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.
"I voted" picture: (Flickr/ Vox Efx) Liberty Bell photograph: (Flickr/dcwriterdawn)
We get it. Real-life court dramas are not as exciting as Judge Judy (and definitely not as exciting as Judge Joe Brown). So we totally don't judge you for not knowing why the hell Pennsylvania's voter-ID law is suddenly in court.
Of course, you thought you'd covered your bases when you read our early explanation of voter-ID laws. (If you didn't, well, you only need to be a little embarrassed.) You know there's basically no evidence of in-person voter fraud where one person impersonates another—the only type of fraud voter ID guards against. You know that the big fights were in Texas and South Carolina. So why is everyone so worked up about some court case in Harrisburg?
Well let us be quick and leave you plenty of time for Court TV.
So a bunch of states have voter-ID laws—what's the big deal about Pennsylvania?
Well, not shockingly in a presidential election year, a lot of it boils down to politics. Pennsylvania is a swing state in a close election, so every vote each side can pull counts big. Most people believe voter-ID laws help Republicans win elections, because poor and nonwhite voters tend to vote Democratic and also tend to be the populations less likely to have the necessary ID. In case there was any doubt about those intentions, the state House majority leader told an audience that passing voter ID was "going to allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania." (He evidently didn't get the whole memo about pretending we need this to combat nonexistent voter fraud.)
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:
Yesterday, Eric Holder opened a new front in his fight to preserve voting rights, as the Department of Justice announced that it would launch an investigation into Pennsylvania's voter ID law. The attorney general has been an outspoken critic of the strict new laws that require voters to show government-issued photo identification, calling them the equivalent of a modern-day "poll tax." The DOJ has blocked implementation of voter ID in Texas and South Carolina—states that, because of their histories of voter suppression, are listed in Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act and therefore must get preclearance from the DOJ before they can change their election laws.
Insiders are expecting Mitt Romney to go with a conventional choice for his running mate. Picking a new and exciting candidate, like Republican Governors Bobby Jindal of Louisiana or Susan Martinez of New Mexico, runs the danger of having an unvetted candidate make a blunder, which calls Romney's judgment into question. Unlike John McCain, Romney was never a daredevil fighter pilot. He always tries to minimize risk. For this reason, former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty and Ohio Senator Rob Portman are the most likely picks. They are solid Republican Midwesterners who are unlikely to embarrass Romney.
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:
When Barack Obama sat down with Charlie Rose recently, he scrutinized his past four years in office and named his failure to give equal weight to policy and narrative—what he termed "explaining, but also inspiring”—the biggest failure of his first term. His self-criticism sounded a melodious chord with the constant complaints the press corps has leveled against his presidency.
If the latest poll from Gallup and USA Today tells us anything, it’s that for many Americans, Mitt Romney is—on the face of things—a plausible alternative to President Obama. 63 percent of respondents said that Romney’s business background, including his tenure at Bain Capital, would lead him to make good decisions in dealing with the nation’s economic problems—only 29 percent disagreed. As for an overall assessment of the Republican nominee, 54 percent say that he has the personality and leadership qualities a person needs to be president, compared to 57 percent for Obama.
Some of us were willing—unlike Michael Bloomberg—to give the presidential candidates a wide berth on Friday, when they eschewed politics to speak soothing words in the aftermath of Aurora. They also eschewed any reference to a root cause of the massacre: the ease with which deranged Americans can acquire a mass-murdering arsenal.
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.
Take that, you insolent peasants! (Flickr/Austen Hufford)
Any time a politician faces pressure to do something he doesn't want to do, there's a calculation involved about the arc of the story and the cumulative effect of the two courses he could take. I can take the slings and arrows of the moment and hold out, in the hopes that the story will go away, or I can succumb and hope that by getting the pain over quickly, the damage will be minimized. The conventional wisdom has become that any time there's damaging information about you, you have to get it all out as soon as possible, and there are certainly plenty of cases in which a politician didn't do so and ended up suffering both from the information itself and his initial stonewalling against releasing it. But that need not always be the case. Mitt Romney may just have bet correctly that he could stand firm against releasing his tax forms from any year before 2010 and get away with it.
Last week, Mitt Romney had some kind of weird brain freeze and accidentally stumbled into agreement with President Obama on the fact that entrepreneurs actually do benefit from the efforts of other people, and even get help from the government. You may have heard about it, as a number of bloggers took note. But there was something else he said that was even more interesting, and I wanted to point it out because we do seem to be having a discussion about the fundamentals of capitalism and government. It sounded extemporaneous, so perhaps Romney didn't think through the full implications of it, but here's what he said:
There are a lot of people in government who help us and allow us to have an economy that works and allow entrepreneurs and business leaders of various kinds to start businesses and create jobs. We all recognize that. That's an important thing. Don't forget, by the way, government doesn't invent those people out of thin air. We pay for those people with our taxes! We're paying for those resources that we receive.