Paul Waldman

What Makes An Ad Harsh

Image from a Priorities USA ad.
Just what do we mean when we call a campaign ad "negative" or "harsh" or even "brutal"? That question is raised by an ad released today by the pro-Obama super PAC Priorities USA, hitting Mitt Romney about a steel plant that Bain Capital closed in Kansas City. In the ad, Joe Soptic, a worker at the plant, tells how when he and his fellow workers lost their jobs, they also lost their health insurance. His wife got sick, but because they had no insurance she didn't see a doctor until it was too late, and she died of cancer three weeks after finally being diagnosed. While he doesn't actually say "Mitt Romney killed my wife," he ends the ad by saying, "I do not think that Mitt Romney realizes what he's done to anyone. And furthermore, I do not think Mitt Romney is concerned." Let's take a look, then we'll break it down: The first question is whether it's accurate. Is Romney responsible for what happened to this company? Although its eventual bankruptcy happened after Romney left Bain, the...

Support Our Troops By Cynically Using Them As Props In a Dishonest Campaign Ploy

They didn't succeed. (Flickr/Barack Obama)
Let's get this out of the way first: Mitt Romney's smear of Barack Obama over the issue of early voting in Ohio is both shamelessly dishonest and utterly despicable. In case you haven't heard, Ohio voters used to be able to vote early in the three days before election day, then the Republican legislature passed a bill eliminating the early voting for everybody except active-duty military servicemembers. So the Obama campaign sued to restore early voting for everyone, which the Romney campaign rather predictably characterized as an attack on our brave fighting men and women. So yes, Romney is just lying. But let's put that aside and ask this question: just what kind of special privileges should members of the military be entitled to? We can start with things that come out of your service. I happen to think that if you got a leg blown off in Iraq or Afghanistan, you should never have to work again if you don't want to. And veterans benefits ought to be funded to a degree that no veteran...

Will We Ever Get to See Romney's 2011 Tax Return?

Flickr/Images of Money
I don't know about you, but this year I filed my taxes just before the April 15 deadline. Most people do. But if you need to, you can file for an extension from the IRS. That's what Mitt Romney did. And if you look around the discussion about his taxes, you'll find that everyone keeps referring to the "two years of tax returns" Romney has agreed to release. But what people don't mention is that Romney hasn't actually released two years of tax returns. He released one year, his 2010 return (and even that was incomplete ). But we haven't seen his 2011 return. He keeps saying he'll release it when it's ready, but is it going to be ready before November? In fairness, Mitt Romney's taxes are really, really complicated. He has so many different income streams and accounts and pass-throughs and roundabouts and double-flipping financial McTwists that it takes a team of accountants to prepare the documents. His 2010 return ran to more than 200 pages. But it's August. Maybe someone should ask...

Everybody Hates Mitt

What do you mean you don't find me likeable? (Flickr/World Affairs Council of Philadelphia)
A new e-book from Glenn Thrush and the folks at Politico contains this interesting tidbit concerning Barack Obama's feelings about Mitt Romney: "One factor made the 2012 grind bearable and at times even fun for Obama: he began campaign preparations feeling neutral about Romney, but like the former governor's GOP opponents in 2008 and 2012, he quickly developed a genuine disdain for the main. That scorn stoked Obama's competitive fire, got his head in the game, which came as a relief to some Obama aides who had seen his interest flag when he didn't feel motivated to crush the opposition. Obama, a person close to him told me, didn't even feel this strongly about conservative, combative House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, the Hill Republican he disliked the most. At least Cantor stood for something, he'd say. "When he talked about Romney, aides picked up a level of anger he never had for Clinton or McCain, even after Sarah Palin was picked as his running mate. 'There was a baseline of...

Friday Music Break

"What'd I Say"
Today's edition of Shake Your Head, Shimmy Your Shoulders, Tap Your Feet is Ray Charles doing "What'd I Say." Check out the two dudes in the audience at 1:10, resolutely refusing to do any shaking, shimmying, or tapping. I think they got dragged there by their girlfriends, and found the fast hip movements and general atmosphere of licentiousness to be profoundly unsettling. Tell your mama, tell your pa...

Mitt Romney Passes Wind

Flickr/Steve Abraham
Mitt Romney was in Colorado yesterday, where some people aren't too pleased with him. This week he came out in opposition to an extension of the wind-power production tax credit (PTC), which is set to expire at the end of the year. The tax credit helps make wind power competitive and is credited with enabling the creation of thousands of jobs in manufacturing and construction. This is almost certainly not going to be a huge issue in the campaign, but it does reveal some interesting things about where Romney is vis-a-vis the Republican Party. On one side, you have the parochial economic interests of many Republican members of Congress and some very well-heeled Republican economic constituency. On the other, you have the purely knee-jerk reaction of Tea Party types to anything hippies might like. Guess where Mitt comes down? Yesterday, the Senate Finance Committee passed an extension of the credit with bipartisan support. The PTC has support from members of Congress from both parties...

Harry Reid Gets Under Mitt's Skin

Flickr/Center for American Progress Action Fund
Harry Reid has always been an unusual character. He's often dismissed as a lightweight by Republicans (Senator Tom Coburn recently called him "incompetent and incapable"), but he is also an adept legislative maneuverer who has notched some extraordinary victories, perhaps none more notable than getting every Democrat in the Senate, even ones like Ben Nelson and Joe Lieberman who live to make trouble for their own party, to vote for the Affordable Care Act. He's very soft-spoken, speaking most of the time in a near-whisper, but he's also willing to wield a shiv with an enthusiasm few in his party can muster. And now, Reid is doing the kind of work that surrogates are supposed to do for presidential candidates: go out and make the kind of biting, maybe even questionable attack on the opponent that the candidate himself doesn't want to be seen making. Reid has charged that a source at Bain Capital has told him privately that Mitt Romney didn't pay any taxes for 10 years, and that's why...

Potlandia

(Flickr / pbump)
This November, voters in Washington, Oregon, and Colorado have the chance to do something radical: legalize marijuana for recreational use. In all three states, activists secured enough petition signatures to place initiatives on the ballot to essentially treat cannabis like alcohol, regulating its distribution and taxing it. The three states already allow patients with ailments like cancer and AIDS to use marijuana; Colorado allows dispensaries, which make for a bigger and broader semi-decriminalized system. But if these initiatives pass, they would be the first allowing anyone who doesn't have (or claim to have) a medical need to use marijuana. One poll shows the Washington initiative passing by a 13-point margin, while a poll in Colorado predicts an even bigger margin in favor. These polls should be read skeptically, but they suggest the strong possibility that at least one of these initiatives could succeed. If that happens, it will raise a whole slew of questions for the country...

Romney Is Not Trying to Please Policy Wonks

The Romney plan for the middle class, in its entirety.
Campaign plans are a little overrated. On one hand, it's good to tell people exactly what you want to do if you're elected. On the other hand, whatever you do on the really big issues is going to have to go through the legislative sausage grinder, so the degree to which what eventually gets produced resembles what you proposed is a function of how close you were to your party's desires in the first place. For instance, the Affordable Care Act ended up looking a lot like Barack Obama's 2008 health-care proposal. There were important exceptions—his proposal didn't include an individual mandate and did include a public option—but the contours reflected the elite Democratic consensus of the moment. That's why his plan didn't differ much from those offered by Hillary Clinton and John Edwards. So if you want to know what Mitt Romney is going to do, the best thing is probably to examine Paul Ryan's plans—as Ryan Lizza argues —because that's where the Republican Party is now. But Romney...

Mitt Romney Doesn't Realize the Primaries Are Over

Come on down, Mitt!
Let it not be said that William Kristol—magazine editor, Fox News commentator, all-around uberpundit and man-about-town—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 sign of something rather remarkable: the election is only three months away, and almost everything Mitt Romney does seems geared not toward persuading undecided voters,...

Obama: Not Like You or Me

(Flickr/SS&SS)
"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. Yet it took some time for Mitt Romney to determine exactly how to show that Barack Obama was not “one of us.” The campaign tried out and then abandoned various attacks; for instance, faced with polling and focus groups telling them that voters basically like the president, the Romney campaign argued that Obama is "in over his head"—hardly the kind of attack that'll make people see your opponent as alien and threatening. But then deliverance came in the form of an infelicitous sentence Obama uttered, "You didn't build that," which they quickly ripped...

No Such Thing As Good Luck

Flickr/Funchye
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...

If Only the President Would Make Speeches, Everything Would Be Different

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 to use rhetoric effectively. 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 of believing that everything would be different if only a politician would give the speech he's 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 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 In keeping with the most baffling habit of one of our most rhetorically gifted...

Mitt Romney Thinks You're a Sucker

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...

Have Republicans Ever Hated a President More Than Barack Obama?

Which one do Republicans hate more?
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. 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. 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...

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