Quite a few commentators have compared Mitt Romney’s remarks to a private fundraiser—where he accused Americans who don’t pay income tax of not “taking responsibility for their lives”—to then-Senator Barack Obama’s comments on voters who “cling to their guns and religion.” The argument is straightforward—if Obama can escape damage for his comments, then Romney can make it through his.
Audience members pray before the start of the Values Voters Summit in Washington, Friday, Sept. 14, 2012. (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)
The Omni Shoreham, in the Woodley Park neighborhood of Washington D.C., is one of those hotels with décor that makes you feel like, as Holly Golightly said of a certain iconic jewelry store in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, “nothing very bad could happen to you there.” The chandeliers are crystal, the carpets are plush, the glow is golden. The wallpaper isn’t even wallpaper—it’s some kind of delicately brocaded fabric. One half expects Audrey Hepburn’s rendition of “Moon River” to pipe into the lobby; instead, there’s a constant stream of big band numbers.
If you thought Mitt Romney had a rotten summer—failing to project a more appealing image of himself and his policies, failing to pin the country’s economic woes on the president, failing to get even the tiniest bounce from his convention—the home stretch is shaping up even worse.
Jamelle has already blogged about the devastating video of Mitt Romney speaking to a fundraising event that Mother Jones’s invaluable David Corn posted today. For those of you who may have missed it, here’s a partial text of what Mitt said in answer to a question about Obama voters:
This, from the New York Times public editor, is an amazing example of what happens when journalists attempt to balance two unequal sides:
In his article, which led last Monday’s paper, the national reporter Ethan Bronner made every effort to provide balance. Some readers say the piece, in so doing, wrongly suggested that there was enough voter fraud to justify strict voter identification requirements — rules that some Democrats believe amount to vote suppression. Ben Somberg of the Center for Progressive Reform said The Times itself had established in multiple stories that there was little evidence of voter fraud.
One of the common misconceptions about the presidential candidate version of Mitt Romney is that he disavowed his greatest achievement in public office, health care reform, in an attempt to appeal to his party's base. The truth is that he never actually disavowed it or said it was a failure or a mistake. What he did was tell primary voters that Romneycare was really nothing at all like Obamacare, and anyway Romneycare shouldn't be tried in any other state. His comments were utterly unconvincing, but since they were always accompanied by a thunderous denunciation of Obamacare, Republican voters were assuaged enough to let it slide.
Which means that had he wanted to, Romney probably could have entered the general election making a positive case on health care beyond "Repeal Obamacare!" By continuing to maintain that Romneycare was in fact a good thing when he was challenged on it (even if he didn't want to talk about it all that much), he gave himself enough rhetorical room that he could now be using the issue to show voters that he's both competent and compassionate, that he successfully tackled a difficult policy problem in a way that improved people's lives. Instead, his entire case for competence is that he got really rich in private equity, and his entire case for compassion is that his wife seems nice.
A lot of the debate we have in America about economics (like many issues) ends up being statements of principle masquerading as analysis of empirical reality. And maybe this is my bias talking, but it seems like most of this comes from the conservative side. For example, it's now become disturbingly common to hear conservatives say that when you cut taxes, total tax revenues actually go up, since the tax cutting creates an explosion of economic growth that brings in lots of new revenue. This idea has zero empirical support. It isn't that cutting taxes can't increase growth somewhat, it's just that it doesn't increase it enough to make up for the lost revenue. Yet no matter how many times economists demonstrate that cutting taxes doesn't actually increase revenue, Republican politicians continue to claim that it does. This is widely known as the "Tax Fairy," since believing in it makes about as much sense as believing in the Tooth Fairy. But conservatives would certainly like it to be true. Their belief in low taxes, particularly for the wealthy, is really a moral position more than anything else. And if cutting taxes actually increased revenue and enabled us to cut the deficit, then that would be great too. But their moral belief is where things originate, and why empirical evidence that their preferred policy produces problems doesn't make them change their position.
I thought about this when I read this article in yesterday's New York Times by David Leonhardt, in which he relates a conversation he had with Paul Ryan about taxes. He gave Ryan a chart showing economic growth over the last few decades, to initiate a discussion about the efficacy of tax cuts. As you might remember, Bill Clinton raised taxes in 1993, and what ensued was a period of spectacular economic growth, with 23 million jobs created overall during Clinton's two terms. Then George W. Bush came in and cut taxes repeatedly, and what ensued was a decade of economic stagnation. How does Ryan explain the fact that in the real world, things worked out exactly the opposite of what conservative dogma predicts? His answer reveals the core contradiction at the heart of Republican beliefs about taxes:
It’s not unusual for a flailing presidential campaign to air its dirty laundry ahead of the election; staffers will use the media to place blame where they think it resides, to avoid responsibility for losing the White House, and leave themselves room for future employment.
What is unusual is for this to happen in September, when voters are just beginning to tune in to the election and both candidates have a chance to convert new supporters and energize old ones. Which is why it was a shock to see Politico headlined by a clear attempt to blame adviser Stuart Stevens for the campaign’s string of missteps and stumbles.
David Becker is unusual in national politics. He talks about inaccuracies in voting rolls, dead people still registered, and the like. He says the bad information is a big problem. But he's not on the far right talking about voter fraud or the need for major purges to the states' rolls before an election. Instead, he's the director of election initiatives for the non-partisan Pew Center on the States. And his research tells him that better data would actually help more people vote—and make elections a smoother, more efficient process that shouldplease folks on both sides of the political divide.
Two new polls over the weekend showed Massachusetts Democrat Elizabeth Warren maintaining her post-convention lead over Scott Brown. One poll by the Springfield Republican newspaper shows a six-point lead, with Warren at 50 percent to the Republican incumbent Scott Brown's 44 percent. Public Policy Polling shows her with a two-point edge among likely voters, at 48 percent to 46 percent. The race has been a true toss up, with both popular candidates holding a lead at various times in what is, overall, a close race.
A new Wapo/ABC poll shows that 59% of the voters think President Obama will be reelected vs. 34% who think Mitt Romney will win. Note that this is a completely different question than who the voter supports. The polling data on who people will vote for gave Obama a mere 3% lead, 49% to 46%. In other words, there are millions of voters who want Romney to win but don't expect him to do so.
On the heels of the conspiracy theory about the liberal media and pollsters “inventing” President Obama's post-convention bump—which has turned out to be quite reality-based—the wingers have a brand-new fractured fairy tale. This one features the former George W. Bush adviser and appointee, Federal Reserve chair Ben Bernanke, sporting an Obama campaign button and laughing maniacally as he orders the money-printing machines cranked up to top speed. (“Forward, pussycat!
Yesterday, conservatives got all outraged because a microphone picked up a few journalists discussing with each other what questions they would ask Mitt Romney at what turned out to be his disastrous press conference on the events in Cairo and Benghazi. Aha! they shouted; Michelle Malkin told the Mensa convention that is "Fox & Friends" that "If it looks, sounds, talks like journo-tools for Obama, it is what it is." As Erik Wemple patiently carefully explained, in contexts like press conferences—by both Democratic and Republican politicians!—reporters often plan out what questions they'll ask. And you know what? They ought to do it more often. Maybe they wouldn't ask so many dumb questions.
It's certainly a problem that politicians are so sneaky and evade the questions journalists do ask. And the reporters don't really have time to sit down and engage in a process of deliberation so they can use their collective knowledge and wisdom to arrive at the questions that will prove the most edifying for the public. (And I should say that the problem isn't exclusive to political reporters. If I hear one more sports reporter who can't think of anything more interesting to ask an athlete than "What does this victory mean to you?" I'm going to scream.) But more often than not, what sounds on the surface like a zinger of a question doesn't actually amount to much more than an invitation for the politician to repeat his talking points.