Today's installment of what Prospect alum Adam Serwer has termed the "dumbgeist"—the latest idiotic trumped-up controversy of the day—offers a demonstration of something important about Mitt Romney. It's just that it doesn't offer a demonstration of the thing the media says it does. I'll explain below, but first, witness the horror of...Wawagate!
In my cover story for The American Prospect last month, I argued that Mitt Romney’s actual beliefs are less important than those of the Republican Party writ large. The modern GOP has transformed into a parliamentary-style party with rigid discipline and broad adherence to a single “program” of ideas and policies. Romney may have a more temperate personal style than other Republican politicians, but if elected president, he will work to implement the GOP’s program.
The term "hot button issue" first appeared in the mid-1980s, but came into common usage during the 1988 presidential campaign, when the nation soberly contemplated such questions as whether Michael Dukakis was planning to unleash a horde of dusky criminals to prey upon our precious white women. Alas, this year's campaign is nearly devoid of hot buttons for the candidates to push. God? Mitt Romney is the last person who wants to talk about religion. Guns? The Obama administration has done nothing to restrict their ownership, and the NRA's fevered warnings of government confiscating your weapons grow ridiculous even to gun owners themselves. Gays? Just a month and a half after President Obama surprised almost no one by announcing his support for marriage equality, Republicans haven't bothered to make it an issue, probably because they understand that the public has little taste for their past demagoguery.
So aside from the occasional temporary flare-up over things like contraception or immigration, we're left with a campaign mostly about the economy, with nary a hot button in sight.
Today's big news is that the Obama administration is, through executive action, enacting a kind of mini-DREAM Act to help undocumented immigrants who were brought to America as children. We'll get to the details in a moment, but one thing we know for sure is that Republicans are going to be very, very mad, or at least they'll sound very, very mad. They'll make three separate arguments: First, they'll have a substantive argument about why it's a bad idea to allow any undocumented immigrant to work here legally. Second, they'll have a process argument about why it's an appalling power-grab for Obama to do this without congressional approval. Of course, they're quite happy with all sorts of executive orders and similar actions when a Republican is in the White House, but that hypocrisy doesn't necessarily make them wrong on that point. Finally, they'll say this is blatant "election-year politics" meant only to secure Latino votes in the fall election.
Which it may well be, at least in part. So my question is, what's wrong with that?
Congressional Republicans discuss health care. (Flickr/nkenji)
The Supreme Court will rule on the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act soon, and that has concentrated some Republicans' minds. It was all well and good to shout "repeal and replace!" when there wasn't really anything they could do about it, but if the Court actually strikes down some or all of the law, they'll be under greater pressure to put their money where their mouths are. The central quandary is this: if the law's least popular provision—the mandate for everyone to carry insurance—is struck down, that means the law's most popular provision—the requirement that insurance companies accept everyone, regardless of pre-existing conditions—has to go as well. Not only that, some other popular provisions, like the requirement that insurers allow young people up to age 26 to go on their parents' insurance, would disappear if the Court strikes down the whole law.
Should that happen, President Obama and other Democrats will immediately begin attacking Republicans for taking away these popular benefits. After all, the overturning of the ACA is a Republican project from start to finish, from the lawsuits brought by Republican attorneys general to the Republican judges on the Court who will undo it. So what do you do if you're a Republican member of Congress? Well, you start pretending that when you get around to that whole "replace" thing, you'll keep the stuff everybody likes.
Back in April, President Obama gave a speech to the American Society of News Editors, where he excoriated Mitt Romney—and the Republican Party—for its adherence to the “roadmap” devised by House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan. In the speech, Obama presented the Ryan roadmap as modern Republicanism, distilled to its essence. He attacked the plan for its large, across-the-board tax cuts, its complete extension of the Bush tax cuts, and its plan to privatize Medicare. More importantly, he spelled out the implications of Ryan’s budget: to pay for his tax cuts, the federal government would have to suck the marrow from its social services.
Today, POLITICO had a big scoop: Wall Street has a huge crush on Mitt Romney. Surprising news, to be sure, especially given the candidate’s propensity to name drop his business experience when discussing any policy issue, his distaste for regulation, and the many corporate conglomerates Romney considers allies. The more startling news in the article is the numbers: The Romney camp is outraising Obama among financial-sector donors $37 million to nearly $5 million. That’s a 7-to-1 margin, and 19 of the top donors supported the Democratic ticket in 2008.
Today, President Obama is going to roll out a new speech laying out his case on the economy. From the previews, it looks to be a contrast between what the economy will look like in a second Obama term, and what it will look like in a first Romney term. Essentially, he'll be trying to make this a "choice" election instead of a "referendum" election. Which is exactly what it should be. After all, we wouldn't be replacing something with nothing if we elected Mitt Romney, we'd be replacing something with something very, very different.
And as I'm sure Obama will argue today, we have some experience with what Mitt Romney is proposing. Obama will characterize Romney's policies as "exactly what got us into this mess" or some such, but you don't even have to tar him with the 2008 catastrophe to make the case.
Let's say you're a Democratic political consultant who has never worked for Barack Obama. How do you feel about him and his team? Well, chances are that although you respect their skill, you also think they're too insular and too unwilling to listen to outside advice. Like yours! Because after all, if you're a Democratic political consultant and you don't work for the Obama campaign, you probably wish you did. There's a lot of prestige, and not a little money, in working for the president's re-election effort. If you didn't work for the historic 2008 effort, you probably feel a little left out. And you probably also feel that you're just as smart as David Axelrod or David Plouffe, and you ought to be going on Meet the Press to share your wisdom just like they do.
People like me often complain about "he said/she said" reporting, which treats all claims by competing political actors as having equal validity, and doesn't bother to determine whether one side or the other might not be telling the truth. There are lots of reasons why that kind of reporting is harmful, but it's important to understand that it doesn't just keep people soaking in a lukewarm bath of ignorance, it can actively misinform them, leading them to believe things that are false.
Today's New York Times has a textbook example of what happens when political reporters can do when they refuse to adjudicate a factual dispute between candidates. In the story, Michael Barbaro doesn't just allow Mitt Romney to deceive, he actively abets that deception in the way he constructs his narrative. Here's the key excerpt:
Obama hasn’t had the sunniest of weeks on the policy or campaign front. Jobs numbers are falling and he said some poorly chosen words at a campaign event last week. But while Obama’s economic legacy is being crafted at a mile a minute, his foreign-policy legacy is being chiseled into the marble more slowly, as his supporters, detractors, and observers try to work out whether his administration's achievements thus far are works of greatness or unsalvageable breaches of civil liberties.
A bus with Mitt Romney's name on it. (Flickr/Roger Barone)
Like many a candidate before him, Mitt Romney is getting on a bus and driving from one place to another to campaign. For some inexplicable reason, this is supposed to be more down-to-earth and folksy than driving in a car or flying. I don't know if that's because in their public transportation form buses are lower-cost forms of travel than planes, cars, or trains, but if so that doesn't make a lot of sense, given that like all candidates Romney will be riding on a luxurious, tricked-out bus, and not just hopping on a Greyhound (now that would be something). Anyhow, Romney's little sojourn has been christened the "Believe in America: Every Town Counts" tour. So, will the tour be going to every town? Not exactly...
On Friday, President Obama gave a press conference, and in one of his answers to questions he said that "the private sector is doing fine." You may have heard about this. When I got my Washington Post on Saturday morning, I found that the editors of the capital's most important newspaper had judged this comment to be so momentous that it required not one but two separate articles devoted to it. This morning, determining that this subject required much, much more investigation, the paper had a column by Chris Cillizza explaning why this comment is so very important. Plenty of things Cillizza said are perfectly valid as far as they go, though it would have been better if he had mentioned that "gaffes" like this can't become important unless he and his colleagues decide that they're important. There are a couple of lines in his column that deserve particular notice, since they really hold the key to understanding the absurd focus on "gaffes" like this one:
Then there is the reality that gaffes such as the one Obama made Friday are quickly — and, usually, effectively — used by the other side to score political points.
This morning, Jeb Bush said some somewhat surprising things in a meeting with reporters, at least for a Republican. He noted that neither Ronald Reagan nor his father could be elected in today's GOP, and said in essence that Mitt Romney had moved too far to the right on immigration. He also said some of the things you'd expect a Republican to say, like that the blame for the current partisan atmosphere lies with President Obama, because he didn't seek common ground with Republicans enough. Anyone who has been watching politics for the last three and a half years knows how utterly insane this is, but in case you missed this tidbit, a bunch of influential congressional Republicans got together on the night of Obama's inauguration to lay out a plan for how they would obstruct everything they could and sabotage his presidency.
The question of what Jeb is up to sheds some light on where his party is going to find itself this coming fall, should it lose the presidential election...