fox News host Sean Hannity said the joke showed Romney’s “got a good sense of humor.”

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In an interview with CBS News’ Scott Pelley, Romney defended the comments. ““Well, we’re in Michigan, and Ann I and I were both born in Detroit and of course a little humor always goes a long way,” he said. “So it was great to be home, to be in a place where Ann and I had grown up, and the crowd loved it and got a good laugh.”

And conservative mouthpieces such as the RedState blog and commentator Michelle Malkin were quick to take note of how a coffee mug with an image of the president’s birth certificate is available at the Obama campaign Web site.

Which, while true enough, begs the question of why Romney would raise an issue that isn’t an issue for anyone who’s seen the document that attests to the birth of Barack Hussein Obama II at Kapiolani Maternity & Gynecological Hospital in Honolulu, Hawaii, on Aug. 4, 1961 at 7:24 p.m.

Or why, when Romney should be working to expand his support among American voters generally, he’s decided to double down on what amounts to a primary-season strategy of wooing the base — and kicking the rest of the electorate to the curb.

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OR WHY Romney would say something that obliquely expressed what he didn’t believe, even in the context of a joke. “I've said throughout the campaign and before that there's no question about where [Obama] was born; he was born in the U.S.,” he told Pelley. “I've said that probably 30 times by now, and 31 certainly won't hurt.”

So why even do it? The attempts of the Romney campaign and his supporters to cast his joke as a slip of the lip, just an unforced error, have to confront the deliberate, painstakingly precise construction of the joke itself. There’s the set-up:  first, telling everyone where he and his wife were born; then following that with the punchline: “No one's ever asked to see my birth certificate.”

From all indications, it’s a matter of Romney obsequious, endearing himself to his supporters on the extremist right, backers like publicity enthusiast Donald Trump and Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio, who’s lately made the veracity of the presidential birth certificate a personal mission.

In the bigger scheme of things, Romney’s adventures in standup comedy won’t amount to much — at least no more than previous rhetorical embarrassments he’s committed in recent months. Viewed through that wider lens, the public may not even care. But if nothing else, his comments in Commerce reflect a tactical ineptitude on the part of Team Romney.

They're another multi-day distraction from the central issues of the campaign. When Romney should be gravitating toward a general-election mindset, he’s earnestly, slavishly playing to the Republican base that’s going to vote for him anyway. Instead of focusing on his presumed strong suit as a man of economics, he’s reawakened the nation’s attention to his willingness to say anything — anything — to achieve the presidency.

Image credits: Romney: CBS News. Obama birth certificate detail: Public record.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Hurricane Todd

EVERYTHING HAD been arranged. Now that the Keystone Kops bloodbath of the primary season was finally over, and at least some of the drumbeat for tax returns was beginning to fade, the Republican Party and its presumed standard-bearer, Mitt Romney, were supposed to be on a relative glide path to the party in Tampa, the Republican National Coronation.

By Sunday, everything of any importance had already been decided. The talking points were hung from the spokesmen with care. Fox News was in position; Rushbo and Coulter and RedState were doing their part. It was all over but the shouting and the balloon drop at midnight.

And then Todd Akin went on “The Jaco Report” on a station in St. Louis and changed everything.

Meteorologists from the National Weather Service and the various networks have been making dire predictions about the movements of Hurricane Isaac. At this writing, according to NOAA, the storm is expected to approach the Florida straits late Sunday, and enter the eastern Gulf of Mexico on Monday and Tuesday. For obvious reasons, the precise track isn’t known yet.

The planners for the Republican convention at the Tampa Bay Times Forum insist that the event will go down, gale force winds be damned. But the gale force winds the Republicans need to worry about have already arrived. In four days, a relative unknown congressman from Missouri has injected himself into the widening national conversation about women’s reproductive rights, and in the process helped called the question on the identity of the Republican Party.

◊ ◊ ◊

Akin’s revisionist, Truman-era belief that victims of what he called “legitimate rape” have a biological defense mechanism that prevents pregnancy was outrageous enough. The ire among the leading conservative lights got pretty ugly. Ann Coulter called Akin a “selfish swine.” Rush Limbaugh said his comments were “absurd,” “stupid” and “untrue.” Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker said he should go, as did political personality Sarah Palin and RNC Chairman Reince Priebus and Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson and on and on.

But since Monday, Akin’s own storm of outlandish conservative principle gained strength, thanks to social conservatives for whom the abortion-rights policy of the campaign apparently isn’t conservative enough. Mike Huckabee, the former Arkansas governor and darling of the evangelicals, came to his defense. So did Tony Perkins, leader of the Christian conservative Family Research Council, who said “we support [Akin] fully and completely.”

Brayn Fischer, a leader of the American Family Association, was even louder in his support. “Todd Akin is right: physical trauma of forcible rape can interfere w/ hormonal production, conception,” he said in a tweet.

◊ ◊ ◊

THE PARTY’S attempt to marginalize Akin have backfired. We know that because of what happened Tuesday, when the Republican platform committee OK’d the draft of its platform calling for a constitutional ban on abortion with no mitigating exceptions — a platform that dovetails with Akin’s thinking.

We knew that before because anti-abortion positions taken by Rep. Paul Ryan, the “as pro-life as a person gets” Wisconsin congressman who’s now Romney’s running mate, dovetail almost perfectly with Akin’s positions — which dovetail with what is now the official Republican party platform.

All of which complicates the job for Team Romney. For months now, the philosophical rudder of the Romney campaign aircraft has been locked in a right-turn position, with Romney making all the proper noises to placate the severely conservative conservatives (many of whom cut fat checks to the Romney SuperPACs). Now, when the Romney campaign should have course-corrected and begun to tack back to the more palatable, more populated center … Romney’s all jammed up.

◊ ◊ ◊

The abortion issue only distills the wider problem of the Romney campaign’s core identity: It hasn’t got a core identity. Romney has been boxing himself in, little by little — first, by adopting women’s rights policy positions beloved by conservatives, during the primary season; then, by his running-mate choice of Ryan (and the extremist baggage that goes with that choice).

Now when Romney needs the center; when the importance of the votes of 62 million American women of childbearing age couldn’t be more obvious; when their outrage at an increasingly misogynistic Republican agenda couldn’t be more of an opportunity for Romney to separate himself from that agenda … he’s locked into that agenda. Body and soul. He’s got no way to get back to the center. He’s a captive of the true believers now.

So when Romney calls on one of those true believers, a certain senator from Missouri, to “exit the race” in his own state over comments on “legitimate rape,” said senator from Missouri tells the standard-bearer of the Republican Party to mind his own damn business. And makes it stick.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Women’s health and The Economy:
Jan Schakowsky makes the connection

UP TO THIS point in the 2012 election season, the media, the blognoscenti and the spinmeisters of both presidential campaigns have discussed women’s reproductive rights and The Economy as two very separate things, two distinct topics in an election year crowded with big issues, domestic and foreign.

Democratic Rep. Jan Schakowsky would disagree.

The Illinois congresswoman, who’s also the Obama campaign national co-chair, was interviewed Monday by Piers Morgan on CNN. In the course of a wide-ranging interview touching on the progress of the campaign, the viability of the RomneyRyan ticket and the Todd Akin controversy, Schakowsky found the linkage between two seemingly disparate aspects of American life.

“For women,” she said, “the issue of access to contraception and abortion is very much an economic issue. Being able to space families, to decide when or if to have children is very, very much an economic issue for women and determines our economic future. And so for women, they're really not all that separate an issue.”

Schakowsky’s observation, more than an afterthought but less than a central point of discussion, makes sense when you look at the nation’s economic posture holistically.

A July 2010 report from the Center for American Progress on women and economic well-being found that women make up almost 50 percent of all workers on American payrolls — “the result of a long-term trend in which women increasingly work even after marriage or parenthood.” Some 35 million women are heads of household, the report found.

A March 2012 report from the Center got to the heart of the recession’s impact on working women:

“The Great Recession was often referred to in the press as a “man-cession” since men lost three out of every four jobs during that time. But now men are gaining jobs at a faster clip than women in the recovery due in large part to women making up a large number of public-sector employees, who faced massive layoffs amid state and local budget tightening that persists. …”

“Mirroring the ‘man-cession,’ the recovery is a ‘man-covery,’” The report says. “Men gained jobs on net every month but one since March 2010, while women continued to lose jobs month after month through September 2010. It wasn’t until December 2011 that women had on net gained jobs during the recovery. In general, however, women have added jobs month after month at a slower pace than men.”

Many of those women struggling to get ahead, or just get by, are working mothers. According to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than 56 percent of all mothers with children under the age of one year old were in the labor force in 2010. Mothers with children under the age of 18 amounted to just under 71 percent of the work force that year.

A July 2012 report from the Guttmacher Institute makes the connection between women’s economic well-being and the use of contraception in family planning: “The costs of contraceptive services and supplies can be considerable. The most effective, long-acting methods can cost hundreds of dollars up front. Costs even for methods that are relatively inexpensive on an individual basis (such as condoms) can add up to substantial amounts over a year, much less the 30 years that the typical woman spends trying to avoid pregnancy.”

Those out-of-pocket costs will be greatly eased by provisions of the Affordable Care Act, which made a range of women’s reproductive health services — including contraception — free of charge as of August 1.

That fact won’t be forgotten by many of the 62 million women of childbearing age in the United States. For them, the connection between the health of their personal economies and the wider one is hardly theoretical. Schakowsky’s observation is one of the first direct linkages of the two in the pre-election discourse; it’s reasonable to assume that the millions of women who’ll vote on Nov. 6 will make that connection too.

Image credits: Schakowsky: CNN. Birth control pills: Don McPhee/The Guardian (UK). Plan B package: via Guttmacher Institute logo: © 1996-2012 Guttmacher Institute.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Legitimate apes: Akin, RomneyRyan
and the GOP platform

DAYS BEFORE its nominating coronation in Tampa, the Republican platform committee today approved the draft of its platform calling for a constitutional ban on abortion with no exception for rape victims or victims of incest, or to save the mother’s life, Politico reports. Because of that position — practically identical to the position that Missouri Rep. Todd Akin took when he said that victims of what he called “legitimate rape” have a biological defense mechanism that prevents pregnancy — the Republican Party has wed itself to the past, and adds fresh complications for the RomneyRyan campaign.

“Our platform language is the same [as] it's been in 2004 and 2008,” an RNC spokesperson told Laura Bassett of The Huffington Post. “It's a strong pro-life position that doesn't get into granular specifics. We leave those to the states.”

The party’s now official position effectively gives Akin cover for his own outlandish position, and — like nothing else could — pits the Republican Party against American women, who uniformly amount to more than 50 percent of the nation’s voters.

◊ ◊ ◊

For women’s rights groups, it’s clear that the captives to ideology in the leadership of the Republican Party have thrown down the gauntlet.

“Republicans are hellbent on turning back the clock for women in America — today they’ll vote to make government force a woman impregnated during a rape to carry that pregnancy to term,” EMILY’s List President Stephanie Schriock said in a statement. “The days of small government are long gone in the GOP. ...

“[F]rom reproductive rights, to equal pay, to Medicare – Republicans are engaged in a cradle to grave assault on the programs women need to keep themselves and their families healthy.”

Istvan13, commenting at The Huffington Post, seemed to distill the controversy and what it means for the GOP when the commenter called an image of a coathanger “the logo for the new Republican party.”

Anghiari at The Huffington Post: “If Women allow this team to get elected....then it’s our fault if we HAVEN'T DONE everything in our power to nail these guys to the wall with their anti-women ravings, policies and legislation. WE HAVE BEEN WARNED.”

◊ ◊ ◊

AND NOTWITHSTANDING Mitt Romney's call today for Akin to quit the Missouri Senate race, this is a disaster for the Republican Party at different levels. First of all, by trying to jettison Akin from his own campaign, the Republicans suggest that there’s some vast expanse of difference between what he apparently believes and what the Republican Party now officially stands for.

In fact, the new party platform only formally indicates what we've known all along: that there's little tolerance in today's Republican Party for any position vis-a-vis abortion that even remotely resembles entitling women with a choice about their own bodies and lives. On this issue, there’s really not an inch of daylight between the candidate and the campaign. And the campaign knows it.

So, if the GOP (as embodied in the RomneyRyan ticket) and Akin are essentially saying the same thing on abortion, what’s the rationale for trying to make Akin quit the Missouri race? What’s the point of throwing Todd Akin under the bus if (philosophically speaking) Todd Akin’s the one driving the bus?

It really doesn't matter when Akin quits his race, as far as inoculating RomneyRyan from any collateral damage on the abortion issue for the electorate beyond the base. They're already damaged that way; the real, organic political connection between RomneyRyan and Akin is already there. Forcing Akin to bow out of his Missouri Senate race is all a matter of convention optics, making sure the coronation in Tampa comes off right.

◊ ◊ ◊

Then there’s the predicament specific to Mitt Romney himself. Over the years, his position on abortion has achieved 360 degrees of evolution. He supported Roe v. Wade and abortion rights in 1993, before running to be governor of Massachusetts.

In an October 1994 debate, during his ill-fated bid to unseat Massachusetts Sen. Ted Kennedy, Romney said Americans should “sustain and support” Roe v. Wade. “I want it to remain the law of the land.”

In March 2002, when he announced plans to run for governor, Romney was full-throated in his backing of Roe, saying “I will protect the right of a woman to choose.”

Fast forward: In June 2007 he began his first presidential campaign with both feet firmly in the anti-choice camp. That year he all but swore fealty to the anti-abortion cause at the National Right to Life Convention in Kansas City, Mo.

Fast forward again: Just last December, on Fox News, he told Bill O’Reilly that “I will support [Roe v. Wade] and preserve the law as it exists.”

Fast forward one more time: In a March 2012 interview with KSDK in St. Louis, Romney vowed to “get rid” of Planned Parenthood, which provides abortion counseling and a wide range of women’s health services — an implicit rejection of those services and, seemingly, Roe v. Wade itself.

Send your bills for treatment of whiplash directly to the RomneyRyan campaign.

◊ ◊ ◊

The RomneyRyan tandem, already challenged on its positions on various issues important to the American people, inherits a Republican Party platform that locks that campaign into a politically untenable posture on abortion.

By doubling down on a platform plank on abortion that brooks no compromises, allows no exceptions, the GOP has formalized again its support of a Cro-Magnon agenda on women’s reproductive health.

And it does something more, something worse from the RomneyRyan campaign’s perspective. “This is the platform of the Republican party,” Reince Priebus, the chairman of the Republican National Committee, told Politico. “It is not the platform of Mitt Romney.”

The RomneyRyan campaign is now faced with trying to carve out a palatable distinction between the two. For voters generally, and for women specifically, what was obscured before is now painfully clear: However well crafted and explained, it’s a distinction without a difference.

Image credits: GOP convention logo: © 2011-12 Committee on Arrangements for the 2012 Republican National Convention. EMILY's List logo: © 2012 EMILY's List.

Monday, August 20, 2012

The Stone Age, Act IV: Akin’s mistake

THERE ARE some news stories that don’t just break, they explode, powering their way to the top of the news cycle by virtue of their sheer outrageousness. Missouri Republican Rep. Todd Akin of the Missouri 2nd Congressional District is about to ride one of these stories out. Or not.

In the course of one minute, with one statement in one interview, Akin may well have shifted the dynamics of the Missouri Senate race in favor of his Democratic opponent, Sen. Claire McCaskill, who’s in a tight fight in her re-election bid.

And Akin’s astonishingly insensitive remark on abortion in the case of rape feeds into a line of conservative reasoning that stretches all the way to the top of the food chain — the Romney-Ryan campaign.

In an interview with KTVI-TV on Sunday, Akin, an ardent opponent of Roe v. Wade, was asked if he backed abortion in the case of rape.

“From what I understand from doctors, that's really rare," said Akin said of pregnancy caused by rape. "If it's a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down. But let's assume maybe that didn't work or something. I think there should be some punishment, but the punishment ought to be on the rapist.”

◊ ◊ ◊

The walkback from the Akin campaign was almost immediate. Hours later, he issued a statement that included the following:

“As a member of Congress, I believe that working to protect the most vulnerable in our society is one of my most important responsibilities, and that includes protecting both the unborn and victims of sexual assault. In reviewing my off-the-cuff remarks, it's clear that I misspoke in this interview and it does not reflect the deep empathy I hold for the thousands of women who are raped and abused every year. Those who perpetrate these crimes are the lowest of the low in our society and their victims will have no stronger advocate in the Senate to help ensure they have the justice they deserve.

“I recognize that abortion, and particularly in the case of rape, is a very emotionally charged issue. But I believe deeply in the protection of all life and I do not believe that harming another innocent victim is the right course of action. I also recognize that there are those who, like my opponent, support abortion and I understand I may not have their support in this election.

◊ ◊ ◊

It’s not the first time Akin’s slipped the leash. Sunday’s comments came less than two weeks after he suggested banning RU486, the morning-after pill. “As far as I’m concerned, the morning-after pill is a form of abortion, and I think we just shouldn’t have abortion in this country,” he said on Aug. 8 on the Gregg Knapp Morning Show on KCMO radio.

“We're going to prove to Missourians that Todd Akin is out of touch with their problems, out of touch with the pain that they feel, and out of touch with the views that they hold dear,” McCaskill said the same day.

She didn’t realize how right she was.

Now a race that was leaning Akin’s way is likely to be a lot more competitive. McCaskill had been lagging in recent polls; one SurveyUSA poll had the Democratic senator trailing Akin by 11 points.

◊ ◊ ◊

WHAT A difference a day makes. A blogger at Red State called Akin’s comments “a Category 5 blundering” and gave voice to that which was unthinkable 24 hours ago:

“A reasonable Akin withdrawal scenario would be for Akin to voluntarily suspend his campaign and withdraw in favor of the person who got the 2nd highest # of votes in the MO-SEN primary: John Brunner. The bonus is that Brunner was already running better in polls than Akin; Brunner polled better than Akin before the primary, to such an extent that McCaskill ran ads to ‘help’ Akin in the primary.”

On Sunday, Nate Silver of the FiveThirtyEight election forecast blog at The New York Times, predicted that polls could swing against Akin by 10 points.

“Have to wait for polls, but on instinct I'd call McCaskill a 2:1 favorite in [the Missouri Senate race] now," he wrote. “Calling McCaskill a 2:1 favorite prices in some chance that Akin will drop out. I'd take her side of those odds if he stays in.”

Josh Kraushaar of the National Journal says not so fast. "Missouri is a Republican-trending state, and still conservative on social issues,” he observed Sunday. “This blunder is going to cost Akin dearly with female voters, but the race is still a toss-up. There's a reason why Sen. Claire McCaskill was trailing badly to her three Republican primary opponents. Her job approval numbers are very weak in Missouri."

◊ ◊ ◊

That may be, but Akin faces a problem that’s bad on so many levels, it’s hard to know where to start. And it’s a problem that may yield the kind of cascading damage that doesn’t fully reveal itself in a day or two or three.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Romney-Ryan: Scenes from a marriage

AT A NEWS conference in Greenville, S.C., on Thursday, the candidate who would take over the stewardship of the American economy in January 2013 said he recalled adding charitable donations to the amount he pays in taxes. You can’t add what you give to charities to what you pay in taxes. Not legally, anyway.

There may be no better proof of the heads-is-tails narrative of the Mitt Romney presidential campaign than that breathtaking and curiously underreported statement (most American taxpayers would like to know how that works). It’s just one of the most recent vexing Romney statements of late.

Since yoking up with his running mate, Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, Romney has been, uh, challenged in deciding just how much daylight there is between his own economic plan and the proposed (and deeply unpopular) Ryan budget. To go from recent interviews and comments on the campaign trail, the candidate himself isn’t sure.

◊ ◊ ◊

In January, at the Fox News-Wall Street Journal debate in South Carolina, Romney said the Ryan budget was “absolutely right on.” His praise song got louder on March 20, the day Ryan introduced his budget, Romney told reporters in Chicago that “I applaud it, it’s an excellent piece of work and very much needed.”

Fast forward to Aug. 12, the day after Ryan got the nod. Interviewed on CBS’ “60 Minutes,” Romney took pains to put distance between his plan and Ryan’s. “I have my budget plan that I put out, and that’s the budget plan we’re gonna run on.”

The next day, Romney, quizzed again on the distinctions between his economic vision and that of his running mate, seemed to accentuate the negative. “We’ll take a look at the differences,” he said.

On Tuesday, interviewed on CNN, Romney senior adviser Tara Wall said that Romney-Ryan “is a unified ticket. I think with any ticket and with any personality you have differences. You have differences of viewpoints, you have different ways of handling things," she said. "But I think that they are certainly 100 percent on the same page and on the same path relative to saying that we have to reform Medicare.”

Then on Wednesday, Romney told WBAY, a station in Green Bay, that “Paul Ryan and my plan for Medicare, I think, is the same; if not identical, I think it’s probably close to identical.”

For those of you scoring at home ... good luck.

◊ ◊ ◊

FOR ALL THE bobs and weaves and feints and jukes Romney’s attempted to perform this past week, there’s no escaping the fact that, in a nutshell, both the ostensibly revenue-neutral Romney tax plan and the Ryan counterpart endow the rich with tax cuts and eviscerate the middle class with more tax burdens.

Romney, the would-be Houdini of the treasury, proposes to “lower rates and to broaden the tax base so that taxation becomes an instrument for promoting economic growth.” He intends to do this by shutting down various loopholes in the economy.

In a Sunday editorial, The Washington Post said that “[t]he “loopholes” that cost most are deductions and other tax provisions that most Americans consider sensible, if not God-given, rights: tax breaks for employer-provided health insurance, which according to the Congressional Budget Office will cost $2 trillion over the next 10 years; for pension and retirement savings ($1.8 trillion); for mortgage interest ($1.6 trillion) and charitable giving ($600 billion). Mr. Romney hasn’t said which of these he would trim or by how much. ...

“In reality, his principles are mutually exclusive: You can’t simultaneously lower tax rates, take in as much money as before and protect the middle class. There may be no politically feasible way, and there’s certainly no politically popular way, to “broaden the base” enough to pay for Mr. Romney’s tax cuts. It’s reasonable to assume that his cuts would, as did President Bush’s, worsen the nation’s deficit.

“Until he’s willing to explain how he would avoid such a result, he has little standing to criticize [President] Obama’s fiscal shortcomings.”

◊ ◊ ◊

Despite the sad whiteboard show-and-tell Romney performed last week in Greenville, (when he offered his novel revision of charitable donations), more Americans are kicking the tires of the tandem Romney-Ryan economic prescription, and finding precious little air there.

The nonprofit Economic Policy Institute wrote last week: “Ryan’s budget blueprints impose huge cuts to non-defense spending yet still fail to address long-run fiscal challenges in any serious way. Further, they clearly exacerbate many pressing economic challenges, like restoring full employment, rebuilding the middle class, and curbing health costs. Lastly, they are often simply incomplete or even dishonest, claiming to hold overall revenue levels constant while offering no tax increases to counterbalance very large tax cuts aimed at the highest-income households.”

Back in March, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities called the Ryan budget “a remarkable document — one that, for most of the past half-century, would have been outside the bounds of mainstream discussion due to its extreme nature. In essence, this budget is Robin Hood in reverse — on steroids. It would likely produce the largest redistribution of income from the bottom to the top in modern U.S. history and likely increase poverty and inequality more than any other budget in recent times (and possibly in the nation’s history).”

David Stockman, director of the Office of Management and Budget under President Reagan, said much the same in an Aug. 13 op-ed in The New York Times: “Mr. Ryan’s sonorous campaign rhetoric about shrinking Big Government and giving tax cuts to 'job creators' (read: the top 2 percent) will do nothing to reverse the nation’s economic decline and arrest its fiscal collapse.” ...

“Mr. Ryan showed his conservative mettle in 2008 when he folded like a lawn chair on the auto bailout and the Wall Street bailout. But the greater hypocrisy is his phony ‘plan’ to solve the entitlements mess by deferring changes to social insurance by at least a decade. ...

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Economist/FT: Obama presidency
preferred by global business

FROM ITS very beginning, the presidential campaign of Mitt Romney has built itself on the idea of Romney’s expertise in the private sector as the principal reason why Romney would be a better president than Barack Obama. The talking points have been consistent: that the former Massachusetts governor’s experience at Bain Capital, and his stewardship of the Salt Lake City Olympics, make him a better money manager than the president directing the world’s largest economy.

Business executives around the world would beg to differ.

A survey of more than 1,500 international senior executives, conducted by the Intelligence Unit of The Economist, and the Financial Times, finds that while the global business outlook remains decidedly gloomy, an Obama presidency is considered better — not just for the American economy, but also for the world economy.

The survey results, released on Thursday, found that “[o]verall, 42% of executives now reckon business conditions will worsen. Most predicted, unsurprisingly, that Europe's biggest problem will be economic uncertainty. More than 60% believe economic conditions in the euro area will get worse in the next six months.”

◊ ◊ ◊

The outlook is brighter when the U.S. economy is factored in.

“The outlook for North America is more optimistic, though with a presidential election in November that could change. Barack Obama leads Mitt Romney in every region, and by 22 percentage points overall, on the question of which candidate would be better for the world economy. An Obama presidency is also considered better for business, with strongest support coming from those in government, education and health care, pharmaceuticals and biotechnology.”

Overall, the poll, which sampled business responses from Asia, Western and Eastern Europe, Africa and the Middle East, North America and Latin America, showed Obama preferred by better than 2 to 1.

The poll was conducted before Romney tapped Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan as his running mate.

The cynics and nativists dominating so much of the conversation will, no doubt, harrumph and reinforce the notion that “their economy isn’t our economy” or angrily stress that this is a “water’s edge” issue, downplaying the interconnectedness that is a fact of 21st century economics.

But poll results like that can’t be easily tweaked or spun; they speak loudly of business leaders’ confidence in Obama’s proven abilities on the global stage. For them, at least, Romney’s expertise at creating jobs is questionable at best. For them, there’s no steadier hand at the helm than the one that’s already there.

“No man is an island,” John Donne observed, more than 375 years ago. No economy's an island, either.

Image credits: Economist logo, global business barometer chart: © 2012 The Economist Newspaper Limited.
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