When the Washington Post story about Mitt Romney's high school years (including forcibly cutting the hair of a student whose commitment to conformism was insufficiently vigorous) came out, leading Republicans were fairly quiet about it. Whether the incident happened or not, they said, it tells us virtually nothing about the man Romney is today and the issues at stake in this election. That's a perfectly reasonable argument, but it isn't the one you would have heard from many of the foot soldiers in the Republican base. Among the troops, there was outrage, not so much about the Romney story, but about what they saw as a double-standard. As one emailed me after I wrote a piece on the topic, "I saw your article on CNN. When does the vetting of President Obama begin? Have you delved into his past? The next time I read an article about a young Barrack [sic] Obama will be the first."
As I replied to this person, there were hundreds, maybe thousands of articles written in 2008 (and since) about Barack Obama's youth. He even wrote a pretty frank book about it himself, before he ever became a politician. If you think he wasn't "vetted" you weren't paying attention. But there are millions of conservatives who believe precisely that, and as we approach Obama's possible re-election, with an extremely busy and consequential first term almost behind us, the obsession with his allegedly hidden past only grows.
CNN’s Peter Hamby describes the Obama campaign’s troubles in the Tar Heel State:
[I]t’s hard to find a Democrat in the capital of Raleigh who believes the president, saddled with the burdens of governing and a sputtering economy, can stir the enthusiasm of 2008 and repeat his near-flawless North Carolina performance.
Arizona Secretary of State and certified nutball Ken Bennett
Astute readers may have noticed that over the past year or so, I've made an effort not to be too knee-jerk about my partisanship. Not that I've changed my beliefs about any substantive issues lately, but I've tried to be as thoughtful as I can about people on the other side, whether it's conservative writers or conservative politicians. I don't always succeed (the occasional insult still filters through now and then), but I'm doing my best. And I understand that writing about how the other side is evil can be satisfying. It's also popular; I've written or co-written four books, and the most partisan one sold the most, even though it's not a book I'd have much appetite to write again.
That being said, there are times when it isn't enough to say that conservatives are wrong about a particular matter. Being truthful requires saying that many of them are, in fact, nuts.
The Romney campaign is out with its first ad, a positive spot that highlights Keystone, health care, and tax cuts. The aim of the ad is to show Americans what President Romney would do in his first day of office, and to that end, it gets the job done, even if it’s mostly paint by numbers:
There are times when you can just see the wheels turning in Mitt Romney's head, as he cycles through the possible responses to a question, realizes there really is no good one, then spits out something that sounds like the least bad answer possible. It's almost sad. That frenzy of mental activity is what produces things like this bit of hilarity, after Romney got questioned about the story of a rich Republican thinking of running an ad campaign attacking President Obama with Jeremiah Wright:
Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson is out with his first campaign ad today, and it's about as bizarre as you would expect.
The ad is reminiscent of Herman Cain's avant-garde commercials (even nabbing the same "any questions" tagline), though thankfully Johnson reserves his destruction for fruit and leaves any innocent animals alone.
Bill Clinton has emerged as a player in the presidential election, but oddly, not as a surrogate for President Obama. Rather, Mitt Romney is using the former president as a +5 Amulet of Centrism—a way to assert moderate credentials without changing his policies or modifying his rhetoric. This was used to great effect in his speech yesterday, where he decried deficits and disparaged Obama for his “old school” liberalism:
Maybe Republicans aren't so opposed to health care reform after all. After grandstanding against the Affordable Care Act for the past few years, Republicans aren't ready to let the entire bill die should the Supreme Court overturn the law later this summer. Congressional Republicans are crafting a contingency plan to reinstate some of the popular elements of the bill in that scenario, according to Politico. It's a clear indication that the GOP has learned the same lesson as Democrats: while the all-encompassing idea of Obamacare may fair poorly in the polls, voters typically support individual elements of the bill.
Previously unseen video of shadowy character nobody has ever heard of.
Most of us would agree that Citizens United has been bad for democracy, with corporations and wealthy people now permitted to spend as much as they want to buy the kind of representatives they prefer. But there is one factor that we didn't really anticipate, something that mitigates the harm they can do: it turns out that rich people aren't necessarily that smart with their money.
So during the presidential primaries, casino mogul Sheldon Adelson spent $16.5 million to help out the campaign of Newt Gingrich, whom you might have noticed is not the GOP nominee. And in today's New York Times, we get an interesting story about Joe Ricketts, the founder of TD Ameritrade, who is preparing to spend $10 million to defeat Barack Obama. And what is the magic bullet Mr. Ricketts has located, the zinger that will bring down this incumbent president? Jeremiah Wright! Seriously. Jamelle discussed the racial aspect of this story, but I equally interesting is just how naive this demonstrates that influential people can be. Ricketts is going to spend all that money to "Show the world how Barack Obama's opinions of America and the world were formed...And why the influence of that misguided mentor and our president's formative years among left-wing intellectuals has brought our country to its knees." In other words, just about the same thing you could hear every day by listening to Glenn Beck's radio show or tuning in to Fox News.
In general, I’m not too concerned with civility in politics, but it’s hard not to be shocked by the nastiness and aggression of today’s Republican Party. Congressional Republicans routinely accuse Democrats of treason, or worse, with little rebuke from party leaders. Reliably conservative lawmakers—like Bob Inglis and Dick Lugar—are challenged nonetheless for their insufficient hatred of Democrats.
The basic odds make it fairly unlikely that the Democrats will maintain their Senate majority. They only hold a narrow 53-47 edge after the 2010 midterms, and the party must defend 23 seats in 2012, compared to just ten for Republicans. Their troubles only increased when moderate Democrats hailing from conservative states—Ben Nelson and Kent Conrad as the most notable—decided that now was the time to retire, all but ceding their spots to the GOP. Every scenario looked doom and gloom for their chances. But then Republicans decided to sabotage those odds. First Olympia Snowe announced her retirement, after growing tired of her party's partisan rancor. Her seat is expected to go to the independent—but Democratic friendly—candidate Angus King.
The defining feature of the Republican presidential primaries was the constant Sturm und Drang over Mitt Romney’s ability to win Republican voters. Pundits claimed that Romney had a “ceiling” with conservatives in the party, and opponents like former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum routinely assailed the front-runner as a candidate whose commitment to conservatism was short-lived and inauthentic—a human “Etch A Sketch,” in the words of Romney’s own campaign spokesperson.
In the last few years, many different kinds of communication technologies have been democratized. For instance, up until not too long ago, making a film that didn't look amateurish was impossible without a whole bunch of equipment whose expense made it out of reach for almost everyone, not to mention the technical expertise required. But today, you can buy a professional-quality HD video camera for a couple thousand dollars and video editing software like Apple's Final Cut Pro for a couple hundred, and presto, you can make what looks to be a "real" movie. That means that a kid with a dream to be the next Steven Spielberg can see that dream realized. It also means that a crazy person with a conspiracy theory can see his dream realized.
Which brings us to two new movie previews for anti-Obama films that, when you look at them, seem remarkably like "real" movies...
(White House photo by Eric Draper. Via Wikimedia Commons)
Mitt Romney clearly coveted the endorsement of George H.W. Bush. He first met with Bush the Elder in December at the former president's Texas home in an appearance everyone assumed equaled a full endorsement. However Romney staged a second event in March for the official endorsement as another photo-op with Bush 41. Meanwhile the other Bush who once occupied the oval office was nowhere to be seen, never rolled out as a public endorser even though Romney clearly wrapped up the nomination weeks ago.
Journalist Marc Ambinder is leaving DC, and on his departure he wrote a pretty good listicle on what he's learned in his time here. His piece goes relatively easy on our nation's capital when it comes to its moral and spiritual depravity, but he makes some excellent points, including this:
Consistency is not a terribly interesting or useful proxy for effectiveness in a politician, and yet it seems to be the value held most high—or the value that, because someone is most easily able to convince you that someone else lacks it, becomes important. Politicians and the media haven't developed the vocabulary to explain how positions evolve.
Marc is absolutely right about this. You don't have to be a flip-flopper of Romnulan (I'm trademarking that word, by the way; feel free to contact me for licensing opportunities) proportions to fear the consequences of anything that looks like inconsistency; even the slightest deviation from what you've said previously can be punished...