Sunday, September 30, 2012


Won't Back Down, the new teachers'-union-bashing movie starring Maggie Gyllenhaal and Viola Davis, was released this weekend. So ... how did it do at the box office?
Won't Back Down ... could only muster a $2.7 million debut this weekend (good for 10th place). That's the second-worst opening ever for a movie in 2,500+ locations -- The Rocker holds the record at $2.64 million. Distributor 20th Century Fox clearly realized they had a dud on their hands a while ago....
You remember The Rocker, don't you?

Won't Back Down flopped almost as spectacularly.

But is this an underappreciated masterpiece? Um, no. It "is to school reform what 'Reefer Madness' is to drug policy" (Minneapolis Star Tribune). It "fears nuance, pushes an agenda and demonizes its opposition" (Newsday). Its "suggestions for improving K-12 education include having kids wish themselves into college using 'The Secret.' Yeah, that should do it" (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel). It imagines that if "greedy unions and soulless administrators" would "just get out of the way, we'd have joyously creative elementary schools where ukulele-wielding teachers (in this case, Oscar Isaac) would finally be able to put in unpaid extra hours to help our struggling kids succeed" (Detroit Metro Times). A ukelele? Seriously?

Salon's Andrew O'Hehir reminds us that "the whole project was financed by conservative Christian billionaire Phil Anschutz, also the moneybags behind the documentary 'Waiting for "Superman,"' which handled a similar agenda...."

There was a full-page ad for the movie in today's New York Times -- but I'm surprised the studio didn't just bypass the big cities and try to sell this to Fox-addled, liberal-loathing right-wing crazies in Podunk and Bugtussle. Didn't that strategy work for 2016, the Dinesh D'Souza "documentary" about Obama? But I guess Anschutz and the studio (Fox, naturally) assumed the general public had already reached the union-hate tipping point. Guess not.

I know a lot of you won't want to let go of the notion that the worst The New York Times has to offer on its op-ed page is David Brooks, or Ross Douthat, or Tom Friedman, or Maureen Dowd, but at a moment when all of those columnists are recoiling, at least to some extent, from a right wing that gave us the campaign of Mitt "47%" Romney, along comes Frank Bruni with his best Colonel Blimp imitation:
IN a few days, as you may have heard, Barack Obama and Mitt Romney will go head-to-head in their first presidential debate. What I most want from it isn't fireworks, though I'm as big a fan of political theater as the next hack. It's a word, one that has gone sadly out of vogue over recent decades and been mostly absent from this campaign.


And I'm not holding my breath.
Yes, that's right: After a four-year near-depression, during which millions of people have either lost their jobs, experienced cuts to pay and benefits, or found themselves having to run twice as hard at work just to stay in place, all while many of them have suffered foreclosures and others have seen their houses lose value and 401(k)s shrink, we are told by Mr. Bruni that we haven't sacrificed enough -- Mr. Bruni being, I would remind you, a man who has sailed effortlessly through a time of great news-business austerity, having been offered job after job by the Times, even though he's notoriously unqualified for most of the jobs he's been offered.

He's certainly not sacrificing: for the princely sums he's paid, he writes two columns a week; yes, like many Times op-ed writers, he's tasked with generating extra content by maintaining a blog, but this month he's written a whopping six posts, and none in the past eight days, in addition to his month's quota of eight columns. (Paul Krugman, by contrast, has supplemented his column quota with 98 blog posts this month. And Krugman also teaches and writes books.)

You can read the column if you must; I can't bear to quote it. I'm sure I won't surprise you when I tell you it's classic both-sides-do-it-ism: Romney and Ryan won't tell the rich they have to sacrifice, but Obama won't demand sacrifice of everyone else. Bruni gives the game away when he writes this:
What once made Paul Ryan exciting even to some moderates was his readiness to sing a more somber song and say: folks, we can't have it all.
That just leaves me speechless.

If sacrifice has to be doled out by government, it ought to come after the economy is on its feet and the population feels more prosperous. Telling people now that sacrifice is good for them is like telling Europe in 1946 or America in 1866 that what it really needs is a good, cleansing war.

The vast majority of Americans have sacrificed plenty in the past few years. If Frank Bruni hasn't, he needs to realize how anomalous and lucky he is, rather than projecting his awareness of his own soft life onto the rest of us.

At the Mahablog, Barbara O'Brien considers the state of the GOP and the right -- in their current insane form, as well as in their recent past:
I've been more or less saying movement conservatism is a cult of crazy since I started this blog more than ten years ago. However, I have only recently appreciated how much the Bush regime was able to control Teh Crazy even as they fed it and grew it. Back when the Bush cult of personality was at its peak, Dubya, Turd Blossom et al. were able make the GOP appear to be a normal political party, at least enough so that the media establishment politely looked the other way when Teh Crazy was showing, the way you do when your elderly uncle forgets to zip his fly....

Dubya can't, or won't, play the role of Respected Elder Statesman, a role that Big Bill fills so very well. And nobody has taken his place as the Big Giant Head of the cult.
I'm not sure how much Bush really damped down the craziness -- Swiftboating was the birtherism of its time, and there was, of course, that Saddam = 9/11 business -- but if he did so at all, it's because he and his crew were the people running things in America. The crazies' champion was in charge, and was thwarting liberals and Democrats at every turn, plus killing and wounding and torturing a lot of melanin-rich non-Europeans. The crazy base will tolerate rising deficits or Eid celebrations in the White House as long as their guy is kicking various Antichrists' asses.

It's when the crazies don't have a Republican in the White House that they up the ante of crazy -- see the years 1992-2000, when even the things Bill Clinton actually did weren't a big enough target for the base's free-floating rage, so they entertained wild fantasies that Clinton was not merely a philanderer and a Lincoln Bedroom donor-coddler, but a drug dealer and murderer whose lesbian wife killed her male lover and hung sex toys on the White House Christmas tree.

What these means, of course, is that if President Obama wins reelection, it's going to do terrible things to the already fragile mental health of the right. The crazies will get that much crazier.


Barbara quotes Jonathan Bernstein:
Many of us argue that there's something really wrong with the current GOP. It'’s not that it's conservative; it's that, well, to be blunt, it's nuts. Or, to put it more gently, it's that there are strong incentives for being dysfunctional, such as the profit motive for those who stand to make a lot of money from the party being out of office (when talk show ratings go up and wacky conspiracy theory books about Democratic presidents sell like hotcakes).
Is Bernstein implying that many on the right don't really want the GOP to win? I don't buy that. I go back to this May 2011 New York magazine article about Fox News, written by Gabriel Sherman:
[Roger Ailes] wanted to elect a president. All he had to do was watch Fox's May 5 debate in South Carolina to see what a mess the field was -- a mess partly created by the loudmouths he'd given airtime to and a tea party he’d nurtured....

All the 2012 candidates know that Ailes is a crucial constituency. "You can't run for the Republican nomination without talking to Roger," one GOPer told me. "Every single candidate has consulted with Roger." But he hasn't found any of them, including the adults in the room -- Jon Huntsman, Mitch Daniels, Mitt Romney -- compelling. "He finds flaws in every one," says a person familiar with his thinking.
Ailes gave a megaphone to the tea party, and to Donald Trump and Sarah Palin, and to every crazy who saw ACORN or the New Black Panthers or a "Ground Zero mosque" under the bed -- then he was upset when his party couldn't pick a clearly electable presidential nominee. I think that's how all the right-wing media elitists and billionaire financiers feel: they want to rouse the rabble with the maximum amount of blood-boiling boob bait, then they want a genial-seeming candidate to win the presidency carrying their banner (and intending to impose their agenda).

I guess you can't blame them for thinking that's possible, because that's more or less what happened the last time Democrats held the White House: the right was off-the-wall insane all through the Clinton years, then the public got amnesia about the GOP, and George W. Bush managed to win office as a "compassionate conservative."

The problem for Republicans is that the crazier they get, the less likely it is that they can find a candidate with the winning formula: right-wing but seemingly genial. You could be sort of genial and win the primaries in 2000, and even in 2008; you couldn't in 2012.

And if the crazy has four more years to fester, you really won't be able to pull that off in 2016.

Saturday, September 29, 2012


The New York Times tells us about two presidential candidates' debate prep -- and this has me worried a little bit:
Mr. Romney's team has concluded that debates are about creating moments and has equipped him with a series of zingers that he has memorized and has been practicing on aides since August.
I'm sure Fox and Drudge and the New York Post already have the list of zingers, and already have a plan, coordinated with the Romney campaign, to declare one of them the line of the evening, the one that embodied Romney's decisive victory, with the backup choices rank-ordered in case Romney never manages to deliver Choice #1, or in case it falls flat.

That doesn't worry me too much, because the right lives in its own reality; I'm a bit more worried about the mainstream press -- if Romney competently delivers a zinger or two, Chuck Todd will no doubt replicate the restaurant scene from When Harry Met Sally, and he won't be faking. People like him will declare Romney the victor as a result.

On the other hand, Romney's well-rehearsed zingers will probably seem well-rehearsed -- in fact, overly rehearsed. And the people tasked with crafting the zingers are probably the same geniuses who gave us all those unappealing speeches at the Republican convention. The zingers will probably be written to appeal primarily to the GOP base, like everything else in this campaign. So maybe there's no reason to worry.

I'm also concerned that the Romney people have figured out one of their candidate's biggest weaknesses:
... Mitt Romney's team has been working to make sure he avoids coming off as a scold. His sparring partner, Senator Rob Portman of Ohio, channeling Mr. Obama, has gone after him repeatedly, to the point of being nasty. The goal is to get Mr. Romney agitated and then teach him how to keep his composure, look presidential.
But that could just mean that instead of displaying his usual angry, aggrieved, put-upon self, Romney will come off as a guy clearly struggling to conceal how angry, aggrieved, and put-upon he is. I don't think he can bury those traits completely.

And he seems to be preparing for an Obama who's not likely to show up:
Mr. Romney's aides recall Mr. Obama's tart "you're likable enough" line to Mrs. Clinton in 2008 and hope to goad him into a similarly churlish moment. Mr. Romney will win, the advisers said, if he can force Mr. Obama to come across as condescending or smug.

To prepare Mr. Romney, Mr. Portman has played Mr. Obama combatively, attacking Mr. Romney as a rich man who does not care about average Americans. Evidently, he has gotten under the candidate's skin. "We get the chance to debate one another, and after the hour and a half or so is over, I want to kick him out of the room," Mr. Romney said recently.
It's unimaginable to me that Obama would make it personal in that way. He'll probably say very nice things about Romney and his family as people. He's extremely unlikely to launch personal attacks on Romney for his wealth. For one thing, he doesn't have to -- we all know Romney's biography. For another, it's just not Obama's style.

"You're likable enough" was a bad moment, though it was a rare bad moment. It was directed against someone a candidate in whom a lot of voters had an emotional investment. (Even a lot of '08 Obama supporters had good feelings about Hillary, and would have cheered on her barrier-breaking if we weren't cheering on Obama's.) Romney's likely to poll in the high 40s, but no one is rooting for him as a person the way a lot of people rooted for Hillary Clinton, and still root for her.

I supported Obama in '08, but I understand why some people saw that moment as the Big Man on Campus condescending to the girl in school who'd never be asked to sit at his cafeteria table. But Romney, even as the challenger to Obama, seems like the overdog in every way: white, richer, older, even more physically substantial. Apart from, say, Wall Streeters, who's going to empathize with him if Obama does attack him personally? It would be like empathizing with Mr. Potter from It's a Wonderful Life.

So maybe there's nothing to worry about.

Friday, September 28, 2012


Politico today has a lengthy piece arguing that the Romney ticket's struggles are all the candidate's fault. Buried in the story is this bit of genuine insight about Romney's approach to camppaigning:
One close confidant said Romney sees the process like buying a company from a reluctant seller: Just do and say what you need to do to get the deal done, and then when it's done, do what you know actually needs to be done to make the company a success.
I disagree with the general premise of the Politico story -- I don't think Romney's failures are all his fault. I think Paul Krugman is closer to the mark:
... this has become such an ideological election -- much more so than 2008. The GOP has made it clear that it has a very different vision of what America should be than that of Democrats, and Democrats have rallied around their cause. Among other things, while we weren't looking, social issues became a source of Democratic strength, not weakness -- partly because the country has changed, partly because the Democrats have finally worked up the nerve to stand squarely for things like reproductive rights.

And let me add a speculation: I suspect that in the end Obamacare is turning out to be a big plus, even though it has always had ambivalent polling. The fact is that Obama can point to a big achievement that will survive if he is reelected, perish if he isn’t; health insurance for 50 million or so Americans (30 million from the ACA, another 20 who would lose coverage if Romney/Ryan Medicaid cuts happen) is enough to cure people of the notion that it doesn't matter who wins.

... it looks as if voters are rejecting the right's whole package, not just the messenger.
I think voters are rejecting a lot about the GOP agenda -- the feared evisceration of the safety net (especially for the elderly), the hard line on reproductive rights and gay marriage, the even harder line on tax cuts for the wealthy, and on and on. Now, you'll say that Romney is the worst possible guy to deliver the Republicans' message. But, really, who could do a better job? And how? How can you possibly sell this to voters?

You can try to sell it with a lot of loopy nonsense and magical thinking, which is what Newt Gingrich and Herman Cain were trying to do in the primaries -- but those guys just looked ridiculous, and it was absurdly easy to debunk any optimistic-aounding promises they made. You could predict hellfire and damnation a la Rick Santorum -- but the general public sure as hell wasn't going to respond well to being called a bunch of decadent libertines.

Or you could do what Romney's doing, which, yes, is exactly what's done by corporate takeover guys, and by pretty much any new boss who plans to "clean house" and "shake things up": say nothing about the changes you're cold-bloodedly intending to introduce; make vague, reassuring noises; then get the job and drop the bombs.

That's a lousy approach when you need to get the consent of those whose lives you're going to upend before you upend them -- but, really, there's no good approach to doing something like that. The solution for the GOP wouldn't be a better candidate -- it would be a better agenda, one that somebody, if perhaps not Mitt Romney, could possibly sell to the public.

But today's GOP doesn't want that. Citing this story about Romneycare in Massachusetts, Charlie Pierce gets to the heart of the matter:
It turns out the problem Republicans have with the program is not the ideological big-government aspect of it. The problem they have with it is the good it turned out to do for people. The problem with it is that it made people's lives a little easier. The problem is that cruelty has become an ideology in itself, and it is an implacable one.
"The thing Romney needs to do to beat Obama is show up in this debate and not have another empathy comment. Those comments are really hurting him far more than any 47% comments," said Ryan Rhodes, a tea party activist from Iowa. "The government's not here for empathy, it's here for the law. If we use empathy for everything we want to do, that's how countries go bankrupt and bad policy is created."
The problem with the Romney campaign is not the alleged ideological incoherence of his political resume. The problem is that he's trying to appeal to a party full of moral monsters.
Exactly. And now his job is to appeal to the general public with nothing to offer but what those moral monsters want. No wonder he doesn't want to go into detail about what's on offer.

Credit where credit is due: Peggy Noonan's latest column is about the upcoming debates, and part of it is probably correct, alas:
From a canny journalist with a counterintuitive head: "The media will be rooting for Romney." Two reasons. First, they don't want the story to end. They're in show biz: A boring end means lower ratings. Careers are involved! Second, the mainstream media is suddenly realizing that more than half the country (and some of their colleagues) think they are at least operationally in the tank for the president, or the Democrats in general. It is hurting the media's standing. A midcourse correction is in order, and Wednesday will offer an opportunity: I think it's fair to say Gov. Romney more than held his own this evening, and a consensus seems to be forming that the president underperformed.
That's very, very plausible. Obama is (unfortunately) the huge favorite in the debates because Romney has been a stumblebum for weeks, so mere competence on Romney's part could be spun as brilliance -- and that would seem to keep the racing going, to the media's delight. And Romney might win back the press a bit -- yes, this seems to have been the year when right-wingers lost their ability to "work the refs" in the mainstream media successfully, but it's naive to think that the press has become completely resistant to the right's ref-working. (For evidence of this, see Michael Cooper's latest article in The New York Times, which retransmits many Romney talking points about the Obama campaign's alleged dishonesty.)

But Noonan, after saying this smart thing, says some dumb things:
President Obama hasn't been challenged in public in a long time. He hasn't been challenged in private in a long time. So if Mr. Romney treats him with respect but not deference, if he really engages, challenges, questions and pushes, he just might knock the president off his stride.
Wait -- what? Obama hasn't been challenged? Well, yeah, I suppose that's true ... if you discount every word about Obama generated by the right-wing media since the 2008 Iowa caucuses, and every word written or spoken about him by every Republican politician, pundit, and operative. Not to mention just about every vote cast by a Republican in Congress since January 20, 2009. Yeah, apart from that, he's had a pretty easy ride.

(Noonan, I suppose, would argue that none of that counts, because Obama wasn't challenged to his face. Oh, except for that "You lie!" thing. And except for every negotiation he's ever had with congressional Republicans.)

Beyond that, is Noonan seriously suggesting that Romney will challenge Obama in the debates "with respect"? Respect? Mitt Romney?

Yes, she is saying that. She goes on to write:
There was something Mr. Romney did in the primary debates. When his competitors were answering questions, he didn't stand at the podium looking distracted. He'd turn and smile at them sweetly and encouragingly, as if he were thinking, "You're the cutest little shrimp." No one has looked at Mr. Obama like that since 2003. It's possible he wouldn't like it.
Actually, no, Romney didn't do that. He lurched from that weird mortitcian look he has into an apoplexy you'd expect from a rabid ferret -- and a prissy, moralistic one at that. The following clip is famous because of the gaffe that ends it ("I'm running for office, for Pete's sake!"), but watch what Romney does before that: he lashes out at Rick Perry as if Perry's interruption of him is a war crime worthy of The Hague. It's not pretty, or respectful:

Please, Mitt -- be like that in the debates. I'd love that.

Thursday, September 27, 2012


In the right-wing bubble, this must seem like a brilliant idea. Outside the right-wing bubble, it's clearly a terrible idea (unless, of course, you're a Barack Obama fan):
Mitt Romney to 'fact check' Obama in debate

Mitt Romney plans to turn himself into a one-man truth squad during the first presidential debate next week, casting President Barack Obama as someone who can't be trusted to stick to the facts or keep his promises.

Top Republicans are telegraphing Romney's hard-line strategy for his faceoff with Obama, according to Mike Allen's Playbook in POLITICO on Thursday....
So the guy who's getting clobbered in the polls on likability is going to devote significant time during the debate making himself seem even less likable, by finger-wagging, nitpicking, scolding, and generally seeming like the Hall Monitor from Hell, which is already what he seems like to many Americans? He's going to do this even though he's been overwhelmingly more dishonest than Obama, and will probably be more dishonest than Obama during the debate itself, a fact the press will be only too happy to point out? And he's going to do this, presumably, instead of offering a positive, detailed plan for America in the next four years, which is what persuadable voters were begging him to offer all through the campaign, until most of them just gave up?

Oh yeah, that ought to work.


If I didn't know better, I might imagine that Romney has simply given up trying to win this thing and is just doing this to blow off steam. But what I really think is going on is that Romney feels pressured to be a nasty attack dog in the debates because that's what his crazy base and crazy right-wing billionaire donors want from him. They think the entire electorate thinks like them and will respond positively, despite all empirical evidence. (Oh, sorry, I forgot -- all the polls are skewed!)

And it's not just Mitt. At one time I was worried about the huge amounts of money going to Karl Rove's American Crossroads, but if this is the kind of ad Crossroads is spending money on, we can all breathe a little easier:

What the hell is that? It starts with a whispered exchange between Obama and former Russian president Dmitri Medvedev, which the wingers are obsessed with. It goes from there into a stew of conspiratorialism so loopy it almost departs Glenn Beck/Dinesh D'Souza territory and sails into Lyndon LaRouche Land: "President Flexible is on a new mission: dismantle the U.S. economic system," a voiceover says, and then we learn the plan -- more Fed action from Agent of Evil Ben Bernanke destroys the dollar, which leads to literal class warfare; Obama runs up debt, raises taxes ... clearly it's all a big plot to let the Red Russkies take over!

Hunh? What century is this?

This is catnip to the base. It's nuts (or incomprehensible) to everyone else. But I guess Rove's paymasters want him cranking out ads like this (because they watch Fox and believe this crap) rather than producing ads that are, y'know, effective.

And I guess Mitt is equally afraid to cross his patrons and his base; they want him to go into the debate planning to be a dick, so that's what he's going to do.

The Obama administration initially described the lethal attack on the U.S. diplomatic post in Benghazi as the result of a protest against the online Innocence of Muslims video; the administration now says it was a terrorist attack. Obama opponents want to make a big deal of the change in the administration's story (although Obama did use the phrase "act of terror" in an allusion to the attack the day after it occurred); they're not making much of an effort to conceal the fact that they're doing this for political gain in an election year, while accusing Team Obama of a cover-up (although if it was that, it was a short-lived one).

But sorry, Republicans -- this isn't going to get Mitt Romney elected. There are several reasons for that.

First of all, while Republicans think they're taking the high ground by accusing the administration of turning the Innocence of Muslims filmmakers into scapegoats, the Republicans are doing pretty much the same thing themselves: they're blaming the administration for the killings. At first they accused the administration of not placing the blame where it belongs -- on the actual killers. But they're deflecting blame away from the actual killers, too.

Now, there does seem to have been a failure to anticipate the attack and provide adequate security. (There's also plenty of unrest around the globe that actually can be ascribed to anger at that video, although it seems not to have played a part in the Benghazi killings.) But if Republicans are blaming the administration while the administration is blaming the actual killers, it's the administration that has the high ground.

The public has never been in the habit of blaming presidents for the actions of enemies overseas. George W. Bush is blamed for going into Iraq in search of WMDs that weren't there, and for allowing his two wars to become quagmires, but he's never really been blamed, except by lefties, for missing the signs that 9/11 was about to happen. And the Bush subordinate most associated with missed signals, Condoleezza "I Don't Think Anybody Could Have Predicted" Rice, still polls surprisingly well among non-Republicans as well as Republicans.

Americans didn't initially blame Jimmy Carter for the taking of the hostages in Iran in November 1979 -- in fact, his approval rating experienced a spike after that. (Americans were upset with Carter when the situation wasn't resolved, but not when it happened.)

And, of course, the current situation is "merely" the death of four overseas personnel -- most of America, frankly, won't spend too much time thinking about it, because it's not melodramatic like a long-term hostage situation, and it didn't happen in this country. Recall that after two U.S. embassies were bombed in Africa, President Clinton's retaliation efforts were seen by many as "wagging the dog" -- they didn't think the situation was a big deal that demanded a response.

Bill Clinton didn't suffer much at the polls either for having terrorist attacks take place on his watch or for failing to bring the perpetrators to justice. Yes, that was pre-9/11, but I think the key point was that it was happening overseas, to government professionals we citizens never got to know. Call that a cynical view, but that's how Americans see this sort of thing.

Seriously, I've seen people held for ransom by guerrilla armies who read scripts more convincingly than Romney reads this -- which will apparently be the only ad he'll have on TV in the coming days (apart from some Spanish-language ads). A few phrases come off as sincere -- those are the ones that denounce Obama, which tap into his deep reservoir of free-floating resentment. But when he says it's regrettable that people are in straitened economic circumstances, and he tries to arrange his face to suggest he feels your pain, it looks as if his entire being is recoiling at the effort to connect with the unwashed masses.

If it's a hostage video, who's holding the gun to his head? Obviously he's hostage to the circumstances of the race; he's forced to do this video because the notorious "47%" tape leaked -- and since he's a guy who was always the alpha male in his own life, from prep school to Bain to the Massachusetts state house, he's really not comfortable doing anything he doesn't want to do.

But I feel as if he's the person holding the gun to his own head. He's set himself on this six-year quest for the presidency, and the process is making him miserable -- he's constantly being forced to say things he doesn't want to say, do things he doesn't want to do, display feelings he doesn't really feel! It's awful! Why is he making himself do this?

If I were Maureen Dowd, I'd point out here that he's following in the footsteps of Al Gore and George W. Bush: he's a scion with daddy issues who feels he's supposed to run for president, as a way of both loving and competing with his father. Well, maybe -- but Gore and Bush never seemed miserable while running for president. Neither of them ever seemed to be conveying the message Romney so often seems to convey: I have a compulsion to become president, and I have no control over my desire for this goal -- and you're compounding my misery, you bastard, by making it difficult for me to succeed. That's what he so often seems to be saying -- to opponents, to the press, to the public.

And to himself.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012


Obama supporters are savoring good poll numbers right now. We're also laughing at the "unskewed polls" movement, which argues that all the poll results favorable to Obama are the result of oversampling of Democrats motivated by liberal media bias; this movement has many prominent supporters on the right, and its arguments are taken at least somewhat seriously by seemingly respectable conservatives.

On the other hand, there's the concern Zandar expressed in my comments:
Steve, we know this whole THE POLLS ARE SKEWED nonsense is Step 1 to de-legitimizing Obama's second term, right?

Step 2 is after Obama wins, the "conspiracy" is PROOF HE STOLE THE ELECTION and stuff.

Step 3 from the playbook is WE MUST IMPEACH of course. And if the media doesn't at that point play along with the "Well, the President's critics may have a point" they're in the tank for Obama....
I think there's a lot of truth to that, with a couple of caveats.

If the election is close, I think there's going to be a lot of shouting about Democratic voter fraud. If it isn't, I think there'll be some shouting, but it'll mostly be heard in the fever swamps -- voter-fraud allegations won't be taken mainstream; there won't be serious attempts to contest any states' results.

Which doesn't mean Republicans will acknowledge the results as legitimate.

See, they don't have to allege actual funny business in the voting to say that Obama should have lost. They can also say that Obama would have lost if the media hadn't been in the tank for him. Then they don't have to scour the nation for allegedly dead voters and allegedly dubious vote totals. And the margin of victory doesn't matter -- Obama could win by 8 or 9 points and keep Romney to under 200 electoral votes and they can still say the results aren't legit, because the public was brainwashed.

Consider this open letter from Brent Bozell of the Media Research Council, and co-signed by the likes of Laura Ingraham, Gary Bauer, Ed Meese, and Congressman Louis Gohmert:
This election year, so much of the broadcast networks, their cable counterparts, and the major establishment print media are out of control with a deliberate and unmistakable leftist agenda. To put it bluntly: you are rigging this election and taking sides in order to pre-determine the outcome. In the quarter century since the Media Research Center was established to document liberal media bias, there has never been a more brazen and complete attempt by the liberal so-called "news" media to decide the outcome of an election....
So that's how the right is going to keep the crazy base angry; that's an argument even "respectable" right-wingers can peddle.

And toward what end? Support for impeachment? Maybe, maybe not. Short of that, the right can try to turn Obama's second term into a rerun of his first: all GOP stonewalling all the time, backed up by angry base-heads marching in the streets, perhaps under the Tea Party banner yet again.

That, I think, is what we're seeing the groundwork for. The right is starting early. I'm not sure it will be taken seriously this time, but it will be seriously attempted.

The right will never yield. The right must be decisively rebuffed.

This Twitter exchange starts as a joke, but then Ross Douthat and Matt Yglesias get -- for want of a better word -- serious:

So this is the new argument for why the Republican presidential campaign looks like it was scripted by Andrew Breitbart's corpse? Because Romney isn't purist enough? If he'd been more purist, he could have been less purist as a candidate? So ... um ... maybe if the GOP had run a Michele Bachmann/Allen West ticket, there'd be calls for tax increases on the rich and comprehensive immigration reform, because they're so trusted by the crazy base that they'd inevitably feel really comfortable deviating from conservative correctness?

That's utterly ridiculous. Early in Rick Perry's campaign, it was believed that he was the real wingnut deal: Christianist, anti-government, anti-tax ... and yet he was attacked for offering an in-state tuition deal to undocumented immigrants, and that was the beginning of the end. Newt Gingrich lost credibility with the base for months after he opposed the Ryan budget's approach to Medicare, and was forced to recant. Rick Santorum got slammed for defending his vote in favor of Saint George W. Bush's No Child Left Behind law. ("Sometimes you take one for the team"? No, you don't -- you stay purer-than-thou or the base hates you.)

Elite pundits, please: There is no room for Republicans to maneuver. They must mollify the crazy base or suffer the consequences. The crazy base is going to demand absolute fealty as long as its members are alive and well and consuming Fox News and talk radio. No Republican will dare cross the base until the base withers away, and that won't be for quite a while.

At the Huffington Post, Howard Fineman is grumpy because President Obama seems to be cruising to reelection without being held accountable for parts of his first-term record:
If American democracy is to work -- if we are to prevent the blood from clotting in the body politic -- presidential elections must be real contests over real ideas and real records, informed by real facts.

This campaign hasn't really been any of those things....

Unless I missed it, the president has yet to give a detailed answer to why he has failed to meet or even come close to his promises about reducing the unemployment rate....

He hasn't given a detailed answer as to why he and his top advisers, led by Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, failed to focus sufficiently on reviving the housing market, rather than just bailing out banks.

He hasn't explained why his own administration is now saying that at least 6 million Americans, most of them in the middle class, will indeed face a tax increase (penalty) in 2014 if they do not buy health insurance....

He hasn't explained whether he shares any blame for the failure of budget talks on a grand compromise....

He hasn't given a detailed defense of the vast expansion of the security state under his watch....

He hasn't given a detailed explanation for why he didn't close Guantanamo....
Who's going to hold Obama accountable on these matters? The Republicans? In every listed case, the Republican approach either is precisely what Obama has done (leaving Gitmo open, treating the bankers with kid gloves rather than demanding real concessions on mortgages) or is an undiluted version of what Obama has done in an attempt to meet the right partway, with disappointing and sometimes dreadful results.

Regarding unemployment, Obama gave us less Keynesianism than we needed, at Republicans' insistence, yet the Republican solution is even less than that; on health care, Obama gave us a plan based on right-wing think-tank ideas and the continuation of a for-profit system, rather than single-payer, but the Republicans want the system to be driven even more by the profit motive than it already is; on the budget, we need to start by collecting more tax revenue from the rich, but teabagger Republicans were never willing to go along with a bargain with that as a feature, and now their view is holy dogma in the GOP; on national security, we've needed less bellicosity, but Republicans have never stopped demanding even more.

Obama could be challenged on all these things -- but not by the other major political party we actually have. A truly progressive major party could do so -- but we don't have one.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012


Frank Bruni thinks Mitt Romney's ineptitude is the system's fault:
How did someone so politically maladroit -- a cardboard cutout crossed with an Etch A Sketch -- get this far?

We need to remind ourselves that the alternatives were Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum, Herman Cain, Michele Bachmann. And we need to ask whether we now have an electoral process so vacuous, vicious and just plain silly that most people in their right minds wouldn't go anywhere near it.

It chews up candidates and their families, spits them out and cackles with hyperpartisan glee all the while. Yes, those candidates volunteer for it, but still. The process doesn't necessarily serve some wondrous purpose of culling the herd and toughening the survivors, as the people invested in it -- including those of us in the news media -- often like to argue. Maybe it just sours them, befouls the atmosphere in which they operate and encourages voters to tune out.
Really, Frank?

Well, first of all, how much has the process really changed since 2008? And recall that that system attracted both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, as well as flawed but serious candidates such as Joe Biden and Bill Richardson.

Beyond that, what's so new about a system that's "vacuous, vicious, and just plain silly," that "chews up" politicians, "spits them out and cackles"? How long have Democrats lived in such a system? Since the Swift-boating of John Kerry in 2004? Since the trashing of Al Gore's reputation in 2000? Since the very beginning of Clinton presidency? And yet, after those events, the Democratic Party hasn't presented America with a motley crew of clowns incessantly trying to out-demagogue and out-extreme one another.

No, sorry -- the system sucks, but it doesn't prevent people of some virtue, competence, and maturity from emerging -- the ridiculousness of the Republican Party is what does that. Four years from now, I predict the Democrats won't nominate a clown -- and I predict the Republicans will, even if the nominee isn't a clown now. He or she will have to become a clown to be chosen.

I think Allen West is going to be the Rick Santorum/Newt Gingrich/pre-sex-scandal Herman Cain of 2016 -- the candidate who does much, much better than anyone expects, even though (or more likely because) he's clearly from Crazytown. He'll definitely be successful if he keeps this up:
Florida Rep. Allen West ripped President Barack Obama's United Nations speech Tuesday, saying he would have told the U.N. that America would be an "Angel of Death" that wreaks "havoc and destruction" on anyone who attacks the U.S.

"My statement to the United Nations would have been, 'The future does not belong to those who attack our Embassies and Consulates and kill our Ambassadors. The Angel of Death in the form of an American Bald Eagle will visit you and wreak havoc and destruction upon your existence,'" the Florida congressman wrote in a Facebook post Tuesday....
For the third cycle in a row, there'll probably be one heavy-hitter candidate who's not completely bonkers running against a bunch of utter nutjobs and zealots (Rand Paul, Paul Ryan, possibly Rick S. and Newt and Michelle again, plus perhaps Joe Scarborough in the Jon Huntsman role); this time it will be Jeb Bush as McCain/Romney, and he'll probably get the nomination -- and spend all of 2016 desperately trying to prove he's almost as loony as the zealots and nutjobs.

But before Jeb wins, West is going to fire up the base with nonsense like this.

Will the base still be crazy four years from now? Yes, the base will still be crazy four years from now. Until Roger Ailes, Rush Limbaugh, and their sexagenarian/septuagenarian audience leave this vale of tears, the base will still be crazy. I'm pretty sure Ailes and Limbaugh have excellent health care.

Yes, I know: Allen West may not even keep his seat in Congress this year. But why would that prevent him from being a competitive Republican presidential candidate? Santorum lost his last Senate race in a blowout. Gingrich left the House in disgrace. If wingnut voters think you were driven out of Congress by the evil liberals, that's a badge of honor.

David Brooks argues today that conservatism is out of balance. Once upon a time, he tells us, economic conservatives who favored small government coexisted with an equally influential set of Burkean traditionalists, who sought to "preserve a society that functioned as a harmonious ecosystem, in which the different layers were nestled upon each other: individual, family, company, neighborhood, religion, city government and national government."

There's a lot wrong with this thesis: as Ed Kilgore says, Brooks thinks Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush balanced the two tendencies, which may have been true as far as their rhetoric went, but wasn't exactly evident in their approaches to governance. Also, much social conservatism is of the punitive, scolding variety practiced by the religious right (which gets along quite nicely with economic conservatism even now, as Kilgore notes).

But, yes, there are some Burkean conservatives out there, at least among the pundits and thinkers. Brooks writes, regretfully:
The two conservative tendencies lived in tension. But together they embodied a truth that was put into words by the child psychologist John Bowlby, that life is best organized as a series of daring ventures from a secure base.

The economic conservatives were in charge of the daring ventures that produced economic growth. The traditionalists were in charge of establishing the secure base -- a society in which families are intact, self-discipline is the rule, children are secure and government provides a subtle hand.

... It's not so much that today's Republican politicians reject traditional, one-nation conservatism. They don't even know it exists.
If there's doesn't seem to be much of this sort of conservatism these days, I'd say it's for a simple reason: the big-money bankrollers of conservatism don't really give a crap whether American society has a "secure base."

I think rich right-wingers are like drug dealers or Al Qaeda -- drug dealers aren't upset if the neighborhoods from which they operate have high crime rates, and Al Qaeda has never minded operating from failed states like the Sudan. There's no civic or national pride involved -- in fact, these organizations prefer a cowed population that just lets them operate. That's how many of our plutocrats seem to feel right now about America.

I'm not sure the financiers of the right ever cared about strengthening American society. In the past, when a Jack Kemp would rise to prominence preaching economic opportunity for the downtrodden, or a George W. Bush was preaching "compassionate conservatism," it happened because the right and its financiers saw traditionalist conservatism as an effective smokescreen for their main agenda: lower taxes and less regulation. Traditionalism was also a useful cudgel the right could use to beat the allegedly hedonistic libertines of the Democratic Party.

But traditionalism isn't working very well as a cudgel these days (people in all parts of the country, and across nearly all of the political spectrum, have now decided they're cool with sex in a large percentage of its variations). Pure Fox-style rage seems to get out the right-wing vote more reliably than suggestions that traditional conservatism will make America a harmonious Norman Rockwell nation. (Real right-wingers these days don't want a harmonious nation -- they want to destroy their enemies.)

So now we're getting conservatism's true agenda in undiluted form. And patsies like David Brooks, who thought the right wanted a rising tide to lift all of America's boats, still don't realize they were played for chumps. The big-money types never cared about their agenda. The Burkeans were just being used.

Am I overreacting to this, or is Paul Ryan saying that Barack Obama is not only a bad president (which is what you'd expect him to say) but an illegitimate president?

(Ryan's alluding, of course, to the latest in a series of bad calls by scabs officiating at NFL games -- and yes, when Paul "Rand Boy" Ryan is demanding the return of unionized officials, irony is officially dead.)
Ryan Compares Obama to an NFL Replacement Ref

Republican Vice Presidential candidate Paul Ryan said NFL referees reminded him of President Obama on the economy, speaking today at a town hall in Ohio, "if you can't get it right, get out."...

RYAN: I gotta start off on something that was really troubling that occurred last night. Did you guys watch that Packer game last night? I mean, give me a break! It is time to get the real refs.

And do you know what? It reminds me of President Obama and the economy. If you can't get it right, it's time to get out.

I half-think that these refs work part-time for the Obama administration in the budget office. They see the national debt clock staring them in the face, they see a debt crisis, and they just ignore and pretend it didn't even happen. They're trying to pick the winners and losers and they don't even do that very well.
I can't get too upset -- Ryan comes off like a bad wannabe comic on audition night at the Laff Shack. ("I mean, give me a break!") And he throws one right-wing economic catchphrase after another into the mix instead of sticking the point. (Why bring up "winners and losers"? And, um, I don't think they actually have a debt clock in any of the White House offices, though I could imagine a Romney/Ryan administration making a ridiculous show of installing one.)

But ultimately, I think Ryan's saying that Obama is not someone who obtained the job through normal channels, nor is he capable of having done so. Am I reading too much in?

Earlier this month I wrote about Ben Stein's fears of the Apocalypse, and now I see that he's decided we're already living under media-imposed sharia:
Don't look now, but Islam is becoming the MSM's official religion of America.
Stein is upset that there are U.S.-created ads running in Pakistan that denounce the film Innocence of Muslims (I'm not sure if Stein was equally upset when President Bush denounced the shooting of a Koran by a U.S. soldier, but never mind). But what's really bugging Stein is this:
I am referring to something worse: Have you noticed that in the past few years, and especially in the past few weeks since the murder of the Ambassador and his guards and colleague in Benghazi (a city that Erwin Rommel loved and whose inhabitants he praised), whenever the New York Times refers to Mohammed, they always call him, without quotation marks, The Prophet Mohammed, as if everyone with any sense understands that OF COURSE Mohammed is The One True Prophet and that it's just understood that Mohammed is The Prophet....

Have you ever seen any major newspaper here in the USA refer to Jesus Christ as "The Son of God, God Incarnate, The Lord Jesus Christ"?

... somehow, probably because the people writing the articles and editing them or the producers on TV news shows fear being beheaded -- and who doesn't? -- we have adopted in our media the Muslim assertion that Mohammed is The Prophet while giving other religious figures the back of our media hand....
First of all, the Times does not "always" refer to Muhammad as "the Prophet Muhammad." He isn't called that in headlines. He's called that only the first time he's mentioned in a news article. After that he's just "Muhammad" (unless "the Prophet Muhammad" shows up in a quote). See, for instance, this story ("French Magazine Runs Cartoons That Mock Muhammad") or this one ("19 Reported Dead as Pakistanis Protest Muhammad Video").

But there's a more obvious reason for the ID: a huge number of people on the planet are named Muhammad -- in various spellings -- and many of them show up in the Times. Mohamed Morsi. Muhammad Ali. Microfinancier Muhammad Yunus. Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and Mohamed Atta. Jazz drummer Idris Muhammad. New York Jets defensive tackle Muhammad Wilkerson. Pakistani chief justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry. The Times employs a photographer named Ozier Muhammad. Muhammads show up all over the place -- from Sudan's military intelligence agency to the British Olympic tae kwon do team to the high-ranked chess team at Edward R. Murrow High School in Brooklyn.

Imagine if one of the most important religions on the planet had been founded by a person who had only one name -- Jones. Now do you get it, Ben?

So give it a rest. And stop bothering that nice Mr. Godwin:
Hitler saw it long ago. Terror and fear of violence can bring about amazing changes in people's behavior. So can a misguided political correctness and self-loathing for the greatest nation on earth.
Enough! Seriously.


And I should point out that while the Times has not always referred to Muhammad in this way, the first Times reference to "the prophet Mahomet" appeared in 1855. I really don't think that was out of fear of Al Qaeda.

Monday, September 24, 2012


James Fallows thinks it's wrong that people are snarking off about Mitt Romney's plane gaffe. You know about the gaffe, right?
Ann Romney's plane was grounded Friday after the main cabin filled with smoke. The small electrical fire caused no injuries, but apparently did cause the Presidential candidate to forget the dangers of altitude.

"When you have a fire in an aircraft, there's no place to go, exactly," he told the LA Times. "And you can't find any oxygen from outside the aircraft to get in the aircraft, because the windows don't open. I don't know why they don’t do that. It's a real problem."

Air crafts do not open windows because the cabins are pressurized to fly safely at an altitude of tens of thousand feet. Opening a window in an airplane would seriously sicken the passengers and crew.
Fallows thinks it's hard not to make gaffes when there's constantly a microphone under your nose. OK, fine. Fallows thinks we should cut Romney a break because the dangerous situation his wife was involved in shook him up. Yes, fine. Fallows says extemporaneous speaking isn't Romney's strong suit. Yes, yes, yes.

But this passage from Fallows annoys me:
I have an irrational fear and dislike of horses -- even though many members of my family were avid riders....

Here's why I mention this. I have heard over the years, within the flying world, that Mitt Romney views airplanes more or less the way I view horses. He is (I have heard) not a happy or comfortable flyer, and one who can always imagine things going wrong. Fortunately I don't actually have to ride horses -- but he has no choice but to fly, white-knuckled, from one stop to the next. Someone with this outlook would naturally be all the more rattled by an emergency landing. So cut him all the more slack.
No, James -- it's not true that Romney "has no choice but to fly." He chose to run for president -- in fact, he chose to spend the last six years of his life running for president. I didn't ask him to. You didn't ask him to. He could be spending his days playing with his grandkids and lubing his car elevator. But no -- he chose this particular endeavor, which requires him to fly day after day after day. If being president is what he wants, then he should just suck it up and never utter a peep about how uncomfortable flying makes him, because nobody put a gun to his head and compelled him to do all this flying. It was his choice.

The Randians of the Republican Party have finally found a group of people they think aren't operating according to economic self-interest: every news organization and polling firm in America that's surveying voters regarding the upcoming presidential election. According to Republicans, they're all deliberately generating bad results:
Republicans have taken their complaints about media polls allegedly favoring Democrats a step further this morning, embracing an obscure new polling website that re-engineers public polls to add more Republicans to their samples, and which gives Republican Mitt Romney a wide lead....

Dean Chambers, a blogger on who writes from his home in Duffield, Virginia, took [their] complaint a step further -- producing wide Romney leads far beyond what the Republican's campaign or Republican pollsters have suggested is the case....

Chambers said he suspects that big polling shops are intentionally over-sampling Democrats to help get the President re-elected.

"This year, they've been more skewed than in the past. Any poll that says NBC, CBS, or ABC is going to be skewed and invested in trying to get this President re-elected," he said....
These are the real results, according to Chambers:

Romney has a huge lead! Chambers is right and every polling firm and poll-generating news organization in America, including Rasmussen and Fox News, is wrong!

You see, they're all doing this because they love Obama and hate freedom -- even though, come Election Day, everyone will see that their polling operations have failed spectacularly and should never be trusted again. They don't care about any of that. They don't care if no one trusts their polls again. The news organizations don't care if they lose readers and viewers and listeners. The polling outfits don't care if they lose clients. They're happy to give up credibility and future revenue, perhaps permanently, because that's how much they worship Barack Obama. A conspiracy so vast....

Writing about the current unrest in Muslim nations, Bill Keller says this:
But blaming Islamic culture dismisses the Muslim majorities who are not enraged, let alone violent, and it leads to a kind of surrender: Oh, it's just the Muslims, nothing to be done. I detect a whiff of this cultural fatalism in Mitt Romney's patronizing remarks about the superiority of Israeli culture and the backwardness of Palestinian culture. That would explain his assertion, on that other notorious video, that an accommodation with the Palestinians is "almost unthinkable." That's a strangely defeatist line of thought for a man who professes to be an optimist and a problem-solver.
But that's Romney, isn't it? He is defeatist. He thinks Israeli culture is good and Palestinian culture is hopeless. He thinks 53% of America is hardworking, and thus in his camp or potentially so, but 47% of the country is hopelessly dependent, and thus lost to him. Everyone is either good or impossible to deal with.

Romney's supposed to be a problem-solver, which is why he says it would be good to elect him president. But presidents are supposed to try to solve even problems that seem intractable -- whereas the kind of problem-solving Romney did as a private-equity guy involved making certain companies thrive while tossing others onto the scrap heap, after stripping their assets.

In that kind of problem-solving, Romney applied the same level of fatalism Keller detects in Romney's talk about Palestinians, and everyone detects in Romney's talk about the 47%: There's no dealing with these people. They're incorrigible. Just get what you can out of the situation and then wash your hands of it.

So it's not that Romney would be a bad president despite his career in business -- he'd be a bad president because he'd be likely to govern the way he conducted his career in business.

Interesting contrast between the left and right reactions to a segment on yesterday's Meet the Press: on the left, Think Progress notes that a top Mitt Romney adviser agrees with what Romney said in his secret fundraiser video about the level of dependency in America:
Mitt Romney adviser Bay Buchanan reiterated the Republican campaign's belief that half of Americans are dependent upon government, during an appearance on Meet Thee Press on Sunday. "We are in perilous times in this country. We are looking at financial ruin. We are looking at dependency. We're a nation of people dependent on their government, and that is what Barack Obama gives us," she said....
But over on the right, NewsBusters focuses on the fact that Buchanan attacked fellow panelists David Brooks and Joe Scarborough for being inadequately conservative, apparently because they don't think America is rotting from within, or at least don't think that it's appropriate for a presidential candidate to say that half of voters are lazy, irredeemable scum in the middle of a campaign.

Brooks wonders why Romney isn't running as a "compassionate conservative":
DAVID BROOKS: Look at the people he's helped. He's helped alcoholic Mormons. He's helped immigrants -- frankly, illegal immigrants. He's helped a lot of people. He's nursed kids who are dying. If you look at his private life -- he gave four million dollars to charity in one year! ... He has the perfect life story for a compassionate conservative campaign, 'cause he's lived that life.... The problem is, he's running a different campaign. George Bush, Ronald Reagan, Jack Kemp, they looked at people in the community colleges and they said, "OK, maybe there aren't they're on food stamps, but they're taking two buses, they're working two jobs, they're going to school, and conservatism is how those people rise."
Scarborough thinks the 47% comment was appalling:
JOE SCARBOROUGH: ... I believe a rising tide lifts all boats. I believe you unshackle individuals and they can prosper in this country. What's so disturbing about that video is like you said, David, Mitt Romney doesn't get it. He doesn't believe it. And that's what comes through. Margaret Thatcher, shopkeeper's daughter, would have never said that in a million years.
(I'm ignoring the rosy way Brooks and Scarborough describe their conservative heroes. Thatcher would never have said anything like that? Nonsense.)

In response to all this, Buchanan says:
And, you know, this-- this is-- this is just like four to one....
(The four are Brooks, Scarborough, Dee Dee Myers, and host David Gregory.) Later, Buchanan says to Scarborough:
The key here is which side are you on?
On one level, she's saying that every Republican should circle the wagons and stop criticizing Romney. On another level, she seems to be saying that if you don't agree that half the country is slipping into a decadent wallow in dependency, you're not a true conservative.

And maybe that's the real right-wing message right now: that perhaps America isn't worthy of a Romney presidency, or a Republican presidency, or a conservative presidency, because it's already just too decadent.

That's certainly the message of one right-winger quoted in a New York Times story today about the conservative hope that the Romney campaign will unleash Paul Ryan:
Mr. Ryan still has high-profile moments of combativeness and takes on fights that Mr. Romney does not. On Friday, he appeared at the annual AARP convention and drew boos as he called for repeal of Mr. Obama's health care law and laid out the approach that he and Mr. Romney would take to address Medicare's financial troubles, which would encourage more private-sector competition in the government-run program.

It was a classic example of what Chris Chocola, president of the conservative political action committee Club for Growth, admiringly called Mr. Ryan's "'You're damned right' answer" to critics.

"If someone says you're going to change Medicare as we know it, you say, 'You're damned right.' Paul Ryan can give that answer," Mr. Chocola said, adding, "The Romney ticket would be well served to let Paul Ryan be Paul Ryan."
Let me summarize that: Ryan went before the AARP, attacked the health care law, and got booed -- and Chocola thinks that's an excellent approach for the campaign. If you don't agree with us, screw you welfare bum! Vote Romney/Ryan!


Oh, and here's the Meet the Press clip, via Raw Story:

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Sunday, September 23, 2012


At The American Conservative, which is frequently not conservative in the Fox News sense of the word, Noah Millman sees the post-convention polls heading in the Democrats' direction, in congressional races as well as the presidential race, and he thinks he knows why:
This election is becoming nationalized, and it is becoming nationalized in the context of an across-the-board swing in the direction of the Democrats.

The reason, I think, is a simple one. The Republicans Party -- not just the Romney campaign, but the party as a whole -- is running on nothing. They are running on the presumption that the country has already rejected the Democrats, and that therefore it is their turn. They are behaving as if choosing Democratic governance was some kind of "experiment" that didn't work out, and now the American people will, of course, come back to their natural home.
I think that's basically true -- but I'm not even sure Republicans believe the public ever truly accepted Obama in the first place. Romney at least thinks the public liked Obama personally, and continues to like him personally, as he said on the secret Boca tape:
We speak with voters across the country about their perceptions. Those people I told you, the 5 to 6 or 7 percent that we have to bring onto our side, they all voted for Barack Obama four years ago. So, and by the way, when you say to them, "Do you think Barack Obama is a failure?" they overwhelmingly say no. They like him. But when you say, "Are you disappointed in his policies that haven't worked?" they say yes. And because they voted for him, they don't want to be told that they were wrong, that he's a bad guy, that he did bad things, that he's corrupt. Those people that we that have to get, they want to think they did the right thing but he just wasn't up to the task. They love the phrase, "He's in over his head."
But I wonder if even Romney believes that anyone ever voted for Obama's agenda. I wonder if he just thinks they voted for his personality, or his blackness, or voted for him exclusively because they didn't like Bush, or because the liberal media brainwashed them.

As for the people who staff the Romney campaign and other GOP campaigns, I don't know what the hell they think. I don't even know if they think Obama won legitimately four years ago -- you know how sleazy and powerful those ACORN people are. On some level, I don't think they consider non-whites or young people or single women to be real Americans anyway, so I think they believe GOP ideas already have the approval of the majority of "real" Americans, and thus any election results that turn out otherwise are fraudulent anyway. (I really wonder how many Republicans think their vote-suppression tactics merely reduce the electorate down to just the people who, in their opinion, should be allowed to vote.)

I think a lot of them think their ideas have been fully embraced by "real Americans," and have been since 1980, and the only reason Democrats ever win is cheating and/or media bias and/or incompetence by individual Republicans (W in '06 and '08, Poppy in '92). That last one will be their explanation if Romney loses. Republicanism loses elections sometimes, but it's never unpopular. By definition!

Andres Serrano's Piss Christ is coming to a Manhattan gallery this week. Bill Donohue of the Catholic League is already howling about it, and he and a number of other right-wing figures (scandal-plagued Staten Island congressman Michael Grimm, the Family Research Council) are claiming that President Obama's failure to condemn Piss Christ demonstrates a double standard, after his critical words regarding the film Innocence of Muslims. (We learn of these complaints, of course, from Fox News.)

Dennis G. at Balloon Juice points out a big difference between Piss Christ and Innocence of Muslims: Piss Christ is quite beautiful.

It's beautifully composed and beautifully lit. On aesthetic grounds, I'd also defend Chris Ofili's The Holy Virgin Mary, which, yes, is bedecked with elephant dung and photos of genitalia, but also is visually striking in a way that reminds me of Haitian folk art.

I have mixed feelings about this art. It's significant work and it's somewhat immature in its desire to provoke. I have problems with the latter aspect of it -- but then I look at the work and it's visually compelling.

But the fact that it's meant to be visually compelling elevates it morally above Innocence of Muslims, which exists solely to tell Muslims, "The founder of your religion is an idiot, and you're an idiot if you follow him. Innocence of Muslims qualifies for free-speech protections in America, but it's meritless otherwise.

Still, it would be wrong if any of the filmmakers were in prison simply for making it. One was questioned regarding a probation violation, then released. No one else is in jail or up on charges. Terry Jones, who promoted the film and who burns Korans, is still a free man. The Breitbartniks can call this fascism all they want, but it doesn't come close.

I don't know why Innocence of Muslims and damage to Korans sets off riots in the Muslim world, while art that disrespects Christians doesn't. Angry Christians seem to limit themselves at this time to vandalizing the artworks themselves -- one tossed white paint on The Holy Virgin Mary, while others vandalized a print of Piss Christ:
... on Palm Sunday morning, four people in sunglasses aged between 18 and 25 entered the exhibition just after it opened at 11am. One took a hammer out of his sock and threatened the guards with it. A guard grabbed another man around the waist but within seconds the group managed to take a hammer to the plexiglass screen and slash the photograph with another sharp object, thought to be a screwdriver or ice-pick. They also smashed another work, which showed the hands of a meditating nun.
Is it inconceivable that someday Christians will react to such works with mass violence?

Virulent Islamophobes like Pam Geller argue that mob violence is an inherent part of Islam. But America had lots of riots in the late 1960s and early 1970s -- why not now?

Nicholas Kristof has one thought:
Upheavals are often more about demography than about religion: the best predictor of civil conflict is the share of a population that is aged 15 to 24. In the 19th century, when the United States brimmed with poorly educated young men, Protestants rioted against Catholics.
And maybe it's not just education -- maybe this was also true on college campuses when the baby boomers were in that age group.

This moment of rage will pass someday. Who knows what will provoke the next moment of rage? Could it be a perfect storm in the West -- the hollowing out of the middle class by a semi-Randian plutocracy, the rise of far angrier Christian demagogues than even the ones we've seen so far? Will the wingnuts be zealous defenders of free speech if art that's irreverent about Christians starts riots in the future?

Saturday, September 22, 2012


It doesn't surprise me that the campaign of Mitt Romney, a man with a tremendous sense of self-importance and entitlement, would consider it acceptable to demand a suspension of pre-established ground rules at this week's Univision forum. What surprises me is that the campaign apparently did so in such a boorish and lead-footed way that a high-profile and very influential media figure was willing to call him out on the record:
... When [Mitt Romney] took his place Wednesday night in the first of two back-to-back candidate forums televised on [Univision], he was greeted by an adoring, raucous crowd that cheered his every word, and booed many of the moderators' questions. The next night, President Obama was treated to stone cold silence from the audience as he was aggressively grilled on his lackluster immigration record.

... But the enthusiasm gap may have been an optical illusion formed by a series of last-minute demands by the Romney campaign, according to Maria Elena Salinas, one of the Univision anchors who moderated the forums.

Salinas told BuzzFeed that tickets for each forum were divided between the network, the respective campaigns, and the University of Miami (which hosted the events) -- and she said both campaigns initially agreed to keep the audience comprised mostly of students, in keeping with the events' education theme.

But after exhausting the few conservative groups on campus, the Romney camp realized there weren't enough sympathetic students to fill the stands on their night -- so they told the network and university that if they weren't given an exemption to the students-only rule, they might have to "reschedule."

The organizers relented.

... Romney's team was allowed to bus in rowdy activists from around southern Florida in order to fill the extra seats at their town hall.

Obama's campaign, meanwhile, stuck to the original parameters and allowed a large chunk of the tickets to be distributed to interested students on campus....

Salinas said both candidates ultimately had partisan crowds at their forums, but that Romney's non-student activists ignored instructions to hold their applause.

"We were a little bit thrown because it was supposed to be a TV show, it wasn't a rally," Salinas said of the outspoken Romney supporters. "It was a little bit of disrespect for us."
Romney also demanded a re-recording of the introduction to his interview -- a demand made at the last minute, when it was difficult, backed by a threat that he'd withdraw from the forum altogether. (I would have let him go, but Univision clearly has more patience than I do.)

Maria Elena Salinas is the co-anchor of Univision's nightly news as well as the channel's Aqui y Ahora newsmagazine, which makes her the Barbara Walters or Diane Sawyer of Latin America -- and of Spanish speakers in this country. Romney is trying to increase his vote total among Hispanic voters, so he really shouldn't be ticking off influential Latin American media figures. But he's ticked her off enough that she's exposing what his campaign did for attribution, not as an anonymous source.

But that's Romney and his team, right? The campaign staff forgets that all media outlets aren't like Fox News, which (at least now that he has the nomination) wants him to succeed as much as he and his staff do.

And Romney, the former corporate boss, forgets that the people at Univision aren't his employees -- they aren't people who have to respond to his demands by doing what he wants without a peep of protest, because he can fire them at will. At the office, you don't openly bad-mouth your boss; Romney doesn't realize that this isn't the office, and he isn't the boss of anyone.

Here are two lines from the "Note from Trustee Brad Malt," which accompanies Mitt Romney's tax disclosure (his 2011 returns plus a summary of twenty previous years of returns). The two lines in the Brad Malt note summarize a letter from the accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers:
* Over the entire 20-year period, the average annual effective federal tax rate was 20.20%.

* Over the entire 20-year period, the lowest annual effective federal personal tax rate was 13.66%.
Notice that the word "personal" is left out of that first bullet point, but not out of the second one.

The odd thing is that in the PWC letter itself, the word "personal" appears both times:
* The lowest of any annual "effective federal personal income tax rate" for any year during the period is 13.66%....

* The average of the annual "effective federal personal income tax rates" as computed based on the returns as prepared during the period is 20.20%.
The trustee is telling us that the Romneys' average tax rate over twenty years was 20.20%, but the accountants are saying that was their average personal rate.

Why does this matter? It may matter because, as Rick Newman of U.S. News notes, the Romneys have investment trusts and other financial instruments that are legally separate from themselves for tax purposes, so the trusts' tax burdens -- or lack thereof -- technically don't count as part of the Romney's "personal" tax rate:
The Romney campaign now says that since 1990, "the lowest annual effective federal personal tax rate" Romney paid was 13.66 percent. In other words, the rate on what might be characterized as his personal income never fell below that threshold.

But that doesn't account for the three trusts, or other investment vehicles that may have existed prior to 2010. And it's unusual to limit the claim to "personal" taxes when Romney has acknowledged other types of income. So it's possible that the effective tax rate on the trusts was very low at some point -- and maybe even zero, which would have indicated a net loss for the year.
Why would the Brad Malt note omit the word "personal" with regard to the twenty-year average of tax rates?

Here's a guess: so that the right-wing media could use a quote from Malt's note in its attempt to spin this, without worrying about that complicating word. And, well, what do you know: Here's The Weekly Standard doing just that.
Romney's Tax Rate Equal to What Obama Paid Last Year

According to a statement released by the Romney campaign that summarizes the rate of taxes the Republican presidential nominee paid between 1990 and 2009, the rate at which Mitt Romney paid taxes is approximately equal to what President Barack Obama paid last year.

"Over the entire 20-year period, the average annual effective federal tax rate was 20.20%," the Romney campaign states....
The Standard story is, you will not be surprised to learn, the lead item at Fox Nation right now.

If the word "personal" were in that quote, it might raise eyebrows. But it's omitted, which makes the Romney campaign's pushback a wee bit easier.

I'm sure trustee Malt, if pressed, would say the omission of the word was a mere oversight. But I'd like him to be asked about it.


This, of course, is in addition to the fact that that 20.20% figure is misleading, because it's just taking the percentages over twenty years and averaging them, rather than totaling up the income and taxes paid and determining the average that way. Confused? Greg Sargent explains:
If Romney paid his lowest rates in a number of the higher income years, the overall 20 percent figure would overstate the rate he actually paid over the whole period. [Roberton] Williams [of the Tax Policy Center] provided the following purely hypothetical example:

"Let's say you have 10 years in which you paid 13 percent in taxes, and 10 years in which you paid 27 percent," Williams told me. "If you average those rates, you'll get an overall rate of 20 percent. But if the 13 percent years were high income years, and the 27 percent years were low income years, then his total taxes paid as a share of total income over the 20 years would be less, perhaps significantly less, than 20 percent."
Oh and, as Forbes notes,
The Romneys' rate was higher in earlier years because ... the top tax rate on long term capital gains and dividends, which make up most of their income, have been cut.
So even if you disregard the weaselly way their twenty-year tax rate is calculated, and even if you ignore the question of whether it's the rate that covers their entire financial portfolio (including trusts), one reason their rate looks high is that they had to pay a higher tax rate under the law in pre-Bush (and pre-Clinton second term) years.