Romney’s speech: Adam Smith would be proud (obliquely).

Prediction of Romney’s strategy going forward: a retrospective voting frame from the candidate, ugly lies about welfare from the ads.

I don’t have anything very new to say on Romney’s speech. I agree with Nate Silver and Jonathan Bernstein that the speech was aimed at returning the campaign into straight “retrospective” (or “referendum”) mode, at making Romney into a generic Republican and a plausible alternative to a president who’s presided over tough times.

This is of course different from the recent ad strategy of using lies about the President’s welfare policy to make this a 1980s-style Republican campaign for the souls of working-class white. But that doesn’t mean the latter strategy is going away. Romney presumably intends a division of labor whereby he’ll push the generic frame in his rallies while the dark artists of his own campaign and the SuperPACs use the racial one in ads.

Will this work? In a limited sense, I don’t see why not. The kind of voters Romney is aiming at are the kind who think that welfare contributes to their economic woes in the first place; and I’m not confident that the press will stick with their recent practice of calling out lies (reporting truth, as opposed to reporting both true and false assertions of truth, makes them so uncomfortable). But I don’t think either strategy, or both combined, will be enough to save him.

There’s a reason that Romney began his speech with an evocation of what I’ve called (.pdf) “Democratic Sportsmanship”: the civic virtue of, at minimum, acquiescing in the loss of elections (though there’s much more to it). It’s a virtue that he thinks his party may need to practice.

 

Poor little rich girl neglects to mention the stock portfolio that paid for the tuna fish

Ann Romney’s convention speech: doubling down on the absurd premise that living frugally on vast inherited wealth counts as struggle.

I couldn’t believe it when I heard that Ann Romney’s convention speech doubled down on a gaffe from her past: the claim that she and Mitt had very little money when they were going to college:

We were very young. Both still in college. There were many reasons to delay marriage, and you know? We just didn’t care. We got married and moved into a basement apartment. We walked to class together, shared the housekeeping, and ate a lot of pasta and tuna fish. Our desk was a door propped up on sawhorses. Our dining room table was a fold down ironing board in the kitchen. Those were very special days.

As Mitt might say, she’s got to be gosh-darned kidding me. As I blogged a few months ago, the way she and Mitt paid for their pasta and tuna fish, and the desk that was a door, was by SELLING STOCK, given to them by his family, that on a conservative calculation was worth in current money almost FOUR HUNDRED THOUSAND DOLLARS [Update: or at least two hundred thousand; see below]. The only difference between the disastrous interview that helped lose Mitt his first election and the convention speech was that the story contained in the latter conveniently left out the huge nest egg. But the nest egg matters more than a little. Its presence guaranteed that this family’s early life would be the antonym of struggling.

Reminding viewers of the facts ought to be the press’ job. But it’s not doing it. The reports I’ve seen—including the New York Times—have made no mention of Ann and Mitt’s vast gifted wealth (and the much vaster wealth that they could of course have drawn on if in trouble). A speech eagerly reported as humanizing and successful actually had a fabricated reality at its center. Self-styled journalists who are letting Ann get away with this ought to be deeply ashamed of their alleged selves.

Worse: I doubt that Ann realizes that her tale of struggle is a fabrication. She probably really believes that living relatively frugally on a huge stock portfolio counts as economic struggle and anxiety about one’s prospects. No wonder she and her husband are so insouciant about slashing programs to benefit the poor. If I thought that’s what poverty was, I’d slash aid to me too.

[Update, 8/30/12, 11:15 a.m. EDT: given the debate from the comments below, I’m willing to amend the conservative estimate of Ann and Mitt’s stock wealth in college from $400,000 to $200,000 in today’s dollars–though it could have been much more. That was still enough to see them comfortably through several years of modest living, and to place them at something like the top one percent of students or young families. And it was of course backed up by so much wealth on both sides of the family in case of true need that, unlike everyone else in their alleged situation, they had absolutely no need to worry about economic reverses or health problems.]

The GOP’s tarnished brand: Chickens come home to roost

Like the big three automakers of thirty years ago, GOP campaign messaging has pursued short-term political advantage at the expense of Republicans’ long-term reputation for quality. They now have a problem.

Noam Scheiber and David Weigel traded some posts regarding why Romney strategist Stuart Stevens has encountered unexpected backlash–and not only from liberals–as he tries the standard GOP maneuvers on welfare policy, deceptively-cut Obama videos, and other matters.  They each made good points. Yet both underplayed the elephant in the room in this whole matter. Continue reading “The GOP’s tarnished brand: Chickens come home to roost”

Beating up on welfare recipients

For decades, moms and children on welfare have played the role of disparaged stage extras in American politics. It’s pretty disgusting to watch. These families deserve a lot better than they get.

Governor Romney has a new  30-second spot on the old standby of welfare reform.

The ad claims that President Obama…

Quietly announced a plan to gut welfare reform by dropping work requirements. Under Obama’s plan, you wouldn’t have to work. You wouldn’t have to train for a job. They just send you your welfare check.

At issue is a July 12 federal memorandum, which allows states greater flexibility in crafting their work requirements to move poor single moms into paid work.  The spot rather grotesquely mischaracterizes what the Obama administration has done. To begin with, there’s no such thing as “Obama’s plan.” Welfare is mainly operated by the states, which enjoy all-too-wide discretion to impose stringent requirements on welfare recipients. States remain completely free to impose tight work and eligibility requirements—requirements that many fiscally-stressed states have tightened since President Obama took office.

Continue reading “Beating up on welfare recipients”

J Street’s Big Unforced Error

The New York Times today reports on casino mogul and probable-foreign-government-briber Sheldon Adelson’s latest attempt to get his buddy Mitt Romney elected president: $6.5 million dollars to the Republican Jewish Coalition to get more Jews to vote for Romney.  Whatever.  We’ll see.

But it might just work if J Street President Jeremy Ben-Ami, whom I have a lot of respect for, keeps making verbal gaffes like this:

Jeremy Ben-Ami, the president of J Street, a Jewish lobbying group in Washington that favors Democratic candidates, said the effort by Mr. Adelson and the Republican Jewish Coalition would fall short.

“Every single number indicates there is simply no such thing as a Jewish problem for the president,” Mr. Ben-Ami said. “The people who vote only on Israel didn’t vote for Obama last time and know who they are voting for already.”

That is exactly wrong.  If you care about Israel and only about Israel, then your candidate is Barack Obama, and it isn’t a close question.

Romney, like most conservatives nowadays, is an anti-Zionist.  He supports continued Israeli settlement building in the West Bank and rejects a two-state solution.  That course effectively means that Israel will have a non-Jewish majority, thereby causing the destruction of Zionism, or the death of Israeli democracy, or both.  (Note, of course, that if Israel ceases to be a democracy, then it will have violated the Israeli Declaration of Independence, which defines the country as a “Jewish and democratic state.”).

Barack Obama wants Israel to be a Jewish state and to be a democracy.  Mitt Romney does not.  Thus, Barack Obama supports Israel, and Mitt Romney does not.  This isn’t complicated.

 

George Carlin on Mitt Romney and free stuff

Jon Chait notes that ” ‘Free stuff’ is just a way of describing government benefits for other people.” George Carlin beat him to it, with the most succinct analysis I have seen of this question.

Mitt Romney doesn’t like the way many Americans seem to want free stuff from the government:

By the way, I had the privilege of speaking today at the NAACP convention in Houston and I gave them the same speech I am giving you. I don’t give different speeches to different audiences alright. I gave them the same speech. When I mentioned I am going to get rid of Obamacare they weren’t happy, I didn’t get the same response. That’s ok, I want people to know what I stand for and if I don’t stand for what they want, go vote for someone else, that’s just fine. But I hope people understand this, your friends who like Obamacare, you remind them of this, if they want more stuff from government tell them to go vote for the other guy-more free stuff. But don’t forget nothing is really free. It has to paid for by people in the private sector.

Romney was accused of racism for this remark. But this isn’t right. As Jon Chait observes in a nice post, Romney criticizes other claimants, such as white college students, on similar grounds.

Of course the central hypocrisy remains. The core of the current GOP coalition are older white voters who are receiving large actuarial subsidies through Medicare and Social Security. And thus Romney has attacked President Obama for alleged cuts to Medicare. (GOP rhetoric is misleading on these issues, but that’s another story.) Romney himself receives lavish carried interest tax breaks and that $77,000 deduction for a dressage horse. Jon Stewart deliciously notes that this seems pretty free-stuffy, too.

Chait suggests that ” ‘Free stuff’ is just a way of describing government benefits for other people.” That’s true. But George Carlin beat him to it, with the most succinct analysis I have seen of this question.

Politics and physics

When I was in the eighth grade I had Mr. Nadrowski for science, and one day he called Stephen Chilcote up to the front of the class and told him to push against the cinder-block wall until it fell over.  As Chiclet obediently pushed and the rest of us watched, Mr. Nadrowski kept up a descriptive patter: “So there he is, beads of sweat are popping out on his forehead, his muscles all straining; but you know what?  He’s not doing any work!”  His point was that from a physics standpoint no work occurs unless the object responds to the force; if the wall didn’t move, Stephen’s efforts didn’t count.

This seems to be the definition of “work” Republicans are using to complain that President Obama isn’t doing enough to fix the economy.  They build a cinder-block wall of legislative refusal and then criticize him for failing to push it over.

And when he does manage to move objects despite the cinder-block—by the Executive Order modifying immigration or the administrative maneuvers necessary to maintain contraception as a component of basic health-care—his opponents hyperventilate about Obama’s terrifying expansion of Presidential power.  From the people who created the Constitutionally bogus “signing statement,” that’s chutzpah enough to topple the canonical instance: the boy who, having murdered his parents, asks for leniency because he’s an orphan.

So let’s do some real work of our own.  If you’re interested in actually moving objects—Obama canvassers from Illinois to Iowa, and Iowa Democratic voters from their homes to the polls—please join my Wednesday evening phone bank, beginning this week (July 11) and continuing through the election.  Contact me off-line for details, but bear in mind that Iowa votes early, beginning on September 27: if we’re going to knock over the wall, we’ve got to do it over the summer.

“If our enemies will stop lying about us we will stop telling the truth about them”*

Though he attracted ridicule from the Right for saying it (and what could he say that wouldn’t attract ridicule from the Right?), the President is correct: the private sector is okay, creating jobs at a respectable clip.  The weakness in job creation comes primarily from the public sector, where states and municipalities are firing teachers and firefighters and police officers for lack of Federal funding to retain them–and where lack of Federal funding is the direct result of Republican policies.

So apparently McConnell was telling the truth in 2009, if at no other time, when he said that his party’s highest priority was to defeat the President.  If the Republicans have to swell the ranks of the unemployed to accomplish this goal, why should they care?  Republicans mostly aren’t unemployed, and vice-versa.

In other words: the fact that Republican deficit-cutting policies increase unemployment is a feature, not a bug.  Their success in concealing this unattractive fact is truly remarkable.

——

*A 19th Century political saw, revived by and therefore often attributed to Adlai Stevenson.  Adlai’s version: “I would make a proposition to my Republican friends… that if they will stop telling lies about the Democrats, we will stop telling the truth about them.”  This edition of Today’s Pedantic Footnote provided gratis to our readers.

Barack Obama as Huey Long and other matters

Arguing economic populism (and other stuff) on bloggingheads with Glenn Loury

I didn’t hit my marks as well as I would have liked in this bloggingheads with Glenn Loury. At one point I was reduced to sputtering. We still had an interesting broad-ranging argument around whether Democrats threaten the republic by launching Huey-Long-style populist attacks on Mitt Romney over Bain Capital, whether Dan Savage threatens civility by being too mean to religious social conservatives, whether Mitt Romney comports himself as the upperclass twit of the year.

Political psychology comes to television

It’s amazing that such a nice 20-minute discussion of political psychology appears on cable TV.


Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

It’s nice to see cognitive and social psychology receive twenty minutes of intelligent discussion on TV. I don’t agree with everything said here–especially Jonathan Haidt’s rather self-satisfied embrace of centrism. The discussion still seems important and interesting. Our psychological lives and group affiliations alter our ability to process new information. That’s obvious at some 50,000 foot level. Yet the resulting implications are often ignored. Moreover, economics dominates the other social sciences in policy discourse. it’s nice to see other disciplines getting some equal time. It’s even nicer to see an extended discussion, with a minimum of schtick, with no one spouting simplistic slogans. It’s amazing to think this appears on cable TV.

One point that went unmentioned. In my view, mainstream Republicans have retreated from an essential kind of technocratic policy discourse during the Obama years. There is no high-quality, avowedly conservative counterpart to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, for example. Republican policy experts often move away from market-based proposals to solve social problems once liberals show interest. Cap-and-trade approaches to regulate carbon emissions are one obvious example. Otherwise respectable conservatives such as George Will even express skepticism regarding global climate change.

This consequence of ideological polarization and internal GOP politics reduces the quality of policy discourse on both sides of the aisle. It hinders efforts by liberals to question our own assumptions and the quality of our own arguments. We need a more respectable and reasoned opposition, so we can actually learn from each other across the ideological divide. And on some issues, such as public employee pensions, we need a respectable and reasoned set of interlocutors to find reasonable bipartisan compromises neither side could accomplish on its own.