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The Bridge to Benghazi

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For some time now, the conservative response to nearly any critique of a Republican official has been to stick their fingers in their ears and yell "Benghazi!" as loudly as possible. The recent kerfuffle over high-level aids of Chris Christie ordering the closure of lanes on a bridge connecting New Jersey and New York, for what was essentially a vicious week-long fraternity prank, is a case in point. Oh, the plight of poor right-wingers on Twitter, bemoaning that the press, in their eyes, is paying more attention to "Bridgegate" or "Bridgegazi" than they paid to Benghazi, Fast & Furious, the IRS something-or-the-other, the screwed up "Obamacare" rollout (which, ironically, would have been the #1 new story in October if the Republicans hadn't "shut down the government"), etc.

These are all completely different stories; they are not fungible.

It turned out that the IRS targeted liberal groups along with conservative ones. Although it targeted conservative groups in higher numbers, such groups also appeared in higher numbers after the election of the Marxist-Kenyan-who-came-to-steal-all-the-goods-and-services-of-hard-working-white-middle-class-people-and-give-them-to-lazy-black-people, and there's no indication that the use of "key words" to identify political groups was malicious in intent or orchestrated from the White House. If anything, it indicated laziness on the part of officials trying to identify "charity" groups that were really acting as purely political players. The details of "Fast & Furious" are complex and tragic; but conservative crocodile tears about guns falling into the wrong hands are undercut by conservative pushes to make sure that no government official anywhere ever has any power to prevent guns falling into the hands of anyone.

And then there's Benghazi.

Benghazi is an actual city, with actual people living in it, not just the name of the GOP's biggest hope for taking down a President they dislike and/or a woman they worry might be the next President. The attack on Benghazi was a tragedy, but not a scandal. It's clear that the Obama administration screwed up before, during, and after the incident, but Darryl Issa's endless investigations failed to produce the evidence of wrongdoing on the part of administration officials that he hoped to find. The claim that Obama and/or Clinton told potential rescuers to "stand down" during the attack and then "watched them die in real time" is inconceivable within the context of an Obama administration that's happy to drop a drone on anyone, anywhere, for pretty much any reason and desperate to portray Obama as "tough." There were clearly lapses in communication in the State department and between other government agencies, and it's also clear that the Obama administration shot off its mouth too soon about details it didn't really have. Instead of going into the "figure out what happened and how to prevent it to happen again" mode, Republicans immediately went into "how can we use this to make Obama look bad in an election season" mode, and instead of reacting with professional calm, the Obama team panicked and went into "let's reflexively, ineffectually, and defensively flail" mode.

Attack on U.S. diplomatic installations that have included deaths have occurred under every President in modern times, of every party. There's little reason to believe a McCain or Romney administration would have handled the situation any better. I understand that the GOP would love to have Hilary Clinton's scalp, but if a Secretary of State resigned every time there was an attack on a diplomatic installation, we'd have turnovers in that position faster than Hands of the King in Game of Thrones.

I am often frustrated with Obama and his administration. He comes off as disinterested and disengaged. He's surrounded himself with people who seem unwilling to tell him bad news, and it often seems like there is no level of incompetence that he's unwilling to tolerate. The fact that the ACA website launch went so badly isn't particularly troubling -- websites can be fixed -- but the fact that it seemed to take the White House totally by surprise is disturbing. Kathleen Sibelius has likely done more damage to Obama, and Democrats' chances in November 2014, than any GOP operative. I sometimes think that an ideal executive might consist of Mitt Romney and his team implementing Obama administration policies. But in all my areas of complaint against Obama and his team, there is no malice undergirding the incompetence. In the Christie administration, you have both. All of the aids he had fired, and the more he's likely to fire -- these are the people he would have taken with him to the White House.

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A Texas Twitter Twister

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Uhm, yeah. So I actually wasted several hours of a perfectly good Friday evening doing... this.

And yes, I realize that counting blades of grass in the front yard would have been more useful.







































An experiment on Jim DeMint's rhetoric

Penguins
On Meet the Press, Jim DeMint said:

What I'd say, David, is [Justice Kennedy] is denying dignity to the millions of Americans who, for moral or religious reasons, believe that gay marriage is wrong. As you just said, you've got 37 states where the people have decided that they want to protect the marriage between a man and a woman because they know that that's the environment where children can thrive and succeed. I mean, that's been proven.

So it's not about the desires of adults, it's really about the best environment for children. We're talking all about politics, but the reason governments at the state level and the federal level have recognized marriage between a man and a woman is because it's better for our country and it's better for children.

I'm sure I'm not the first person to think of this, but an initial test as to whether it's worth the effort to further engage an argument concerning marriage equality is to replace references to gay marriage with interracial marriage and imagine it was said 40-something years ago:

What I'd say, David, is [Justice Kennedy Warren] is denying dignity to the millions of Americans who, for moral or religious reasons, believe that gay interracial marriage is wrong. As you just said, you've got 37 17 states [as of 1967] where the people have decided that they want to protect the marriage between a man and a woman people of the same race because they know that that's the environment where children can thrive and succeed. I mean, that's been proven.

So it's not about the desires of adults, it's really about the best environment for children. We're talking all about politics, but the reason governments at the state level and the federal level have recognized marriage between a man and a woman people of the same race is because it's better for our country and it's better for children.
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You can't spent 30 years feeding your largely white base this constant self-victimization: they're taking your stuff, they're out to get you, they're on welfare, they're deadbeats, you can't feed them that kind of anger, and that sort of dystopian view of this country that's turning on you and taking away your America, and then turn on a dime because you gotta get some brown people. You can't just change course and ask the base to follow you. - Joy Reid on "Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell, Nov. 9th, 2012

Reading the musings of conservative pundits and their followers post-November 6th, it's astonishing how many of them believe that their problem is just one of "messaging." It's not occurring to them that they might have a crappy message, and more to the point, they have some crappy policies.

I've talked to a couple of American citizens of Hispanic descent who were afraid to drive through Arizona because of Arizona SB 1070. Someone needs to let George Will know that nominating Marco Rubio for VP wouldn't have fixed that. Picking Kelly Ayotte as VP instead of Paul Ryan wouldn't have erased the image of Virginians debating about government-mandated ultrasounds. Hint to the GOP: never, ever again propose any laws that cause the word "transvaginal" to come out of the lips of news anchors.

And while the Republicans scratch their heads on why they lost so much among women and hispanics, they also might want to spend a moment pondering why they lost my 68-year-old white male middle class father, who voted Republican his entire life up until 2008:

It is amazing how 'Romney of New' now agrees with President Obama when it comes to most things concerning foreign policy. President Obama sat there wondering which Romney came to the debate. I loved it when Romney answered one question with a diatribe on jobs, 5 points, etc. Apparently he can't hear either. Honestly anyone who can vote for that flip-flopping egomaniac simply hasn't seen/read what he has said. They are thinking conservative Republican thoughts (I used to be one before the Tea Party) and think that is what he is. Not true - Romney will be anything you like to be elected - I bet he would turn Democrat now if he thought it would help. (reprinted with permission)

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The Metaissues, 2012 edition

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Four years ago, I wrote a post titled The Metaissues, in which I opined:

I've become unhealthily obsessed with reading election coverage, to the point that I've barely got any work done over the past couple of weeks. I finally put my finger on why. The issues in this campaign go beyond the particular candidates - they go beyond Obama and McCain, Biden and Palin. They go beyond the usual suspects of the economy, education, and national security. They go to the metaissues of the death of reasonable discussion and questions of how political races will be run in the future. If McCain wins on Tuesday, the lesson learned will be that going dark works. They will have been rewarded for behaving badly.

It's election eve, 2012, and the first sentence I quote above is true now as well -- but increased by an order of magnitude.

If Obama wins tomorrow, I'm sure there will be a freakout among the paranoid delusional extreme of the right wing -- they'll claim Obama stole the election by resurrecting ACORN or something. For people who are always harping about personal responsibility, the Rush Limbaugh types sure like to play the victim -- they're victims of a biased press, etc. They'll blame Mitt Romney for the loss, and wail about how they would have one if they had nominated a "true conservative" -- ignoring the fact that Romney only started to pull ahead when he moderated his positions (or, more to the point, looked like he was moderating his positions.) They'll also conveniently forget that right-wing bloggers and radio hosts spent the entire Republican primary talking about what an awful phony they thought Mitt Romney was. If Romney wins, you'll hear liberals making similar complaints, but they'll likely to get over it faster and put much of the blame where it belongs -- on Obama, whose no-show at the first debate with Romney will forever mark the turning point of this election.

If Romney wins, there will two additional lessons, ones that will stick around much longer than the next four or eight years.

The Metalesson of Mitt Romney


The Metalesson of Mitt Romney will be that nothing a candidate says really matters. Forget, for the moment, about whether what they say contradicts reality -- it doesn't matter if what they say contracts what they said last month, last week, or five minutes ago. It doesn't matter if it contradicts what they have posted on their website. It doesn't matter if it contradicts what any number of spokespeople for their campaign says.

Other than self-assuredness about his own competence to be President, and a vague distain for the working poor, I have no idea what Mitt Romney actually thinks about anything. I don't mind a politician flip-flopping if they at least acknowledge that they flip-flopped, aka, Kerry's "I was for it before I was against it." It's even better if they explain that their flip-flop is the result of some thinking or the introduction of new data (Obama did explain why he came to embrace the "individual mandate" he opposed in the primary, although it didn't get a lot of coverage). But Romney will simply deny that the ever held any different position. After a Romney speech or interview, his campaign spokespeople would come out and say that what Romney said wasn't what he meant. This is far worse than something like Joe Biden's gaffes, where the "words don't come out right." The apex of this is the Romney campaign's latest misleading ads about the auto bailout -- lying about yourself or your opponent is one thing, but lying about a third party is something else.

Andrew Sullivan put it well while liveblogging the third debate:

Watching this man shape-shift in front of your eyes is staggering. I'm fascinated by the purity of the cynicism. Seriously, I've never seen any human being up close like this - a mechanical, unstoppable machine of say anything, forget everything in the past, refuse to take any responsibility for anything he has said in the past, and just smile and golly-gee smile his way along. There's a machine-like quality that chills me. I have no idea what he would do in office on anything. I believe nothing he says.

My Greatest Hope is that Mitt Romney has Always Been Full of Shit


A Romney presidency might not be a total disaster. But for me to believe that, I have to ignore everything he said during the entire year of 2011. I have to believe he lied nonstop for an entire year. Notice that I haven't argued about any of Romney's policy positions in this post. Why bother, when no one knows what they will be tomorrow? Or the day after that? Or, if he's elected, the day he's sworn in? An endless cavalcade has noticed that the math on Romney's tax plan doesn't add up. But it's clear he never bothered to make it add up. It may or may not bear any relationship to what he might actually propose to congress. It's just sounds you you make your mouth and circles and lines you put on your website. It means nothing.

If I was given the choice between a third term of George W. Bush and a first term of Mitt Romney, I would pick Bush. I disagreed with Bush, and slammed him often, but I knew where he stood, and I knew what he believed. And even if I though his policies were misguided and counterproductive, I believe he was pursuing them because he thought they were the best for the country. It's not clear to me that Mitt Romney believes in anyone or anything except himself.

I was vaguely neutral on the 2008 election, up to the point that McCain announced Sarah Palin as his VP. In a curious parallel, Romney's selection of Paul Ryan was a similarly galvanizing moment. Romney, at his core -- assuming he has one -- may not be a hardcore right-winger, but his running mate is. When Ryan was about his position on rape and abortion, Ryan demurred, saying he had joined the Romney ticket. Uhm, Congressman Ryan, Mitt Romney is amazingly healthy and energetic for his age, but still, you might become President, and then it's your "ticket." Romney may have just calculated that Ryan were necessary for shoring up support with the Republican base, but what Ryan thinks matters.

The Metalesson of Mitch McConnell


The Obama administration has been a mixed bag. Rachel Maddow assembled a pretty thorough synopsis of his accomplishments, many of which have been forgotten in the political firestorm of the past couple of years. Some of the criticisms of the Obama administration are on target -- their handling of the situation in Benghazi, both before, during, and after the incident, has been the worst foreign policy disaster of the past four years. Obama has continued or even expanded some of the worst excesses of the Bush administration in the "War on Terror" -- of course, Mitt Romney will continue or expand on these things (the neocon wing of the GOP is a much stronger influence on Romney than the Ron Paul wing). But most of the criticism has been unfair. If you listen to ring-wing talk radio, you will find Mark Levin and Hugh Hewitt railing against an Obama that doesn't exist for things Obama never did. The most infuriating complaints are those about Obama's alleged lack of bipartisanship. The first two years of Obama's negotiations with congress were characterized by his willingness to give the GOP everyone they wanted, and more, before negotiations even began. And still the GOP would say no! They complain about Obama not proposing a second-term agenda -- but anything Obama says he wants to do, the GOP then says they're against, even if these are things the GOP supported in the past. So an announcement by Obama that he's for some idea may be enough to kill it in Congress.

Romney criticized Obama for not getting the DREAM Act passed. Well, Governor Romney, why wasn't it passed? Because Congressional Republicans -- even ones who helped draft it -- filibustered it. And how can Romney criticize Obama for not passing a law that Romney said he would veto?

When Republicans read off a list of statistics showing how bad the economy is, they shouldn't be allowed to place the blame entirely at the President's feet. The President cannot pass laws on his own. (Bill Clinton can make this kind of point, but Obama himself can't, since it would sound defensive). The GOP made the calculation that they were better off politically if they opposed everything that the President might potentially get any credit for.

There is an asymmetry in how Democrats and modern Republicans approach governance, and it gives the Republicans a negotiating advantage. The Republicans don't care who gets hurt. They're willing to hold unemployment benefits hostage in order to get a tax cut for the very wealthy. Obama didn't want to see the unemployed get hurt, so he caved on the tax cuts. House Republicans (in this case, the Senate Republicans were acting more like grown-ups) were willing to sabotage the credit rating of the U.S. because they thought it will hurt the Democrats' re-election chances. (Granted, Obama made a mistake by tying the debt ceiling vote with his attempts to negotiate a "grand bargain." Obama should have just said "this needs to be a separate vote, just as it's always been" right at the start. It wasn't until after this that I think Obama fully realized that Congressional Republicans would always move the goal posts.) The Blunt Amendment was another kind of hostage taking: "So, Kathleen Sebelius wants all employers, including churches, to provide contraceptive coverage with in insurance policies for their employees? Well, hah! Well make it so that any employeer can deny coverage of anything on vague religious or moral (whatever that means) grounds."

If Romney wins, the GOP will learn that four years of mindless, lock-step opposition works in their favor.

The Best Argument for Voting for Mitt Romney


This has turned into sickening and twisted argument for the election of Mitt Romney. Kevin Drum summarized it as The GOP Will Destroy America If We Reelect Obama, So We Must Let the GOP Win:

A Republican win would embolden congressional Republicans. They'd take it as a sign that they were right all along, that America...really does want to be governed according to tea party principles. They'd be over the moon with faith in their own righteousness and would demand absolute fealty from Romney. Sure, they'd ease up on things like debt ceiling hostage taking, but not on much of anything else...

Frum makes the most overt form of the surrendering-to-terrorists argument that I've seen yet. If Obama wins, congressional Republicans will go completely ape and destroy the country. They will deliberately tank the economy and then impeach the president. Therefore, we have to give into them and turf Obama out of office.

It's appalling that people are seriously making this argument... No country can survive with this attitude. If congressional Republicans are truly a destructive and irrational force in American politics...the answer is to fight them, not to surrender to them.

The Republicans are likely to keep control of the House, and the Democrats are likely to maintain control of the Senate. If Romney wins, I'll be tempted to say that I hope Democrats in the Senate would show President Romney the same level of respect and cooperation that Republicans in the Senate showed President Obama. But that would be petty...

I don't think we'll ever see another blowout election, like Reagan in 1984 or Clinton in 1996. The electorate is permanently polarized, pretty much evenly split 47%-47%, mirroring a political-media complex that benefits from keeping it that way, with the remaining 6% never paying much attention. Especially with the "winner-take-all" system of the electoral college -- which leads to candidates mostly campaigning to be President of Ohio, or at most, a sliver of the midwest -- we'll be spending every four years slogging through endless recounts, basically determining the Presidency via coin flips after billions of dollars are spent on campaigning.

This Presidential election cycle has been a nightmare for the heart, mind, and spirit of this country. Whoever wins -- whether it's Obama or Romney -- will give their victory speech covered in muck and filth.

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So much of American culture...

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...encapsulated in one Google Search autocomplete.

Akin is not an outlier

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One thing to remember about the recent Akin flap is that he is not an outlier. Large swaths of American conservatives think exactly like him. If you hop on rightwing websites, you'll find plenty of folks -- including women -- who believe that the stress of rape is sufficient to prevent pregnancy. Check out the comments on this article, by a conservative female commentator who compares Akin's ignorance of human reproduction with energy regulations. Coal, cervix, I guess they both start with C...

Akin on 'Legitimate Rape': "I Misspoke"

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Penguins
Let's play a little game. Guess who said this: "You have to spend a little to grow a little... what we're trying to do is stimulate the part of the economy that's on its back."

A) President Barack Obama
B) Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid
C) Harvard professor and Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren
D) Representative Paul Ryan

If you read the title of this post, you know the answer. The key, of course, is that Ryan didn't say it recently. He said it ten years ago, when a Republican was president.

In the clip below, at around the 5:55 mark, I love the way Chris Hayes and his panel sit for a few seconds in stunned silence before gleefully tearing in.

From Guilty As Stim: Chris Hayes Digs Up Devastating Video Of Paul Ryan Stimulus Hypocrisy:

Enter Chris Hayes, who set the table with a 2010 clip of Ryan blasting “borrow and spend” policies as a failed experiment, followed by some Bush-era clips of Ryan forcefully advocating for those exact kinds of policies, while also acknowledging that unemployment often drags on in a recovery. The fact that Paul Ryan is making arguments in these clips that could serve as campaign ads for President Obama isn’t the most surprising thing about these clips, though:



What is surprising is that, while Romney, Ryan, and the Republicans are running around attacking the President’s economic record, no one on the President’s side is making these arguments this well...

...it’s not as if 2002 Paul Ryan came to Jesus after passing several stimulus packages under President George W. Bush. In 2009, he voted in favor of a competing $715 billion Republican stimulus package.

Liberals are often too enamored with hypocrisy arguments, though... The notion of hypocrisy strikes at the character of the hypocrite, rather than at the ideal they’re not living up to. In my view, these arguments obscure the real problems with Republican views and policies, which is that they’re wrong.

Don’t judge Paul Ryan and Mitt Romney on whether they have always thought the same things they do now, or even on whether they magically, coincidentally changed their minds when Barack Obama became president. Listen to what Ryan said in 2002, or what Romney said in 2004, and what they’re saying now, and decide, for yourselves, which of them makes more sense.

In 2002, Ryan said “What we’re trying to accomplish is to pass the kinds of legislation that, in the past, have grown the economy and gotten people back to work,” which is true, and verifiable... Ignore the hypocrisy, and focus on the fact that Paul Ryan is beating himself in this argument. [last boldface mine]
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Many of the attacks against Mitt Romney by Barack Obama and his various political allies have been petty, vapid, misleading, and/or hypocritical. The particularly odd thing is that these petty, valid, misleading, and/or hypocritical attacks are only effective at all because Mitt Romney has repeatedly held up signs saying: "Hey! Please attack me on these issues! I'll mount an unnecessarily evasive defense!"

The only thing that slightly mitigates my annoyance at Team Obama's petty, vapid, misleading, and/or hypocritical attacks against Romney is that many of the attacks by Team Romney against Obama have been nonsensical and/or delusional. From the cynical replacement of antecedents created by highly selective editing, to Team Romney's bogus claim that the Obama campaign's efforts to support voting rights for all Ohioans is actually an attempt to make it difficult for members of our military to vote, to their lies about Obama's so-called "gutting" of Clinton's welfare reform legislation*, to Romney pulling an inspector general completely out of his ass, Romney plays fast and loose with the facts, even when it doesn't seem give him any particular advantage.

The Speeches I Want Mitt Romney to Give


I thought Harry Reid was out of line with his "Romney didn't pay taxes for ten years" attack. Reid triple-downed on it, which tells me he's pretty sure of his source, which suggests to me that someone on Romney's camp in leaking. But Reid doesn't know for sure, and admits as such, so it's an unfair attack and everyone from Romney himself to Jon Steward has called Reid out on it. What's weird is that Romney could obliterate Reid's argument, destroy his credibility, and probably knock Reid out of the Majority Leader slot by releasing a single year's tax return, but he chooses not to do it. (Although I doubt any Republican really wants to see Chuck Schumer take over as Majority Leader.)

I'm not terribly interested in Romney's tax returns. I'd like Romney to come out and say: "Look, as an individual actor, it is within your rational self-interest to lower the tax burden on you and your family as much as possible. Low-income Americans have things like the Earned Income Tax Credit. Middle-class Americans have things like the mortgage interest deduction. And when you make as much money as I do, a whole slew of possibilities opens up. But they're all legal and you can't blame me, or anyone, for taking advantage of them. If you ever make as much money as I do, you'll do the same thing. And guess what? There's tons of rich Democrats and Liberals taking advantage of the same tax havens, as well as making money from foreign investments."

I'd prefer to spend less time talking about Romney's taxes and more time talking about how his proposed tax policy (what there is of it) sucks. (Romney's taxes are slightly more relevant than usual, though, since one of the premises of his campaign is that the poor, sensitive ultrarich are suffering under punishing tax rates, and for the good of the whole country, their tax rates need to be lower. Romney paying microscopic effective rates would undercuts this argument. But he could get out of this mess if he just stopped making that argument.)

Most of Team Obama's attacks against Romney has run along the line that he was, and is, and evil corporate raider. Given how many Democrats spent time as corporate raiders, this is a bit hypocritical, but it's legitimate line of attack since Romney has based his entire campaign around his business experience, and not, say, the years he actually spent in government (we'll come back to that later.) When confronted an Alleged Act of Corporate Raiding Evil, Romney's response has been a defensive deflection along the lines of "well, I had left Bain by that point, I had run off to rock the Olympics." Which is an odd response, made all the more annoying by no one ever asking the obvious follow up questions: "Well, if you had been in charge of day-to-day operations at Bain at the time, would you have made the same call? If not, did you ever call your former colleagues and say, 'hey, you shouldn't have done Alleged Evil Thing X?' Or tell them that they shouldn't do Alleged Evil Thing X in the future? Are you saying that Bain was all rainbows-and-unicorns while you, Mitt Romney, were running it, but once you left, it devolved into Lord of the Well-Dressed Flies?"

There's some fuss over how much involvement Romney had with Bain, and whether he's dissembled about that, but given how much Romney's dissembled about everything else, I'll let that slide. Let's suppose Romney's narrative about when he was or wasn't at Bain and how much he was or wasn't there is correct. With that settled, we can now ask:

Why doesn't Romney just stand up and own it? Why doesn't he say: "Look, I wasn't there when my colleagues at Bain made the call to Close That Plant or Outsource and/or Offshore These Jobs or Sock the Taxpayers with the Bill for these Pensions We Abandoned. But if I had been there, I probably would have made the same call. Bain's job was to make a profit, not create jobs. The purpose of any company is to make a profit, not create jobs. Employees are expensive, and if businesses could do without them, they would. If we could turn a company around, and it grew, and it hired people, that was great; but "job creation" was a side effect. Sometimes we couldn't turn a company around, and yes, we took advantage of some quirks in bankruptcy law that let us load a failing company with debt and then let it die. But it was all legal, and it wasn't much different than anything any other company did. Did we offshore jobs? Sure we did. Offshoring lowers costs. Sometimes we continue to sell products at the same price and strip naked and roll around in the extra cash. Sometimes we have to offshore to get the price point of a product down to something the market will pay for. Apple produces nothing in the U.S. How much do you think your precious iPad or iPhone would cost it was built here? Apple would never have designed them to begin with, since they wouldn't have been able to sell the damn things."

Of course, Romney didn't respond like that, since he reflexively knew that all that plant closing, offshoring, etc. might look bad. But I keep hoping he will give a speech like that, since he'd be able to fully call out Team Obama on their hypocrisy (plenty of Democrats work at private equity firms), and then we'd be able to have a serious debate about different "kinds" of capitalism, and whether they're good (businesses that make money by provide goods and services) or bad (businesses that "make money" by financial slight-of-hand).

Companies do not hire out of charity, and they do not fire out of malice. The Laffer curve is, in some sense, a tautology; there's an optimal tax rate somewhere between 0 and 100. Right now, the economy is demand-constrained, and we're operating to the left of the Laffer peak. The notation that the "job creators" will start creating a zillion jobs if they only had lower tax rates is absurd, considering that corporate profits are at an all time high (despite Obama's alleged anti-capitalism) and are sitting on two trillion in cash reserves. Companies aren't hiring because consumers aren't buying.

Boxin' Up the Mittens


All of this leads the reductio ad absurdum of Joe Soptic and Andrea Saul.

Republicans loved the Citizens United decision that gave us the Super PACs. People are complaining about how negative this Presidential campaign has become, but, hey, look, when you've set up this structure where Super PACs can receive unlimited money but not officially coordinate with a specific candidate, you have set up a situation where they can mostly only attack the other candidates. (This kind of backfired on the GOP candidates during the Republican primary; remember the strongest attacks on Romney's time at Bain weren't from MoveOn -- they were from Newt Gingrich's Super PAC.) So, you're going to see an explosion of negative ads.

The recent Joe Soptic ad presents a misleading narrative with a deliberately blurred timeline and vital omissions. The ad is legitimate in so far as it leads to a discussion about how the employer-based health insurance system prevalent in the U.S. is really, really stupid, but the ad's not-so-veiled linking of Romney and Bain with a woman's tragic death from cancer is below the belt. Many, many companies, from the restaurant down the street to Hewlett Packard, have let go of employees, and of course that always has human consequences. Soptic never explicitly says "Mitt Romney killed my wife." But the implication is there. Soptic does say: "I do not think Mitt Romney realizes what he’s done to anyone. And furthermore I do not think Mitt Romney is concerned." And perhaps that is true. But Mitt Romney was one of many CEOs, and Bain is one of many companies, and these issues are not particular to Romney or Bain. Obama can somewhat distance himself from the ad since it's from a Super PAC, not Obama himself (unlike most of Romney's fact-challenged attacks, which have Romney's direct stamp of approval). But the ad still reflects negatively on Obama, and so Team Romney has an obvious riposte. And then... and then...

...they go unexpectedly, amazingly, mindblowingly off-message. They do so in a way that infuriates the conservative base of the Republican party, and they do so by, ironically, being absolutely correct (for once). Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul said this: "To that point, you know, if people had been in Massachusetts under Governor Romney’s health care plan, they would have had health care." This left Erik Erickson wondering if this was the day that the Romney campaign died, Rush Limbaugh sputtering, and Ann Coulter flipping out (which is kind of funny since she once penned a column titled Three Cheers for Romneycare! -- exclamation point hers, not mine).

Of course, Saul was right on both of her main points: the ad represented a vicious, misleading attack on Romney, and the cancer patient discussed in the ad would have been better off if, say, Romneycare had been extended to all 50 states, or at least the state that the Soptics live in. You know, Romneycare, with its mandates to have health insurance and subsidies to help people who couldn't otherwise afford health insurance. Romneycare, which walks, talks, and quacks a lot like Obamacare. Obamacare, which Romney is vowing to reveal and "replace." (What will he replace Obamacare with? Romneycare?)

In an ordinary universe, Romney would be able to run on his main accomplishment as governor instead of run from it. Romneycare seems to be popular in Massachusetts, even if it's not popular anywhere else.

Which leads us to the terrible conclusion that Rick Santorum was right about something, and the underlying GOP-imposed self-contradiction of the Romney campaign.

Rick Santorum was Right


Santorum said that Romney was the worst Republican to go up against Obama because Romney was the only one that couldn't credibly attack Obama on Obamacare. But the whole anti-Obamacare framing was created by Republicans in August of 2009, in which they decided that any health care bill with the President's fingerprints would be opposed, regardless of content. The ACA could have contained nothing but a clause honoring Ronald Reagan as sainthood, and Republicans still would have opposed it. So we got the weird spectacle of a Democratic president pushing strategy implemented by a Republican governor and being opposed on it tooth and nail by Republicans.

David Frum nails it:

The problem with the Romney campaign is that it is all sword, no shield. Romney has a fierce line of attack against Barack Obama. He lacks any defense against the Obama campaign's counter-charges: that his wealth has isolated him from the concerns of working Americans.

Yet he once had such a defense, a defense he spent his term as governor of Massachusetts developing: Romneycare. The governor who achieved America's first state-wide system of universal health coverage could be accused of a lot of things, but not of indifference to the welfare of everyday working people. Unfortunately, the same forces in the GOP that pressed Romney to adopt a second big tax cut for upper-income people—to 28%—had previously successfully pressed him to jettison his own most important public accomplishment.

In the Republican primaries, the candidates vied to present themselves as the fiercest Obama hater of them all. Obamacare became issue 1, and the similarities between Obamacare and Romneycare made a natural target. The dissimilarities—including the most important of them all, the financing mechanism—interested virtually nobody. Romney retreated under attack. Not his finest hour, but sometimes discretion is the better part of valor. Attempting to reason with enraged people may only enrage them more.

Romney's put forth the usual federalist argument that Obamacare is bad because it's the federal government pushing something on all the states, and that the states should be left on their own to figure out what to do about health care. But this is a fairly technical issue compared with the raw revulsion with which most Republicans view the ACA. After the Supreme Court ruled that the ACA's "individual mandate" was constitutional, Matt Davis, a former state Republican party spokesman, asked: "If government can mandate that I pay for something I don't want, then what is beyond its power? If the Supreme Court's decision Thursday paves the way for unprecedented intrusion into personal decisions, then has the Republic all but ceased to exist? If so, then is armed rebellion today justified?" What a strange series of questions. Did Davis similarly flip out over Romneycare? Well, he was an operative in Michigan, not Massachusetts. But would Davis be totally cool with his state government mandating that he pay for something he doesn't want? When Romneycare passed, did Massachusetts residents take up arms?

To my knowledge, Romney has never entertained the notion that Romneycare was bad for Massachusetts. Nor has he ever said that it would only work in Massachusetts and would flop in the other 49 states. Nor, to my knowledge, has he clarified which states he think it would work well in and which states it wouldn't work well in. Nor, to my knowledge, has he ever listed any state he thought it would flop in, or listed properties a state might have which would cause Romneycare to flop in that state. (Although others have done all of the above.)

Noam Scheiber sums it up:

As we await the Romney campaign’s decision about Saul’s fate, it’s worth reflecting on one under-reported aspect of this latest conservative blow-up: Saul was saying precisely what her superiors in the Romney campaign believe, not least of them Mitt Romney...

Unfortunately for Saul and Romney, the whole episode confirms the main conclusion...the campaign has massively underestimated the fever on the right from the very beginning, and that this underestimation continues to complicate their lives in all sorts of ways.

The conservative base put Romney in this box. The Democrats are just applying the packing tape.



*To be precise, it was Congresses' legislation, and President Clinton signed it.
Penguins
After the paradoxical disappointment of Prometheus -- and knowing how many cinematic trilogies falter in their third act after a brilliant second (Spiderman 2-3, Terminator 2-3, Star Trek 2-3, Aliens-Alien 3, etc.) -- I went to The Dark Knight Rises with some trepidation, but was pleasantly surprised. Definitely see it on IMAX if you can. It's been criticized as being too long and having an overly complex plot; but I had no trouble following it and would have trouble thinking of what to cut.

It's gritty, but not as unrelentingly grim as The Dark Knight. TDK was deeply engaging, and Heath Ledger's brilliant performance will be remembered until our sun goes supernova. But I didn't "enjoy" it in the conventional sense; I was glad I saw it, but not interested in seeing it again. I felt like I had been pummeled by the end of it. TDKR is also intense, but it maintains more of an overall atmosphere of hope and triumph instead of unrelenting despair. I did feel like TDK was too long, but the length of TDKR felt just right.

The primarily complaint I have -- and I'm not the first to make this complaint -- is that I only caught half of Bane's dialog. It could have used subtitles. I left wishing that the movie spent more time developing his character and his motivations. I like the symmetry with Batman -- Batman hides his face, but not his mouth, whereas Bane hides his mouth, but not his face. And the mask adds a striking, intimidating touch to an already striking, intimidating character. But I think the cost to the actor's ability to express himself (and just making himself understood) was too high.

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