Tuesday, January 31, 2012


A lot of people are very seriously pondering Charles Murray's new book, and the column David Brooks wrote about it today. I think it's somewhat of a waste of time to expend too much gray matter on Murray; I did my bit on Saturday. Short of reading Murray's book, if you want to assess what the guy is saying now, read the Wall Street Journal article he adapted from the book, as well as the article Adam Serwer wrote last May when Murray previewed the book in a speech at the American Enterprise Institute. Or you can go straight to this Roy Edroso post, which is informative and much funnier than anything else I've recommended, and also contains a link to an are-you-oppressing-the-proles-with-your-elitism? quiz from the book.*

The most interesting aspect of Murray's current work is his focus on blue-collar whites; he clearly feels burned by the reception to The Bell Curve. But his change in focus isn't all that interesting -- really, it's just a different approach to one of the main items on the wingnut intellectuals' mission statement, which is: Whenever possible, endeavor to demonstrate that big-government liberalism and liberal cultural elitism are responsible for everything bad in the world, and that the richest plutocrats are blameless. You may have read that Murray blames the well-to-do for failing to wag their fingers sternly at blue-collar workers who quit their jobs and have kids out of wedlock -- but he's not blaming the truly well-to-do, and he's certainly not blaming them for the things they did to become well-to-do. As David Brooks says, citing Murray's book:

... there are vast behavioral gaps between the educated upper tribe (20 percent of the country) and the lower tribe (30 percent of the country)....

Democrats claim America is threatened by the financial elite, who hog society's resources. But that's a distraction. The real social gap is between the top 20 percent and the lower 30 percent. The liberal members of the upper tribe latch onto this top 1 percent narrative because it excuses them from the central role they themselves are playing in driving inequality and unfairness.

So, see, it's not the people who actually decide where all the job openings are (China rather than the U.S. Rust Belt) who are to blame for the decline of blue-collar America -- it's the people who drink craft beers and avoid strip-mall restaurants who are at fault, just by dint of drinking craft beers and avoiding strip-mall restaurants. (No, really -- check out the quiz. Murray says that.)

But, um, how does this jibe with Murray's old thesis, that non-whites are simply less fit to function at the upper levels of society? Well, it doesn't matter whether it jibes -- it all functions like a parlor game, except one played with control of our dominant political narrative at stake. It's all in that statement I italicized above: if you're a right-wing "intellectual," your work has to proceed from the assumptions that the uber-elitists are blameless and that liberals bear 100% of the blame for everything. Then your task is to keep coming up with new, fresh, seemingly thought-provoking ways to connect these two premises. It's like Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon -- it doesn't matter how you get to Kevin Bacon, it just matters whether you do it in a compelling way. Murray's winning the game right now. If he continues to win, the prize is control of our discourse on race and class for years to come.


*(Also see: Roy's follow-up on Murray and TBogg's two Murray skewerings.)

You might not be seeing a lot of evidence of this yet, but there's a very strong likelihood that, as the year progresses, mainstream political journalists will settle on what Bob Somerby famously called "a story they like" -- a story that offers a comforting narrative, facts be damned. The story will be that the Republican Party almost went over the edge with all that tea party craziness, but cooler heads prevailed: the "moderate" Mitt Romney won the presidential nomination and teabag-friendly presidential candidates (Bachmann, Perry, Gingrich, Santorum) were rejected. The GOP is now safe as houses!

In a front-page New York Times story today, Michael Cooper asserts that the GOP appears to have gotten all that crazy stuff out of its system at the state level:

Second Year In, Republican Governors Moderate Tone

A year after a coterie of new Republican governors swept into the statehouses and put in place aggressive agendas to cut spending and curb union powers, sparking strong backlashes in many places, many of them are adopting decidedly more moderate tones as they begin their sophomore year in office.

... many of the new Republican governors who swept into office last year, taking aim at collective bargaining rights, are striking less confrontational notes as they begin the new year, at least judging by what they have been saying in their State of the State addresses.

But there are a few problems with Cooper's narrative -- as he himself notes:

Of course, governors do not always propose their toughest measures in their annual speeches to lawmakers. Last year, [Governor Scott] Walker of Wisconsin used his State of the State address to call on government workers to contribute more to their pension plans; he did not mention his plan to curb collective bargaining rights until later.

Oh yeah -- that.


To be sure, some governors -- both first-termers and veterans -- are still proposing measures that are sure to cause controversy this year.

Gov. Sam Brownback of Kansas, a Republican, proposed a major overhaul of the state's tax system that would lower tax rates but eliminate deductions and credits -- including popular ones, like deductions for mortgage interest and charitable contributions and tax credits for poor families....

And more laws that aim to curb the power of unions are being pursued in a number of states this year.

Unions and Democrats were thrown on the defensive this year in Indiana when [Governor Mitch] Daniels, serving in his second -- and last -- term, switched course and decided to support a bill to ban union contracts from requiring nonunion members to pay union dues....

In South Carolina, a right-to-work state whose unemployment rate remained at 9.5 percent in December, above the national average, Gov. Nikki R. Haley, a Republican beginning her second year in office, took a hard line on unions in her address to the Legislature. "I love that we are one of the least unionized states in the country," she said, calling it "an economic development tool unlike any other." She pledged to "make the unions understand full well that they are not needed, not wanted and not welcome in the state of South Carolina."

Teacher tenure continues to be a flashpoint in many states. The governors of New Jersey, South Dakota and Virginia all used their speeches this year to call for abolishing or weakening it....

But hey -- apart from all that, the GOP is really, really mellowing!

Except that's not true. Cooper doesn't even mention what's going on in Republican-dominated states with regard to abortion and reproductive rights. Here's a sample of January headlines from Google News:

Abortion Ban to Be Proposed in Kansas Legislature

Abortion Bills Fill Desks in Virginia Capitol

Florida Lawmakers Push Again to Restrict Abortions

New Hampshire Considers Defunding Planned Parenthood, Weakening Domestic Violence Laws

But that's not how the press wants to cover the GOP in the year of the Romney-Obama race. That's not how the press ever wants to cover the GOP -- the press never wants to acknowledge the party's extremism. The press wants to say that the party is fine, our two-party system is fine, and anything intemperate that Republicans have ever done is anomalous, and unrepresentative of the fine folks all insider journalists meet at cocktail parties. So we get stories like Cooper's.

(X-posted at Booman Tribune.)

Today's New York Times has a subtly snarky editorial called "Don't Stop the Debates," which urges the Republicans to prattle on:

...Since the debates began, the popularity gap has grown between the leading Republican candidates and President Obama.

But that's not simply because the candidates have increased the intensity of their attacks on each other, nor is it curable by cutting back the mud-fighting.... It's also because voters have been exposed to the broken windows of the Republican idea factory....

The long series of debates are an open window onto the failed policies and dubious values of the Republican Party. No wonder some people want to close it.

The editorial lists some of the candidates' ideas, some of them crazy and presumably considered laughable by the general public (Gingrich's moon colony), others crazy and -- the Times doesn't say this -- potentially quite popular, given how much the public has internalized right-wing government-bashing memes (repealing Dodd-Frank and replacing it with nothing).

Ah, but doesn't the general air of lunacy hurt all the Republicans, including the front-runner? I don't think so. I'm starting to think that it's making Mitt Romney look more and more presidential, God help us -- especially the ranting of Gingrich. Standing next to Newt, Mitt must look to at least some voters like Abraham freaking Lincoln.

At the very least it's a wash, as William Galston argues:

This morning, Gallup released the latest in its series of polls focused on twelve swing states.... Obama and Romney are statistically tied: it's Romney 48, Obama 47 in the swing states and 48-48 nationally.... despite changes in the political environment, a more aggressive stance by the president, and the emergence of less than flattering information about Mitt Romney, the Obama-Romney contest hasn't moved much in many months. Last October, for example, Romney led Obama 47-46 in the swing states. Since last August, Obama's national support has moved in a narrow range between 46 and 48 percent; Romney's, between 46 and 49 percent. This evidence supports the thesis that the 2012 presidential election will be hard-fought and close....

And check this out, from a new Gallup poll (click to enlarge):

Fairly solid majorities think Romney "has the personality and leadership qualities presidents should have" and "can manage the government effectively"? Half the country thinks he "is sincere and authentic"? Authentic? Half the country?

The impression of Republican clownishness is not rubbing off on Romney. If anything, it's setting him off in relief, making him seem like the one guy with at least an adequate level of gravitas in a gravitas-deprived party. The clown car is just making him seem the least clownish.

Monday, January 30, 2012


Wow, this is just awesome:

Gingrich: I wouldn't accept debate versus Obama moderated by reporters

Newt Gingrich threatened Monday to skip any debate as the Republican nominee versus President Obama that's moderated by a member of the media.

"As your nominee, I will not accept debates in the fall in which the reporters are the moderators," Gingrich said at a rally in Pensacola. "We don’t need to have a second Obama person at the debate."

... Gingrich has made his debating prowess a central selling point of his candidacy, promising fantastical showdowns with Obama in the general election. A frequent applause line for Gingrich, for instance, is his promise to challenge the president to seven, three-hour Lincoln-Douglas style debates....

I am so very, very sorry this guy won't be the Republican nominee. The only thing that would be more advantageous for Obama than getting to stand on a podium and watch Gingrich unleash hours of obnoxious, self-important cockamamie rhetoric in debates would be Gingrich engaging in a divaesque refusal to debate Obama unless the presidential debate commission changed all the rules that have applied to debates for decades, just to accommodate Newt.

And, really, what an idiot: doesn't Gingrich realize that, without debate moderators as foils, he'd be back home right now, as much of an also-ran as Bachmann, Huntsman, and Perry? His insults of debate moderators have been the only real high points (although I don't think that's the right expression) of his campaign.


But it occurs to me that we may be getting a glimpse of Newt Gingrich's possible future.

I could see him riding the rails from town to town, with nothing but a portable lectern and a cardboard valise, offering to take on any and all comers in ... a series of Lincoln-Douglas debates! Three hours! No moderator! Come one, come all! Step right up! Do you think you have what it takes to out-pontificate The Mighty Newt?

He could be like an itinerant pool hustler -- except he'd be an itinerant pool hustler of civilization-altering transformational change! It would be awesome! Maybe he could even do one of these debates on the moon!

(X-posted at Booman Tribune.)

Newt Gingrich yesterday on ABC:

Asked about his "collapse" in the polls on ABC News' "This Week," Gingrich said, "I think that they haven't quite collapsed. And the fact is, when you combine the Santorum vote and the Gingrich vote, we clearly are -- the conservative combined would clearly beat Romney."

Is that "clearly" true? Not according to Suffolk University it isn't:

The new Suffolk University poll of the Florida primary: Romney 47%, Gingrich 27%, Santorum 12%, Paul 9%.

(For the math-challenged, that's Romney 47%, Gingrich + Santorum 39%.)

Oh, and not according to Nate Silver's new forecast:

Our new Florida forecast: Romney 44.7 (97% chance of win), Newt 29.4, Santorum 13.2, Paul 11.1

(That's Romney 44.7%, Gingrich + Santorum 42.6%.)

I really wanted Newt to go all the way, and I'm sure he'll be entertaining if he refuses to quit, but it looks as if he's about to be crushed.

New York magazine's John Heilemann thinks Newt Gingrich really might be crazy enough to keep fighting Mitt Romney all the way to the convention. Heilemann thinks this is a real problem for Romney. I agree with Heilemann about the potential for a prolonged, futile Gingrich fight -- but I'm not so sure about the likelihood of harm to Mitt.

Heilemann writes:

... in Gingrich's case, he might be serious, so much has he come to despise Romney and the Republican Establishment that has brought down on him a twenty-ton shithammer in Florida, and so convinced is he of his own Churchillian greatness and world-historical destiny. The same antic, manic, lunatic bloody-mindedness that has made him such a rotten candidate in the Sunshine State may be enough to keep him the race a good long time.

Waging a protracted battle would likely be an act of futility for Gingrich, but it could turn out to be something much worse for Romney.

But how much more harm can Gingrich do to Romney? In some voters' minds, he's helped create an image of Romney as an evil corporate predator -- but on that subject, what else has Newt got? Does he have anything that isn't in that attack film he released a couple of weeks ago?

Yes, that line of attack does seem to have hurt Romney with general-election swing voters -- though please note that it doesn't seem to have hurt him at all with Republicans, and it's conceivable it even shored up his support with the Randian base. Gingrich's current line of attack -- that Romney is "a Massachusetts moderate who's pro-gun control, pro-choice, pro-tax increase, pro-liberal judge" -- may actually help Romney with swing voters. (See? He's not so extreme!)

And really, how many of Newt's best punches are aimed at Romney anyway? Yes, Gingrich hates Romney -- but his most effective attacks have been aimed at debate moderators. And that's not working anymore, is it? A lot has been made of Romney's increasing skill as a debater, but debate moderators have a learning curve, too: Brian Williams and Wolf Blitzer learned not to do what Juan Williams and John King did -- goad Gingrich -- and now he looks toothless and impotent. And there aren't going to be very many more debates.


You know where Gingrich may be having an impact? In this year's Oscar race. Consider what happened at the Screen Actors Guild awards last night:

The Help was the big winner at the 18th annual Screen Actors Guild Awards last night, taking three awards many had expected to go to The Artist.

Hmmm ... Gingrich calls Barack Obama the "food stamp president," proposes janitorial work for poor children, attacks Juan Williams, and gets asked about old remarks in which he criticized bilingual education as reinforcing immersion in "the language of the ghetto," all in the space of a couple of weeks. Yes, I know there's always some idiot spouting racist nonsense somewhere, but this is pretty high-profile. Think it might be high-profile enough to be making movie award voters more supportive of a film that focuses on racism? Think it might benefit The Artist if just went away?

Sunday, January 29, 2012


What does Charlie Pierce call Paul Ryan? "Zombie-eyed granny-starver"? Well, here he is a moment of levity, courtesy of Fox:

Ryan gets a dollar-sign birthday cake

Spending his birthday morning on "Fox News Sunday," Rep. Paul Ryan got a surprise: a large white sheet cake adorned with a massive green dollar sign....

As a crew member brought the cake out, Ryan was a bit incredulous, "You've got to be kidding me, where did you get this?" And Wallace joked that he'd stayed up late to bake it.

The mind reels.

Here's the video:

Yeah, Ryan is at least embarrassed by the gesture -- but not because, in the middle of a deep recession, it's tasteless. The Z.E.G.S. is embarrassed because, as he says, he simply doesn't eat sweets. I can find no evidence that he's diabetic -- what I do find is that he's a showoff about his workout routine, so he's probably too narcissistic to even contemplate adding an extra bit of body fat. Imagine what the wingnuts would say about the "elitism" of a guy refusing to eat cake and obsessing over his P90X routine if he were a Democrat....

Jeb Bush and his father visited President Obama at the White House last night -- I have no idea why. I mean, I guess I understand why Poppy Bush would show up -- the Bushes were in D.C. for the Alfalfa Club dinner, and Poppy, however mean and nasty he might have been whenever he was campaigning against a Democrat, seems to be the kind of guy who likes to leave the real nastiness behind once the campaigning is over. But Poppy can afford to be that kind of Republican -- he's retired. What's Jeb thinking?

Well, Jeb was one of the people who tried to rebrand the GOP in early 2009 as a post-Palin, less threatening party -- remember the pizza summit? The timing of that effort was spectacularly bad, because it happened just as the tea party (along with its media wing, Fox News) was taking the GOP even further to the right.

But maybe Jeb thinks the party is going to go too far to the right this year, and in the next four years as well; maybe he thinks Obama's going to win handily this year, and the GOP will need to be rebranded in 2016. It's not as if Jeb's a moderate -- recall his recent Wall Street Journal op-ed, which praised Paul Ryan and damned the current crowd in D.C. as a bunch of big-government crushers of the entrepreneurial spirit -- but he may think the time will be right for a Republican who seeks to "disagree without being disagreeable," as the saying goes (or who at least pretends to want to do that).

If so, I think he's nuts. Either Romney's going to win this year or his loss is going to be blamed by the GOP on his lack of extreme conservatism. (We lost with Romney, McCain, and Dole! We won with George W. Bush and Ronald Reagan! True conservatives always win!) Either way, Jeb can't be nominated four years from now -- if Romney isn't running for reelection, a Jeb who's seen as too much of an appeasenik can't possibly be the nominee. The crazy base will never accept that they're the problem, even if their party loses the presidency for the fourth time this year in the six most recent contests (and loses the popular vote for the fifth time out of six). So give it up, Jeb. It would take years, and massive losses, to purge the insanity and lust for combat from your party. Stick to being a partisan attack dog -- your fellow pizza summiteer Eric Cantor has done that, as has another summiteer, Romney. You're never going to get anywhere in your party by being gracious to Democrats.

Maybe the press is never going to warm to Mitt Romney himself -- maybe it will continue to treat him as contemptuously as it treated Al Gore in 2000 -- but I think it's possible that the press will transfer its desire for a Hero Republican Daddy to his campaign staff, and see starbursts whenever that staff does the wet work brutally and efficiently. Consider a few key passages from this New York Times front-page story by Jim Rutenberg and Jeff Zeleny entitled "The Calculations That Led Romney to the Warpath":

With the Florida primary two days away, Mr. Gingrich is now facing the full capabilities of a Romney team that was built for battle....

Behind the scenes, it [Romney's loss in South Carolina] was ... a call to arms employing all the visible and invisible tactics of political warfare....

If Mr. Romney does win here on Tuesday, it will have been through a blistering and unrelenting series of attacks....

David Kochel, an adviser who arrived here from Iowa to oversee the pressure campaign, described the strategy as "let's go rush the quarterback." ...

A team of some of the most fearsome researchers in the business, led by Mr. Romney's campaign manager, Matt Rhoades, spent days dispensing negative information about Mr. Gingrich....

When Mr. Romney delivered the attack against Mr. Gingrich that evening, Mr. Gingrich was left with no substantive response, a killer blow....

Wow -- after writing all this, I bet Rutenberg and Zeleny wanted a cigarette.

It would be unusual for the boys on the bus to dress the operatives in the metaphorical flightsuit while not really respecting the candidate, but we do live in a meta age -- it's been years since talk about Academy Award marketing strategies migrated from the pages of Variety to the popular press, and in politics, of course, Lee Atwater, Carville & Matalin, and Karl Rove became mainstream superstars over the past couple of decades. So why not?

This is the kind of thing I expect to be reading whenever the Romney campaign has the Obama campaign on the defensive, however temporarily. Sooner or later, some individual from the campaign will be deemed the new Carville, and will get the star treatment (magazine cover stories, softball interviews asking about his iPod songs and the contents of his refrigerator). And if he makes pugnacious comments that suggest he holds liberals, "elites," and the reporters who cover him in contempt, even greater swooning will follow.

Saturday, January 28, 2012


Sarah Palin is suddenly all over the place. First we had Howard Fineman listing five reasons why Newt Gingrich's campaign is imploding in Florida, including this one:

The Palin Factor. Some D.C.-based establishment types were preparing to reconcile themselves to former House Speaker Gingrich, if not outright endorse him, before or after the South Carolina primary last week. But according to one such insider, who asked not to be identified because of her prominent corporate lobbying role, Gingrich fatally said on Jan. 18 -- three days before the primary -- that he would offer former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin a "major role in the next administration if I'm president." That one statement scared the accept-Newt, Republican-establishment types. "That sure did it for me, and I think for a lot of other people in town," the lobbyist said.

Now we have a blistering anti-Romney, anti-GOP Establishment screed written by Palin's ghostwriter* and posted on her Facebook page, and we have Politico declaring her to be Gingrich's "unofficial campaign surrogate."

So, is she going to keep this up past primary season, after Romney wraps it up? Is she going to go on Fox and be lukewarm about Romney, or even actively hostile? Might she even endorse some obscure third-party Jesus-'n'-guns candidate for president instead of Mitt?

And if so, does that help Mitt or hurt him?

I can see it both ways. On the one hand, Romney needs a crazy base that's motivated to vote for him. Palin's sincere backing would be of benefit in order to get that to happen.

On the other hand, he's counting on the mainstream press to tell swing voters that he's not really a right-winger, that all the crazy right-wing things he said in the primaries were just for show and he'll govern as president only a bit more conservatively than he governed Massachusetts. (Heck, ladies, he might even become pro-choice again!)

This is nonsense, of course -- if he's president, he's just going to do whatever the crazy Republicans in Congress want him to do, because they have an agenda they're hell-bent on enacting, and he's a pathetic, passve wimp who just wants to hold the office of president, not actually do anything.

But mainstream pundits may cite the opposition (or at least wariness) of Sarah Palin (and possibly a few other zealots) as evidence that Romney won't really be a right-winger. And swing voters might swallow that.

But how would these two things would balance each other out? I really don't know.


*Wingnuts, please don't try to persuade me that Palin writes her own Facebook posts. Here's a typical sentence -- stilted but reasonably coherent -- from the current one:

Without this necessary vetting process, the unanswered question of Governor Romney's conservative bona fides and the unanswered and false attacks on Newt Gingrich will hang in the air to demoralize many in the electorate.

Now here's something that came out of her own mouth, on Fox News, as quoted by Politico. She's responding to Peggy Noonan's characterization of Gingrich as an "angry little attack muffin":

"They maybe subscribe such characterization of Newt via words like that, but they don't subscribe those to say Mitt Romney when he or his surrogates do the same thing," she said."

I rest my case.

(And no, that wouldn't even make sense if you changed "subscribe" to "ascribe.")

Rooting for Failure

Romney cheerleader James Pethokoukis gleefully presents what he calls "The economic chart that may doom the Obama presidency":
In his State of the Union response the other night, Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels neatly summed up Mitt Romney’s (who has a roughly 90 percent chance of being the GOP nominee according to Intrade) economic case against President Barack Obama: “The president did not cause the economic and fiscal crises that continue in America tonight, but he was elected on a promise to fix them, and he cannot claim that the last three years have made things anything but worse.”

In other words, the Obama Recovery stinks.
Here's the chart:

Pethokoukis describes it at some length, but the gist of it is this: the Reagan recovery was awesome, and this recovery is really shitty. That's about it.

Two things strike me about this. First, this is a tacit admission that Romney has no affirmative case to make. There's just nothing there to vote for, only something to vote against. That doesn't mean he can't win--he could, if the economy is still shitty--but it does reduce Pethokoukis and all the other Romney boosters to rooting for failure.

The second thing is the reason the recovery is weak: decent private-sector growth is offset by cuts to the public sector:
The public sector has been shrinking for the last year and a half — mostly because of cuts in state and local government, with some federal cuts, especially to the military, playing a role as well. In the fourth quarter, government shrank at an annual rate of 4.5 percent.

Over the last two years, the private sector grew at an average annual rate of 3.2 percent, while the government shrank at an annual rate of 1.4 percent.

The combined result has been economic growth of 2.3 percent.
Cuts, I hardly need point out, that were driven by Republicans. They're rooting for failure, and they're doing their damnedest to make it happen.

Friday, January 27, 2012


Steven D directs our attention to this:

New Hampshire Republicans Propose Bills That Prevent Police From Protecting Domestic Abuse Victims

Since the 1970s, New Hampshire police have operated under a progressive policy for handling domestic violence cases that has saved countless lives. Under current law the presumption is that an arrest will be made when police observe evidence of abuse. They have a large degree of discretion and don't need to witness the assault firsthand or obtain a legal warrant before they can separate the alleged attacker from his victim.

All that will change if Republicans get their way. The state's GOP legislators are pushing two bills that will reverse a half century of progress, the Concord Monitor reports:
...House Bill 1581 would turn the clock back 40 years to an age when a police officer could not make an arrest in a domestic violence case without first getting a warrant unless he or she actually witnessed the crime. That's an exceedingly dangerous change. Consider the following scenario, one outlined for lawmakers by retired Henniker police chief Tim Russell:

An officer is called to a home where she sees clear evidence that an assault has occurred. The furniture is overturned, the children are sobbing, and the face of the woman of the house is bruised and bleeding. It's obvious who the assailant was, but the officer arrived after the assault occurred. It's a small department, and no one else on the force is available to keep the peace until the officer finds a judge or justice of the peace to issue a warrant. The officer leaves, and the abuser renews his attack with even more ferocity, punishing his victim for having called for help. [...]

It's impossible to say how many lives the policy, in place since the 1970s, has saved or how many injuries it's prevented. If they adopt House Bill 1581, lawmakers might find out, but the price paid could be extraordinarily high.

That bill has two co-sponsors. One of them is Representative George Lambert. Domestic violence obviously doesn't bother him as much as this does:

Lawmakers and residents engaged in heated debate Tuesday over a bill that would make random airport security pat-downs and body scans criminal in New Hampshire.

The bill (HB628-FN) "makes the touching or viewing with a technological device of a person’s breasts or genitals by a government security agent without probable cause a sexual assault," according to the introductory text of the bill.

... "That is a crime in this state, and we should charge them every single time," said bill co-sponsor Rep. George Lambert, R-Litchfield.

A co-sponsor of that bill wants to put every TSA worker convicted under the law in the state sex offender registry.

Lambert, by the way, is a 9/11 truther, as you'll learn from the video posted here (the relevant portion is between 9:00 and 11:00).

The other co-sponsor of House Bill 1581 is Representative Dan Itse, who has won the admiration of Glenn Beck for this:

NH State Representative Dan Itse, a local hero among freedom lovers, ... has filed HCR 6, a bill that would reaffirm New Hampshire's sovereignty in the event that the federal government oversteps its agreement with us as outlined in our Constitution.

Dan appeared on Fox News with Glenn Beck to discuss the meaning and purpose of the bill. He explains that it is not so much a secession bill, but a reaffirmation of both our Federal and State Constitutions and the agreement states have with the federal government....

You can watch the Beck interview at the link (warning: the link goes to the Ron Paul Forums). Read the bill here. (Am I wrong to be a bit concerned when the supporters of a bill feel the need to reassure me that it's not a secession bill?)

Itse lists his "core beliefs" here. Core belief #2 is:

2. My first job as a State Representative is to protect you rights from the government.

Core belief #4 is:

4. Life begins at conception and continues through natural death.

Both legislators are affiliated with the libertarian Free State Project. Make of that what you will.


Regarding the other disturbing New Hampshire domestic violence bill that's been under consideration:

The other bill Republicans have proposed, HB 1608, limits judges' ability to order the arrest of someone who has violated a domestic violence restraining order by contacting or abusing the person named in the order. It would also prevent judges from ordering defendants to surrender their weapons or block them from buying guns.

That bill has been killed in committee.

(Also at Booman Tribune in a somewhat different form.)

David Brooks, February 11, 2010:

Obama was inaugurated in the midst of an economic crisis, and the activist policy proposals took precedence....

It was not to be. Voters are in no mood for a wave of domestic transformation. The economy is already introducing enough insecurity into their lives. Unlike 1932 and 1965, Americans do not trust Washington to take them on a leap of faith....

The country has reacted harshly to the course the administration ended up embracing.... Independent voters have swung against the administration. Voters are not reacting to the particulars of each bill. They are reacting against the total activist onslaught....

The next challenge is to find a new project....

... he could propose some incremental changes in a range of areas and prove Washington can at least take small steps.

David Brooks today:

It's sad to [consider] the medium-sized policy morsels that President Obama put in his State of the Union address. He had some big themes in the speech, but the policies were mere appetizers. The Republicans absurdly call Obama a European socialist on the stump, but the Obama we saw Tuesday night was a liberal incrementalist.

There was nothing big....

Instead, there were a series of modest proposals that poll well.

... the core point is that these policies are incremental, not transformational. You could pass them all and the country might be slightly better off or slightly worse off, but it wouldn't be on a different trajectory....

In normal times, that sober, incremental approach would be admirable. In normal times, the best sort of change is gradual, flexible and constant. But these are not normal times....

So voters are scared of major change in really bad times, and hungry for incrementalism -- except when Obama agrees and goes incremental, at which point the country suddenly becomes desperate for major change.

Right. Got it.

Of course, I'm concealing the real explanation from you. In 2010, the major changes Brooks insisted that voters didn't want were health care reform, the stimulus, a proposed cap-and-trade bill, and so on. The major change Brooks thinks is absolutely essential now is ...


But Brooks couldn't just say, "My change good, your change bad." In both cases, he said whatever Obama was doing was wrong. Funny how it always works out that way with Brooks.

Peggy Noonan today, writing about the volatility in the GOP presidential polls:

What it appears we are seeing is a new iteration of the age-old split between the grassroots and a perceived GOP establishment. It is like split between the Goldwater forces and the Eastern Rockefeller wing of the party in the 1960s. It is an update of the split between the Buchanan brigades and the establishment in 1992. It is the old True Conservative versus Ambivalent Accomodationist split.

Actually it's more a wound than a split, and the only one who healed it in our time was Ronald Reagan.

Nonsense. Just among presidential candidates -- just among presidents -- George W. Bush unified the hell out of Peggy's people. They cheered and wept and pumped their fists when he talked through a bullhorn or landed in a plane on an aircraft carrier. Noonan herself captured the feeling just after the 2004 election, when she approvingly quoted a military man saying of Bush, "he's got two of 'em," a remark she says she delightedly repeated to Stephen Moore of the Club for Growth, who apparently was also delighted. Yeah, I think that guy brought this party together.

But all Noonan will say today is this, referring to the healing powers of Reagan:

The healing lasted roughly a quarter-century, until the second Bush administration, when everything began to come apart again. The GOP was now a party split on spending, immigration, a dozen other issues. It was rocked even more than it knew by the crash of 2008, and further sundered.

It's as if Bush's first term never happened. And of course she says this, because even Republicans know in their heart of hearts that Bush busted the budget and stumbled from foreign policy disaster to foreign policy disaster, 9/11 to Tora Bora to hanged bodies on a Fallujah bridge to Abu Ghraib, and they all -- all -- cheered him on. You can't blame them for not wanting to acknowledge this.


The main point of Noonan's column is that Newt Gingrich is not even potentially a Republican unifier in the Reagan mold -- but, of course, he was a unifier of the party until his speakership fell apart, even when he was blaming the crime of a child murderer on liberalism and equating Democratic policies with Woody Allen's love life. I don't recall anyone in the GOP complaining, as long as he was on top. (That's the same thing that happened with Bush, of course. Winning isn't everything; it's the only thing.)

And, of course, Rush Limbaugh has united the party for more than two decades, and Rupert Murdoch and Roger Ailes have united it for a decade and a half -- until recently, when some Republicans have begun to question whether their de facto co-chairing of the party is responsible for the embarrassments of the current campaign. All three of these guys have had a hell of a ride, though. Maybe it's because they just throw bombs from the sidelines -- they never actually run for anything. Hey, Peg, you want a united party? Maybe all Republicans should follow that example, and leave elected office to the rest of us.

Thursday, January 26, 2012


I only watched bits of tonight's debate, but Newt Gingrich didn't say anything particularly noteworthy while I was watching, and the general pundit consensus is that he didn't come close to having the big night he needed to have to stop the free-spending, sorta-surging Mitt Romney in Florida.

And, well, why should he have had a good night? People say he's had "a series of impressive debate performances," or words to that effect, but what he's had, mostly, is a series of debates in which he's baited a moderator -- Chris Wallace in August, John Harris in September, Maria Bartiromo in November, and, of course, John King earlier this month. There was also the nasty exchange with Juan Williams this month, which was a two-fer: Gingrich got to attack a representative of the media who was also a black person, on a question about race.

But if you don't have a non-white questioner asking Gingrich a question about race, and the questioners you do have don't say anything he finds particularly provocative, he's got no game -- he needs someone who gives him an excuse to go on the attack. It turns out he's not even as good at attacking Barack Obama in debates as Mitt Romney is. He's just not very impressive if there isn't someone he can look in the eye and verbally bludgeon. He certainly doesn't get the partisan crowd pumped. That's all he's got -- deprive him of it and he's not even good for laughs for the rest of us.

Some junk e-mail I received today (also available here):

Innovative Technology Acknowledged for New Way to Pick a President

WASHINGTON, D.C., JANUARY 26, 2012 - AmericansElect.org has been selected as a 2012 Interactive Awards Finalist in the experimental category by South by Southwest (SXSW), the annual music, film, and interactive conference and festival held in Austin, Texas. Americans Elect is on the cutting edge of political reform - changing the way we nominate a President of the United States, and also emerging as one of the best new websites in the marketplace today.

“Americans Elect uniquely offers everyone an online way to participate, regardless of party affiliation, in political discussion and debate, and results in a balanced ticket that is on the ballot nationwide,” said Joshua S. Levine, Chief Technology Officer of Americans Elect....

The SXSW Interactive festival takes place March 9-13, 2012, featuring presentations showcasing the best new websites, video games and startup ideas. 

SXSW, you're pathetic. And hipsterism is now officially dead.

(X-posted at Booman Tribune.)

I know, I know: it's wrong to assume that correlation implies causation. But look at what's going on with Florida GOP voters. Nate Silver:

Polls Suggest Gingrich's Support May Have Peaked

Polling released within the past 24 hours suggests that Mitt Romney may have stopped and possibly reversed Newt Gingrich's momentum before the Florida primary on Tuesday.

... In fact, I suspect ... that there is enough evidence -- when you look carefully at the day-to-day results -- to conclude that Mr. Romney has re-emerged as the slight favorite in Florida instead....

The poll chart at Talking Points Memo shows Romney's Florida lead over Gingrich getting bigger and bigger over the past couple of days -- it's now at 7.7% The latest survey to be added to TPM's poll mix is a Monmouth University survey (PDF) showing Mitt up by 7. It was conducted on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Gee, what happened Monday night and Tuesday morning? Well, among other things, Romney released the tax information that was supposed to hurt him tremendously. Guess what? It hasn't -- not with Republican voters in Florida it hasn't. You can draw the same conclusion from a Rasmussen poll conducted yesterday (Romney up by 8, after trailing Gingrich by 9 four days earlier) and an Insider Advantage poll (PDF) also conducted yesterday (Romney up by 8 in this one as well, with a similar reversal of fortune).

Now, there are a couple of obvious explanations for Romney's mini-surge in Florida: he has a much heavier TV presence in the state, and Gingrich delivered a tepid performance in the last debate. (Oh, and many media wingnuts are attacking Gingrich.)

But shouldn't that be offset by Romney's tax stuff, if (as mainstream pundits keep telling us) Republicans as well as Democrats think the plutocrats have gone too far in this country?

Florida Republicans clearly don't believe that. At the very least, they're giving Romney a pass on his wealth, his business practices, and his tax rate. Maybe it's too much to say that being a fat cat is helping Romney with these Republicans, but it sure isn't hurting him.

(X-posted at Balloon Juice.)

Damn clever of President Obama to get into a tiff over immigration with Arizona governor Jan Brewer during the brief ten-day window when the leading Republican candidates are falling all over themselves trying to pretend that they don't hate brown people, in pursuit of Florida's Cuban-American GOP voter bloc. If Obama and Brewer had had words on this subject anytime before the polls closed in South Carolina, or anytime after they close in Florida, you can be sure that Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich would demagogue the issue, accusing Obama of traitorously failing to secure the U.S. borders with nuclear weapons and a lake of fire. (Well, maybe that would just be Gingrich.) But right now, when they're faking Hispanophilia, what can they do? What can they say? Following their current strategies, they can't even launch a full immigration attack on him in the debate tonight, can they? So well played, Mr. President.


UPDATE: Forgot to add: a privatized lake of fire.

From Fox Nation, via Weasel Zippers (click to enlarge):

"Oh my God! The Kenyan Muslim socialist needs a Teleprompter for the words "Thank you, God bless you, and God bless the United States of America"?!

No, schmuck -- he needs a Teleprompter for the entire speech he gave in Cedar Rapids, which ran for 3,498 words.

And I eliminated from my word count the 35 times he was interrupted by "(Laughter)" or "(Applause)," including

Thank you, everybody. God bless you. God bless America. (Applause.)

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

For Fuck's Sake, People, Get It Right

For the record:
  • That story about Callista Gingich having a woman arrested for breastfeeding? It's from the Weekly World News.

  • That poll with 91% approval for the State of the Union Address? It's from a year ago.
We have enough of the facts on our side that we don't need to rely on things we wish were true.

Update: Last night Rachel Maddow corrected the previous night's item, noting that the poll she had cited was a year old. Good for her.

Six A Dozen Impossible Things Before Breakfast

So it turns out that Romney paid an effective rate of just 13.9%. It's too early to tell what the political impact will be (although early indications look bad for Romney), but we have already seen some pre-emptive damage control. Last week Republican apparatchik James Pethokoukis wrote a column arguing that (in the words of the title) "Actually, Mitt Romney's tax rate is too high".

Yes, he really did.

Part of me wants to say, hey, if you wanna try that line, knock yerselves out. Let us know how it works out for ya.

But of course that isn't the point. This isn't a serious attempt to convince anyone that Mitt really is paying too much in taxes; this is about the underlying talking points, the distortions and irrelevancies and dubious assumptions necessary to arrive at that absurd conclusion. We'll be seeing a lot more of all these talking points if (when) Romney is the GOP nominee. On that basis, it's taking them one by one.

He starts out with a false dichotomy:
It’s real simple: If you think the biggest problem facing the United States today is income inequality, then you should be outraged that Mitt Romney’s income tax rate isn’t higher. But if you instead think America’s biggest problem is high unemployment and a lack of economic growth, then you should be outraged that Romney is paying any income taxes at all. Really.
He frames "income inequality" and "high unemployment and a lack of growth" as two opposing issues, as if you can deal with one or the other but not both. In reality, of course, the two are linked, and income inequality actively impedes economic recovery. Really.

Next up, some bait-and-switch statistics:
1. While Romney’s tax rate is—in his own words—”probably closer to 15 percent than anything,” that’s still higher than the 8.2 percent average total effective income tax rate (as of 2010) of U.S. households (once you factor in various tax credits)....Even if you add in the payroll tax, the effective tax rate of the middle fifth of U.S. taxpayers is 12.8 percent.
Thing One: he's comparing Romney's effective rate with an average effective rate that excludes payroll taxes. Romney's "capital gains" don't have any payroll tax on top of them; that 15% (or rather, 13.9%) is his total tax burden.

Thing two: when talking about effective rate including payroll taxes, Pethokoukis suddenly switches from overall average effective rate to the average rate for the middle quintile. Why? Because according to the linked chart, the middle quintile pays 12.8% (i.e., lower than Romney's effective rate), while the overall average is 18.1% (which would be higher).

Of course, no wingnut discussion of taxes is complete without this chestnut:
Indeed, nearly half of U.S. households pay no income tax at all. Their average effective tax rate is actually negative.
Um, right. Mostly because they don't have any fucking money, dumbfuck. (Except for the millionaires who are able to game the system so they don't pay anything. But I doubt Pethokoukis wants to call them to our attention.)

Now, we get another classic wingnut talking point, the "double tax":
2. The 15 percent headline rate is just the start. The capital gains tax is a double tax. For instance, corporate profits are taxed first as income and then a second time when they are distributed to shareholders as dividends.
You may recall this talking point being used in arguments against inheritance taxes. Then as now, it's silly because money isn't taxed, transactions are. When you buy something at a store and then the store pays taxes on its profits, that isn't "double taxation" because it's two different transactions. Corporation taking a profit? One transaction. Corporation paying dividends? Second transaction. Two transactions, no double tax.

At this point we get some calculated semantic imprecision, with the feel-good word "investment" covering up for all kinds of sins:
3. We shouldn’t tax what we want more of. And the real problem with the capital gains tax isn’t the rate or how it is structured, but what is taxed: gains on investments, which are savings put to work. Economists of all stripes have been saying Americans have consumed too much and invested too little over the past decade. So why would we want to tax investment even heavier, as the Obamacrats want to do?
Thing One: a good chunk of Romney's "investment" wasn't investment at all; it was compensation for managing money invested by other people.

Thing Two: given the perverse incentives inherent in Bain's kind of investment--private-equity buyouts--do we really want more of them?

Thing Three: how does a low capital gains tax encourage savings (i.e., investment) among the 95% who have little or no capital gains income?

[Update: Commenter Chris Andersen points out an even more fundamental problem with this:
the salaries paid to workers is *also* an investment because workers use their salary to go out and buy the stuff that America makes and thus puts the money back into the economy to be scooped up by enterprising "job creators".

In other words, the salary paid to a worker is just as influential on the engine of the economy as is investments. Yet our current tax code treats the latter as much more valuable in its contribution.]
Okay, now it's time for a little fearmongering:
Indeed, we shouldn’t want to tax capital at all. As an AEI study on consumption taxes explains: “The income tax’s penalty on saving is an undesirable distortion of consumer choice. It also causes less capital to be accumulated in the United States. The reduction in capital accumulation reduces labor productivity and lowers real wages throughout the economy, depressing the standard of living of future generations.
Which might be marginally more persuasive if we hadn't had much higher growth during periods with a much higher capital gains rate. Or, for that matter, if the causal link between productivity and wage growth hadn't been broken years ago.

Next up, Pethokoukis beats down a strawman argument with an appeal to authority:
4. So the main reason people want to keep taxing capital—or even tax it more heavily—is one of theology rather than sound economics. As the Concise Encyclopedia of Economics puts it: “Strange as it may sound, most economists would agree that having zero taxes on capital income is theoretically the best thing to do. But many reject putting this theory into practice because they think that too much of the benefit would go to the ‘wrong’ people, namely high-income households and the wealthy.”
"Most economists"? "Concise Encyclopedia of Economics"? Boy, that sure sounds authoritative! Of course, it's a publication of the Liberty Fund (legacy of Pierre Goodrich), so it may be more accurate to say "most libertarian economists".
That’s right, the desire to make sure the wealthy like Romney “pay their fair share” is desired by class warriors even if it make everyone poorer than they otherwise would be.
"Class warriors"! Everybody take a drink!

And just to seal the deal, we have one more appeal to authority--to a guy who, in the wingnut imagination, looms as a secular saint for liberals:
5. Take it away, JFK ( in his Special Message to the Congress on Tax Reduction and Reform from Jan. 24, 1963): ”The tax on capital gains directly affects investment decisions, the mobility and flow of risk capital from static to more dynamic situations, the ease or difficulty experienced by new ventures in obtaining capital, and thereby the strength and potential growth of the economy.”
The capital gains tax rate throughout Kennedy's term was 25%, or ten points higher than it is now. Next question?

So there it is. This is what they do, because with a candidate like Romney it's all they can do. They're just going to keep throwing the linguine, hoping that some of it will stick. And a lot of it will. And the only thing we can do in defense is become so familiar with all their talking points that we can swat them down before they get all dry and caked on and we need to use some kind of nasty cleanser and a stiff-bristle brush to...um, well, you know what I mean.

Here's something that's making wingnuts grin like idiots right now:

"My Message is Simple": Obama's SOTU Written at 8th Grade Level for Third Straight Year

Obama's SOTU addresses have the lowest average Flesch-Kincaid score of any modern president; Obama owns three of the six lowest-scoring addresses since FDR

... for the third straight Address, the President's speech was written at an eighth-grade level.

... A Smart Politics study of the 70 orally delivered State of the Union Addresses since 1934 finds the text of Obama's 2012 speech to have tallied the third lowest score on the Flesch-Kincaid readability test, at an 8.4 grade level....

Yeah, but at least Obama is less of a simpleton than that Ernest Hemingway guy -- if you take his story "A Clean, Well-Lighted Place" and put it in this Flesch-Kincaid reading level calculator, it comes out at a fifth-grade reading level. What a moron, that Hemingway!

Raymond Carver's short story "Cathedral"? Also fifth-grade. Same with this excerpt from The Road by Cormac McCarthy. Cretins, both of them!

But you know what gets a really, really high score?


It's written at a grade level of seventeen. (Which I guess is the first year of grad school.) Know what it is?

An Alan Keyes speech.

It gets graded that way because it has sentences like this:

We stand on the common ground of an understanding of justice that sees rights, that sees the difference between right and wrong, as dependent not upon willful attributes of ambition or natural physical attributes of color, but instead is dependent upon the will of the Almighty God who determined all of it and who has also determined that one of the attributes that we share as human beings is our unalienable right which leads then to a form of government based upon consent — and that is the spirit that the Tea Party movement expresses.

Lots of words, strung together semi-coherently -- that's what Obama refuses to give us. So Alan Keyes is smarter than he is! And smarter than Hemingway and Carver and McCarthy! The math proves it!



Do you remember when one of the big MSM critiques of Democrats was the lack of optimism they showed, how they were always scolding and negative about our future, and how Americans, who are fundamentally optimistic, couldn't identify with the party and its candidates because of it? I do, but apparently [Eric Cantor] doesn't, because I'll be damned if he cracked more than a reluctant smile last night.

It's not just Cantor and Boehner at the SOTU, it's also Gingrich, Romney, Santorum and Paul in the debates. Those twice-weekly pissing matches are glum, overly serious affairs contrasting the grim meathook future of another four years of Barack Obama with an even darker apocalypse of program cuts and never-ending austerity under the Republicans....

I remember that critique of Democrats, too, and it wasn't limited to the media. Recall Poppy Bush at the 1984 vice presidential debate:

Almost every place you can point, contrary to Mr. Mondale's - I gotta be careful - but contrary of how he goes around just saying everything bad. If he sees -- If somebody sees a silver lining, he finds a big black cloud out there. Whine on harvest moon!

But mistermix is absolutely right about contemporary Republicans being decline-obsessed miserabilists -- and you really, really don't want that to be your party's public posture going into a presidential election, because in presidential elections Americans very much prefer to vote for hope.

And in addition to the people mistermix names, I'd add the guy Republicans think might save them. Really, wingnuts -- this guy makes you say, "A star is born"?

"...On these evenings, Presidents naturally seek to find the sunny side of our national condition. But when President Obama claims that the state of our union is anything but grave, he must know in his heart that this is not true....

"In our economic stagnation and indebtedness, we are only a short distance behind Greece, Spain, and other European countries now facing economic catastrophe. But ours is a fortunate land. Because the world uses our dollar for trade, we have a short grace period to deal with our dangers. But time is running out, if we are to avoid the fate of Europe, and those once-great nations of history that fell from the position of world leadership.

"So 2012 is a year of true opportunity, maybe our last, to restore an America of hope and upward mobility, and greater equality....

The mortal enemies of Social Security and Medicare are those who, in contempt of the plain arithmetic, continue to mislead Americans that we should change nothing. Listening to them much longer will mean that these proud programs implode, and take the American economy with them..."

Ready to kill yourself yet? I would be if I took this seriously.

(X-posted at Booman Tribune.)

I'm not sure why a profile of dopey Saturday Night Live cast member turned dopey wingnut commentator Victoria Jackson is the cover story of this week's Village Voice -- the story is only intermittently interesting, in a Wes-Anderson-meet-Fox-News way (Jackson had Bible-thumping grandparents and tried to win SNL cast members over to Jesus, her father is a self-declared homophobe and ex-gymnast who's obsessed with fat people, her first husband was a fire-eater). But I very much enjoyed the lead paragraphs:

Victoria Jackson hurtles through intersections and down side streets while using her left hand to hold a Flip cam to her face. The inside of her car -- a weathered Honda Civic with "Nobama," Marco Rubio, and Tea Party bumper stickers -- smells like it has been fumigated with sweet incense. Steering with elbows and the occasional pinkie, she opens a Bible inscribed with her name and quotes Scripture in her inimitable high-pitched voice. Then she turns the camera on a reporter riding shotgun. She suspects he's a socialist. "Don't you think that some people are on welfare from cradle to grave," she demands, "because the government is encouraging them never to work?"

"Leaving on a Jet Plane," her ringtone, blares from some unknown recess of her purse, and she's suddenly burrowing through loads of makeup cases to find it. "What if we crashed and died on video?" she says, laughing wildly. "That would be the most viral video of the world! You'd be dead, but you'd have a really viral video!"

Can you believe all those nanny-state liberals want to crack down on "distracted driving"? What could those behavior Nazis possibly be thinking? Why on earth are they so afraid to trust the people with freedom?

Love Fox Nation's headline for the State of the Union response by Mitch Daniels:

Here's some of the poetry:

In word and deed, the president and his allies tell us that we just cannot handle ourselves in this complex, perilous world without their benevolent protection. Left to ourselves, we might pick the wrong health insurance, the wrong mortgage, the wrong school for our kids; why, unless they stop us, we might pick the wrong light bulb!

Yeah, right -- no one needs any government regulation whatsoever because no human being has ever made a choice with terrible consequences as a result of nonexistent or inadequate regulation -- no one has ever taken Thalidomide or consumed soft drinks containing cocaine or used tapeworm-based diet aids or invested in triple-A-rated subprime-mortgage-backed CDOs from Goldman Sachs. Given freedom!!!, bad things simply can't happen.

Bonus points to Daniels for the lightbulb reference; five bucks says that the next Republican president will have all the curly bulbs removed from the White House within 24 hours of being sworn in, accompanied by a boastful press release. And I won't be surprised if this year's GOP nominee waves an incandescent bulb at the convention during his acceptance speech and says, "From my cold, dead hands!"

Oh, and that school-choice reference? Hey, Mitch, the early 1990s called -- they want their talking point back.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012


If the speech seemed frequently strong and inspiring, and seemed like a campaign speech -- in fact, a 2008-style campaign speech -- I'd say it's because President Obama seems to know he has about as much power to get this agenda enacted right now as he did four years ago, when he wasn't president yet. When you're not president, you run through a lot of promises you'd like to deliver on, though you know you may never even get the opportunity. Obama is president, but he's in the same position -- he can't get much done. In his State of the Union addresses in 2010 and 2011, you felt that he didn't quite believe that everything he wanted to do would run into a brick wall; now he seems to know better. So it's as if he was talking tonight about what could be the way a challenger does. Hell, why not? Republicans ran the country four years ago and Republicans run the country now. We still need hope and change.

Back in August, Politico's Ben Smith and Jonathan Martin told us that in 2012 the Obama campaign would "portray [Mitt] Romney as inauthentic, unprincipled and, in a word used repeatedly by Obama's advisers in about a dozen interviews, 'weird.'" They went on to insinuate -- offering no evidence -- that this might be Mormon-bashing in coded form:

None of the Obama advisers interviewed made any suggestion that Romney's personal qualities would be connected to his minority Mormon faith, but the step from casting Romney as a bit off to raising questions about religion may not be a large step for some of the incumbent's supporters.

Raw Story's Megan Carpentier and The Atlantic's Elspeth Reeve agreed that the word "weird" seemed like a code word for "Mormon."

Well, now we have Newt Gingrich telling David Brody of Pat Robertson CBN News that -- unlike Romney -- he's "normal." So is that Mormon-bashing language, too?

In a one-on-one interview with The Brody File, Newt Gingrich says that he has "not hidden from the facts of my life, that I have confessed my weaknesses" and he believes that, in part, is a reason why evangelicals are able to get behind his candidacy.

He goes on to say that, "it may make me more normal than somebody who wanders around seeming perfect and maybe not understanding the human condition, and the challenges of life for normal people." (Dig at Romney???)

Here's the full version of the quote, in response to a question about "forgiveness" in the Christian sense:

Newt Gingrich: Well, I think it's important. It's also important that they recognize that I have not hidden from the facts of my life, that I have confessed my weaknesses, and that I have had to go to God for forgiveness and for reconciliation. And I think most people can identify, either with themselves or with loved ones, that life has moments that are very sad, you wish wouldn't have occurred. And you look back on them and you seek forgiveness for not having done everything you could have.

So, I think in that sense, it may make me more normal than somebody who wanders around seeming perfect and maybe not understanding the human condition, and the challenges of life for normal people.

Now, you'll say that Gingrich (unlike those evil Obama advisers) is being very explicit: this isn't about Mormonism, it's about Gingrich yielding to temptation and Romney seemingly never yielding. Nothing anti-Mormon there -- right? Well, consider the song "Turn It Off," from Broadway's Book of Mormon:

When you start to get confused because of thoughts in your head,
Don't feel those feelings!
Hold them in instead

Turn it off, like a light switch
just go click!
It's a cool little Mormon trick!

Isn't that a Mormon stereotype? That LDSers don't yield to temptations (of the flesh and otherwise) because of their weird religion?

No? Not convinced? Well, I think my case is about as strong as Smith and Martin's.

I've got nothing to add to this except ... wow:

What were you just saying on Fox News, Allen West?

WEST: I think race baiting really comes out when people are, you know, using the issue of race as a means by which to separate us and trying to draw attention such as what you heard Congressman Clyburn and also Al Sharpton saying that Speaker Gingrich was speaking in some secret, you know, race code or something of that nature, trying to draw attention to something that doesn't even exist and is not there.

Oh, yeah, right. (West was referring to Gingrich's "food stamp president" remarks, but he could just as well be referring to Gingrich's talk about "Kenyan, anti-colonial behavior.")

I'm reading this now, and it reminds me of a few other things I've read in recently:

Newt Gingrich says he won't "allow" the moderators of future GOP presidential debates to keep the crowd out of it.

Speaking on Tuesday to Fox News, Gingrich took the opportunity that was denied him at Monday night's debate, and blasted the media....

"We're going to serve notice on future debates that we won't tolerate -- we're just not going to allow that to happen," Gingrich continued. "That's wrong -- the media doesn't control free speech. People ought to be able to applaud if they want to. It was almost silly." ...

I read this a few hours after I spotted an Amanda Marcotte post in which she tried to figure out why the hell right-wingers are so obsessed with blocking the changeover to non-incandescent lightbulbs. (Her best answers, in my opinion: "Pettiness" and "It pisses off the liberals.") And yesterday there was this rather astute David Frum essay, in which he reminded us what Newt Gingrich thought would be the keys to Republican victory in the 2004 presidential election (with poll numbers to back him up!):

"1. A work requirement for welfare: 87% of Americans say yes, 5% no. John Kerry and the Senate Democrats have blocked the bill for three years.
2. Government should help faith-based initiatives help the poor: 72% of Americans agree, 26% disagree; Kerry is with the 26%.
3. U.S. interests are more important than international organizations: 73-24; Kerry's positions favor the 24%.
4. Violent attackers of pregnant women who kill the baby should be prosecuted for killing the baby: 84% of Americans say yes, 9% no. Kerry voted no.
5. Children should be allowed to pray at school: 78% of Americans agree; Kerry is against it."

As Frum says:

Looking back on that Gingrich platform from the perspective of eight years later, it's striking how utterly irrelevant those five highlighted points were to the largest problems of the time.

... to Gingrich, such substantive issues were not the stuff of campaign politics. Campaign politics was about finding ways to define your opponent as alien, hostile and dangerous. The definition need not correspond to any actual real-world problem.

But a focus on relatively insignificant, tangential wedge issues is mainstream Republicanism in the Limbaugh/Fox era. It's how you keep the base pumped up and voting. Moreover, Fox and talk radio have made right-wing voters think of culture war as entertainment. So issues like these are bread and circuses for the wingnut rabble -- and while the phrase "bread and circuses" usually refers to non-political distractions, please note that the righty rabble prefers political distractions, of the trivial, tangential variety.

The right-wing base just wants reasons to get angry at liberals, and wants to imagine (or achieve) victories over liberals; victories of any size will suffice. If victory can't be achieved, a heightened sense of grievance is immensely satisfying to these folks.

Gingrich never tires of looking for such wedge issues -- oh, sure, Michele Bachmann beat him to the lightbulb issue, but look how many such issues he came up with in '04. And now her's trying to turn debate rules into another such issue.

And hey, you can't blame Gingrich for persisting in this approach, because a belief in its appropriateness is widespread on the right. Consider this guy:

...An Oklahoma lawmaker files a bill to ban the making and selling of food or products that use aborted human fetuses.

State Senator Ralph Shortey says he's done research and found reports that companies have used stem cells in the research and development of food.

“I don’t know if it is happening in Oklahoma, it may be, it may not be. What I am saying is that if it does happen then we are not going to allow it to manufacture here," says Shortey

The lawmaker that represents Oklahoma County couldn’t give any specific examples.

“There is a potential that there are companies that are using aborted human babies in their research and development of basically enhancing flavor for artificial flavors," says Shortey....

I wonder if Newt wishes he'd gotten to this issue first.

(Oklahoma story via KagroX.)

Really? Mitt Romney released tax information last night and didn't immediately post it online, or make it available to be posted?

The Romney campaign leaked out portions of his tax returns to selected news outlets tonight....

And this on top of the fact that it was a limited release of information, which also suggests shame:

The release of his taxes is unlikely to satisfy Democrats, who said they will continue to push for more transparency -- particularly if Republicans select Romney to face Obama in November. Democratic strategist Paul Begala called on Romney to release 12 years of returns -- just as his father did when he ran for president in 1968.

"If you release one year, you can pretty it up," Begala said. "He's got to go back a dozen years and really show us -- or a lot of fair-minded people are going to conclude that he probably skated with paying less, or maybe even zero, for some of those years."

This is Romney's big problem, at least during GOP primary season. It's not that he's rich. It's not the he pays a lower tax rate than whoever prepared his taxes pays (and it's not that, under certain GOP tax proposals, he'll pay a lower rate than the people who clean his toilets pay). It's that he's embarrassed. Republicans want a proud class warrior fighting on the side of the rich. And, for the general election, I still say that swing voters are (depressingly) not very class-conscious, and would let him slide if he weren't furtive about his wealth.

Regarding last night's debate, I think Gingrich needs to keep making the rubes pump their fists to stay in the lead, and his fatigue and failure to land any blows means that Romney effectively won -- tie goes to the plodder. But I also think we got a sense of Romney's shame, as Charles Blow notes:

And Gingrich knows Romney's weakness. He squirms like a worm on a hook whenever someone points out his wealth.

In the middle of Romney's attack, Gingrich went right for it:
Gingrich: What's the gross revenue of Bain in the years you were associated with it? What's the gross revenue?

Romney, stammering a bit: Very substantial. But I think it's irrelevant compared with the fact you were working for Freddie Mac.

Gingrich, to audible chuckles from the otherwise quiet crowd: Wait a minute. Very substantial?
"Very substantial" is just the kind of non-answer answer that makes people suspicious. It's not that he doesn't know, but that he doesn't want to tell.

The Washington Post report on the Romney tax release practically hands Romney a talking point:

The couple gave away $7 million in charitable contributions over the past two years, including at least $4.1 million to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints....

The Romneys sent somewhat less to Washington over that period, paying an estimated $6.2 million in federal income taxes.

Can't you imagine how a proud right-winger would use this in a GOP debate? "I'm not going to apologize for the fact that we give more money to charity than we give to the bureaucrats in Washington, D.C.!" C'mon, Mitt, this is easy!

I know, I know: Southern Bible-thumpers won't like the fact that Mitt gave so much to the Mormon church. Well, Southern Bible-thumpers used to be taught to distrust Catholics, and Mitt's two chief rivals are Catholic.

And yes, I know that Romney's tax rate is awfully low. But I don't think most Americans even know what their own tax rate is.

I still think a Mitt Romney with a swaggering personality could get away with a lot of what he's acknowledging with great reluctance. I got a Swiss bank account, tax shelters in the Caymans -- it sounds like rap lyric circa 1987. Just go for it, Mitt. Own it.

Monday, January 23, 2012


The Boston Bruins were honored at the White House today for their Stanley Cup victory, but goalie Tim Thomas, a big Glenn Beck fan, refused to attend.

This (like a similar snub by five NASCAR drivers last September) is going to be taken by wingnuts as a sign that Obama is a big fat loser and someone real Americans recognize as a traitor -- the implication being that nothing like this would ever happen to a Republican.

Except that (as I noted at the time of the NASCAR incident) it does to happen to Republican presidents:

Um, anyone remember Michael Jordan snubbing President George H.W. Bush in 1991 when the NBA champion Chicago Bulls were invited to the White House? Or Chicago White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen and five of his players snubbing President George W. Bush when the team was invited to the White House in 2006? Or Miami Dolphins coach Nick Saban and defensive end Jason Tayloe snubbing W later that same year?

I understand the conventional wisdom: this kind of thing reflects badly on the president when the president is a Democrat, but it reflects badly on the athlete when the president is a Republican. But even if it is the conventional wisdom, you're still an idiot if you accept that conventional wisdom.

And as for you, Tim, here's a song that seems apropos. It's by your namesake.


Cokie Roberts on NPR this morning, talking about Newt Gingrich:

He's essentially channeling Ronald Reagan, but less sunny and more...

See if you can guess the last word of that sentence. I'll wait.

Here it is:

He's essentially channeling Ronald Reagan, but less sunny and more analytical.

Yeah, "analytical" -- that's le mot juste for Newt Gingrich, isn't it? "Food stamp president"? "Kenyan, anti-colonial behavior"? Voting GOP prevents mothers from killing all their children? Woody Allen's marriage to Soon-yi is Democratic? Oh, yes, brilliant -- analytically brilliant!

Cokie goes on to say:

Democrats are just salivating at running against Newt Gingrich, with all of his baggage. But they should take a look at how they salivated against-- running against Ronald Reagan, too, and maybe be careful what they wish for.

Oh, please. Look, given the awfulness of the economy (and the potential increase in awfulness via Europe), you'd be crazy to say that Gingrich couldn't possibly win, but really -- this is America, no? Every winning presidential candidate has to find a way to go all Frank Capra on the voters. Even Richard Nixon managed it. Newt can't. He just can't do Humble Everyman. Not even Peggy Noonan at her peak can make him capable of faking that.

Reagan was a partisan attack dog the public thought was a classic Capraesque grandpappy. He could play the part expertly. Gingrich can't play it at all.


Meanwhile, I see that Mitt Romney has a pretty hard-hitting ad up about Gingrich and Freddie Mac:

I'm not sure why this line of attack isn't sticking. I know that the GOP crazy base probably thinks that anything any white person does to make massive amounts of money while wearing a suit and not directly taking a government paycheck is a good thing, but this is Freddie Mac, dammit! Wingers hate Fannie and Freddie! Why doesn't this hurt Newt?

Maybe it's the Rob Corddry syndrome -- it's not important that Gingrich consorted with Freddie Mac; what's important is that (to wingnuts) he doesn't seem like the kind of person who would consort with Freddie Mac. (But ... but ... he hates anything government! And quasi-governmental entities!)

But why does Gingrich get away with so many apostasies? Freddie Mac. Attacking Paul Ryan. Attacking Romney's Bain career. Doing that ad with Nancy Pelosi. Why isn't any of this politically fatal?

It's almost as if he and the base have an understanding -- base voters know he's going to cheat on them with another ideology, but he's just so good to them after that. In matters of the heart, a cad might come back home bearing flowers and expensive gifts and reservations for a romantic dinner. Gingrich just attacks Juan Williams and John King. And the base swoons! Oooh, what a hunk! Yes, he may run around, but when he comes home, there's nothing like his good lovin'.

(And feel free to flip the genders -- I'm sure there's a blues or '70s rock song that will fit this no matter which way you want to do the metaphor.)