Let it not be said that William Kristol — magazine editor, Fox News commentator, all-around uberpundit and man-about-tow — is not a man with practical solutions for the strategic challenges that face a Republican presidential campaign. Today he gives the Romney advance team an important heads-up: "Mitt Romney's hosting a campaign event at Jeffco Fairgrounds in Golden, Colorado around lunchtime today, and a quick scan of Chick-fil-A's website shows several locations within fifteen miles or so of the Romney event. So it should be easy for Romney to stop at a Chick-fil-A for a photo-op (and a sandwich!) on his way there."
Is Romney going to take the advice? I'd bet my bottom dollar he is. Because Chick-fil-A has become the right's culture war emblem of the moment, Mitt won't be able to resist. It would be just the latest indication of something rather remarkable: the election is only three months away, and almost everything Mitt Romney does seems geared not toward persuading undecided voters, but toward securing his base. Wasn't he supposed to have that taken care of by now?
"He's not one of us" has long been one of the most common electoral arguments at all levels—every election features ads all over the country where one candidate is accused of not sharing "[insert state here] values." It's become almost a cliché that Democrats talk about issues while Republicans talk about values, building an affinity with voters as they construct a wall of identity between the electorate and their Democratic opponents.
Now that we're having a real debate about the fundamentals of capitalism and success, it's worth considering another part of the now-infamous "You didn't build that" speech President Obama recently gave. When he was accused of taking Obama's words out of context, Mitt Romney's defense was that "The context is worse than the quote." As evidence, he cited not the actual context of "You didn't build that" but what Obama said a paragraph before, about the role of fortune in success. And it's that idea–that success has to do not only with hard work and talent but also with luck – that really got Mitt Romney steamed. Here's the passage in question:
There are a lot of wealthy, successful Americans who agree with me -- because they want to give something back. They know they didn't -- look, if you’ve been successful, you didn’t get there on your own. You didn’t get there on your own. I'm always struck by people who think, well, it must be because I was just so smart. There are a lot of smart people out there. It must be because I worked harder than everybody else. Let me tell you something -- there are a whole bunch of hardworking people out there
You might think that this would be hard to argue with, but as David Frum observed, many successful people find the idea that luck played a part in their success to be deeply offensive. And it makes me wonder whether Mitt Romney himself believes that the fact that his father was a wealthy industrialist and governor had nothing to do with his financial success. Does he think that if he been born to a poor single mother in backwoods Appalachia, he would have grown up to be the same private equity titan he turned out to be?
President Obama delivers a speech on health care to a joint session of Congress.
Yesterday, psychologist and political consultant Drew Westen had yet another op-ed in a major newspaper (the Washington Post this time) explaining that all of Barack Obama's troubles come from a failure of rhetoric. Don't get me wrong, I think rhetoric is important—in fact, I've spent much of the last ten years or so writing about it. But Westen once again seems to have fallen prey to the temptation to believe that everything would be different if only a politician would give the speech I've been waiting to hear. There are two problems with this belief, the first of which is that a dramatic speech almost never has a significant impact on public opinion. The second problem is that Barack Obama did in fact do exactly what Drew Westen and many other people say they wish he had done.
This is only one part of Westen's piece, but I want to focus on it because it's said so often, and is so absurd. This is what Westen says about the battle over the Affordable Care Act:
In keeping with the most baffling habit of one of our most rhetorically gifted presidents, Obama and his team just didn't bother explaining what they were doing and why. To them, their actions were self-evident. But nothing is self-evident when your opponents are spending millions of dollars to defeat you. Instead, the White House blundered around with memorable phrases such as "bending the cost curve," which didn't speak to the values underlying the need for health-care reform.
Mitt Romney tells ABC's David Muir he's no sucker.
Back in January, when he was asked during a primary debate about the taxes he pays, Mitt Romney made the somewhat odd assertion that "I pay all the taxes that are legally required and not a dollar more. I don't think you want someone as the candidate for president who pays more taxes than he owes." As I've written before, this would seem to indicate that Romney believes that if you don't have a team of accountants who can ferret out every last loophole to minimize your tax bill then you're just a sucker, so pathetic that you are unworthy of occupying the highest office in the land. But maybe I was being unfair. After all, I've been critical of the campaign habit of reading too much into any particular statement a candidate makes. We all say things that upon reflection we'd like to put another way or take back completely, so maybe Romney didn't quite mean it the way it sounded.
But once you repeat a statement like that more than once, we can be pretty sure you do in fact mean it. And based on what he said in an interview yesterday with ABC News, we can be pretty sure Mitt Romney genuinely believes that if you paid an extra dollar to the federal government, then you're not just a chump, you're such a chump we wouldn't want you to be president:
The widespread belief on the right that Barack Obama is a Muslim is one of the stranger features of this period in history. There are some of them who know that Obama says he's a Christian, but are sure that's all an act designed to fool people, while he secretly prays to Allah. But there are probably a greater number who haven't given it all that much thought, they just heard somewhere that he's a Muslim, and it made perfect sense to them—after all, he's kinda foreign, if you know what I mean. And rather remarkably, that belief has grown over time; as the latest poll from the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life shows, fully 30 percent of Republicans, and 34 percent of conservative Republicans, now believe Obama is Muslim. These numbers are about double what they were four years ago.
And you can bet there aren't too many who think there's nothing wrong with it if he were. For many of them, it's just a shorthand for Obama being alien and threatening. So it leads me to ask: Can we say, finally, that no Democratic president has ever been hated by Republicans quite as much as Barack Obama?
For today's edition of Gentle Yet Strangely Uplifting Songs About Truck Driving, we have Little Feat, led by the late Lowell George, with "Willin'." Extra points for any reader who has been to Tucumcari, Tehachapi, or Tonopah. No points for having been to Tuscon.
Mitt Romney delivers his patented fake laugh to NBC's Brian Williams.
Mitt Romney is getting a lot of grief for the not-so-auspicious beginning to first overseas trip as leader of the Republican party. In case you've been trapped in a well for the last two days, when he was asked by Brian Williams how, in his expert, opinion, he thought London was doing in preparing for the start of the Olympics, instead of offering the expected polite banality ("I'm sure it's going to be terrific"), Romney said something a bit more honest, saying that there were "a few things that were disconcerting" about the preparations. The Brits were not amused, and he got very public pushback from both Prime Minister David Cameron and London mayor Boris Johnson. It's all well and good to enjoy Romney's misfortune on this score. But let's not forget: the real problem with Romney isn't what he blurts out by accident, it's what he says when he has plenty of time to consider his words.
Senator Arthur Vandenberg, misinterpreted yet again.
Mitt Romney is in London—most definitely not to cheer on Rafalca in the dressage competition, mind you, because he barely knows that horse ("I have to tell you. This is Ann's sport. I'm not even sure which day the sport goes on. She will get the chance to see it—I will not be watching the event")—but he's making sure that while he's over there, he won't utter a discouraging word about the socialist business-hating foreigner in the Oval Office who is working every day to destroy America. Because that's not how we do things. "Politics stops at the water's edge," we always say. My question is: Why?
I'll be honest: There are a few things about Mitt Romney that I find annoying. One of the biggest has to be that there is probably no sentence he has repeated more often in this campaign than "I know how the economy works," but he never actually explains what he knows that nobody else does or how that hard-won knowledge translates into a unique set of policy moves that only he could bring about and that would pull America from its economic doldrums.
There are really two sets of questions that absolutely must be asked of Romney in the area of economics, given the rationale he offers for his candidacy. The first is, "What specifically did you learn as a businessman that policymakers haven't known up until now?" As far as I know, he has only been asked this question once, and the result wasn't encouraging. (After repeating over and over that he "understands how the economy works," Romney finally allowed that businesses spend money on energy, so if energy were cheaper, they'd have more money. Brilliant, I know.) The second question that Romney needs to be asked is, "What are you proposing to do, and how is that different than what we've done before?"
In one of those now-frequent "I can't believe we're actually going to argue about this" moments, conservatives have now decided that the United States government did not actually have any meaningful role in the creation of the Internet, despite what everyone, including all the people who were there at the time, have always known. Why have they suddenly come to this revelation? All you need to know is that Barack Obama has recently been using the Internet as an example of where government can create conditions that allow private enterprise to flourish, and as Simon Malloy says, if Obama says something, "that, ipso facto, makes it false." Part of what's so crazy about this is that the tale of the Internet's creation and development is actually a story of public/private partnership that both liberals and conservatives ought to be able to celebrate.
We often think of character attacks and issue attacks as being two entirely separate things, with the former being illegitimate and the latter being legitimate. But that's not necessarily true. First, both kinds of attacks can be fair or unfair, accurate or inaccurate, relevant or irrelevant. Second, a clever campaign will weave the two together into a coherent whole.
That's what the Obama campaign will be doing in the coming months. The issue attacks tell you the what, and the character attacks tell you the why. They'll be telling voters that Romney wants to cut taxes for rich people and threaten important social programs like Medicare (true, as it happens). But in order for that charge to take hold, they need to also explain to people why Romney would want to do such a thing. That's where stuff like this comes in:
In the last six months I've written a lot about the politics of the gun issue (see here for example), and one of the key data points I keep trying to get people to understand is that gun ownership is actually declining in America and has been for a few decades. Yet there are just as many guns as ever (around 300 million by the best estimates), which means that on average, your typical gun owner now owns more guns than they used to. While no one that I know of has actually figured out the distribution, my guess is that most gun owners still have only one or two guns, while the numbers are being elevated by enthusiasts who think they really haven't guaranteed the safety of their family unless they have enough weaponry to fend off an assault by an entire battalion of the Red Army.
And it's important to understand that the gun lobby (by which I mean the National Rifle Association, similar groups, and the gun manufacturers) are doing everything they can to encourage existing gun owners to buy as many guns as they possibly can. I discuss this in a piece I wrote today for MSNBC's "Lean Forward" blog:
Do not allow these horrifying monsters to dissuade you from watching the Olympics. (image from London 2012)
You may not be following the Twitter feeds of Wenlock and Mandeville, the terrifying claw-handed cylcops Olympic mascots soon to be starring in the night terrors of children the world over, but if you're like me, you're getting excited about the fact that the Games begin this weekend. There are a couple of reasons why I'm a huge Olympics fan. The first is that I enjoy the simplest competitions, the ones that test the limits of the human animal and harken back to the earliest athletic endeavors.
Last week, The New York Times revealed that "quote approval" has become standard practice when reporters deal with both the Obama and Romney campaigns as well as with the Obama administration. The way it works is that a reporter interviews an official, then submits the quotes she intends to use in her stories back to the campaign, which only appear if the campaign approves them. Not only that, the campaign often edits the quotes to make them more to their liking.
Lo and behold, news organizations are now announcing they will no longer submit quotes for approval. The National Journal says it won't. McClatchy says no more. The New York Times is thinking about it. To tell you the truth, I'm a bit surprised. But I guess shame is a powerful thing.